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Plantation Politics and Neoliberal Racism in Higher Education: A Framework for Reconstructing Anti-Racist Institutions

by Dian D. Squire, Bianca C. Williams & Frank Tuitt - 2018

Overcoming the deeply embedded anti-Black racism and colonial heritage of North America is an ongoing project. Scholars have yet to explicate fully the ways that racism and colonialism are foundational to the construction of institutions of higher education. Plantation politics provides the opportunity to reveal parallel organizational and cultural norms between contemporary higher education institutions and slave plantations. To better explore the applicability of this theory, the authors share an example of the parallel between slave plantations and contemporary universities called “The Oxymoronic Social Existence of Whites (or Neoliberalism as the New Slave Code)” and its implications for campus practice toward racial liberation.The authors argue that the institutional logics of colonialism and imperialism—which were essential to the establishment of this country and led to the creation of plantations and the enslavement of Black bodies—exists within higher education institutions today.

I'm weary of the ways of the world/

Be weary of the ways of the world/

I'm weary of the ways of the world/

I'm gonna look for my body yeah/

I'll be back real soon/But you know that a king is only a man/

With flesh and bones, he bleeds just like you do/

He said "where does that leave you"/

“And do you belong?” I do. I do. ­

–Solange Knowles

Over the past year, a few impactful albums have dropped, including Solange Knowles’ Seat at the Table. In a song called “Weary,” Solange brought to the fore the way many people feel after waking up post-election on November 9, 2016 (Knowles, 2016, Track 2). She sings in the lines above about a tiredness with the state of anti-Black racism and the place of Black people in a racial hierarchy, particularly as no justice has been served for the killings of Black people by police across the nation. She searches for her place in the world and implores the listener to examine critically how society works to maintain white supremacy. Ultimately, she is recalled to a time of being figuratively questioned if she belongs, and responds, “I do. I do.” So you, reader, do.

Yet, overcoming the deeply embedded anti-Black racism and colonial heritage of North America is an ongoing project—a project that requires constant theorizing and directed action in order to be called “successful.” As a broadly atheoretical field, scholars have yet to explicate fully the ways that racism and colonialism are foundational to the construction of institutions of higher education. Undoubtedly, connections between the physical manifestation of colleges and universities and the supporting funding, curricular structure, and purposes of early institutions have been implicated by Wilder (2013) in Ebony and Ivy. He vividly portrays the labor of Black slaves and Native peoples during early colonial times, and his work has catalyzed universities around the United States to rename buildings and delve into the connection of slavery and universities (e.g., George Washington University, University of Georgia), changed position titles (e.g., “Masters” at Yale University; Salovey, 2016), and bolstered ongoing divestment campaigns that have sought to splinter universities from investments in neoliberal, globalized terror (e.g., Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movements at Tufts University; Hertz, 2017).

However, we do not believe that all of the threads of theorizing slavery and slave plantations to contemporary universities have been spun. Here we offer the framework of “plantation politics” as an opportunity to reveal parallel organizational and cultural norms between contemporary higher education institutions and slave plantations. Miller and Genovese (1974) write in their introduction to Plantation, Town, and Country that “although [new means of studying slave life] must always be forthcoming […] Perhaps it would be better to say that the time has come to apply and test our hypotheses, theories, and methods, old and new, in a more rigorous and specific way” (p. 2). As we begin to construct this framework for a book project titled Campus Rebellions and Plantation Politics: Power, Privilege, and the Emancipatory Struggle in Higher Education, we intend to do what Miller and Genovese ask, recognizing that old ideologies and tools for oppressing and marginalizing people of color are connected to newer strategies of repression and policing within universities. Shifting political contexts, rapid technological advances, and ever-evolving material realities affect the daily lives of students, faculty, staff, and administrators on our campuses. Additionally, the university is easily identifiable as one of the primary sites for debate, experimentation, and attack when it comes to issues related to freedom of speech, democracy, and ideological warfare. While we push to apply this framework to specific campus environments and student movements in the book, here we identify key aspects of plantation politics.

