Today we were informed that somebody has been appointed to a very high administrative position in our university. All we were told about him is that he’s the first African American to hold this position at out school.
Immediately, people started posting on the university message board things like, “That’s fantastic!!! I can’t wait to learn more about him!”
When I see this kind of thing, I can’t help worrying whether the appointee has already been given access to the discussion board. What if he sees this? We don’t know him and have no idea what his narrative of his professional success is.
No matter what you think about college administrators and their usefulness, within his profession, this guy achieved great success. What if he doesn’t see himself as a token? I don’t know if he does or not but what if he doesn’t? Many very successful people like to see their success in terms of individual achievement, pulling themselves up by the bootstraps, personal perseverance, etc. Again, no matter what we think about this narrative, it’s not our business to tell people how to understand their own lives. We haven’t met this man, we know nothing about him. Why are we so easily assuming it’s ok with him to be seen as nothing but a prop for a bunch of white people to signal their racial sensitivity?
And here’s another thought. What if he’s actually good at his job? We are expressing such joy that he’s going to be a cute racial statistic for us but what if he actually deserves the job?
Alternatively, what if he stinks? What if he’s pro-austerity, pro-contingent labor, and anti-union? The first thing we do when we get a new administrator is look up their history in previous administrative positions. But this fellow, nobody even gives him a dignity of having a program, or a set of opinions that might have an impact. It’s like we purchased a gadget or a statue.
I’m usually no great fan of college administrators (although they are often unfairly demonized and ascribed faults that belong squarely to the faculty). But I now kind of feel bad for this new hire. Such a great achievement, I’m sure he’s celebrating, and here people are treating him like he doesn’t matter.
I’m sure everybody in the situation means well but if you are really comfortable with black people in responsible jobs, would you feel the need to express such intense joy about having them around?