Letters from Black Faculty
CFP: Letters from Black Faculty
This collection seeks unfiltered, unedited letters from Black academics, intellectuals, and faculty activists that address structural racism and individual experience in the academy, and the tenuous divide between the professional, the political, and the personal. What we are looking for are those letters sent to department heads, college administrators, fellow faculty and trustees that have as their goal holding institutions to their words when they say that “Black Lives Matter”.
Inspiration for this collection began in our current moment. In the summer of 2020, when imperialist statues and monuments were coming down in the UK and South African and in the wake of the death of George Floyd, scholars Joy Melody Woods and Shardé M. Davis took to Twitter to express their outrage at the lethal policing of Black communities across the United States. Woods and Davis, however, took special umbrage at the flood of statements from institutions of higher education purporting to affirm “Black Lives Matter.” Noting the paucity of Black faculty at the rank of full professor, low number of Black graduate students in institutions across the country and high numbers of Black ABDs, and all-too-many Black faculty denied tenure, Woods and Davis launched the #BlackinTheIvory hashtag that invited Black academics to offer in real time their own experience of the institutional neglect, dismissal and even outright hostility to their work and persons.
#BlackInTheIvory created a public space for Black scholars to share their experiences and views as individuals tweeted comments of mutual support and personal stories reflecting the pain and fortitude of Black scholars and scholarship. From humanists to scientists, administrators to students and staff, their stories detailed incidents and experiences, from seemingly small-scale racist interactions to outright verbal and physical assaults. #BlackInTheIvoery also positioned Black academics to challenge openly the authenticity and durability of those public expressions of institutional support that colleges and universities were falling all over one another to propound in the wake of the explosion of summer protests.
But Woods and Davis’s achievement with the release of #BlackInTheIvory itself does not exist in a vacuum. As a form of social and political engagement, it stands in solidarity with other forms of social media protest—such as trans-activist Alicia Garza’s #BLM and legal theorist Kimberlé Crenshaw’s #SayHerName—and on the shoulders of earlier traditions, notably the long tradition of Black scholars taking their institutions to task on matters of race through statements and, more specifically letters demanding change.
The epistolary—either private or as the more public open letter—has a unique standing in the tradition of Black protest against injustice. From nineteenth century luminaries like Frances E. W. Harper and Ida B. Wells to such twentieth-century giants as Pauli Murray, Olive Morris, Martin Luther King, Jr., James Baldwin, Audre Lorde, and even contemporary writers like Ta-Nehesi Coates, Hannah Black, Kehinde Andrews, and Claudia Rankine, Black folk have been penning audacious letters for quite some time. As a genre, the Black letter is both a work of art and a political intervention. While these letters can adopt a highly personal focus, they are always about community and the promise of true democracy and citizenship. This call for papers builds upon that long history by seeking to reproduce letters penned by Black scholars with their own goal of seeking to change academia.
In this moment, an unprecedented number of institutions has offered to create reading and listening groups, tasks forces and diversity committees. Many have asserted new goals to explain the number of student slots and faculty positions to meet the critical demand for representation and fair dealing. But Black faculty have far too often seen this charade for what it is—a feel good measure that institutions themselves help will dissipate in time after the protestors have gone home and the media has gone quiet. This call for papers seeks to retain that energy of current feeling and capture the full zeitgeist of this historic time. The purpose of this edited collection is to archive and reproduce this moment in time through the lens of those letters written by Black faculty challenging institutions of higher education to prove their anti-racist bonafides and meet their promises to deliver systemic equity to Black scholars.
If interested in contributing, please send an email confirmation with an abstract of not more than 500 words by January 1, 2021 to Hawthornet@berea.edu. Full submissions will be due April 15, 2021, and should be inclusive of abstract and references. Please use Chicago Style. If there are questions or concerns about confidentiality in light of the contents of your letter, let us discuss the ways in which such matters can be addressed responsibly.