WDG: What inspired you to become a scholar?
MAD: The idea that I could redefine the metrics of success inspired me to become a scholar. For me, success is about having a good impact through educating and encouraging others, experiencing joy through writing and scholarship, and reaping financial rewards through entrepreneurial opportunities that can be created through my expertise.
WDG: In your recent book Clearly Invisible, which offers insight about racial passing and communication that’s been described by The White House’s Valerie Jarrett as “thought-provoking” and “an inspiration,” you argue that racial passing connects to wider social problems like identity theft, human trafficking and hacktivism. How does this work?
MAD: My research revealed that racial passing, trafficking and hacktivism are connected through legal definitions of personhood, which define our identities as property that must be protected. In fact, legally speaking, racial passing was considered the first form of identity theft. But that’s not how the original passers thought about what they were doing. The passers themselves saw passing as a form of “hacktivism”, a way to pursue political ends like disrupting and dismantling racial categories and hierarchies by exploiting weaknesses in the system. By hacking the racial hierarchy passers helped put an end to African American enslavement in the US and today’s passers are using this strategy to end human trafficking worldwide right now.
WDG: Who are your professional role models, and why?
MAD: My old-school professional role models are my parents, John M. Dawkins III and Olga Matos-Dawkins, life-long professors in the traditional sense who taught me about the importance of “edutainment” (education + entertainment). My new-school professional role models are avant-gardists such as Baratunde Thurston (author/speaker), Veronica Belmont (media producer/tech reporter), Ahmed Alfi (media/tech investor), Matt Mankins and Harry Guillermo (web developers) and Marshall Mathers (executive/rapper), who create and utilize new media platforms to “edutain” global audiences about changing demographics, democratic communication, business and legal development, and cultural and technological innovation.
WDG: If you could meet yourself at age 18, what advice would you offer?
MAD: I would say five things to my 18-year-old self. First, that success often involves spectacular errors and failures, so don’t be afraid if things don’t always work out. Second, that opportunity is a set of circumstances that can be manufactured so pay attention to your social environment and networks. Third, that creativity is a renewable resource, so don’t be afraid to unplug sometimes. Fourth, that emotional investment is the key to achieving your goals so do what you love. Fifth, that there is compound interest in altruism so whatever you do must help to make the world a more just place.
WDG: Where do you expect to be in two years, in terms of your professional development?
MAD: In two years I expect to be a full-fledged intellectual entrepreneur. That means that in addition to being a professor I will be touring the world giving public lectures about my research and writing. By then I will also have published two more books in addition to Clearly Invisible: Racial Passing and the Color of Cultural Identity; these are Eminem: The Real Slim Shady and Mixed Race 3.0: Race, Risk and Reward in the Digital Age. For additional information about these projects and more please see my websites – http://www.MarciaDawkins.com and http://www.ClearlyInvisibleBook.com.