William & Mary Journal of Race, Gender, and Social Justice


Pamela J. Smith


This Article is about perceptions and the negative sociological factors that feed these perceptions as Black women attempt to teach the Retrenchment Generation. For purposes of this Article, the Retrenchment Generation is not limited to any particular age group or period of time. Rather, the Retrenchment Generation refers to a state of mind that makes race-based, sex-based, and race/sex-based microaggressions acceptable and in fact normal. The Retrenchment Generation is defined by the synergism that is created by racial isolation, particularly in the educational arena, retrenchment fervor, and the presumption of incompetence that inflexibly presumes that all professional Black women are angry, threatening, intimidating, and unintelligent. These negative behavior characteristics define a Sapphire, a stereotypical myth that exploits the public's fear of, disrespect for, and denigration of Black women, especially their intelligence.

As Black female academics try to teach the Retrenchment Generation, we cannot ignore the fact that the Retrenchment Generation is comprised of students, colleagues, and administrators, whose attitudes about the ability of Black women to "profess" are shaped by the above three powerful, though negative, sociological phenomena. This Article reveals the effects racial isolation, retrenchment fervor, the presumption of incompetence, and the negative Sapphire myth have on the ability of Black women to successfully and easily navigate the waters of legal academia.

Further, although it is fairly clear that teaching students the substance of a particular area of law is what Black women professors are paid to do, we can no longer hide from the reality that Black women are also required to "teach"our students, our colleagues, and each other about the unique obstacles Black women face because we are Black, female, and otherwise vulnerable. This extra burden, fraught with danger, risk, and difficulty defines what it means to be a Sapphire teaching the Retrenchment Generation. This Article explores and reveals these difficulties and the sociological phenomena that make it so.