When White Guys Play the Race Card
July 20, 2012 5 Comments
I am grateful to Cynthia R. Nielsen for her recent post on the academic job market and current hiring practices re: race and gender, especially in the humanities. Like Prof. Nielsen, I’ve also encountered embittered white males who feel that women/POC receive an unfair advantage in academia.
For example, I’ve been told by a white male (WM) friend who is enrolled in an Ivy-league doctoral program that upon his acceptance he had other white males tell him something along the lines of, “Thanks for letting us know that we, i.e. WMs, can still get into a program – sheesh!”
Or, having known several WMs who have been on the job market who have struggled to find work I’ve heard something like, “Yup, EVERY position is going to a minority these days,” on several occasions. (Specifically, I know of a fellow Asian American colleague who had these frustrations expressed to him by a WM colleague on a number of occasions. And this WM ended up receiving a job this year.)
Or, having known WMs applying for fellowships or postdocs say something like, “It’s hard out here for a WM these days. No one’s interested in the kind of work we do anymore. All they want is race, feminism, sexuality, social change, blah blah blah…”
And having said all of this, the WMs who have said these things to me have usually prefaced it by saying something like, “I know academia needs to diversify, and there are good historical reasons for the preference which I agree with, but it sucks when it’s you.”
I can only speak from my experience, as a biracial Asian American (with as white a sounding name as a person can have!), but I see no empirical evidence for the current mythology so helpfully exposed by Cynthia, and David in the comments on her post, that WMs are at a disadvantage in the academy.
I’m a doctoral candidate in Religion and Social Ethics at Emory. In my discipline, counting up the two years before and after me, in the Religion (Ethics and Society) program, Emory’s student population has had: five WMs, two white females, one black male, one Hispanic female, and me. That’s 50% WMs and 50% non-WMs (which is still, looking at national numbers, a disproportionately advantageous number of WMs). Of those WMs in my discipline at Emory who have gone on the job market since I’ve been around, that I know about, 100% received jobs. (And they wrote dissertations on things like political theology and ontology in Augustine, Luther, and Calvin.) Emory’s ethics faculty is 50% WM and 50% white female. At my seminary the last two Ethics hires have been one WM and one non-WM (AA female). At my undergraduate institution the last several hires in Religion have been three WMs, one white female, and one black male.
This is anecdotal evidence, but it highlights the same reality the numbers show (cited in the comments on Cynthia’s original post): WMs are not, systemically, discriminated against in academia nor are they at a disadvantage because of their gender and/or race. This false myth must stop being perpetuated.
Here’s the deal: the academic job market is a bear and has been for awhile. It’s especially a bear for those of us in the humanities who find it hard to quantify our “product” in financial terms. It sucks for EVERYONE. And lots of qualified people don’t make it into doctoral programs, receive fellowships, or get hired. Like nearly everything else (like starting a small business, let’s say), entering academia is a risky endeavor. Some will “succeed,” and some who should won’t. Hard work and qualifications will often get you “in the door,” but not always. But they are necessary to get in. Folks don’t get hired as a professor who aren’t qualified. No one gets a “pass.” It’s a part of our society that sucks, but not everyone who should succeed will.
To be one of those who has met the qualifications but can’t seem to make the “leap” and get hired is not a good place to be in. It sucks. And it’s natural to place blame elsewhere. However, please don’t do it by blaming women and minorities for getting a pass. In doing so you dismiss their accomplishments, perpetuate unhelpful and false stereotypes, and add one more slight and indignity to their experience in a world that they have historically been excluded from.
Blame the market. Blame the economy. Blame the always ambiguous but highly influential qualification of “fit” (which often works to the benefit of WMs, by the way). Just don’t blame those whose bodies are different than yours. You’ve got a Ph.D. You can do better than that.