This year has facilitated heightened exposure for Black women academics into the upper echelons of policy-making and business. From public health to poverty reduction, more and more Black women are straddling the fence between academics and advocacy. The growing visibility of the Cite Black Women movement is giving these scholars their due. The list below covers the top ten U.S.-based Black women academics to watch this year, as their social influence is predicted to exist both in the classroom and out.
Dr. Alondra Nelson was recently appointed as the Deputy Director for Science and Society for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. Having previously served on the faculty of Yale and Columbia University, at the latter she was the inaugural Dean of Social Science and developed her work on the intersection between race and genetics. As medical discrimination takes on new levels of inquiry during the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Nelson and her work are expected to achieve new heights of visibility and impact.
Dr. Abena Ampofoa Asare is an Associate Professor of Modern African Affairs & History at Stony Brook University. In the classroom, Dr. Asare focuses on African social and political progress. Outside the classroom, she rabidly fights systemic and historical racism in Brookhaven, New York. She says, “Outside the classroom, I am fully immersed in historical justice projects in my community. Of course, that’s not how these projects are labeled, but that is what they are. I am making sure that my kids’ public school is meeting the needs of all students—this is historical justice. I am working to close down a toxic landfill adjacent to a majority Black/Latinx/Indigenous low-income community in Long Island—this is historical justice. Supporting the struggle of the neighboring Shinnecock Nation for economic sovereignty—this is also historical justice.” Greater support for the environmental justice movement and increase in citizen accountability, particularly among indigenous communities, aids her intersectional and grassroots advocacy.
Dr. Traci Baxley is an Associate Professor at Florida Atlantic University. Her work focuses on literacy, particularly among underserved elementary school children. As a mother to five biracial children, this cause hits close to home. Her coaching focuses on transformational mothering, particularly of white mothers raising non-white or multi-racial children, as well as mothers of all racial backgrounds raising the next generation of anti-racist citizens. Her expertise will be of relevance as schools around the country adjust to COVID-19’s impact and reintroduce in-person schooling, particularly in cities majorly affected by last year’s racial reckoning following George Floyd’s murder.
Although Dr. Judith Weisenfeld has been part of Princeton’s faculty since 2007, her work on the intersection of gender, race, and religion will find relevance beyond the ivory tower this year, as studies from Pew and other research centers work to understand the role of religion in America’s partisan divide. The role of the Black church in racial reconciliation and the rise of Evangelical Christianity will remain evergreen topics, making it even more likely that Weisenfeld’s classic works on both subjects will rise to a more public critical consciousness. Even more relevant is her continuing research on racialized psychiatry and her historiography of mental health.
Dr. Lorrie Frasure is an Associate Professor of Political Science and African American Studies at University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA). Her scholarship on the Collaborative Multi-Racial Post Election Survey (CMPS) is changing the way democratic participation is assessed before, during, and after an election. Her team investigates diversity among the electorate and the issues that matter most to people of color. Uniquely, this research does not use voting as the only paradigm to consider constituent concerns. As this year is expected to bring a higher level of citizen scrutiny over government misaction, her research is more likely to fuel public policy and voter activism. Moreover, Dr. Frasure’s U.S.-based research has already established linkages to similar studies, like Dr. Cesi Cruz’ work on vote buying in the Philippines and Celeste Montoya’s work on Latina activism.
Dr. Régine Jean-Charles is an Associate Professor of French at Boston College. Her work focuses on Haiti and Francophone identities, as well as representations of rape culture in Black communities in an effort to end gender based violence. In her class “Where #BlackLivesMatter Meets #MeToo: Violence and Representation in the African Diaspora,” she defines rape culture as a global phenomenon, equips students to posit their own solutions, and encourages them to imagine a world without sexual violence. Her publishing profile grew last year with her critique of Justice Coney Barrett’s introduction of her Haitian-born children, and is expected to grow further with the fall 2021 release of her first trade book, which looks at three social justice movements: Black Lives Matter, Me Too, and prison abolition.
Dr. Chandra Ford is the Founding Director of UCLA’s Center for the Study of Racism, Social Justice & Health, which leads “community-engaged research to identify, investigate and explain how racism and other social inequalities may influence the health of diverse local, national and global populations.” Dr. Ford’s research is two-fold: conducting studies about healthcare inequities and developing tools to help researchers study racism as a public health concern. With the elevation of Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett’s contribution to the COVID-19 vaccine discovery, Black women in public health are expected to receive long overdue recognition in the medical and immunology fields.
Dr. Anne-Maria Makhulu is an Associate Professor of Cultural Anthropology and African & African American Studies at Duke University. Dr. Makhulu is known for her research on South Africa, as well as the anthropology of finance. Today, she champions social justice, anti-racism, and equity through her work on the ACLU-NC Board of Directors and her stewardship of the Mastercard Foundation Scholarship Program at Duke. In the classroom, she teaches courses on the Black Radical Tradition, the History of Apartheid South Africa, and Moral Economy, and she administers the doctoral program in Cultural Anthropology. Over the last five years, there’s been a revived U.S. interest in comparative studies of South African student and labor protests that COVID-19 is certain to extend. As such, Dr. Makhulu’s work on the intersection of ethnography and economic disparity, on the continent and in the U.S., will gain wider visibility.
Dr. Rediet Abebe is an Assistant Professor of Computer Science at the University of California at Berkeley, making her a veritable household name among Artificial Intelligence (AI) experts. Her focus has been on bridging the gap between technology and social good, a popular topic in both the public and private sector. Dr. Abebe was one of the founders of Black in AI, a group that has received high profile attention after the abrupt firing of AI ethics researcher Timnit Gebru from Google in late 2020. Both were born in Ethiopia and share a passion for ethical algorithms. With government-regulation of tech companies and user-scrutiny increasing this year, Abebe is expected to remain squarely at the forefront of decision-making in and around Silicon Valley.
Dr. Brittney Cooper calls herself a “Next Generational Black Intellectual,” and she’s certainly got the Twitter following to prove it. Professor Crunk, as she is affectionately called, is currently an Associate Professor in the Department of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Rutgers University, where focuses on Black feminism and hip hop culture. As an avid culture writer, she’s got a colorful opinion on nearly everything, which will keep her top of mind for many long into the future. As a founding member of the Crunk Feminist Collective, a safe-space for feminists of color and scholar-activists born of the hip-hop generation, her work speaks to the range of women from middle-aged moms and pre-teens from the “mumble rapper” generation. Over the course of 2021, her reach is expected to expand as her 2016 TedX approaches 1 million views.
Nafeesah is a freelance writer and independent researcher with a particular interest in race, literature, gender identity, and African and Indian diasporas in the global South. Follow her on Twitter & Instagram @theblaxpat.