Shardé Davis and Joy Woods were discussing systemic racism in academia via text Saturday night when an idea came to Davis.
"I said to her, hey, I'm about to use this hashtag, what do you think about it?" Davis, an assistant professor of communication at University of Connecticut, said. "And Joy said, 'I already tweeted it.'"
Neither were expecting #BlackInTheIvory to take off, so they didn't stay up after tweeting. But when Woods, a graduate student at the University of Texas at Austin, woke up, she immediately called Davis, despite the fact that Davis lives in California and was two hours behind her.
"I told her, 'Wake up right now. Go to social media,'" Woods said. "'There's so many more tweets right now and I don't even know what's happening.' It's still a whirlwind."
Shortly after Davis and Woods posted using #BlackInTheIvory, other academics followed suit, sharing stories of their own experiences about being one of few black scholars at their majority white institutions. The hashtag trended on social media over the weekend and many are still posting their stories with it.
"This is not happening in a bubble. We are in the midst of racial uproar," Davis said. "We're shaking the foundation of the United States in recognizing that systemic racism and anti-blackness are real. We've always known that to be true, but finally the world is paying attention."
Dorothy Brown, a professor at Emory University's School of Law, was one of the many scholars who posted using #BlackInTheIvory. While Brown posted about an occasion when a former dean of Emory's law school reprimanded her for urging the school to interview a prospective black applicant, she said she had "many stories to choose from."
"I should have never had to fight to get this person's resume considered because as it turns out, this person's publications list was by far better than any member of the faculty's publication list at a comparable stage," Brown said. "This should have been, 'Oh my gosh, do you think we have a shot at getting them?' Instead I was told by advocating for them, I was 'engaging in behavior inconsistent with community norms.'"
Brown decided to tweet about the experience using #BlackInTheIvory because she believes it's vital for her to use her platform as a tenured black law professor.
"I saw the black journalists at the New York Times," Brown said. "They didn't have the job security I have and they still posted, so there's no reason why I shouldn't post. There are a lot of us with these stories, but they're in more precarious job situations ... and a lot of getting academic jobs relies on the good grace of the white people."
Christopher Jackson, a professor of geology at Imperial College in the U.K., said he wanted to contribute to the conversation because of his more senior position in academia.
"I think it's important for people to realize that black people can't just educate their way into white people's respect," Jackson said. "The first thing people notice is skin color, not your degrees, certificates or other academic trappings. They spy one thing and make a judgment and act on that."
Among the stories Jackson shared was a trip to Stanford University, where he had been invited to speak. When he arrived, he was mistaken for a PhD student coming in for an interview. He also recounted an encounter where he was asked to fix an air conditioner at a campus café and another when someone asked him to make room for the keynote speakers. The person failed to realize Jackson was himself a keynote speaker.
"I think even for a well-intentioned white person, they're so used to academia being white that when they see a black person in it, it's quite hard for them to make a mental switch and say, 'Oh you should be here, and I should just react to you as I would to a white person,'" Jackson said. "The issue of racism is in every walk of life. You get to a board room, you get to a senior position at Company X, Company Y, it's the same issue there as well."
Jackson's statement about the ubiquitous nature of racism was reinforced by another social media campaign, #PublishingPaidMe, which also trended on social media over the weekend. Urban fantasy novelist L.L. McKinney created the hashtag on Saturday in an effort to encourage white and non-black authors of color to reveal how much they were paid for book advances. McKinney said she had called on such authors to share their payment information beforehand, but her calls did not gain traction until she created the hashtag.
"I wasn't exactly shocked by any of the responses. They confirmed what we already knew," McKinney said. "There's a major disparity between what black authors are paid and what non-black authors are paid."
She noted that there are some exceptions, like Angie Thomas, author of the bestselling young adult novel "The Hate U Give," who declined to share her numbers because she didn't want onlookers to doubt the rampant inequity in the industry.
"I'm the exception, not the rule," Thomas wrote. "The rules have to change."
Jesmyn Ward also shared her experiences, stating that even after she won the National Book Award for her second novel "Salvage the Bones," she did not earn a $100,000 advance until she published her fifth book.
"I want to be optimistic that this is going to affect change and hold the publishing industry accountable, but oftentimes after moments of uprising, people feel good about themselves and things go back to the way they were," McKinney said. "But now the publishing industry knows that we know there has been major inequity when it comes to how black authors are paid for their work and we want to know how they continue to let this happen."
McKinney adds that the #PublishingPaidMe posts show that the industry has enough money to pay all authors fairly, its leadership just chooses to champion "proximity to whiteness."
As for #BlackInTheIvory, Davis and Woods say they plan to continue collecting responses and consolidate them into a spreadsheet they can share with black graduate students to help them make decisions when it comes to choosing which programs to attend.
"If we're calling for the firing of police officers who put their knees on the necks of black people physically, then we should be calling for firings and suspensions of faculty who metaphorically put their knees on the necks of black graduate students," Woods said. "Some of the actions they have done, and you'll see this on the thread, they have landed people in psychiatric facilities ... You say you want solidarity, well, we have the collective knowledge and evidence now and white folks can no longer look away."