To the white woman at the symposium
I’ve come to collect you
The symposium was on Implicit Bias. The first speaker, a social psychologist, opened by demonstrating implicit bias in an innocuous context, visual and auditory perception, and then moved into the heavy stuff, automatic racial preference. This was designed to gently submerge you in the waters of awareness, this was designed to coddle your white feelings while bringing you face to face with how your reptile brain was operating in direct opposition to your explicit beliefs in racial equality.
The next speaker, an author of color, was sent to illustrate for you the way the mechanics of white supremacy work throughout history. He showed you how desire for equality on the part of white people is not enough to create racial equality. The systemic consequences of historic and pervasive white supremacy and colonialism must be recognized, exposed, willfully undone, reversed, compensated for…
Then the panelists spoke about combating bias and supporting marginalized people in our institution. They spoke about disparities in the composition of our institution, they spoke about disparities in student outcomes. They spoke about collecting oral histories of marginalized people so that when society finally recognizes their humanity, their origins are not lost.
During the question and answer session with our panelists, you asked (and I’m paraphrasing, I admit):
I have tried to bring the topic of implicit bias into my classroom. The response is always that of an overwhelming defensiveness. I have even been slammed on my teaching evaluations for it. What can a junior faculty do to raise awareness of implicit bias and stand up for social justice when our chances at promotion and tenure can be impacted by speaking out in this way?
I was personally flinching to hear your words. And I saw our panelists squirm in their seats. And a friend later asked her own question, which you should have realized was about you. But maybe you didn’t.
(In our department,) a black woman has never had her own lab. Her own research. Her own staff. For junior faculty of color, what are we supposed to do? What am I supposed to do?
While you were so worried that speaking out against racism was going to lower your chances at tenure, your black and brown colleagues know most of them won’t get tenure because of racism.
So I’ve come to collect you. If you are concerned about social justice, if you are really and truly devoted to dismantling white supremacy, you must be willing to sacrifice your career on the altar of social justice advocacy.
If you were awarded tenure specifically because you were silent, why would you want it? If you were denied tenure for speaking up, why would you feel disappointed? Why would you want to work somewhere that either tacitly or actively upholds white supremacy? You stayed silent and got your tenure and think that now is the time to speak up — now that you are safe? Congratulations. You are a pillar of white supremacy.
If this is not what you want for yourself and your colleagues, you have to be vigilant. Recognize bias when you see it. Point it out. Correct it. Refuse to stand for it. Collect your people. Listen to your colleagues of color. Shut your mouth when they are speaking. They know how to solve the problem. Follow them.
I have left the details of the symposium vague because I do not wish to leverage any social media power mentioning the speaker’s name might bring.