All over Massachusetts, and probably most of the Northeast, houses have two front doors. You enter one door, stomp the snow off your shoes, and then enter the next door. It’s like a very small elevator that doesn’t go anywhere. Because the difference between the inside temperature and outside temperature is so great, the mini-elevator, or stomp room (is that their real name?), creates an intermediate climate, that stops heat from leaking out and cold from leaking in.
A professor at my college once compared the stomp room to people of color in universities. For a long time, people of color were left out in the cold, without access to education. Slowly, they let a few of us into the stomp room, and told us we were in the big house. Technically, we were inside, but there wasn’t space for all of us to fit, much less stretch out our arms. And it was still cold. We could see through to the main hall, but the inner door was still locked. Meanwhile, all of our people on the outside could only see that we were inside and kept on asking us why we weren’t doing more.
In the metaphor, there is an assumption that people of color represent other people who share their culture, and have a duty to give back to those communities. Call it representational academics. As a personal decision, I’m all for representing underrepresented communities in academics, and incorporating into curricula the vast systems of knowledge that communities of color have built, but I think I understand people who don’t want to make it their personal mission. For some people, maybe it still feels like they’re being defined by what they are, not who they are.