From Academic Freedom to Cancel Culture: Silencing Black Women in the Legal Academy

ABSTRACT

In 1988, Black women law professors formed the Northeast Corridor Collective of Black Women Law Professors, a network of Black women in the legal academy. They supported one another’s scholarship, shared personal experiences of systemic gendered racism, and helped one another navigate the law school white space. A few years later, their stories were transformed into articles that appeared in a symposium edition of the Berkeley Women’s Law Journal. Since then, Black women and women of color have published articles and books about their experiences with presumed incompetence, outsider status, and silence. The story of Black women in the legal academy has been told. And, in 2021, contemporary voices resemble voices from long ago.

This Article updates and contextualizes the treatment of Black women law professors. While cancel culture is intended to punish or shame bad actors, in legal academia, Black women are canceled for simply existing. This Article explores the ways in which white academic norms, like academic freedom and hierarchy, explicitly and implicitly silence Black women and “cancel” their academic careers. As a result of the systemic gendered racism inherent in existing norms, Black women are silenced by intersectional microaggressions, white tears, and tokenism. They suffer intersectional battle fatigue, a consequence of having to negotiate identity in ways that result in physical, psychological, and emotional trauma. After defining law schools as white spaces and exploring cancellation tactics, this Article encourages law schools to reevaluate academic norms to create positive experiences for Black women.

Amid social unrest, the legal academy is primed to be a key player in modern social justice movements. But first, it must address inequities within.

Allen-68-2

About the Author

Renee Nicole Allen is an Assistant Professor of Legal Writing at St. John’s University School of Law.

By LRIRE