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Needle in the Haystack: The Rise of African Americans

“Get this man out of the classroom. He’s racist and promotes the rising of African Americans.”

When I first read this comment on an evaluation for a class I previously taught, I was overcome with feelings of dismay, anxiety, then anger. But, I remembered something that my parents taught me long ago. They told me the unfiltered truth will always make those who are ignorant of facts even more entrenched in their efforts of resistance.

During my career, I have always received positive feedback as it pertains to my teaching and lecturing style. However, this evaluation was the needle in the haystack that impacted me more than any other evaluation I had ever received.

For some, the teaching profession is just an avenue to lecture on a few statements from a source that was written some time ago on a certain subject, facilitate some feedback with students for a period of time, and then proceed to conclude the class. For me, with any lecture that I am a part of, whether it be an invited lecture, conference presentation, or as a formal speaker, I always make sure that I present the facts of the matter with conviction.

From talking with different students from multiple institutions and diverse backgrounds throughout the years, I find that many do not expect for their teacher and/or instructor to present the learning material in a passionate and interactive way.

From talking with different students from multiple institutions and diverse backgrounds throughout the years, I find that many do not expect for their teacher and/or instructor to present the learning material in a passionate and interactive way.

Couple that with the fact that I am a self-identified cis-gendered black male, the prospects increase for some students to react to my conviction-filled lectures with a certain lens that goes beyond my control.

In Scripting the Black Masculine Body by Ronald L. Jackson, the author posits that “mass-mediated depictions of culturally and racially different human beings encourage people to respond to the difference rather than the similarities” (Jackson 2006). He goes on to argue that “there is a hyper-awareness, for example, of the negative inscriptions associated with the black masculine body as criminal, angry, and incapacitated” (Jackson, 2006; Belton, 1996; Jackson, 1997; McCall, 1995; Orbe, 1998).

“He immediately refuted any valid ideas that came from students, not of “black” color. Such a stubborn attitude thought he was basically God of black culture.”

In synthesizing Ronald Jackson’s argument with the above statement from the evaluation, it is clear that this student, based on my race and gender, scripted me before I had even stepped foot in the classroom. There was an automatic assumption on this student’s part that I was “angry” and “incapacitated.” These assumptions led the student to believe that I am automatically not qualified to be their teacher. So, when this student was corrected on factual information, he/she felt that I was acting like an authoritarian or “God” on the subject and that I am “stubborn”, which then fed into their belief that I am biased against students who are not of color.

“Obama’s stubborn, willful complacency on terror; The stubbornness of Barack Obama. Why it’s always worked for him and why it might not now; Obama continues to stubbornly link gun violence with guns”

A quick google search of “President Obama Stubborn” shows that since the beginning of his administration, President Obama has had to deal with being labeled as “stubborn” by the larger dominant hegemonic society on mainstream issues. This is in part because President Obama is in position of what this society deems as the ultimate authoritarian as President of the United States. When he does something that certain people do not agree with, he is deemed “stubborn”.

From these suppositions, one can deduce that there is an inherent perception by society that black men who are in some position of authority are viewed as unqualified to handle their responsibilities because of deep rooted stereotypes of black people in general and specifically the black male that have been entrenched in American politics, media, and popular culture since the founding of Jamestown in 1619.

There was an automatic assumption on this student’s part that I was “angry” and “incapacitated”. These assumptions led the student to believe that I am automatically not qualified to be their teacher.

It is why President Obama to the majority of society will always be seen as the worst President in American history no matter what he does. It is why the black quarterback in professional football is still pigeonholed as being an “athlete” ready to take off at a whim and not smart enough to stand in the pocket, read coverages, and make the necessary throw to methodically move downfield. It is why there are hardly any black males in Fortune 500 company board rooms or in upper level leadership at Top 50 Public and Private Universities.

“Promotes the rising of African Americans”

Over the years, I have taught many classes at various institutions that serve students of diverse backgrounds and ideas. I can honestly say that in each class, I have called attention to factual evidence that brings attention to centuries old perceptions and stereotypes that have led to social norms and policies that have been a detriment to black and brown people in this country.

Looking back on the situation, I realized that this particular individual obviously took exception due to preconceived notions that were beyond my control.

Indeed, I don’t try to change anyone’s opinion or perception on an issue, I just try to present factual evidence that legitimizes the discourse. If facts that are presented lead to an individual to conclude that I am trying to promote the rising of African Americans, then so be it. I will gladly wear that badge of honor!

By Vincent Adejumo, Ph.D

Dr. Vincent Edward Oluwole Adejumo is a Summer 2015 graduate of the University of Florida’s Political Science PhD program majoring in policy and administration. He is currently a full-time lecturer in the African American Studies program teaching Intro to African American Studies in classroom and online, The Wire, Mentoring At-Risk Youth, and Black Masculinity.