There is a test. You score high enough on some scale to be given credit for the accomplishment. You are acknowledged and given the privileges afforded all those who pass.
What happens when the scoring rubric is never given to you? What if you enter this exam from an entirely different system? Perhaps, you are overqualified and pass without even trying. Perhaps, you pass but it is a struggle and a challenge. Perhaps you don’t pass.
As international scholars, much of our extracurricular work lies in passing, much like post desegregation blacks trying to figure out how light their skin had to be or DADT era officers figuring out how “straight” was straight enough to die for their country.
We live in an era where academic culture tells us that multiple viewpoints and open discourse are the cornerstones of academic progress. International students and scholars are not just welcome, but essential to the daily conduct of science, business, social justice etc.
Unfortunately, if you look closely, you may notice your students and colleagues struggle to pass. What percentage of the English language do we need to master for the exam? With the exam test our written as well as verbal abilities? Will any of the cultural competencies from our home countries/cultures be on the exam? Trick questions. All of them. Because there is no single exam. Every day and every interaction is an exam.
Personally, I speak more slowly, about 70% normal speed is passing for American English. My accent has to be at 20% for listener comprehension, slang at 0% native use. All the time.
But there is one way I pass that was unexpected. I pass for African American. Ironically, in today’s media it seems like this is the lowest rung on the USA diversity power ladder (without factoring in intersections). I pass for the citizens most likely to be shot by police, have the worst healthcare outcomes and least lifetime earnings outside of sports.
Strangely, my pass gets me invited to the table, involved in discussions on rights, liberty, equality, justice, meritocracies and privilege. Because as a Black Man, I should know the history of race in America and support those around me that are affected daily by its lasting impacts. Usually, sometime during the planning phases of whatever action the group has planned, I pipe up. Usually there is some open answer question, like every exam ever. My response includes, what abut international students?
This is where I stop passing. No longer African American. I am just black. Except, now I am a black foreigner. The mandatory blood tests can be justified, even in the same room we talk about the STD experiments on black men or birth control experiments on Latinos. Anything racist you can think of to say, becomes ok or at least legal, when you apply it to non citizens.
(Yes the blood tests are real, happening this semester. Ask an international student).
So, yeah. I guess I can no longer pass with you. Maybe a whole bunch of international students and scholars no longer will. But maybe it is better to be recognized for being 100% ourselves, than 50% passing.
If you are an international student or scholar who finds solidarity in this, please comment and share your experience. You can do so via twitter or Facebook or anonymously on the website.