Plantations and their main form of production—enslaving Black Africans—formed due to a colonial imperialist need for land, religious and racial superiority, and economic power from the early 1600s to the late 1800s (Durant & Knottnerus, 1999). For this chapter, we directly discuss plantations that existed on the United States mainland. Although we recognize that Trans-Atlantic slave trade had a significant impact on the creation of the modern global economic market, it has also been widely written that the plantations existing in South America and the Caribbean had their own norms and culture, which are beyond the scope of this particular chapter (Dessens, 2003). In fact, not only do scholars believe that plantations existed differently by country, but that plantations, slave family relations, and owner-slave relations varied based on geography within the United States, leaving much room for future exploration (Miller & Genovese, 1974; Pargas, 2010).

Despite these variations, the vestiges of those colonial, imperialist mindsets still exist in the many “neos” that scholars and experts speak of today: namely, neoliberalism, neoconservatism, neocolonialism, and neofascism. Each has transformed across time (indubitably appropriating the prefix neo-) and continues to influence policy, behavior, and culture within the United States (Giroux, 2002, 2015; Harvey, 2005). Furthermore, they are connected to the many ways in which universities reach beyond borders and engage in economic globalization. Recently, The Movement for Black Lives and the Indigenous communities that organized at Standing Rock repeatedly made visible the legislative and economic linkages between the not-so-long-ago past and the colonial and imperialist present. We follow the lead of these organizers, arguing that the institutional logics of colonialism and imperialism—which were essential to the establishment of this country and led to the creation of plantations and the enslavement of Black bodies—exist within our higher education institutions today (Thornton, Ocasio, & Lounsbury, 2012).

We posit that campuses engage in contemporary plantation politics. People of color, and particularly Black people, are exploited in various ways for economic gain at the sake of their humanity. Campus rebellions are on the rise, as residents and workers in campus communities become ever more aware of the ways higher education institutions perpetuate traditional colonialist logics steeped in anti-Black racism, and utilize violent practices of suppression that do physical, emotional, and mental harm. In these moments, students, staff, and faculty demand that we engage in change that transforms the campus.

In a similar vein, scholars such as Cheryl Matias (2015) have written about what she calls the neoplantation. In her article, “‘I Ain’t Your Doc Student’: The Overwhelming Presence of Whiteness and Pain in the Academic Neoplantation,” she provides a counternarrative of her experience in academia as a person of color who teaches about whiteness and the racial battle fatigue she endures while battling white supremacy. She discusses the “racial humiliation” (p. 60) and emotional injuries she suffers as a result of being a faculty woman of color. Matias writes,

sometimes academy life is nothing more than a neoplantation; faces and bodies of faculty of color are sold to college websites for statistical proof of diversity in higher education […] we must sit next to our white administrators, those who expect us to behave like Uncle TomsUnder the surveilling eyes of the college’s administration, like trained dogs we are expected to bark a false truth about the romance of being faculty of color in the academy. (p. 60)

Matias points to an example of the selling of bodies of color in the faculty ranks, particularly junior faculty. We hope to use this chapter to expand upon the metaphor and build a new framework from which students, faculty, and staff can align their experiences within the academy. In this project, we hope to provide an opportunity to unveil the oppression that is foundational to the existence of higher education in the U.S. in order to deconstruct, not reproduce, the oppression it places upon bodies of color, particularly those of Black peoples.

In the next section, we provide the theoretical framework. This is followed by an example of the application of this framework. Finally, we provide implications for practitioners.


The maintenance of universities as slave plantations may be construed as an illogical conceptual leap. Indeed, at first glance Black people are not forced by law or otherwise to live a life away from family on a college campus. Most would argue that Black people have basic needs met and rights given on campus. Many would say they are afforded an education equal to all others. Theoretically, they may freely come and go as they choose. Some Black staff members socialize with their peers without fear of reproach. Generally speaking, Black faculty may be creative, pursue professional engagements, and read and write whatever they like, especially those with the “freedom papers” of tenure. However, on closer inspection, this analysis is not so accurate and one may begin to see the ways that power constricts the Black body (Foucault, 1977) and how a “reconstruction” (no pun intended) of the slave plantation economy can leave “deep and inevitable influences and effects [on the] social character” of the university (Phillips, 1974, p. 8). Indeed, Knottnerus, Monk, and Jones (1999) noted that while slaves were not “separated from the outside world by physical obstacles such as walls […the] voluntariness of membership [one’s (in)ability to come and go from a plantation…] meant that owners were free to exercise control over their charges through an extensive use of mortification processes” (pp. 18–19). Essentially, due to a variety of formal rules, coercive force, social humiliation, and the capacity to accept and expel slaves, enslaved Africans were generally unable to leave plantation life. We return to this concept later in the manuscript.

