Simply put, this is what happens when there’s not enough diversity in leadership positions throughout academia. In fact, it is a result of a kind of myopia, hispanopía—the “grotesque structural exclusions of Latinx faculty” in the academy, a term coined by a committee of Latinx faculty at the University of Texas to describe just that.
Jessica Krug, tenured associate professor at George Washington University, created a public scandal last week when she announced that her adult life was a fully-committed fraudulent performance of various Black identities beginning in North African and finally landing on “Caribbean rooted Bronx Blackness.” She has resigned (will her tenure line be replaced, I wonder?); her book editor has penned a thoughtful response; and excellent analyses of Krug’s modern minstrelsy have been published. But I cannot help but wonder what this debacle says about academe and about what those of us who are Latinx face.
Less than 1% of all tenure/tenure track faculty in the U.S. are Latinas. Every student in my courses gets something I never had: never in my life have I had a Dominican professor or instructor of any gender identity; I had one male Cuban professor (Jorge Dominguez. And. Well.). I’m very glad to be part of that 0.9804%, but those are dismal numbers. Hispanopía means that some categories of Latinx are entirely invisible—like the time in 2004 the very nice woman at the Ford Foundation told me I was not eligible for their minority predoctoral fellowship because having immigrant parents from the Dominican Republic and Cuba didn’t count as Hispanic, which was neatly defined as either Mexican-American or Puerto Rican.
By all reports, Krug (“my name is pronounced ‘Cruz’”) inhabited an over-the-top performance of Bronx, Puerto Rican latinidad—hoop earrings, midriff-exposed club clothing during a seminar, a very questionable accent, Spanish terms peppering her speech—which she proudly took on as “an unrepentant and unreformed child of the hood” according to her author bio. Krug invoked a bodily and spatial topography that is noteworthy: words like “hood,” “light-skinned,” “mulatta” used to refer to herself.
Discourses of authenticity are often powerplays, but I’m surprised this kind of performance was acceptable. My experience in the academy is that those of us from “non-traditional” backgrounds have to get very good, very early, at cultural and linguistic code-switching because of the dominant culture within the university. A certain kind of cultural fluency is rewarded. Those who do not attain it end up excluded as a matter of “fit,” which might be why the distribution of Latinas in regular rank faculty is grouped in the assistant (untenured) category. I’ve never heard any of us whose grandmothers lived in the Bronx openly call it “the hood” in faculty meetings.
And many of us do not speak Spanish. Why? The majority of Hispanics in the United States do not speak Spanish. Our parents, grandparents, great grandparents, great-great grandparents were punished for the language—sometimes through a switch at the wrist in class, sometimes through being passed-over for a job. They intentionally ensured their children only spoke English as a survival tactic.
Because discourses of “brown enough, Black enough” are power plays, I’m leery of attempts to define the authentic, but minority faculty come from communities that are complicated by, often fractured by, colonialism, immigration, racism, violence, and sometimes just time. Krug offered an imagined performance, but excised her community of origin completely through tales of trauma. Performance without community is suspect.
In 2017, there were 10209 self-identified Hispanic female regular rank faculty in the U.S. [Assistant, Associate, Full], out of 520701.