Since I've graduated, and teased out all the possible careers, I've attended a bunch of academic conferences in topics I thought I'd be interested in. I went to one about California Studies. One about the history of the Pacific Rim. One about the re-addition of streetcars in downtown LA. And today, one on Critical Social Neuroscience.
Can you just feel the jumps in career-making in that?
I don't really go to talk to anyone, to network or whatever, I go there for taking things in and mainly observing how academics talk. All conferences have had very interesting bits to me, and I got a bunch of notes from each of them that I never bother looking at ever again. Obviously, these conferences are stock full of older folks, professors, elders, usually a good blend of males and females of all races and ethnicities.
However, there was something a bit agitating in the Los Angeles streetcar workshop and the Critical Social Neuroscience workshop.
In their final panels of 8 people or more, each conference bragged a panel of "experts."
Take a wild guess who they are? As in, guess what demographic they represent.
Suspense killing you?
Middle-aged. White. Males. All of them.
No, I'm not here to bash on white folks or to bash on the groups of experts, or to bash whatever they've accomplished as individuals. Matter of fact, most experts do say lots of interesting things, which is why I probably go to a conference in the first place.
I'm here to bash the reasons, the root causes for that regularity. Root causes being exclusionary policies and actions from years of district redlining to job discrimination, at a job where you might not "fit".
What I am agitated about is not these experts themselves, but just the regularity to all this. The regularity, the pattern that middle-aged white males are the experts. The normality that middle-aged white males are the experts. The people assumed to know things the best. The people who are chosen to represent what we should listen to. The people who can ultimately influence decisions in stuff as wide as media perception to public policy-making. Ultimately the people who are seen as rational, logical thinkers. Ultimately, the people who in large numbers are perceived as qualified and skilled. Ultimately, the people who are perceived as the "normal" of society to whom we should all adapt. Ultimately, the people who "fit" in anywhere.
I can't really verbalize how badly I want to disrupt that regularity. By having more of us up there.
This doesn't mean that I sit thru each of these conferences looking at these experts agonizing over the paucity of people of color. I notice it, but it doesn't ever distract me from the content of what's said.
However, when this dynamic really hits me is when I'm actually at home out of that academic space and plugged into my everyday reality.
Virtually everyone else that surrounds me does not look or talk like those academics or experts. I don't know many folks in my circle with anything higher than an M.A. (which would be Chiars!). The generation ahead of us brought us here which is cool, but it's not like they were able to make friends with lawyers, doctors, bankers, professors, and have those friends hire us once we got out of college or serve as a reference. Historic Filpinotown, Panorama City, South LA, East LA. North, East, South, I'm rolling around in dirt brown country with a few sprinkles of hipster. Every weekend when I play basketball in Eagle Rock, it's brown kids around my age whose places of origin were colonized by Spain either from the Philippines or Central America. We are barely effin' employed as bank tellers, video poker players, lowly lab assistants, high school tutors, teachers at nonprofits, and or going back to school and whatnot. Eh, I guess It's cool, for now.
Good to be here and all, but later we need to be there as well.