Perhaps some context for this observation would be useful. When you look at the figures that are available, the numbers are pretty horrible. From one APSA data collection effort in 2010 we know that 5% of faculty in tenure track positions are African American. I’m sure if we consider other categories (e.g., adjuncts), the numbers might change but this is informative:
Faculty by Rank (Tenure/TenureTrack)
Year ASSISTAN ASSOCIAT FULL N
2010 2877 2775 3650 9302
African American by Rank
Year ASSISTAN ASSOCIAT FULL N %all
2010 170 161 130 461 5.0%
Latino/a by Rank
Year ASSISTAN ASSOCIAT FULL N %all
2010 114 84 51 249 2.7%
Asian Pacific American by Rank
Year ASSISTAN ASSOCIAT FULL N %all
2010 121 107 91 319 3.4%
Additionally, in 2011, I was informed that:
There are small increases in racial and ethnic diversity in the placement class. Looking only at US citizens, 81 percent of the class is White, less than earlier years when the rate was 88 percent. Of the US citizens, 5 percent are African American, 5 percent Asian Pacific Islander, 4 percent Latino/a, and 4 percent are “other.” Only four candidates (.4%) were identified as American Indian. These rates are very small proportional increases from 2002 when 4% of the class were African American, 4% Latino/a, and 3% Asian American.)
Members of underrepresented racial and ethnic groups all had relatively high
Placement rates in permanent academic positions: 65% of African American candidates, 52% of Latino/a, and 53% of Asian Pacific Islander, compared to 47% of Whites. For most groups, the type of institution (doctoral, MA, undergraduate) in which they took a position was relatively similar. However, African American candidates on the market were far more likely to be have positions in undergraduate degree granting departments then doctoral degree departments – compared to all other groups. Just 27% of African American appointments were in PhD departments, compared to 48% overall. This difference may be related to fields of study: African American job candidates are less likely to be working in comparative or international politics as their major fields than other candidates; and the doctoral degree granting programs, more so than BA degree departments, tended to be hiring in these fields.
Now, we can quibble about the data collection effort because this is what we do, but let us assume for a second that the information contained above is capturing some aspect of the reality that we all see when we go to ISA. This is not acceptable. It does not well reflect the broader society; our role in the world has been quite significant - Ralph Bunche, Condoleeza Rice, Susan Rice, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, etc. Some think tanks like the Woodrow Wilson Center are acknowledging this absence but, nevertheless, such a reality does not well reflect where we should or could be. It definitely does not well reflect where we must go to improve the discipline.
Now, surely (you say) things must be getting better. I recall the days when I would walk around the meetings imagining a t-shirt that said “the other black guy at ISA” or “the other black guy in Quant IR/Comparative” as I would only see Errol Henderson and K.C. Morrison. As we hung out in the conflict community, Errol and I were frequently mistaken for one another (I have witnesses to this effect). Thinking about the topic though, I am reminded of one meeting where I attended a random panel with about 5 other African Americans (yes, 5 – think about that one for a sec). While the presentations went on, we all kind of looked at one another and gave the nod of surprise as well as acknowledgement. After the session, we all stayed around for a second, basking in the moment that none of us had experienced before. After the panel, we kind of let everyone else go and moved in to chat. The conversation was revealing. Three discussed feeling that they felt they had no place at ISA, that whenever they mentioned African Americans that this was responded to as if it had no bearing on topics of comparative politics as well as international affairs/relations and that they felt that they would find a more appreciative environment in American Politics or perhaps even a different field entirely (e.g., sociology or history). I remembered trying to make a case that there was a space for us in political science in general and ISA in particular, but I saw/see their points.
A space has been carved out in certain respects. After efforts by Doug Lemke and Errol Henderson to theorize and empirically demonstrate the importance of Africa to international conflict processes, the specific focus on African conflict within the Social Conflict in Africa Database as well as some high-quality subnational investigations on Africa (here and here), there is now a small foothold where African Americans might feel that (at least) some part of the profession might be open to something they might be connected with. But, this is problematic as well. Aside from Errol, none of the projects above appear to involve African Americans. Now, I am not saying the there is anything wrong with the data projects above because there are no African Americans involved with them. Although it is an interesting question to wonder what (if anything) would be changed if they were involved. Blacks are also not uniformly interested in Africa. Indeed, some might stay away from it precisely because it is believed that they should have an interest in the topic – this is something that Rick Hofferbert did to me in graduate school. The result: I moved to study global patterns in state repression and completely ignored all cases for years.
