Nobodies to Everybody: How Plagiarism Pervades Marginalized Students

Any contribution I make will either be ignored or exploited to sell their idyllic, inactive intellectualism.

by Fallen Matthews on September 8th, 2016

As a writer and academic, I’m no stranger to impostor syndrome. The prospect of my own mediocrity keeps me at the edge of my seat as a desk file fattens with rejection letters.

What never feels familiar, though, is fearing for my identity and labour.

Rows and rows of empty seats in an auditorium-style lecture room.

Photo CC-BY Benson Kua.

As a woman who is Black and Métis, I often fear putting myself out there lest my white superiors or abject authorities misappropriate my musings. I’m visibly mixed and marginalized, therefore a bit of an anomaly. I have less than halves, thirds, even quarters. I’m too murky to be considered a constituent; there’s an air of uncertainty of what or who I am. There is too much to consider. There is too much to speak to, but this is a conversation long “overdue” (Bonilla-Silva & Zuberi, 2008, p. 137).

Time and again, the world has misused and mined marginalized voices for goodies: Kayla Newman, also known as ‘Peaches Monroee’ who created—and never saw a dime or due credit for — “on fleek.” Flavia Dzodan’s “My feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit”—another uncredited and commercialized catchphrase. Nicholas Fraser whose viral vine parody, “Why the Fuck You Lyin’?”, went uncredited by the masses, celebrities, and corporations. To this day, I have met pretentious, pontificating white people in advanced academic programmes who cite intersectionality but don’t know of Kimberlé Crenshaw.

There are countless cases of people who are profoundly privileged, yet misappropriate, commodify, and capitalize on marginalized perspectives and products, while creators go uncompensated and uncredited. It never ceases to amaze me how people—eurocentric, ethnocentric people—can’t be bothered to acknowledge or amend the systemic malignance of marginalized peoples, but never think twice to romanticize us and make coin. They have social as well as material capital, and the insight I share with them is unprecedented as well as unknown; their robbery or revision is likely to go unchallenged. These are somebodies, perhaps busybodies.

People like me are nobodies to everybody.

A lone student walking across a brick walkway, outlined dramatically by rows of stairs in black and white.

Photo CC-BY Jaime González.

Currently, I’m the only racial minority in my classes—and I’d be lying if I said I felt happy whenever I peeped people noting points or references I bring up.  I mention things like intersectionality, kyriarchy, and even privilege—only to see it scribbled down, shrugged off, then parroted [incorrectly] and applauded in presentations. As a scholar, my speciality is cinema; I think of how I formerly studied Japanese horror movies only to be shouted down by weeaboo scholars who attained acclaim in their academia as well as their [cultural] appropriation. The absurdity made me reconsider where I fit altogether, and just how valid this ‘institution’ is in indulging it.

Cokley and Awad (2013) state, “To some there would seem to be a contradiction in a discipline so committed to multiculturalism and social justice by primarily using a methodology with a history of sometimes being used to oppress marginalized groups” (p. 27). This statement rings true, yet white academics and writers prosper in stations and scholarship that supposedly substantiate non-white subjects, because their work is a milieu of musings, not revolution or reform. They invite inquiry, not insurgency. They embrace the ideal world where people of colour are afforded creative, capricious agency; but they dislike a real world where people of colour are humanized as equals. Orientalism and exoticism pioneered pedagogy, but it’s seldom discussed.

Even if I were to rouse revelation, everything I stand for would likely be mishandled by meddlesome middlemen whose commitments are foremost to those of institutional status quo. Someone will decide that my narrative, my lived experience—the very same insight that inclined them to indulge me—is no longer as lucrative as the sustained sales ranks of a white talking head.

But if I don’t cheapen myself or dilute my identity or politics, what are the odds of my garnering graces? What even defines grace? Moreover, who defines it?    

Photo of a black woman typing on a laptop. She is wearing a sweatshirt that says "Karma".

Photo CC-BY WOCinTech Chat, cropped.

The reality is that stories like mine are a problem—and ultimately, people like me are a problem. We live in a 3D world, yet standards and protocols are relatively one-dimensional. I guess this is why my experiences and stories are met with more disbelief than resistance. My stories aren’t surreal; they’re just unreal, fanciful and fictive. White audiences or colleagues are unthreatened by fiction. They can be earnest about enlightenment, or be driven to diversify on the condition they do so from a safe distance. Any contribution I make will either be ignored or exploited to sell their idyllic, inactive intellectualism.  

This doesn’t anger me as much as it scares me. The horror is knowing that my gatekeepers, determinants of my merit and success, conflate exploration with entitlement. I know that they strive less for sincerity or solidarity than censure. Accord overshadows acknowledgement.

My belief is that, against this sanctimonious and speculative white scholarship, future generations must grow their own fields. We must augment an acreage of their own, distinct and detached. We must share consciously and selectively. We must heed our harvests, own their flourish and enjoy the fruits of our labours.  

I can no longer uncritically abide systems that profess to be impartial when they are deliberately exclusive. I can’t create content to just speak on things, because what good is speech without action? What cause can we create if we can’t consider effect? How can my profuse dimensions oblige a decidedly, leveled landscape?

I want to be heard, read, and resonant; but not at the expense of myself.


Cokley, K., & Awad, G. H. (2013). In Defense of Quantitative Methods: Using the “Master’s Tools” to Promote Social Justice. Journal for Social Action in Counseling and Psychology, 5(2), 26-40.

Ensink, T. (2004). The Frame Analysis of Research Interviews: Social Categorization and Footing in Interview Discourse. In Analyzing Race Talk: Multidisciplinary Perspectives on the Research Interview (pp. 156-177). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Taylor, M. L. (2013). Political Theology as Reflection on the Arts of Liberatory Politics. In Theological Perspectives for Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness (pp. 83-100). New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Zuberi, T., & Bonilla-Silva, E. (2008). White Logic, White Methods: Racism and Methodology. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.