Strategies for Negotiating Success
Among African-American Women
in the Culture of Academe

Adrianne R. Andrews, Ph.D.



Accounts of Black domestic workers stress the sense of self-affirmation the women experienced at seeing white power demystified...On one level this insider relationship was satisfying to all concerned...But on another level these Black women knew that they could never belong to their white 'families,' that they were economically exploited workers and thus would remain outsiders. The result was a curious outsider-within stance, a peculiar marginality that stimulated a special Black women's perspective (Collins 1986b in Collins 1990: 11)

     While it is generally known that the numbers of African-American women in the academic profession are minuscule and that they face  obstacles to advancement in the profession, very little is known about what factors enable African-American women to succeed, despite the odds, in what is often an inhospitable environment for women generally, regardless of race or ethnicity. In order to provide insight about the various strategies for success that have been employed by one segment of the female academic population, namely, African-American women, in this paper I present narrative data that indicate that traditional strengths historically found in African-American communities (see Collins 1989; Boykin 1986) are being drawn on as strategies for success among contemporary African-American women in academe. In addition to providing an authentic representation of these women who have beaten the odds against them, I hope to begin to fill the void that presently exists in the scholarly literature on African-American women in academe.

     Collins' introductory quote provides an analysis of the situations of African-American domestic workers in the white, patriarchal "families" of their employers which has direct parallels for an analysis of the situations of African-American women academics in the white and patriarchal "families" of our institutional employers. As with the domestic workers, the outsider-within stance applies to many African-American women in the academic profession.


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May 2000