In American society, black entertainers are among the most widely accepted in mainstream culture. From Michael Jordan to Oprah Winfrey to Beyonce, if you can entertain the masses, your being black isn’t an impediment to success.
According to a new study, however, even blacks who aren’t in the entertainment field are expected to behave as entertainers.
A Vanderbilt study found that black faculty members are expected to entertain their white peers when presenting academic research:
Interviews with the scholars revealed that an overwhelming majority were advised regularly by white peers to be “more entertaining” when making research presentations, as well as to “lighten up” and “tell more jokes.”
Black females additionally noted being subject to their colleagues’ preoccupation with their clothing choices and hairstyle, and reported being admonished to play down their “passion” and “smile more.” In addition, nearly all reported overt racist remarks in regards to their academic presentations.
Ebony O. McGee–co-director of the study and assistant professor of education, diversity and urban schooling at Vanderbilt’s Peabody College–said she wasn’t surprised by the results.
“These microaggressions harken to a long history of blacks being objectified for entertainment value, all the way back to the blackface minstrels shows, which depicted African Americans as comical, lazy or dim-witted,” she said. “Today the racialized objectification of African Americans may not always be as overt as it was a century ago, but the ‘black as entertainment’ ideology remains alive and well.”
Black faculty members make up less than nine percent of academics.
McGee hopes that the study will provide “useful insights to those who organize presentations and those who give them.”