*Dr. Cornel West has been hailed as one of the world’s most sought after scholars who can pontificate and debate about damn near anything with anybody. Not only do Black intellectuals seek his wisdom, even White people respect his viewpoint.
He is a Harvard University graduate and a Princeton University graduate twice over. He has served as an esteemed member of the faculty at Yale University, Harvard and currently at Union Theological Seminary. White mainstream media outlets invite him to debate the latest predicaments of cultural diversity, morality, politics and race. You might call West one of the talented tenth: one of those African Americans who White people probably call ‘a credit to his race’ – if there is such a thing.
But even with all the accolades he garners, when it comes to being granted a tenured position at Harvard – job security with a guaranteed check – it turns out West still ain’t good enough! He’s just another Black man forced to make a dollar out of 15 cents. You might as well call West Rodney Dangerfield!
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This modern day Frederick Douglass has quit the faculty at Harvard after years of enduring what he claimed was too much work for too little pay. Unlike some of us Black folks who would’ve cursed out a MoFo as we headed towards the exit, West penned what White people probably called a very articulate resignation letter seeking to be understood. Here’s the letter in case you care to read it.
While many of us can relate to the underpaid and overworked part of his exit dissertation, I especially connected with the part about West feeling like the invisible man despite all his achievements. He didn’t use the term exactly. Yet his example of White colleagues taking time to congratulate other faculty on their achievements, while receiving little to no acknowledgement for his own works – struck my nerves.
I remember my first career job as a staff writer in North Carolina at the Goldsboro News Argus. It was obvious to me I was the Affirmative Action hire. Not that I wasn’t qualified to be there – indeed I was. It was because there always seemed to be room for just one Black staff writer at a time; The one good enough to show off. All other Black employees were relegated working in the print room or delivering papers.
Like Dr. West, despite my notable contributions to the newspaper it still wasn’t enough for some of my White colleagues to offer me any semblance of civility. They never looked my way, let alone spoke to me. Yet they had plenty of time to hold conversations with other White co-worker’s about their family’s and pets. Not just one day, but everyday.
West’s experience and mine are not isolated incidents. Earlier this month another esteemed professor and award-winning journalist, Dr. Nikole Hannah-Jones, turned down tenure at her alma mater UNC-Chapel Hill after six months of colleague and community pressure forced the tenure committee into granting what it initially refused to give her. But when you have to beg and embarrass people into doing the right thing the prize loses is allure.
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Steffanie Rivers is a freelance journalist living in the Dallas-Ft. Worth metroplex. Email her at [email protected] with your comments, questions and speaking engagements. Follow her @TCBStef on Twitter and Instagram.