“I am not a culture vulture,” wrote Jessica A. Krug, associate professor of history at George Washington University, in a Medium post while admitting she has been lying about her identity as a Black woman for most of her life.
“I am a culture leech,” she adds in a confession that, for many, only reads as melodramatic self-flagellation.
“To an escalating degree over my adult life, I have eschewed my lived experience as a white Jewish child in suburban Kansas City under various assumed identities within a Blackness that I had no right to claim: first North African Blackness, then the US rooted Blackness, then the Caribbean rooted Bronx Blackness,” Krug describes.
Although the scholar argues “some unaddressed mental health demons” in appropriating the colored narrative to make their way as a professional, the scope of her actions speaks louder to a problem with many branches.
As The Chronicle of Higher Education explains, Krug’s deception “carries echoes of the 2015 saga of Rachel Dolezal, a white woman and adjunct instructor of Africana education at Eastern Washington University who also pretended to be Black.”
Similarly, Krug specializes in Africa and the African diaspora and has been described as “a child of the Hood,” making multiple references to the life of “El Barrio.” Her farce also included an alter-ego activist named Jess La Bombalera, adapting social struggles from the Afro-Latino community.
Although Krug has not explained the reasons behind her confession, the Chronicle traced her academic career and showed how, according to an older version of her resume, Krug used her ethnic appropriation to make her way early in her academic career, taking advantage of programs like the Ronald E. McNair at Portland State University aimed at underrepresented groups.
According to its website, the program introduces juniors and seniors who are “first-generation and low-income, and/or members of underrepresented groups, to academic research and to effective strategies for getting into and graduating from doctoral programs,”
She was also a Diversity Achievement Scholar at Portland State and an Advanced Opportunity Fellow at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. According to the website, the fellowship targets students from ethnic minority groups, including African Americans, though economically disadvantaged students who don’t belong to one of those groups may also apply.
For Robyn Autry, chair of the Sociology Department at Wesleyan University, and who, like Krug, participated in minority education programs, the two academics’ fake identity phenomenon is increasingly frequent on university campuses.
“They share some uneasiness with their whiteness and seek refuge in their fantasies of Blackness and the rich culture, history, and especially the radical politics they associate with it,” she explains in her column for NBC Think.
“But there is a world of difference between appreciating a culture or aligning with it politically and insisting you somehow embody it.
Although George Washington University is investigating the case and has removed Krug from her African and Latin American history courses, the damage is done.
The professor’s fiasco not only discredits the activist and academic work of many researchers who have dedicated their careers to raising awareness and breaking the myth of “otherness” in sociological and anthropological studies but, just like Malinowski, makes the abuse of privilege more evident — with or without disguise.