Reconfiguring My Public Writing Position

I have had some kind of blog, both private and public, for over ten years now. As I transitioned into academia I found public writing immensely gratifying and helpful. I have written that social media and the networks they promote can go a long way towards filling the gaps in mentorship and community many junior scholars experience. That is particularly true for minority scholars.

My writing developed a small following. Trust me, no delusions of grandeur here. I know it is small and I am thankful that even one person engages me and my ideas. However, I have always taken great pains to “show my work”. That is I try to source, cite, and credit to show the development of my ideas and to inspire confidence in their credibility. (As some of pointed out, I’m not always perfect in doing this but I always try!) I have found that this practice differs widely by genre, profession, and platform.

It is an unfortunate truth but much of how I am rewarded in my career is a function of my legitimate claim to the intellectual development of ideas. No, I do not think I invented gender critiques or racism critiques or credentialism. Like all writers, however, I do build arguments in ways particular to my training and way of thinking. I do not have the authority of a prestigious role, office, or institution to bolster any of my claims to my intellectual labor. Therefore, I’m particularly vulnerable to my work being minimized and co-opted. It is the way of the capitalistic beast. I can rail against that and even hope to change it someday but the reality is I live and work in this construct, just as most of you do.

I have had to take some time to reconfigure my personal position on sharing the development of my intellectual labor to help me balance the immense benefit of openness with the reality of the capitalistic value, both material and symbolic, of the work I source, argue, and write. As I have reconfigured I took some posts down, edited others  and decided to take more care in modulating the openness of my writing. It may not matter at all. Again, I am absolutely aware that I may be guilty of charges of thinking “I’m all that” when really I’m just a peon at a regional institution with a blog that is read by a dozen or so people. I am only writing this post because a couple dozen people emailed, tweeted, and commented about the disappearance of content. Trust me, I’m as surprised as you likely are that anyone noticed or cares. However, my intuition suggests now is a good time to become more deliberate about such things and I am afraid I will privilege my gut over the wisdom of the crowd.

I have to write. I also have to share it. It seems those two things are just part of who I am. Both bring me great joy and occasionally lovely rewards. However, I cannot afford to do the heavy lifting for others who do have the authoritative role, position, platform and institution to claim greater ownership over intellectual labor than do I. For the time being that means a break from the sort of sweeping, hyperlinked blog posts that have become my signature. Thank you all (however few of you there are!) for staying with me as I figure this out.

This fulfills my semi-annual quota of two overly personal blog posts. We will now return to regular programming: analysis and cursory critiques of sociology, education, for-profit higher education, and inequality.

One thought on “Reconfiguring My Public Writing Position

  1. I have really enjoyed reading your blogs and tweets, and find your ability to speak publicly and be taken seriously inspirational. What you say about a lack of community and mentorship for Black academics is true, especially for Black women in highly racist and segregated fields like anthropology, and especially when we try to study Whiteness and White (male) supremacy *explicitly*, instead of talking about race (and gender) by doing fieldwork in Black spaces/places with Black informants. (As Elizabeth Chin has quipped aout anthropology: non-Whites are expected to study themselves while Whites get to study everyone.)

    I think you are a really important role model for emerging Black female scholars, especially those who are from modest African immigrant backgrounds with little cultural and social capital necessary to effectively negotiate the minefield that is the academy, and thus more susceptible to not playing the academic ‘game’ correctly for not realizing how much it is not a meritocracy (especially when you explicitly research Whiteness in a hostile academic climate), no matter how elite one’s academic credentials, such that one just cannot use White scholars or White (male) college classmates as the template for how to rise in and through the academy (especially if one has a White adviser who has no substantive interest in one’s project and one is in a department with zero Black faculty that generally only cares about Black students for ‘look, we’re not racist, we have Black students’ diversity points). When i read your work, it is a difficult but necessary reminder of the ways in which I just did not get that academic success was not simply about being really smart, but about realizing just what kind of racism and sexism one was dealing with in one’s institution and course-correcting accordingly. The Black students in my department whose parents had grown up here had no illusions about how racist and antiblack the department was, and so fared much better. So when I read you writing about understanding structure–I mean, REALLY understanding structure–so you don’t sabotage yourself, however unintentionally, by attributing negative outcomes to your own deficiency and just not trying hard enough, I wish I could take you to coffee and say, Thank you.

    Sorry for not always communicating my ideas to you effectively, but I want to let you know that your example has been deeply inspirational, even to this deeply disillusioned erstwhile anthropologist.

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