What is needed to reframe a slave plantation into a college campus? At its core, it requires a fundamental set of frames that argues that no matter which laws exist, Black people are inhuman and are worth less than white people (Berry, 2017). These frames influence behavior and moral decorum (Lakoff, 2014). As universities were being built by Black folks and Native Americans prior to the emancipation of millions of enslaved Africans, it comes to bear that the (il)logics by which universities were founded, the same logics that exist today, carried across time (Wilder, 2013).

Duncan (2017) writes about allochronism as it relates to how Black people are thought of today. Simply, allochronism is the disconnect between one’s contemporary framing about a group of people and the actual lived reality of that group of people. Stated another way, white people think of Black people as slaves, as inhuman, as lesser than, as savage, as nonhumans (John, 1999). They utilize a frame from another (allo-) time (-chrono) to understand a group of people today. And while Black people were never actually savage or nonhuman (even during slavery), the frames white people use to view Black people in the contemporary moment are productive and have real social and political ramifications. Duncan writes, “Contemporary forms of racial oppression and inequality are expressions of allochronic discourses that inform ‘ontological Blackness,’ or the Blackness that whiteness created as Western civilization began to emerge as a prominent force in the world” (p. 67). Therefore, Blackness as it was understood in slave times is applied to Black people as they exist today despite 150 years of reconstruction and conciliation.

Correspondingly, in her theorization of “plantation futures,” Katherine McKittrick (2013) argues for a temporal and spatial analysis of Blackness. She writes that the “geographies of slavery, postslavery, and black dispossession provide opportunities to notice that the right to be human carries in it a history of racial encounters and innovative black diaspora practices [that] spatialize acts of survival” (p. 2). McKittrick encourages us to examine plantations in order to better understand how Blackness, violence, and the quest to be recognized as human have always been connected, and to appreciate the variety of ways Black people have continually protested, resisted, and rebelled against this violence. By doing so, we are able to see how plantation pasts and geographies tell “us that that the legacy of slavery and the labor of the unfree both shape and are part of the environment we presently inhabit,” while also reimagining the future and working towards a different way of being human (p. 2).

In sum, racist, colonial, imperial epistemologies exist and are interwoven into the fabric of higher education institutions today (Duncan, 2017; Patel, 2015; Wilder, 2013). Therefore, the goal of explicating a plantation politic is to reveal this allochronism and bring into alignment time and place, or coevalness. Through this project one begins to define how the organization of a plantation society with all its economic, religious, and social implications continues to inform the ways in which higher education as a system perpetuates white supremacy and racial hierarchies. The project is not simply one where we connect individual universities to their physical investment in slave labor; rather, we discern the ways that the epistemological vestiges of slavery persist in the policies, programs, and other institutional (il)logics.

Thomas J. Durant Jr. (1999) defined slave plantation systems as an “orderly and systematic social unity composed of identifiable and interdependent parts (social structure) and social processes” (p. 5). Understanding the organization of plantations involves understanding nine structural elements and six social processes that we will explain below. Much like universities, plantation organization depended on a variety of factors, including “social, demographic, economic, ecological, and cultural factors, including type of organization, number and status of slaves, economic goals, time period, geographical size, and dominant cultural patterns” (p. 4). Importantly, the success of plantations relied on the investment and alliance of whites of all classes, including poor whites who did not own slaves (John, 1999; Talley, 1999).

