Tiffany Martinez didn't need to add the "white" to her statement that "academia needs work." She experiences the power and exclusion of whiteness all the time. For her, the academy is white. I hope you've already read her piece, Academia, Love Me Back, but if you haven't, you need to. Anyone working in the academy needs to. White people need to.
I needed to. I know, from my own experiences and my own mistakes, that
the worst injury a professor inflicts on a student is the false
assumption that work they have submitted is not their own.
That is what happened to Martinez. She used the word, "hence" in an essay. Her professor insisted that this was not her word. They underlined "not" twice. As in, "no freaking way do you know this word." Not to mention this young woman is a serious scholar and can probably out-write every kid in that class.
The damage we can wreak as professors by making assumptions about students, about their writing, about their ideas is tremendous. As Martinez notes, it can set students back, as their own doubts and feelings of not belonging are codified and wrapped in the mantle of authority. Of knowing.
I have made mistakes. I've misread or misinterpreted students' work. I have also battled my own internal racism and other prejudices along the way and tried to be one step ahead of those assumptions and prejudices. I have been humbled by my privilege. I try not to be blinded by it.
This is not a post about all the ways the academy needs to change color. (BTW, it does.) This is about teaching. When students of color say they need their professors to look like them, it is not a numbers game and it is not a cultural prerogative. They are saying that they need professors who don't discount them because of their race, their accent, their clothes, their unfamiliarity with the system. They need professors who see their potential, who listen openly and fully to their questions and opinions, who are willing to engage all of them, all of the time, on their terms. They need to feel like they belong. Academia needs work. The least white professors can do is check our privilege, not trigger internalized racism and try not to harm the kids that sit in front of us.