This post was prepared collaboratively by Brandy Karl and Ana Enriquez. We thank Racine Amos, Carmen Cole, Lauren Cooper, Angel Diaz, and Jennifer Meehan for their feedback on a draft of this post. Any errors are our responsibility.
This post outlines a few examples of racism related to scholarly communications. The resources below can help you learn about these issues. We have chosen not to provide summaries of the resources — instead, we provide brief quotes or descriptions, in hopes that you will read the resources themselves, reflect on them, and take action to change your own practices in these areas. In addition to changing your own practices, we hope you take action to support and encourage others in doing this work, including colleagues, students, administrators, academic units, colleges, libraries, archives, museums, scholarly societies, editorial boards, and publishers.
Misattribution of Black scholarship and failure to cite Black scholars perpetuates racism.
- April Hathcock, Director of Scholarly Communications & Information Policy at NYU Libraries, describes the experience of learning that her writing about the colonialism of learning analytics “was wholly subsumed by and cited to the work of a white man” in Against the Grain: At It Again, May 30, 2020.
- Gabrielle Foreman, Paterno Family Professor of American Literature and Professor of African American Studies and History at Penn State, writes that “[a]ctual language from a ‘Talking/Teaching/Writing about Slavery’ guide [she] curated got thousands of RTs/likes . . . without citation,” Tweet, June 17, 2020.
- Action you can take: Christen A. Smith, Associate Professor of African and African Diaspora Studies and Anthropology at University of Texas – Austin, outlines five guiding principles for citing Black women in Cite Black Women: A Critical Praxis, December 21, 2018.
Many academic institutions in the U.S. are built on lands taken from Indigenous people and continue to benefit from Indigenous dispossession.
- Action you can take: Learn whose lands you live and work on with Native Land, “a resource for North Americans (and others) to find out more about local Indigenous territories and languages.”
- Action you can take: Acknowledge the people on whose lands you live and work, but don’t stop there.
- “Land acknowledgment alone is not enough. It’s merely a starting point. Ask yourself: how do I plan to take action to support Indigenous communities?” writes the Native Governance Center in A guide to Indigenous land acknowledgment.
- “The time is long overdue for everyone to open all public events and gatherings with acknowledgment of the traditional Native inhabitants of the land,” writes The U.S. Department of Arts and Culture in Honor Native Land: A Guide and Call to Acknowledgement.
- “[L]and-grant universities were built not just on Indigenous land, but with Indigenous land.” Land-grab universities, an investigation for High Country News by Robert Lee, lecturer in American History at the University of Cambridge, and Tristan Ahtone, editor-in-chief of the Texas Observer, documents the role of the Morrill Act in Indigenous dispossession in the United States.
- Examples of Land Acknowledgments in U.S. Academia
Misgendering trans people of color magnifies the multiplicity of harms at the intersection of systemic racism and transphobia.
- In Black Trans Women and Black Trans Femmes: Leading & Living Fiercely, the Transgender Law Center writes that, “Trans people, trans people of color, and especially Black trans women and Black trans femmes are already disproportionately impacted by discrimination while working. This discrimination leads to higher rates of poverty, poorer health outcomes, and increased likelihood of experiencing violence in other areas of life. As a result, Black trans women and Black trans femmes face disproportionately higher rates of violence, including police violence, as well as harassment and discrimination by government agencies and the courts.”
- Action you can take: Respect trans people by always using correct pronouns. Cis people can help to create inclusive spaces by providing their pronouns. Learn more with MyPronouns.org, authored by Shige Sakurai, Director of Leadership Initiatives and Associate Director of the LGBT Equity Center at University of Maryland, College Park.
Systemic inequities in academic publishing perpetuate racism.
- Action you can take: “These inequities create obstacles for faculty from marginalized groups from continuing and advancing in their careers,” writes the Library Publishing Coalition in An Ethical Framework for Library Publishing. Read the guide for suggestions on how to address these inequities, including in geography and language, scholarship formats, and the editorial and peer review process.
Traditional citation practices reduce the visibility of those who aren’t first authors.
- Using ‘First Author, et al.’ in the first citation to a work fails to acknowledge the work of those that aren’t first authors and creates barriers to the advancement of their careers by reducing the visible credit to junior scholars.
- Action you can take: Penn Law Review writes, “Our internal style guide now institutes a strong pref. for listing a source’s first 10 authors upon 1st citation. We applaud the fair citation campaign’s goal but regret how it’s obscured the heart of the issue: that BIPOC & women are systemically excluded from legal academia.” Tweet Thread, September 15, 2020.
The language used to describe people can obscure them.
- Action you can take: Instead of “slave” use “enslaved person” to acknowledge the human agency and “enslaver” instead of “slave master” so as not to promote a desired status. P. Gabrielle Foreman and scholarly collaborators, “Writing about Slavery/Teaching About Slavery: This Might Help.”
- Action you can take: Ask Indigenous people how they want to be identified and use the terms they prefer.
- Michael Yellow Bird, Dean of the Faculty of Social Work at the University of Manitoba, writes in “What We Want to Be Called: Indigenous Peoples’ Perspectives on Racial and Ethnic Identity Labels” [access for PSU] “At minimum all Indigenous Peoples should be asked how they want to be identified or what they want to be called.”
- The Native American Journalists Association (NAJA) discusses the need to use specific, accurate terminology when writing about Indigenous people in the NAJA Reporting and Indigenous Terminology Guide (PDF), “[f]ailing to use the actual name of the tribe you are reporting on is neither accurate, fair or thorough and undermines diversity by erasing the tribe’s identity.” “Reporters unsure of names and terms should ask the Indigenous people they are reporting on which words are preferred, or access tribal government websites for correct nomenclature.”
- See additional guides relating to writing about Indigenous peoples in University of Michigan Multicultural Studies Librarian Charles Ransom’s Terminology Page – Indigenous Resources Research Guide.
Racist phrases and words pervade our language.
- In “Tulsa Race “Riot” Commission is causing division in Tulsa,” Nehemiah D. Frank, Editor in Chief of The Black Wall Street Times and a middle school teacher at Sankofa School of the Performing Arts, writes, “Referring to the [1921 Greenwood Massacre] as a riot is a form of social conditioning. You are telling the children that what happened in Greenwood was a disturbance and not a deliberate attack on a community…. White supremacy has used social conditioning especially through classrooms as a means to oppress marginalized people through the centuries.”
- Action you can take: In “Second Thoughts on Colonial Historians and American Indians” [access for PSU] James Merrell, Professor of History on the Lucy Maynard Salmon Chair, provides alternatives to archaic, Eurocentric vocabulary that perpetuates colonialism.
- Action you can take: Everyday words and phrases that have racist connotations, by Scottie Andrew and Harmeet Kaur for CNN, discusses biased English-language phrases. The article quotes Elizabeth Stordeur Pryor, Associate Professor of History at Smith College, as saying, “Language works best when it brings as many people [as possible] into communication with each other. . . . If we know, by using certain language, we’re disinviting certain people from that conversation, language isn’t doing its job.”