Here is a post that has appeared on my blog before. Because I have decided to devote a number of post to one of my favorite students and to those looking for a teaching position –especially one at an independent school, I thought I would repost this one. There are two lessons here: 1) do not assume too much about those that are interested in you, 2) and seek a post at a place in which there is a community willing to embrace you for being you; it can be difficult if you land in an envioronment that centers its focus not on your brillances and gifts, but on making you like them. Not all places are “really” committed to diversity. As the book the Excellence of Color: Hiring in Independent Schools Noted:
People of color, be they African American, Native American, Asian, Middle Eastern or whatever ethnic group, have spent years discovering their roots, developing a keen pride in their heritage, and accepting who they are. So don’t expect the current crop of prospective faculty to fit into your conservative profile. Many of them will not, and, frankly, I don’t think they should even try! Is that shocking? Is that unacceptable to you and your clientele? Then, perhaps, diversity is really not for you. If a turban or a dashiki pants suit offends, then so will diversity! Diversity by definition implies that the status quo will be upset.
Many of you may recall this post from before and this book being on my reading list in an earlier post too; I found the early historical approach of this work to be very good and wanted my current students to start thinking about race and communities; I have driven through a number of sundown towns as noted in Loewen’s book. One challenge many minorities face is choice of residence. Educated and well-credentialed Americans are blessed with a greater range of choice when looking for a job, a place to settle, and a community to raise a family; however, this is not true for minority groups. When I finished graduate school and started looking for a teaching post, or a position in publishing, I had to be mindful of the environment my wife and I would be moving to. Questions like this emerged: Would my neighbors and the rest of the community be receptive of my presence, regardless of my academic credentials?
Two examples that come to mind when I entered the market were Cabot, Arkansas and Memphis, Tennessee. My greatest concern when finishing graduate school was the lack of teaching positions available for history instructors. Moreover, this was compounded by the fact that I limited myself to particular courses I wanted to teach and certain types of schools I wanted to join, primarily elite and/ or mid tier level independent/ private schools. At first I limited my search to very prestigious New England boarding schools; however, those types of options only recently (past few years) became an option. Many of those boarding schools are located in very rural white communities. Thus, I naturally wondered if I would be accepted. Well, I was blessed with a number of teaching options. One such option was in Cabot, AR in the public school system. A year before entering the market, I had agreed to at least consider Cabot. Of course this was before more options were available. I clearly backed out when an upper administrator told me that I would be the Jackie Robinson of Cabot. Essentially he was saying that Cabot educational leaders had to select the right African American for this particular community. I was scared; I was scared because of the bad racial reputation Cabot had (it is on the sundown town list here). Rumors of cross burnings and various other tactics were known throughout Arkansas about this community.
In defense of Cabot, much of this is probably historical; however, it is such rumors whether a perception or reality that limits the options for minorities. Here is my Memphis example: I sent my curriculum vitae (or résumé) to a very elite private school that was conducting a national search. Let us call this school elite school X. Well, one of my teachers in college made elite school X aware of me. This teacher also encouraged me to apply. The great thing about a number of private schools is that you do not have to spend hours completing applications nor do you have to be a licensed teacher. They just want your CV. A few weeks later elite school X scheduled for me to interview with the department head and dean of faculty via phone. I was a hit. Later, I drove 2 hours to Memphis for a campus tour, departmental lunch, tons of interviews, and a nightcap with the headmaster.
I did not discover this until later, but the dean of faculty and dept. head at elite school X had no clue I was black. Better yet, they were so surprised that one current member of the faculty would later tell me how often they brought the topic up. I did suspect it was a surprise by their response to my entrance. Elite school X did offer me a position, although I would later reject it for the opportunity to start my teaching career off by teaching advanced courses at a private school in Little Rock. Please keep in mind that most students at elite school X are very advanced, which means I would have been teaching such courses anyway, just without the title. There reaction to me was scary – although not offensive.