Black on Black: The Vilification of "Me-Search," Tenure, and the Economic Position of Black Sociologists

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Journal of Economics, Race, and Policy


In 2019, Black sociologists are still less likely to get published in discipline-specific peer-reviewed journals, less likely to hold tenured or tenure-track positions at predominately white institutions, and less likely to be awarded tenure than white sociologists. This is, in part, because the traditional positivist approach to sociology favors an epistemology rooted in world building from a white perspective and subsequently prefers white sociologists to do that work. Overvaluing empirical research emphasizing objectivity through marked distance between researcher and participants, in the tradition of the natural sciences, also undervalues the importance of investigators’ perceived connections to marginalized communities in the reliability of collected data, and the use of qualitative methods to scientific study. This conceptual paper connects public discourse on the devaluing of “me-search” done by Black sociologists, research studying communities of which the principal investigator is also a member, to professional advancement data to explore the economic penalties for Black sociologists whose “me-search” expands the limits of what is useful and noteworthy in the production of sociological knowledge while simultaneously impacting their professional advancement in the discipline. Patricia Hill Collins’ (Soc Probl. 33: S14–32, 1986) epistemological stance laments the positivist approach and attempts to move sociological research of the oppressed away from the gaze of the oppressors. The academy’s colonial focus on “objectivity,” and subsequent third person research writing, maintains a white normative framework for the entire discipline. But in the twenty-first century, a disciplinary focus on research about marginalized identities by white sociologists inherently devalues the scientific validity of research on Black communities by Black researchers, aiding in racialized gatekeeping in sociology. Low numbers of tenured Black faculty, promotion policies focused on the number of peer-reviewed publications, and low journal publication rates for Black researchers highlight the negative impact on professional outcomes for Black sociologists and illustrates a perpetual devaluation of the perspectives of Black researchers.


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