What Kind of World Do We Want, and How Do We Create It?
I am currently on the cusp of becoming a tenured faculty member at my home university. I think often about what this milestone means in a country where legislators of the past once made it illegal for my enslaved ancestors to learn to read; and where those today try to erase their predecessors’ tracks. Less than five percent of tenured faculty today are, like me, black. The number of tenured positions is currently on the decline in the United States, while contingent, part-time, adjunct, short-term contract teaching positions proliferate. Doors are closing. Please mind the gap.
These issues pose questions that are not separate from the “three-lives of a scholar” we are asked to consider in this provocation, but rather sit close to the heart of the matter. What kind of world do we want, and how do we create it? Knowledge “production” in the academy has long been disciplined by the dictates of capital that seeks merely to reproduce the dominant social order. Outside the academy, politicians clamor not for an education that opens new possibilities for human well-being, but rather for an education that continually rehearses hagiographies of power. I would argue that this remains largely true whether one resides in the (allegedly) post-imperial Global North or the (allegedly) post-colonial Global South. Meanwhile Black intellectual traditions (radical, feminist, queer, anti-colonial, etc.) have long pushed against such narrowing of educational purpose. They teach us the importance of imagination, collaboration, and grit over individualized expertise, status and privilege hoarding. They also insist that everyday people outside the academy know things too. The goal has not been to uphold disciplinary boundaries, national borders, and institutional barriers, but rather to transcend them. This is difficult work. The stakes are high but, as I suggested above, they always have been.
Jody Benjamin, University of California, Riverside, USA