This month, I had the opportunity to moderate two sessions on Critical Race Theory for the Lifelong Learning Institute at Ohio State’s Lima campus. The LLI is a program sponsored by the Road Scholar Institute, which is designed for mature adults, mostly who are seniors and retirees. I tag-teamed my sessions with my distinguished colleague William “Bill” Angel, who is associate professor emeritus of political science at OSU Lima.
For our first presentation, Bill and I shared with our audience that through our combined years in academia, we have not heard much mention of CRT until now. We are both familiar with the scholarship of Derrick Bell, the late civil rights activist who is considered the “founding father” of CRT for his pioneering work in the 1970s examining the economic and political effects of racism from a legal perspective. Bill then shared a personal family story to illustrate a point about reverse discrimination, an argument that CRT critics believe puts white people at a disadvantage in striving for equity. Bill is descended from Hungarian immigrants, and in his political science classes, he has posed this question to his students: “What if my name had been Ang’hel, and not Angel?” This question relates to his first experience job hunting in 1976 while working on his dissertation at the University of Texas. He attended the American Political Science Association conference in Chicago that year and was invited to interview for a position at Texas A&M at Corpus Christi. Upon his arrival, one of the young professors on the interview committee curiously looked at him, and said, “You’re not Hispanic. How’d you get a name like Ang’hel?” He emphasized Bill’s last name with a heavy Spanish pronunciation. Bill tried to explain that his name was Hungarian and that his grandfather had immigrated from Hungary in 1913. The search committee, however, was not interested in his explanation because they were looking for a Latino professor to diversify their faculty. Bill has shared this story with his students during his tenure at OSU Lima, asking them if they thought he was a victim of reverse discrimination. He would always point out that this interview took place two years before the Regents of University of California v. Bakke (1978) decision, which ruled that universities could consider race in student and faculty recruitment but not implement quotas. Throughout the years of asking this question, most of Bill’s students felt that he was discriminated against in that job interview, but he uses his father’s story to explain how things may had been different for him if he was Latino. His father was the first in his family to graduate from high school, and his teachers noticed that he was gifted in math and the physical sciences of chemistry and physics. Bill’s father got the opportunity to enroll at Ohio State in 1939 and was urged by his professors to pursue a chemistry major. The path to this degree was delayed due to his father working at Plumbrook Ordinance Depot in Port Clinton, Ohio, during World War II. His job was dangerous and after a serious injury, he returned to Ohio State to continue his studies during the winter quarter of 1944. He ended up getting married in June and took a position at Chemical Abstracts Service before Bill was born in 1947, also receiving his degree that year. Bill sums up this story by saying, “Dad was fortunate in his opportunities; he took advantage of those, and those opportunities advantaged me and made my career possible. If my name had been Ang’hel there would have been few opportunities for Dad in high school — perhaps no high school at all. There would have been no teachers who would have noticed his math skills and encouraged him to take college prep courses.”
As Bill shared this story with our audience, he got a little choked up reflecting on how something as simple as a name pronunciation affected the trajectory of his life. He has always maintained that he never felt discriminated against regarding Texas A&M’s decision not to hire him and is thankful that he has had a great career at OSU Lima. This is what my mother would call a “God wink,” where you end up in the right place at the right time. Needless to say, Bill’s family story was a great way to discuss a topic as volatile as CRT.
Dr. Jessica A. Johnson is a lecturer in the English department at The Ohio State University-Lima. Email her at email@example.com. @JjSmojc