Silencing the Noise: Writing Clear and Uncompromised Research as Scholars of Color

by | Jan 23, 2024 | Uncategorized | 0 comments

It’s no surprise that so many scholars of color share a sense of disconnection and non-belonging in U.S. academia. There is a violence at play that harms both faculty and graduate students of color, one that obstructs the capacity to grow and write clear, uncompromised research and analysis while remaining connected to the power of our ideas and voices.

Academic oppression has real and measurable ill-effects on the quality and nature of our scholarly research. While this is deeply troubling, we each have access to both inner and collective resources that we can learn to rely upon so that we no longer have to feel trapped in a zero-sum game whereby we are either compromising ourselves and our ideas or building up our academic careers.

It’s entirely possible for us to craft uncompromised research, theories, and methods while not only surviving but also thriving within limiting and oppressive academic systems.

As with most things in life, this is easier said than done, especially because we must learn to resource ourselves with trust, value, and power from within and from communities where we find a sense of grounding, hope, and belonging.
Why? Because academic gatekeeping and unquestioned systems tend to push scholars of color in the opposite direction.

Dig deep, friends…it’s time to honor our contributions, expand the brilliance of our voices, and harmoniously align what we stand for with what we write.

How does academic oppression show up?

There are many long-standing pillars that support the structure of academic oppression. See if you recognize any of these:

  •  Elite white scholars disproportionately lead recruitment, hiring, evaluations, and promotions.
  • Evaluations don’t align with the contributions scholars of color are making.
  • Universities unequally scrutinize the research, authority, and expertise of scholars of color or treat us (and our ideas) as a threat to the status quo.
  • Universities position scholars of color to conduct excessive amounts of service on campus at the expense of research time and attention to health. This is in addition to the already existing inequities around salary, etc. (what Lorgia Garcia Peña calls “the minority tax and erasure of our labor”).
  • Universities use scholars of color to demonstrate success in diversity initiatives while failing to support their real-life needs on campus or to retain us long-term.
  • Biased decisions about tenure, promotion, salary, and retention widen the disparities that disproportionately impact faculty of color.
  • Disciplinary, theoretical, and methodological gatekeeping, coupled with racism, sexism, homophobia, and ableism cloud the ability of faculty and administrators to fairly read and interpret research produced by scholars of color.
  • Mentorship structures fail to align with the needs and interests of faculty and graduate students of color.

These vast structural inequities are not only overwhelming, but they also cause real forms of harm that obstruct our research, and capacity to access our inner voice, core ideas, and creativity.

The harmful effects of academic violence on research

It’s not difficult to imagine how these structural realities ripple into the intimate and professional lives of scholars of color, creating a hamster-wheel experience of striving to flourish, but consistently being held back from thriving. Many of us already embody the radically imaginative and urgent analyses that the world is so hungry for. Yet many of us also share in a constant state of exhaustion from ruminating over whether refusing to compromise our beliefs, theories, or methodologies will jeopardize our potential to publish or even our job security.  

The fear of rejection, scrutiny, and uncertainty is loud and valid. When we add all of this up, we see academic violence in action and the harmful effects it has each day on scholars of color and our research, such as:

  • Debilitating emotional wounds  that damage confidence, self-reliance, determination, and boldness.
  • Mental overwhelm that obstructs the capacity to tap into our innate-knowing and our well of analytical resources.
  • Perpetuating writer’s block and a kind of hypervigilance whereby there is a constant need to interpret what gatekeepers, senior colleagues, publishers, editors, colleagues, etc. think about our scholarship.

Academic violence may appear to be tucked under the rug, but its ability to mushroom and rule is damaging like a rippling wave. Fortunately, we don’t have to continue relying on a violent system to validate our research and our voices. I believe the inherent value that liberates our research and writing lies within ourselves and the collective spaces where we share a sense of power and belonging. The question is, how do we cultivate that inner and collective wellspring?

Scholars of color, liberate your writing practices!

The Liberate Your Research workshops were developed as a result of my own painful experience of academic oppression. I knew it was essential for my research to remain untainted by gatekeeping systems and ideas that did not align with my own. I also knew that there would inevitably be boxes I’d need to tick and hoops I’d need to move through in order to publish….but I was determined to try and walk that tightrope without losing my voice.

One of the first things I recognized was that the long-standing pillars of oppression support a white, heteropatriarchal academic culture that diminishes the significance of emotion in relation to research and writing. This is a profound loss. Our thoughts and emotional responses to academic violence shape the very container in which we develop indispensable resources for creative thinking, naming and claiming our ideas, uncompromised writing, and publishing. When we affirm that emotional awareness, inner-balance, and the process of healing matters, we can create new, essential pillars of support.  Uncompromised research must be rooted in radical self-love, collective connection, and a deep trust in the containers that nurture them. This is how we tap into the power of our creative imagination and present our research findings.

The tightrope between academic gatekeeping and refusing to compromise our contributions is an ongoing balancing act. When we shift from surviving to thriving we are not only challenging the system we’re invested in, but our own mental/emotional systems as well. Learning how to navigate our way through this maze is an essential skill to cultivate. Daunting as it may sound, it can be quite extraordinary. The practice of unhooking, dislodging, and disaggregating the need for the industrial complex of academic gatekeepers to value our ideas or research-writing is liberating in more ways than one. Not only do we remove the belief that the value of our voice, ideas, and research is validated through professional evaluations, promotions, and publication acceptance, but we also give voice to the silence that stands between old systems and shifting paradigms.

Even in the face of the most oppressive conditions and the urgent need to pass through academic systems for job security and research productivity, there is a window of possibility for producing intentional, genuine, and principled research and writing that’s accountable to the dreams and visions that initially inspired our scholarly interests.

This path before us unfolds through grounded and confident ownership of our voices, leadership positions, and in acknowledging that the maze we’re walking through would readily poison our words unless we stand by them. 

How to write confidently and support your research

Enroll in a Liberate Your Research workshop! Through carefully curated exercises, LYR helps scholars of color embrace the power of radical imagination to equip them with alternatives to silence and fear-based self-edits.

Take power over your journey and learn how to shift the focus of your work toward rationalizing and claiming your analytics. You’ll also understand the different forms of gatekeeping and how their absence of proper evaluation tools for scholars of color can be overcome.

The creative path of liberated, uncompromised research, radical self-ownership, and collective hope and power is yours to claim. Learn more here.

Author: <a href="" target="_self">Nadine Naber</a>

Author: Nadine Naber

Nadine Naber, PhD. is a public scholar, author, and teacher from Al-Salt, Jordan and the Bay Area of California. Nadine has been co-creating connections, research, and activism among scholars of color and social movements for the past 25 years. She is author/co-author of five books, an expert author for the United Nations; co-founder of the organization Mamas Activating Movements for Abolition and Solidarity (MAMAS); co-author of the forthcoming book, *Pedagogies of the Radical Mother* (Haymarket Press); and founder of programs such as the Arab and Muslim American Studies Program at the University of Michigan and the Arab American Cultural Center at the University of Illinois.


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