Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Frenemies in the Academy: Relational Aggression among Black Women Academicians

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Frenemies in the Academy: Relational Aggression among Black Women Academicians

Article excerpt

Dysfunctional relational dynamics among women in the workplace are fraught with stereotyped notions of women's inability to effectively compete or resolve conflict (Tanenbaum, 2003). Often considered taboo and even a betrayal to one's sex, discussion of the dark or "shadow side" of women's relationships with one another have the potential to perpetuate problematic stereotypes about women's work-life experiences (Chesler, 2009; Sheppard & Aquino, 2013). Shame, resentment, regret, and fear hang alongside hopes for friendship, sisterhood, and connection among women in employment contexts. In settings, such as academia, in which women are one of few, new, and/or likely to be compared to one another for professional gain and/or social inclusion, the situation can be ripe for competitive dynamics (Chesler, 2009). When their numbers are further divided by race, there is even more potential for pitting women of color against one another despite the potential for them to relate most to each other's particular point of view (Denton, 1990). The current work centers on our experiences as two Black women, who were tenure-track professors in Counselor Education programs in the northeastern and southern regions of the United States at the time of data collection.

Generally, Black women stand to be ideal supporters of one another. Given their shared racial and gender identities and the common experiences of discrimination and prejudice they may have as a result of social, cultural and institutional responses to their positionality, they are likely able to relate to one another (Denton, 1990; King & Ferguson, 1996a, 1996b). Relatedly, we argue that Black women may also seek the same among their colleagues in academic contexts. As academic workplaces can position these women to compete with one another to secure coveted perceived or actual limited opportunities, we argue this positioning has the potential to place African American women academics in a relational paradox with one another. On the one hand, they may be best positioned to understand the socio-cultural challenges and triumphs of their respective intersectionality in the academy, and on the other hand, they are placed in competition with one another for time, acknowledgment, and financial resources that are the professional currency in academic work contexts. Brittney Cooper (2018) aptly calls up the experience many Black women know all too well in her recent book, Eloquent Rage.

What might feel like a singular and stunning defeat for her [Hilary 
Clinton] is one that Black Women learn to live with everyday--the 
sense that you are a woman before your time, that your brilliance and 
talents are limited by the historical moment and the retrograde 
politics within that moment in which you find yourself living. Black 
women, from slavery to freedom, know that struggle so much more than 
any white person ever will. (Cooper, 2018, p. 60)

Cooper's suggestion that Black women, when brilliant, should expect to be perpetually misunderstood, not seen, and/or deemed inconsequential is an unfortunate reality in their lives and particularly in their work. Further, in academic work contexts, it runs counter to what constitutes or can contribute to a successful career. Knowing this, one coping response might be for Black women academicians to take up the posture of advocating, naming, and amplifying the accomplishments of other Black women and themselves. This productive response is what Cooper (2017) describes as listing, and is the purpose of the Cite Black Women Collective (https://www.citeblackwomencollective.org/) organized by Dr. Christen Smith at the University of Texas - Austin. Both advocate a praxis of honoring and acknowledging the intellectual work of Black women because often their work is rendered invisible.

Academic culture is characteristically competitive and organized so by design. Scholars are warned to "publish or perish" and are rewarded for engaging in egoistic, self-promotion to make sure that they are recognized with little focus or appreciation for the work of their colleagues. …

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