According to Durant (1999), the structural elements of slave plantations include

knowledge, or the beliefs of what are thought to be true;

sentiment, or expressive feelings between two people;

goals, or the objective of slavery;

norms, or the rules that govern and control behavior;

status, or the positions in a social unit;

rank, or the arrangement of power into a social hierarchy;

power, or the capacity to control others;

sanctions, or the allocation given based on conformity or nonconformity; and

facility, or the types of material technology, resources, or means used to obtain an end.

Table 1. Structural Elements of Plantations and a Nonexhaustive list of Modern Higher Education Parallels

Structural Elements

Contemporary Higher Education Parallels

Knowledge: Owners believed that slave labor was practical and profitable, that slaves were property and that slaves should be subordinate

Mindsets that lead to neoliberal action and the use of bodies of color for capital gain

Sentiment: Masters expressed paternalism and superiority; slaves expressed victimization, resistance, and powerlessness

Over-regulation of spaces for marginalized groups

Increasing bureaucracy

Goal: Profit through use of slave labor


International graduate student education

Commodification of bodies of color in campus advertisement

Norms: Slaves not allowed to leave and expected to be obedient

Broad cultural college-going expectations

Rhetoric on lack of possibilities for success without college degree

Status: Owner, manager, overseer, driver, house slave, and field slave as titles

Board of trustees


Chief Diversity Officer


Rank: Titles of slaves were given differential power through hierarchical order and wealth, power, and prestige



Power: Owner vs. slave as a continuum

Control of enrollment, persistence, college success

Hierarchical control of university structures

Sanctions: Slaves punished for disobedience and rewarded for good behavior

Threatened adjudication of people of color and upholding of whiteness (e.g., campus speaker protests)

Continued promotion of “good” students of color to public-facing opportunities

Facility: Slaves’ work tools, and owners’ land, labor, capital, and production strategies and techniques

Campuses, resources, publications, grants, and other normative university facilities that promote the plantation economy

The processual elements of slave plantations include

communication, or how information, decisions, or directives are transmitted;

boundary maintenance, or attempts to protect the solidarity of the system from outside change;

systematic linkages, or the way multiple systems are linked together;

socialization, or the processes of cultural norm transmission;

social control, or the way deviancy is eliminated, reduced, or rendered harmless; and

institutionalization, or the process through which organizations are made stable, predictable, and persistent.

Table 2. Processual Elements of Plantations and a Nonexhaustive list of Contemporary Higher Education Parallels

Processual Elements

Contemporary Higher Education Parallels

Communication: Orders and commands communicated from owner or overseer to slaves

Campus emails

Individual meetings between executive administrators and staff

Negative interactions between deans and faculty of color

Boundary maintenance: Attempts to preserve and protect the solidarity of the system; stopping runaways

Removal of trouble-makers

Reduction of tenured faculty who hold power

Reduction of freedom for student athletes and others on scholarship

Increasing fear of litigation

Involuntariness of membership

Systematic linkages: Mutually supportive linkages between systems; exchange of slave labor; police control

Outsourcing of campus safety, housing, transportation, dining

Militarization of campus police

Relations between corporation and university programs and policy

Socialization: Teaching and learning of rules, skills, roles, status and culture of plantations

Orientation programs and other transition programs that set norms for behavior

Faculty control of graduate students

Social control: How deviancy was eliminated, reduced, or rendered harmless; slave codes

Incremental changes related to diversity and equity

Removal or underfunding of cultural centers

Ostracization and removal of people of color who resist

Institutionalization: Process by which organizations are made stable, persistent, and predictable

Reproduction of education as an oppressive structure

Repetition of nonworking equity and justice measures

Creation of diversity task forces

What Durant (1999) and others have broadly agreed on is that slave plantations are characterized by (a) the import of African Black bodies who were bought and sold as property into chattel slavery and controlled by whites; (b) forced labor for the purpose of increased economic wealth and power for whites; (c) a social and labor hierarchy that placed Black people at the lowest rungs with little upward mobility; (d) a strict system of governance employing control mechanisms; (e) “slave and non-slave subsystems, represented by emerging social institutions such as family, economy, education politics, and religion” (p. 5); and (f) a structure that required continual adaptation to internal and external forces. As one compares the structural and processual elements of plantations with the characteristics of racialized politics and power within campus communities today, the parallels are incriminatory and it is clear that plantation politics can serve as an apt framework from which to view the university.


