Major academic journal sets new course for race and diversity

Feb 2, 2018 by

The American Historical Review (AHR), one the nation’s most-esteemed academic journals published by the American Historical Association (AHA), announced a series of changes to diversify the journal’s viewpoints and contributors. Journal Editor Alex Lichtenstein announced the new course in a new column, “Decolonizing the AHR,” reported Inside Higher Ed.

Lichtenstein’s column comes a year after the controversial publishing of a book review on school desegregation by a scholar who expressed insensitive racial views. The reviewer, Raymond Wolters, professor emeritus of history at the University of Delaware, challenged the book for not considering “sociobiology,” which could be interpreted as a racist dog whistle.

Going forward, the AHA will form a committee to address diversity issues, nominate new editors to diversify and oversee the journal’s “Reviews” section, and collect data on submissions, reviews and publishing patterns to be discussed at the association’s next annual meeting. Moreover, it will change its criteria for book and other media reviewers, and have members of the board serve as ambassadors to encourage more diverse academics to contribute.

The AHA changes came about because of “our error in publishing a book review last year that contained a very thinly disguised racist ‘dog whistle’ that we missed, but I am sure there are other examples,” wrote Lichtenstein.

Racially deaf flaps, like Wolters’ AHR book review, are coming to light under the scrutiny of social media. In a similar incident, the Economist recently deleted and apologized for a review of Edward Baptiste’s book on slavery’s importance to American economy, “The Half Has Never Been Told.” The reviewer drew criticism because the book portrayed all the slaves as victims.

Social media is rightfully helping to challenge establishment thinking about race; however, these incidents spark bigger questions about representation. Hence, there still exists many rooms where diverse people are not present to challenge racial biases before they are published.

Lichtenstein’s “Decolonizing AHR,” articulated this new vision for the journal. It astutely recognizes the lasting power of racism and imperialism and, more specifically, how the two have already shaped our culture, institutions and understanding of the world.  As he suggested, racism and imperialism did not end when laws were passed that set people free. Looking inward, he asked readers, “What has the official publication of the American Historical Association done to rectify decades of exclusionary practice, during which women, people of color, immigrants, and colonized and indigenous people were effectively silenced…?”

This framework is appropriate for tackling race and diversity issues in higher education more broadly. Only about 6 percent of college faculty are black or Hispanic, and the worse educational outcomes still take place in communities of color. The path to reversing these inequalities is fraught with land mines, but a lasting commitment to equity, and not just representation, can be a powerful guide.

Source: Major academic journal sets new course for race and diversity | Education Dive

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