Black Economists: An `Elite Clan of Warrior Intellectuals'

By Ruffins, Paul | Black Issues in Higher Education, November 14, 1996 | Go to article overview

Black Economists: An `Elite Clan of Warrior Intellectuals'


Ruffins, Paul, Black Issues in Higher Education


BLACK ECONOMISTS: AN `ELITE CLAN OF WARRIOR INTELLECTUALS'.

That little girl is now Dr. Cecilia Conrad. She told this story as part of her 1993 presidential address to the National Economic Association (NEA).

Conrad's story captures the visceral life experience expressed by most of the Black economists interviewed for this story. Like Conrad, they too suspected that economics had the tools to explain important questions about Black life. But as they pursued it and developed a love for it, they were continually confronted with the fact that the theories they were being taught were contradicted by their everyday experience. Although they kept studying, the established theories never stopped contradicting their beliefs -- and mainstream economists refused to change the theories, even when contradicted with hard data.

Perhaps this is why so many Black men and women proudly describe earning a Ph.D. in economics as less like joining a profession than surviving a gauntlet. Surviving that gauntlet earns them induction into an elite clan of warrior intellectuals battling over the most profound issues facing Black America.

"We simply have better answers to many of the questions of poverty and racism in the post civil rights era," notes Dr. William Spriggs, an economist for the House/Senate Joint Economic Committee. "For example, I believe that Black economists can make much more powerful arguments for the need for affirmative action than political scientists. However, we are often ignored by both white and Black policy makers."

Many African-American academics and Ph.D.s sometimes feel isolated and frustrated. But for Black economists, several things combine to make these feelings more extreme. Dr. Margaret C. Simms, research director of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, estimates that no more than a maximum of 400, or 1.2 percent, of all Ph.D.s in economics are held by Blacks.

"In 1980, there were approximately 150 in the entire country," Simms points out. "For each of the past ten years the number of Black Ph.D.s produced has ranged from three to eleven -- to possibly even none."

There is probably no other field where the numbers of Black Ph.D.s is so low, relative to the number of undergraduates who take courses in the discipline especially in light of the number of African Americans with related professional degrees such master's of business administration or Certified Public Accountancy. In economic terms, the supply of Black Ph.D.s doesn't seem to be keeping up with either the demand or the rewards of working in the field.

"There are so few of us, that I have actually had students come to my office just to see if I was real," laughs Dr. Edward Montgomery, of the University of Maryland.

Dr. Debra Lindsey of Howard University notes that there was seldom, if ever, another Black economist at any of the government or private agencies where she worked. However, the situation became particularly acute when she worked in defense economics. "Because the information was classified, I couldn't discuss any of it with anyone outside of the agency. So there was literally no one Black that I could bounce ideas off of."

Like Lindsey, other Black economists often describe the consequences of their tiny numbers in personal terms. However, they are quick to point out the larger issue: The Black community, as a whole, suffers when there aren't any Black economists at the conference table when important decisions are being made.

"Black economists may not be any rarer than Black physicists" notes Dr. Rhonda Williams of the University of Maryland. "However, physicists are not running the Federal Reserve Bank or making every day decisions that will determine or even undermine the qualify of life of millions of African Americans."

When asked what is the single largest public policy question which Black economists probably would handle differently than white ones, the most common answer concerned the tradeoffs between inflation and unemployment. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Black Economists: An `Elite Clan of Warrior Intellectuals'
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.