To better explore the applicability of this theory, we share an example of the parallel between slave plantations and contemporary universities. Beverly John (1999) explored the social psychology of slaveholders by examining what she calls the “oxymoronic social existence of whites.” We believe that this oxymoronic social existence is perpetuated today through neoliberal ideology in higher education that works to control bodies of color. Therefore, we call neoliberalism the new slave code.

Figure 1. The oxymoronic social existence of whites (or neoliberalism as the new Slave Code)


Throughout history, white people created a hegemonic understanding of “the power of the slaveholding planter class to construct reality in a fashion that justified their every action” (Durant & Knottnerus, 1999, p. 45). Through these hegemonic understandings, however, there are inherent contradictions, or oxymoronic social realities. For instance, slaves were seen as nonhuman savages and yet made to take care of the children and homes. Enslaved Africans were also seen to have lesser mental capacities than whites, yet there is much research that proves that these individuals were smart, strategic, and worked toward their liberation constantly. Essentially, there was a disconnect between the reality of white life and the notions of humanity that whites created for Black people. In order to maintain order, the authors of law created slave codes (or Black codes) to organize plantation life and punish any dissenters. The name of the game was white supremacy, the rules were slave codes, and the game board was the plantation. Through this lens, one may examine today’s contradictions in diversity work, often shaped by neoliberal logics and actions that simultaneously dehumanize and provide moderated space for Black people to engage in the educational enterprise. Neoliberalism is marketization and commodification of goods for capitalistic gain. Neoliberalism is theory, policy, and action describing the monetization of formerly public goods, increased competition, globalization, reduction of social supports, the privatization of everything, and the objectification of human bodies for increased profit (see Hamer & Lang, 2015; Harvey, 2005). Neoliberal policy and action often results in the dehumanization of people (particularly people of color) and the eradication of the public (e.g., social supports, publicly owned spaces, public good mission) for the goal of profit (Hamer & Lang, 2015). Today’s game is the commodification of bodies of color for economic gain, the rules are neoliberal diversity rhetoric and action, and the game board is the college or university (Hamer & Lang, 2015).

When slavery was heading toward its formal end, some white religious leaders publicly wanted to free Blacks. However, there was a realization that freeing Black people gave them potential power equal to whites. They thought the only thing that separated Blacks and whites was skin color. At the same time, whites needed Blacks in order to run their plantations. Ultimately, Blacks couldn’t be free, or else whites would lose their financial capital, and white superiority would become unhinged. “How can we do both?” they asked. Changing and enacting laws to maintain white superiority was one such way.

For example, Ava Duvernay, Spencer Averick, and Howard Barish’s (2016) film, 13th, shows how the 13th Amendment—which made owning a person illegal—has not hindered the redesign of chattel slavery through the prison-industrial complex, which works to maintain many aspects of our current economy (Alexander 2010). If we apply this same logic to today’s campuses, we may also illuminate some ways in which additional parallels exist.

We recognize many neoliberal contradictions (Harvey, 2005; Patel, 2015) in today's colleges, though they would not have called them such four centuries ago. In today’s neoliberal organizing of higher education, we might identify institutional maneuvers that do just enough to keep Black students here on our campuses and subdue activist movements while at the same time dehumanizing them. These potential dehumanizations include (a) commodifying their bodies in marketing booklets and other visible recruitment materials, knowing well that students are looking for “diverse” campus contexts in their college choice processes (Osei-Kofi, Torres, & Liu, 2013); (b) utilizing numerical statistics to look diverse in campus ranking booklets; (c) increasing positive publicity for those high numbers; (d) exploiting Black bodies in campus athletics for profit and institutional prestige; and (e) utilizing bodies of color for economic gain vis-à-vis tuition dollars in a growing diverse country (Squire, 2015). These are some of the economic drivers that require universities to continue to engage in a double-down of the commodification of bodies of color.

