Imagine this scenario: after going through the frustrations of being a high school mathematics teacher, you went back to school for a PhD and landed your dream job.
Today, you are an assistant professor at one of the top education departments within a university system that is poised for amazing growth. You have had a very successful first three years – publishing in journals considered top tier by your department colleagues and serving as a consultant on a couple of large-scale grants.
But as far as your university social life goes, you go out for a few lunches with your departmental colleagues. You feel a bit disconnected. So, you invite a few colleagues over to your house for dinner. You and your partner cook an incredible meal.
Conversation and wine flow, and all seems well.
While you are grabbing dessert, your wife tells your colleagues about your undergraduate days, including being in a hip-hop and dance group. They seem way too interested, asking an exorbitant amount of questions, and laughing wildly. After several minutes you decide to politely change the subject.
Overall, you and your wife call the dinner a success.
A few days later, at the request of your department chair, you give a dynamic presentation about your research during the faculty meeting. The effort in preparing this presentation paid off with lively dialogue afterward.
As you finish up and return to your seat, your two colleagues from dinner announce to the faculty that besides being a stellar researcher, you are a rapper and dancer.
They apparently took a picture of a picture from your house with you and your hip-hop group. It is now on the large projector, the same projector where you finished your presentation.
The rest of the faculty is entertained, fueled by your colleagues’ request to you to “bust a move.”
The truth is that for many black academics, this is not an imaginary scenario. This is one of the many narratives of presenting while black.
I am a researcher of black students and faculty in STEM fields, and this narrative is part of my experience. Before presentations at conferences, I hear statements from colleagues, such as:
All right, it’s time to go perform, Let me get ready to shuck and jive, Gotta go put on my Blackface…”