There is clear evidence that ignoring Black scholarship does not help anyone. At the start of the pandemic, for example, Black experts sounded the alarm on the toll that COVID-19 would take on marginalized communities and other pandemic-related issues that would impact everyone.

In 2016, the late William Spriggs, an economics professor at Howard University, pointed out that if the Federal Reserve had paid attention to rising unemployment in Black and Latino communities in the lead-up to the Great Recession, it could have better predicted that catastrophic event. And most recently, with the rise of AI, leading Black women in technology  —  Joy Buolamwini, Timnit Gebru, Deborah Raji, and Rediet Abebe  —  have issued urgent warnings about the growing dangers of algorithmic, or AI, bias and the lack of regulation surrounding Big Tech.

Despite the contributions of these four women, they were barely mentioned or not mentioned at all in a 60 Minutes piece that discussed AI bias. Today, discriminatory technology that disproportionately burdens or endangers Black and brown people is beginning to impact white populations too.  

The reason Black expertise is largely ignored, especially across critical issues that face our society, is that merit is never assumed for Black people. Since the days of W.E.B. Du Bois, the renowned Black sociologist, historian, and author, Black experts have been accused of lacking objectivity on matters related to Black life. This extends beyond the United States, affecting many African and Caribbean scholars who also struggle to have their work widely recognized and cited.  

One way the minimization of Black scholarship is legitimized is through citations. A recent study documented racial and gender disparities in a number of citations, first-author placements, and publications within the field of communications; similar patterns emerged in medicine and economics. For the latter disciplines, the frequency with which top publications include mentions of racial bias and discrimination was noticeably lacking.  

This is concerning not only because the lives and works of Black scholars contribute to public discourse, public life, and social commentary, but also because it perpetuates systemic biases and limits the perspectives that inform our understanding of the world. As a Black doctoral candidate, I have learned that Black scholars are not afforded the same grace to ignore non-Black scholarship. As one Black professor shared with me: I’m a Black man in America — “everything I say has to be cited or I’ll be dragged for not being rigorous.”  

And he’s right. It is part of a long tradition of gatekeeping in academia that Black scholars who aim to do work that centers their communities do not get to make mistakes or speak out of turn. That is what the institutions housing our work demand  —  hell, that is what they require. It is what Ohio State University professor Koritha Mitchell calls “know your place” aggression. 

What I have learned as the editor of The Black Agenda: Bold Solutions for a Broken System, an essay collection that features practical policy solutions from Black scholars, is that Black expertise should be at the helm of public discourse on issues such as jobs and student debt. Considering the crises that harm us nationally and globally often hit Black communities first and more intensely, there is a steep cost for not citing Black experts. What Black scholars are equipped to do transcends what is typically expected of mainstream experts because Black scholarship demands thrice the effort. 

Black scholars are able to tackle the issues of our time in a way that allows room for intersectionality and equity to take center stage. We have to consider all the trade-offs because not doing so can cost us our lives. Research suggests that policies aimed at helping Black Americans, especially Black women, have wide-ranging positive impacts on health, economy, education, and quality of life for everyone else too. 

Black experts are not just critical voices that provide us with tools and language to decipher a world bent on undermining Black life; they are equipped with the lived experience that further contextualizes their expertise. Experience is the difference between studying racial inequality and living through it, and Black experts have done both. The cost of ignoring Black experts is steep and simply not worth it.  


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