At the same time, colleges utilize terms that harken to an allochronistic understanding of Black people such as at-risk, unprepared, and remedial, along with other social stereotypes of Black people such as dangerous. These institutions frequently treat Black students, faculty, and staff as lesser than and without respect, marginalize them, overtax them, and showcase them. These negative stereotypes and exploitative measures based on race are further compounded by other identities such as gender, class, sexuality, and ability (Gutierrez y Muhs, Flores Niehmann, Gonzales, & Harris, 2012; Lomax 2015; Navarro, Williams, & Ahmad, 2013). In these few comparisons, we begin to see how white mindsets about Black people (and the want to rectify this reality by some) is reinforced and reified in everyday campus life.

Put simply, the thousands of white people in senior administrative positions who run universities need Black people to attend and labor within their universities in order to stay open. However, this need does not remove the negative mindsets with which many white people think about and treat Black people; nor does it necessarily generate the desire to create equitable, structural change. And while some individuals (like the abolitionists) may have wanted to provide Black people with a humanizing education, neoliberal action and policy (like the slave codes) work to continually commodify bodies, disempower, and quell controversy.


Slave codes were laws enacted on a state-by-state basis that determined the rules and regulations for owning slaves and slave behavior that were punishable by fine or corporal punishment if not followed. Thinking of diversity through a neoliberal lens reveals the ways that universities still function as upholders of slave codes. Slave codes dictated life on the plantation through restriction of movement, education, behavior, and also dictated behavior for slave owners or those who opposed slavery. Importantly, slave codes were created in order to quell possible uprisings.

Today, universities tout diversity and inclusion policies despite the continued cultural environments that perpetuate white supremacy and the dehumanization of people of color aptly rendering those policies powerless (Ahmed, 2012). This is how neoliberalism acts as a slave code. Neoliberal action and policy—policy that is guided by economic interest and fierce individualism—determines the types of coursework Black faculty and staff teach on campuses (e.g., often “diversity”-related) and the presence they hold (e.g., the “token” on committees, university marketing). This controlling of body and mind works through many mechanisms including alumni giving-power and scholarly publishing normativity. Also, the killing of Sam Dubose by a University of Cincinnati police officer is one of several examples of how militarized campus police forces embody neoliberal racism (Berman, 2017). Neoliberalism also thrives on the fiscal austerity that batters down the walls of necessary congregation spaces and services for communities of color who use these spaces to thrive in a white supremacist society. Neoliberalism also provides just enough leeway for Black people to breathe and have a sense of humanity when the campus creates diversity task forces, invites speakers to campus, and conducts climate surveys … but only just enough room to maintain order: “nothing abrasive to the public harmony or divisive in civil affairs could be tolerated in the curriculum or the culture of a student body” (Wilder, 2013, p. 267). We saw this most recently at the University of Maryland, College Park after a Black student from another university, Richard Collins III, was stabbed and killed by a white student who was a part of an “alt-Reich” group (Amara, 2017).

More broadly speaking, society’s neoliberal rhetoric regarding the necessity of a college degree to maintain upward mobility and the reality of the-college-degree-is-the-new-high-school-diploma places higher education at the center of an economic enterprise that easily allows administrators to take advantage of the attendees and “keeps them in place” through hegemonic notions of “success” (Benford, 2002). The reproduction and repetition of the American success narrative creates a self-controlling mechanism that requires no external force to maintain itself, because this narrative abides by the rule of thumb that a college degree is required to be seen as worthy in society (Foucault, 1977). It is in this way that walls are not needed to keep Black people on campus; society’s expectations of Black people maintain and create an involuntariness of membership. In a more nuanced example, we might explore the ways that Black athletes are held at the will of the university via scholarship and promise of fame and scolded or punished when they dare to question contemporary slave codes. In these ways, we can see parallels between humanhood, reality, and the slave codes that hold the economic state of higher education in place.

