What is it for an academic to launch a theory with 25 years of staying power but rarely get credit for its creation? — Signithia Fordham, a professor at the University of Rochester in New York, wrote a personal essay this week explaining how she makes sense of her intellectual erasure. In late July, President Obama reached into a familiar grab bag for Fordham’s controversial “acting white” theory during a My Brother’s Keeper announcement held at a Washington, D.C. public school. The 1986 theory has since been debunked according to the Washington Post, but it remains popular. Fordham’s essay, which doesn’t address the theory itself, is poignant. The erasure of black and Latina girls after all is the key criticism being leveled at Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative aimed at young men and boys of color.
Out of view of this spirited and public debate [about “acting white”], my phone and email inboxes filled to capacity with calls and notes from colleagues and friends who were dismayed that my work was being discussed—again without me.
The critical question I seek an answer to affects, not just me, but also many others: Are black women ignored by American society? Are we compelled to do the imporant labor for others to consume, elaborate, embellish, and dismiss?
Does Fordham have a point?