Bamboozling pursuers of equity and social justice in higher education and elsewhere

by Jack L. Daniel and Stacy Johnson

Paulo Coelho indicated, “The world is changed by your example not your opinion.” When it comes to higher education, we add the following: if the upper echelons/offices of the academy speak about equity, diversity, inclusion and social justice but don’t reflect it in their hiring praxis, then they are nothing more than a “resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.” When the implicit curriculum of society’s most impactful producers of ‘knowledge’ does not align with the explicit curriculum, then the result is the status quo—inequity, exclusion, ethnocentrism and injustice.

Throughout the summer of 2020, we often heard from dreary, pessimistic, Blacks who had “been in the storm too long.” They decried, “We’re in the same place we were years ago and, in some ways, things have gotten worse for Blacks! We still have growing wealth, health, employment and educational disparities between Blacks and Whites. Lynchings haven’t stopped and I’m so sick and tired of being sick and tired about all that has been and is still being done to us!”

In response to the violent abuse that sparked the recent urban insurrections, there has been considerable governmental, corporate and educational executive level “clanging” regarding equity, diversity, inclusion and social justice, but it remains to be seen whether we are in the midst of a sea change in race relations or, once again, the language and actions of appeasement—whether, after a year from now, systemic racism will continue to run rampant. To help prevent the latter outcome, what follows is an outline of past practices used to bamboozle the pursuers of equity and social justice.

The bamboozlement begins with the fact that The Powers That Be understand Frederick Douglas’ statement, “Find out just what people will submit to, and you have found out the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them; and these will continue until they are resisted with either words or blows, or both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.” Several steps then follow to achieve the nefarious goal of sustained oppression. With each step, a few examples are offered to highlight what transpired before and after this summer’s urban insurrections.

STEP 1: Tyranize until, the
oppressed declares “no more”
Leading up to this summer’s revolt, The Powers That Be had [1] attacked the Voting Rights Act and, in other ways, engaged in voter suppression; [2] systemically increased the wealth gap while keeping Black unemployment proportionately greater than Whites; [3] retarded Black home ownership; [4] as with the Coronavirus’ disproportionate impact, permitted health disparities to run rampant; [5] elected as President a lying, blatant racist; [6] allowed White-supremacist organizations to grow; and [7] permitted police violence against Blacks to reach the level of shameless murder in the streets. Finally, a video-taped murder of a Black man by police officers became the spark for the oppressed to engage in the summer of 2020 rebellion.

STEP 2: Throw pacifying
SOP to the oppressed
Proverbial wisdom holds that “a drowning person will grab a straw.” Thus, for example, after years of the worst form of slavery known on earth, the not completely freed slave eagerly undertook the former slave master’s oppressive sharecropping as well as conformed to the “evangelicals” who came to make Christians of them, to teach them trades and not also to help the slaves become intellectuals. Similarly, after decades of civil rights struggle and the world witnessing the brutal murders of Blacks, it was a hopeful sign when a few corporate heads put millions into “diversity initiatives” and educational institutions, at all levels, hired an array of diversity and inclusion officers. However, none of these appeasement initiatives will halt systemic racism in real time.

STEP 3: The oppressed are
invited to educate the
oppressor about oppression
Like the lion allegedly not realizing the harm she/he was doing by eating other species’ new born animals, the oppressor tells the oppressed that she/he would like to be “born again.” In the immediate, instance, there were so many Zoom town hall meetings regarding systemic racism that one could have watched daily for hours. There was a plethora of executive statements deploring systemic racism along with pledges for institutional steps to improve.
Anyone in need of race-related sensitivity training could find a session, free of charge, as select members of the oppressed were invited into the Big Houses to expound on things such as diversity, inclusion, systemic racism, anti-racism, White girl tears, micro and macro-aggressions. Still others told gut-wrenching, low-down blues stories about the pain and anguish they feel daily while being oppressed. Naively, some of the oppressed believed they had succeeded as evidenced by them declaring to one another, “Wow, I’m telling you, she/he (member of The Powers That Be) really gets it! I think we have a chance to improve.” In reality, at best they had obtained a temporary balm to ease their deep and enduring pain —a smaller scenario of what transpired when a flashy, record-setting $12 million settlement for Breonna Taylor’s family was not followed by an indictment of police officers for her murder.

STEPS 1-3 take approximately 3 months, depending on the extent of the urban insurrections and whether some additional bamboozling is needed by doing things such as presenting “Black entertainment specials” that take folks off the streets. If the bamboozlement works, then the result is the situation which an older civil rights leader described as, “The new Black leaders got payed and the masses got played.” The language and actions of appeasement are momentarily confused with fundamental change, that, in real time, systemic racism will be destroyed. Then, The Powers That Be settle in for “4 more years” or more depending on their oppressive skills, including whether they can re-elect POTUS 45. Eventually, when the next blatant public racist act occurs, the oppressed will again feel exhausted given the realization that they are no further from the “plantation” than when the 13th amendment was passed. They will agonize anew realizing that mass incarceration, red lining, gentrification, underfunded urban schools, health disparities, and low Black college enrollments remain. If anyone doubts the foregoing bamboozlement scenario, then the following challenge is offered. Pick an educational, private, or governmental institution. This time next year, ascertain whether the selected entity has achieved, for example, a 10 percent or greater increase in hiring Blacks, promoting Blacks, or any other indices that would reflect systemic change as opposed to short-term pacification. Find one institution in which the White executive officers and their White senior administrators assumed diversity, inclusion and equity responsibilities instead of hiring Black and/or other oppressed folk to do so.

To avoid once again being sick and tired of being sick and tired, we must heed the words of John Lewis, i.e., “Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble. …I appeal to all of you to get into this great revolution that is sweeping this nation.  Get in and stay in the streets of every city, every village and hamlet of this nation until true freedom comes, until the revolution of 1776 is complete.”

We must also heed the words of Joy Reid, i.e., “Stop expecting justice from this system. Vote in better political leaders and change the system. As it stands now, the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is not held even close to equally by every American. The only way to change that is to change who governs us.”

(Jack L. Daniel is Vice Provost and Professor Emeritus, University of Pittsburgh
Author, Negotiating a Historically White University While Black)
(Stacy Johnson, Ph.D. is Lecturer, The University of Texas San Antonio.)

 

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