Through the proposed framework above and the example of the oxymoronic social existence of whites, one can apply Durant’s elements of slave plantations to contemporary higher education. For instance, structural elements of knowledge (whites’ attitudes about Blacks), sentiment (white domination and paternalism of Blacks), goal (profitability of Black bodies for diversity outcomes), status (hierarchy of decision-makers on campuses), sanction (punishments for not owning “whiteness” and punishment for dissent), and facility (utilization of Black production for white gain) all can be examined through this framework. Through processional elements, we pull together boundary maintenance (involuntariness of membership), systematic linkages (campus police relations to campus community and dehumanization of Black citizens), socialization (social norms of higher education, ways of being, doing, and acting), social control (diversity measures), and institutionalization (reproduction of education as an oppressive structure, repetition of nonworking equity and justice measures).


Ultimately, the deconstruction of allochronism within higher education epistemologies is not replete unless racial justice is enacted. The call for change within higher education organizations can take many forms from revolution to reformation, with people on all sides of the argument providing justification for their solutions. Duncan (2017) noted that the solution for allochronism is, in fact, the counternarrative. A central tenet of critical race theory (Dixson, Rousseau, & Donner, 2017; Solórzano & Yosso, 2002), counternarratives provide a way for communities of color to share their stories without whiteness being centralized. Additionally, they challenge the master narrative, are asset-based, and provide a fuller story where antenarratives, or partial stories, once existed (Wolgemuth, 2014). Derrick Bell provided many narrative fictions that allegorized the status of Black people in the United States and in that vein, those interested in reshaping higher education must do the same (e.g., Bell, 1992).

Our first urging is for scholars of race and racism in higher education to reclaim their ability to think divergently and creatively about the future of higher education—that is, to allow oneself to engage in creative storytelling that imagines a world that is free of the oppression that currently exists. The ability to think in this way is often lost as one ages and becomes indoctrinated into the hegemonic notions of reality. However, scholars such as Walter Mosley (2016) argue that we should be able to shirk the systems that constrain us and to at least engage in creating untopias, or new worlds that “praise and raise humanity to its full promise” while also recognizing the variety of thought and practice that exists in our world today. What this takes is a continued engagement with questions and theorizing that we have started here in this chapter. David Bohm (1996), a renowned physicist and theorist, noted that to break out of a normative mindset, we must engage in not just creativity, but confusion. It is in this confusion that we provide space for new thinking. He also notes that anybody can be a creator—creation is not the purview of a few selected people (e.g., scholars, artists, musicians, politicians). Therefore, we call on all readers to confuse themselves into creative liberation.

In thinking about more tangible engagements with this theory, we have laid out a few ways that allochronic thinking persists in our institutions today. Namely, we have discussed neoliberal diversity actions and rhetoric that persist in (a) controlling bodies of color, particularly Black bodies, and (b) building financial capital as a result of utilizing bodies of color, particularly Black bodies. To actively resist these functions is to engage in a strict education of how capitalism and neoliberal capitalism enacts itself using bodies of color, specifically in relation to campus life. Each reader can engage in their own continued education in order to resist and call out instances of commodification. For example, when a campus administration asks for students of color to be featured on websites, pamphlets, and photos, one can better make a determination if the request is altruistic, or for the betterment of the university only. That is, does the student receive a positive benefit from being involved in that engagement, is there a continued benefit for communities of color, and will the student be reimbursed in some way for their time and likeness? If not, then the decision to engage in that relationship may be nil.

Similarly, if there is an instance of racism that makes public news and the first reaction of an administration is to call together a “task force on bias incidents,” there is a necessity to call out that act as deficient. As we noted, these task forces are often ways to remove pressure from administrators, to divert attention from the real problem (i.e., racism), and to appease people who are not directly affected by the problem, but they can be helpful to addressing systemic racism on campus by way of alliance. Those who are aware of these tactics should be vocal and engage in a campus rebellion that pushes on administrators to act in a stronger fashion to call out, address racism on the campus, and provide reparations for the hurt, pain, and suffering that has occurred on campus. An analysis of rebellious options cannot be explicated in this paper, but readers should note that continual calls for more money, new student centers, and more faculty of color may continue to be patchwork answers that do little to address systemic racism on college campuses.

