Internet Editor’s Note: Tye Stephens recently published an article in the Bulletin on “Gay in OK: Self-care and Advocacy as a Member of a Target Group.” You can find a free copy of the article: here.
It’s hard to talk about race.
Actually, that’s not the case. As an academe, race and racism are relatively easy topics to discuss because academic disclosure requires very little self-reflection. In psychological academia, we’re encouraged to minimize disclosure and keep our professional boundaries high. This mentality works in the contexts of psychotherapy and research, but what does it do in the realm of social justice?
Social justice has become somewhat of a buzzword in recent weeks, and with it, terms such as anti-racism, privilege, and equity have also entered into the common vernacular. While many, rightfully, view this as progress, there maintains a section of our culture in which the exploitation of people of color continues, even under this new light. This dynamic is often referred to as performative allyship, and it carries the potential to do more harm to marginalized voices as those with privilege continue to speak over or on behalf of those they claim to support.
On that note, I must point out the irony of this article. I am a cisgender, White, male academician writing this, and I acknowledge that many of the people who read this will share at least some of those traits, and that seems to be part of the problem here. Psychology is somewhat of a liberally-skewed profession, and we, as the professionals in this field, have in many cases taken up the battle cry of Black Lives Matter without actually exploring our own motivations. No amount of marching, donating, protesting, or tweeting will remove our (often white) privilege. Are we using our privilege to lift up Black voices, or are we sharing our opinions with those we presume will agree with us? Are we facilitating change in our lives, communities, and systems, or are we simply talking to our colleagues who reshared our articles on Facebook?
These are all important questions, and I find myself asking them whenever I engage in these discussions. I have observed students and colleagues alike as they come to me for answers, and I question my ability to even give these answers in a professional way. My Whiteness does not negate me from internalized biases, and why is it acceptable to ask me about racial equality instead of non-White faculty members?
When we discuss racial justice, we compartmentalize this issue and treat it as though it occurs in a vacuum. We research it, we analyze it, and we write articles about it. That isn’t enough anymore. We have to go beyond speaking out in our echo chambers and instead use both introspection and action in our daily lives. We must explore our own motivations, and we must normalize that process. We can no longer sit by and speak on behalf of others because we “did the research.” At this point, we have an ethical and moral obligation to get out of the way and create space for diversity, rather than simply treating it as an objective to be achieved.
Racism and bias thrive in systems, and academia is no exception to this. We trust research because we assume that math and statistics are infallible, but in reality, we should understand that research is readily manipulated. I have begun challenging default Whiteness in my own classrooms, and this has led to some alarming realizations. Textbooks are predominantly written by White authors, who do research with predominantly White colleagues, who experiment on predominantly White subjects, who then share their findings with—you guessed it—predominantly white students. While so many of us are taking time to discuss racism and use anti-racist buzzwords, we have still failed to address the very systemic oppression that thrives in academia.
Our duty, as instructors, professors, and teachers, is no longer to share information. Our challenge now is to use the same critical thinking skills with which we challenge our students while also moving out of the way. We have to acknowledge our privilege and use it to amplify the voices of those who are not ordinarily given these opportunities, and until we do that, our chants of “Black lives matter,” are strictly performative.
I end this article with a sentiment I keep written in my office: “If you are not willing to be uncomfortable, then you are not ready to grow.” If we, as professionals, are not ready to be vulnerable, then how can expect our field to change? We, fellow academes, must sit in the discomfort of our privilege so we become empowered to use it for change. We must commit to reading texts from diverse voices, to being activists in just causes rather than panderers in a classroom. We have a duty to go beyond equity in speech and instead facilitate equity in our own lives, our classrooms, and our minds. If we are not ready to do that, then we are doing a disservice to our field, our students, and those we allege to care for.
Cite This Article
Stephens, T. (2020, August). Allyship in academia: An action call for. [Web article]. Retrieved from https://societyforpsychotherapy.org/allyship-in-academia-an-action-call-for