A space should be carved out. Research on diversity teaches us that we learn more from having diverse people involved with/engaged in collective efforts. My earlier award-winning blog, “Researching While Black”, argued that the involvement of African Americans would lead to unique receptivity within particular communities around the world – e.g., those communities that are engaged with challenging political authorities. We would simply be better at doing what we did if there were more African Americans involved in what we do. Hopefully, upon reading this, everyone will think for a few seconds about how a black person being involved in their research area might change how they collect what they do, what theories they employ and how they interpret findings. We could talk more about this later as the “blackening” of your research should be something that you consider. Now, it should be noted that I think that Africans might not suffer from the same kind of problems here. They have experience with a foreign country, some languages and quite often a better educational background. We could talk more about this later as well. A space should also be carved out because we had a space before. Consider that some of the most prominent political scientists were interested in comparative politics and international relations: W.E.B. Dubois, Oliver Cox, Ralph Bunche and Margueritte Ross Burnett.
So assuming that you accept that blacks should be incorporated more thoroughly into comparative politics and international studies, the question remains: how do we get more African Americans into the relevant fields? Well, I’m glad that you asked. NSF awarded Kathy Powers and myself some money to try and address the problem in a project called “Pathways”. Truth be told, I wanted to call it “Passages” (invoking the “Middle Passage”) but that was a bit over the top (thanks Prof. Powers) and whatever one thinks about navigating the profession, it kind of trivializes slavery to suggest that this is comparable to what academics go through (just saying).
As conceived, the initial effort was straightforward: acknowledging that there are very few senior African Americans and networks are somewhat limited relative to other groups, there is little known below the full rank about how to move upward. Consequently, the relevant scholars need to be better informed about how to move through the ranks (e.g., is there any difference in how African Americans are treated in the relevant fields, how will they generally be viewed as African Americans, scholars and African American scholars in Comparative and IR, how will their topics be viewed by different individuals in the field and how can should they develop their networks to assure success). We thus seek to compile information as well as create/draw upon networks to better inform individuals about what is involved.
This effort has begun but we quickly realized two problems. First, while it is good to focus on Assistant Professors and moving them to tenure, this is not the only group that needs to be addressed. For example, we realized that we needed to move below this group to graduate students as well as undergrads. We need to show graduate students what is coming so that they could better prepare for it. Many habits are started in graduate school and it is better to intervene earlier as opposed to later. Additionally, we needed to get more undergraduates interested in comparative politics and international relations. I think that there is something done at the undergraduate level that turns African Americans off and away from the topic. It might be that there are limited discussions of African Americans outside of the American context. Many believe that blacks have no role in international relations ignoring the work of Elliot Skinner and Brenda Gayle Plummer. It might be that African Americans cannot imagine themselves in the domain of international affairs being barely able to imagine themselves in the domain of domestic ones. This is one of the reasons why I am offering a class next year called “Black to the World” which will explore the diverse ways that international relations and comparative politics relate to African Americans (e.g., from the international slave trade to the global diffusion of African American resistance movements and hip hop culture). At the same time, we realized that we need to help Associate Professors get over the hump to full as well as figure out how the African American situation differed from that of Latino/a people and Asians. We also realized that we needed to figure out how gender intersects.
But, this gets ahead of where we wanted to go because everything really began with a simple point: we need to find the people that we want to help, hear what they are thinking, tell them what we are proposing and move forward. So, with this, I/we reach out to you to help us find the relevant population. If you have an undergrad that looks promising, send them to our Pathways webpage: http://bit.ly/1X5zggv. If you have a graduate or undergraduate student that is looking like they might have a shot, send them our way. If you have a colleague and you are not sure how to approach them about how they are doing, send them our way or come yourself. Part of the problem is that we do not really talk openly about these things. Those days are over. We might not solve all the problems we are confronting. We will take a shot though.