UCLA Doctor Depicted as a Gorilla Is Just One of Many

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The story of UCLA professor Dr. Christian Head is quite compelling, yet all too common.  Dr. Head is an Otolaryngology specialist at the Head and Neck Clinic at the UCLA School of Medicine.  Dr. Head has filed a racial discrimination suit against the university for a series of incidents, starting with one in which he was depicted as a gorilla being sodomized by his boss at a student/faculty event.

I watched a Youtube video of Dr. Head’s story while thinking back to all of the other incidents of racism I’ve seen in academia.  Obviously, my own experience with racially-biased treatment at Syracuse University first came to mind, where I was somehow told to think it logical that my business school (The Whitman School of Management), could exist for over 100 years without granting tenure to a single African American in any department (I told my dean that the word “Whitman” should be replaced by “White man”).

Then, as I read about Dr. Head’s story, I thought about countless stories I’ve heard around the country from other black faculty who’ve also been subjected to disparate treatment.  Like Dr. Head, they are convinced to remain quiet, in hopes that they can get tenure with good behavior.  Then, they either never get tenure anyway, or find (as Dr. Head did) that the racism continues even after they’ve been given “The Golden Lollipop.”

Racism in the workplace is a form of professional bullying.  Like any bully, it only worsens when you capitulate.  Fortunately, Dr. Head took a stand against his bully and filed suit against UCLA.  At the very least, he achieved his goal of shining a spotlight on the university’s abysmal record when it comes to racial diversity, particularly as it relates to African Americans.

When I wrote that black scholars around the country should get off the academic plantation, part of the reference was to the psychological plantation.  This is the one where your IQ is reduced right before your very eyes, as you are led to believe that being associated with the big white university with ivy on the walls somehow legitimates you as a scholar and as a human being.  When you buy into that mentality, you dramatically increase your chances of failure, for the easiest way for me to defeat you at a game is by convincing you to play a game that I designed in the first place.

Besides submitting ourselves, our careers and our self-esteem to the descendants of our historical oppressors, we also give them control of our financial security.  Then, when the white guy down the hall gets the promotion that you truly deserved, you end up feeling bitter and worthless.  This is the paradox that Malcolm X warned us about 50 years ago, but we were so drunk from the high of integration that we failed to listen.

Dr. Head’s lawsuit should be replicated at institutions all across America.  Every university that has a weak record on diversity should be called out for what it is, and discrimination NOT should be something that leads us to suffer in silence.   By telling his story, Dr. Head will hopefully liberate other scholars who’ve gone through the same thing, so that they can hopefully stand together to fight against the places (American universities) where intellectual freedom is least likely to exist.

I applaud Dr. Head for his lawsuit and I support it.  All parents of black athletes should not send their children to UCLA and the students on the campus should be embarrassed by the shameful behavior of their faculty.  Also, the case is bigger than Dr. Head, and should call for an across-the-board analysis of the university’s commitment to diversity, accepting no excuses for it’s racially-biased short-comings.  Finally, there are countless campuses across America where students and faculty should all speak out and stand up, for this problem won’t go away if we choose to remain silent.  It’s time to stand up to the bully.

Dr. Boyce Watkins is a Professor at Syracuse University and founder of the Your Black World Coalition. To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.

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