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Dr. Boyce Watkins: The Top 10 Black Scholars in America: My Ranking

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Dr Boyce Watkins

www.BoyceWatkins.com

I wake up with strange thoughts on my brain.  This morning, I woke up thinking about which Black scholars I feel have given the most to the Black community.  My respect and appreciation for all Black scholars (even those who do not have PhDs) is without limit.  But there are some that I feel have gone out of their way to be progressive enough to think outside the box and to have a true and real impact on the Black community.

I do not believe that scholarly contributions to the Black community are defined by writing a bunch of research papers that no one ever reads (although I’ve done plenty of that in my own career as part of my job description).  I don’t think your contribution is captured by whether or not you have a chair at Harvard University (interacting with 4 or 5 privileged Black students a year) – although it’s okay to have a chaired position at Harvard.  Much of the elitism of academia has always been a turnoff to me, since I believe the proof is in the potato salad.  If your work is affecting real Black people and changing real Black lives, then you have my respect.  If you are sitting in the ivory tower, claiming the masters house and hiding behind artificially constructed, racially-biased historical privilege which allows you to presume that you are better than everyone else, then you will have to be on someone else’s list.  My belief is that a scholar should have SCHOLARLY IMPACT – which can be measured by the breadth and depth of impact your work has had on your target audience, as well as the size and scope of that audience.  A journal with 50 readers per year does not possess sufficient breadth, depth or quality of impact to merit a meaningful career, in my opinion.  Sure, it’s fun to publish in those journals, but after that, you may want to get out here and make a difference in that scary place called “the real world”.

Of course my opinion is not the only one out there.  But I must confess that I was shocked at how many of our intellectual leaders aren’t leading anyone: many of us are quick to follow and promote the questionable norms created by our academic predecessors.  We in academia are not much different from politicians who forget to serve their constituents, or pastors who, in their own quest for personal power, neglect to serve their Lord.  Such small thinking is incredibly dangerous in Black America, since we really need our scholars to solve vital problems in our communities.  We must accompany our capacity with sufficient courage to speak openly and honestly about the issues that affect those we love.  In physics, force equals mass times acceleration, which means that we must connect our scholarly mass with social acceleration to create the necessary force to solve real and meaningful problems.

My dissertation chair (Rene Stulz at Ohio State University), is one of the leading 3 non-Black Financial scholars in the world (as measured by the number of publications in our so-called premier academic journals).  He thought I was insane for choosing the career path that I picked, especially since he seemed to believe that he’d laid out the golden path for me as a Financial scholar (you know, all that Ivy League professor, top journal stuff that makes a small group of people think you’re special).  But what I had to explain to Rene was that God has given me a different path: one in which I had to disengage from the pettiness of academia and pursue a more powerful purpose.  The challenges of Black America call for active, interdisciplinary thought that is not afraid to challenge ideas created on an undeniably skewed racial foundation….we can’t afford be like everybody else – the waste is just too great.  Rene still looks at me like I’m crazy when we see one another, but I respect his choices and I think he respects mine. 

Now, onto the list of my favorite Black scholars – the list is in no particular order and if a certain scholar is not in the top 10, that doesn’t mean I don’t respect that individual.  But there are some prominent names missing from the list, and I’ll let you guess why they aren’t there:

 Click to read.

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