Dr Boyce Watkins speaks on Syracuse University – Book Excerpt

“I arrived at Syracuse University in the fall of 2001. The relationship between me and the campus became contentious roughly three years into my academic career. It was then that I went from being “the quiet Black guy”, to the guy “embarrassing the university on CNN”. I’ve never said anything that I didn’t think through well in advance. I was never unprepared for an interview. I always did careful research on the topic of discussion and sufficient background checks on the individual I was debating. My liability was that I spoke about Black people in an honest way, and that was embarrassing to the campus.

I questioned why my university has many academic departments that have never granted tenure to any person of color since the university’s founding in 1870. I was most shocked that I was the first person asking such a question and could not understand why I was being considered a “bad apple” for doing so. My mother always taught me to be firm, yet polite, so I never asked the questions in a way that would be deemed disrespectful. I also felt that it was my obligation as a faculty member of color to speak up for the students who come to my campus and never get to have a professor who looks like them.

Many of the Black faculty on campus stayed away from me, but there were a select few who gravitated toward me. I was certainly not welcomed by the Black faculty in higher administration, who’d earned good positions for themselves by keeping their mouths shut and going along with the program. I understood their resentment toward me, because my mother also taught me that the world will never reward you for being a strong Black man. Black men are considered the underbelly of American society: the men that are most sent to prison, the ones who are not educated and the ones left unemployed. They are also the ones historically feared by our society and the ones most likely to die. So, defending Black males is not much different from standing up for the rights of rats or roaches. No one empathizes with the plight of a cockroach.

I soon found that the liberties of free speech that academics enjoy have an invisible line that stops when one speaks up on racial inequality. One semester, when I’d gotten into a public spat with Fox News host Bill O’Reilly, I saw my campus getting inundated with phone calls from wealthy alumni who watch Fox News, many of whom stated that they would not donate to the campus or send their children to a school that harbored a “racist” like me. How I’d been defined as a racist was confusing to me, but Malcolm X described it best when he explained that terms like “reverse racist” were used to alleviate America of the guilt regarding what it’s done to Black men, women and children for the past 400 years.

By speaking up for equality, I would surely be interpreted as a man fighting in favor of inequality. This perceived inequality is developed when a new and warped equality had already been created, one that presumed that African-Americans were to remain on the second tier of our society. By disrupting the multi-tiered system in which we live and stating that All Men and women are Created Equal, you are disrupting the sustained commitment to inequality to which America has become addicted. In other words, by saying Black people deserve the same rights and access as Whites, you are trying to steal something from White people.”

This was an excerpt from the forthcoming book, “Black American Money”, set to be released on July 15, 2009. 

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Published in: on May 30, 2009 at 2:43 pm  Leave a Comment  

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