I went to a meeting yesterday. There were faculty members and administrator there, about 90 people. As is my habit I counted the minorities in the group. There were two American Indians, 9 blacks, three Latinos/as and 1 Asian American. Or about 16% of the group. The rest of the audience was white. This is an annual meeting to discuss engagement, the need for scholars to give back to the state, to use engaged scholarship to solve problems, improve the quality of life, improve government, etc.
Last year at the discussion I reminded the assemblage at the final session of the meeting that due to the large black (23%) and Latino (7%) populations in our state, and the inequities in education and economics in those populations, a lot of the programs, research, etc., that the scholars and students engage in has a minority focus.
Yet, there were no minority speakers on the program nor minority facilitators for the breakout sessions. These kinds of things send very clear messages and object lessons to people, sometimes even without them realizing they are receiving the message. The message was clear, if we are dealing with think work the only people worth listening to on this campus, and the only ones capable of leading a discussion, are white.
I reminded the group that getting into communities of color would be easier if some folks who look like them were included. I also reminded them that research done on populations by non-members of that population has some relatively severe limitations.
More than ten years ago I was primary author on a paper that I presented at a research conference in Seattle. The title of the Paper ” Researcher Reflexivity through the lens of Race” makes the point that if I enter a group of white men to do research it is no longer a group of white men and my data is likely, therefore to be skewed in some way. I was hardly the first person to note this phenomenon, if someone is in the group doing research who is not a member of the group the behavior of the group is changed.
So, when I went to the meeting yesterday I presumed that someone, one of the organizers or someone above the organizers, would have taken some steps to have a person of color ( not me, a faculty person) on the panel. This expectation was based primarily on one of my major flaws; the belief that if you make a reasoned point why something should be done, supported by logic and data, then people will actually do it. I have trouble leaving this delusion behind, but I am working on it!
The panel was composed of three white men and two white women.
More than fifteen years ago I had a similar incident with the Xenia Schools. We had a very good year athletically in Xenia, and had won a couple of championships with teams that were made up of very racially diverse athletes. The boy’s basketball team, as a matter of fact, was made up of a majority of black males. So, there was lots of publicity, lots of regional media coverage, lots of pictures of our successful black Xenia athletes that late winter/early spring.
A few weeks after the end of basketball season there was a student council regional meeting where local high schools were asked to send a delegation of leaders to brainstorm ways that school governments could be more successful and make more of an impact in both their schools and communities. When I looked at the attendance list that day the students who were excused to go to the summit in nearby Beavercreek, more than ten students, were all white.Now, we had some black students who were student leaders and held office in student council, so it was not as if they were omitted because they did not fit the criteria. They were omitted because the people in charge of selecting them did not want to send black kids to the meeting. Why? I do not know.
I have to point out that the league the school was in at the time, which was the basis for the schools to participate, the WOL, had very few schools with black students or with more than a handful. As a matter of fact we joked frequently that WOL, rather than standing for Western Ohio League, actually stood for the “White Only League.” So, by sending an all white delegation from one of the only schools in the league with a significant minority population what message was the school system sending to the other schools in the area?
The same message that my colleague were sending yesterday, tacitly to an extent, but overtly in some other senses. “They may be good athletes, but when it comes to think work, they have no place here, nothing to offer.”
I am beginning to believe the children of my great great grandchildren will have to deal with the same kind of perception, that we can run and jump like the dickens, us black folks, but think? Nah!