Certainly, the best way to deconstruct and dismantle a racist institution is to, in fact, deconstruct it and reconstruct anti-racist institutions. Places such as Freedom University in Georgia are working toward this end in helping undocumented students obtain free college educations because they have been banned from Georgia state universities. Scholars often joke about setting up universities where their closest scholarly colleagues and allies can work in anti-oppressive ways to support marginalized students in providing myriad life potentials. The time has come to perhaps not just joke about this opportunity, but to begin to lay the groundwork for this type of institution to exist. While this may be a long-shot solution, acting in a liberatory manner requires risk and chance.

In the meantime, dissecting the neoliberal competitive markets that faculty, staff, and students have to engage in is desperately needed to inch closer toward emancipation for people of color in higher education. The work is difficult, long term, and collaborative. The work must be critical, exacting, and loud. The work must be the counternarrative to the antenarrative; the creative to the normative; the risk to the reward.


Wilder (2013) writes about a sermon given by Reverend Benjamin Wadsworth, once president of Harvard University. Wilder writes that Wadsworth told his congregation to not

“pinch” their servants by denying them the food, drink, clothing, medical attention, and periods of rest necessary to their health. They should give their slaves time for prayer and private contemplation, give them to God and pray for them, and let them read the bible and other books that would enhance their faith … Keep them busy enough to avoid sin, but not so exhausted as to impair their well-being…[choose] the mildest penalty that would effectively cure the fault, remembering that a good master needed neither tyranny nor terror. (p. 129)

It is in the words of this Reverend that we continue to draw the lines between slave plantation life and the modern organization of universities. The plantation politic is an ongoing project with many avenues to explore. We have begun the assignment here and will continue it in order to generate an emancipatory vision of higher education devoid of, or at least actively aware of, its racist epistemologies. Indeed, stripping the United States of its racist and colonial past is an ongoing venture, one worth everybody’s time and attention.


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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 120 Number 14, 2018, p. 1-20
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 22379, Date Accessed: 1/25/2022 6:30:06 PM

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  • Dian Squire
    Iowa State University
    E-mail Author
    DIAN SQUIRE is a visiting assistant professor in the student affairs program at Iowa State University. Prior to starting at Iowa State University, Dian was a postdoctoral fellow in the University of Denver's Interdisciplinary Research Institute for the Study of (in)Equality (IRISE). Dian's research focuses on issues of diversity, equity, and justice in higher education. He particularly focuses on access to graduate education and the experiences of diverse graduate students. He utilizes organizational perspectives to help explain individual behavior and experience in order to transform organizational structures to support equity and justice. He also writes on student activism, racial justice, campus institutional change, and critical praxis in student affairs.
  • Bianca Williams
    CUNY–The Graduate Center
    E-mail Author
    BIANCA C. WILLIAMS is an Associate Professor of Anthropology at The Graduate Center, CUNY. As a feminist cultural anthropologist, Williams’ research interests include Black women and happiness; race, gender, and emotional labor in higher education; feminist pedagogies; and Black feminist leadership, emotional wellness, and activist organizing. In her forthcoming book, The Pursuit of Happiness: Black Women, Diasporic Dreams, and the Politics of Emotional Transnationalism, Williams examines how African American women use international travel and the Internet as tools for pursuing happiness and leisure, creating intimate relationships and friendships, and critiquing American racism and sexism (Duke University Press, 2018). The investigative thread that binds Williams’ research, teaching, and service is the question “How do Black women develop strategies for enduring and resisting the effects of racism and sexism, while attempting to maintain emotional wellness?”
  • Frank Tuitt
    University of Denver
    E-mail Author
    FRANK TUITT is the Senior Advisor to the Chancellor, Provost on Inclusive Excellence, and a Professor of Higher Education at the Morgridge College of Education at the University of Denver. Dr. Tuitt’s research explores topics related to access and equity in higher education, teaching and learning in racially diverse college classrooms, and diversity and organizational transformation. His scholarship critically examines issues of race, Inclusive Excellence and diversity in and outside the classroom from the purview of faculty and students. In 2014 Dr. Tuitt was awarded the Mildred García Exemplary Scholarship Award.
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