Oops! It appears that you have disabled your Javascript. In order for you to see this page as it is meant to appear, we ask that you please re-enable your Javascript!

The Layered Deceptions of Jessica Krug, the Black-Studies Professor Who Hid That She Is White

It was also, the junior scholar told me, “a moment of synchronicity.” On August 26th, she texted two other Afro-Latinx scholars, after hinting, on Twitter, about a possible Carrillo-like situation within her field. One of the people she texted was Yomaira C. Figueroa-Vásquez, an associate professor of Afro-diaspora studies at Michigan State University. Together with a third scholar, Figueroa-Vásquez began doing research into Krug’s background and found proof of her identity once and for all in the obituaries of Krug’s parents. But there remained the question of what to do with the information. “We were not going to write some big flashy letter. We were not trying to ruin her life,” Figueroa-Vásquez said. “We were really thinking, as Black Latina women, how do we do this ethically?” They had no plans to contact G.W.; what they wanted, Figueroa-Vasquez said, was simply for Krug to “stop lying” and apologize. They reached out to people who know Krug personally, colleagues in her field and editors she had worked with, to gather more information. But Figueroa-Vásquez suspects that Krug was “tipped off” by one of those people. Within eight days of their initial conversation about Krug (“Black women are efficient if nothing else—we get to the bottom of things,” Figueroa-Vásquez joked), the Medium post was online and a frenzy of news coverage had begun.

Jessica Anne Krug grew up in Kansas City, Missouri. Her parents, Stuart and Sherry Krug, worked as a grocer and a teacher, respectively, according to obituaries in the Kansas City Jewish Chronicle. Krug attended the Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy, a Jewish day school located in the suburb of Overland Park, followed by the Barstow School, a prep school in the city proper. In 1996, when she was in the eighth grade, Krug wrote an op-ed in the Kansas City Star, against “white-male bashing,” despite her experiences with harassment from people in that demographic. “A few years ago, while taking a shortcut through a local country club, I was confronted by people who uttered slurs about the Jewish star hanging around my neck,” she wrote. She attended Portland State University and later received her doctorate in history from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, in 2012. She was “passionate about African and African Diaspora history,” Francisco Scarano, a member of her dissertation committee, told me via e-mail, describing her as a “voracious reader.” After travels to Africa, the Caribbean, and Latin America, he said, “she always seem to come back energized by experiences she had and by the people she had met here.” They never had conversations about her race and ethnicity, though, and Scarano said that he was shocked by the news of her forged identities.

“North African Blackness,” “US rooted Blackness,” “Caribbean rooted Bronx Blackness”—even the coming clean reverts to a sweeping shorthand. In the course of her academic career, Krug has identified as Algerian, African-American, Black Boricua, vaguely Afro-Latinx, vaguely Caribbean; she’s been from Kansas City, from the Bronx, and “of the hood.” Krug’s students, interviewed by The Cut, recalled a “very heavy accent” and an affected brown girl cool. The trail of locales and labels explicates little besides their author’s own ethnographic tastes. What unites them, though, is Krug’s affinity for Blackness as an instrument of authenticity as she made her way through academia.

Much of the coverage of Krug has reduced her story to this point: the want of Blackness. The comparisons to Rachel Dolezal, the Spokane woman, now known as Nkechi Amare Diallo, who went viral, in 2015, for her own living minstrel act, write themselves. But while Dolezal’s fabrication relied upon a flat sense of Black American identity (the Howard University degree, the leadership position at the N.A.A.C.P.), Krug’s transformation from white to Black was knottier. The places Krug chose to identify with—North Africa, the West Indies, East Harlem, the Bronx—cannily preyed upon a certain American laziness when it comes to parsing race beyond Jim Crow. It is germane that Krug hid among the bona fides of the American humanities, which, still, as a whole, like the nation as a whole, tend toward incuriosity about the difference between race and ethnicity, let alone how one cuts across the other. (Hence the tendency of so many outlets to account for Adele’s showing only in Black and white terms.)

Consider, for instance, the footage that has been circulating from a New York City Council hearing, held over Zoom in June, which shows Krug in her Afro-Latinx pose. She introduces herself as Jess La Bombalera, a nickname apparently of her own making, adapted from Bomba, an Afro-Puerto Rican genre of music and dance. Broadcasting live from “El Barrio,” and wearing purple-tinted shades and a hoop in her nose, she lambasts gentrifiers, shouts out her “black and brown siblings,” and twice calls out “white New Yorkers” for not yielding their speaking time. What stands out, though, is the way Krug speaks, in a patchy accent that begins with thickly rolled “R”s and transitions into what can best be described as B-movie gangster. This is where desire outruns expertise. The Times, in a piece on Krug’s exposure, last week, nonetheless called this a “Latina accent,” lending credence to Krug’s performance. (The phrase was later deleted.) The offhand notation is a tiny example of the buy-in Krug has been afforded her entire scholastic career, by advisers and committee members and editors and colleagues. They failed to recognize the gap not between real and faux, so much, as between something thrown-on and something lived-in. That inattentiveness was Krug’s escape hatch.

A symptomatic reading of the situation is almost too easy. Krug’s academic research is focussed on unhomed peoples whose identities are not reducible to state or tribal filiation—indigenous peoples turned Africans turned slaves turned fugitives who forged a new sense of themselves out of thin air. Her book, “Fugitive Modernities,” from 2018, centers on Kisama, a region within present-day Angola whose people resisted Portuguese enslavement and colonialism in the seventeenth century. It was published by Duke University Press, which is known for its cutting-edge monographs in the area of Black studies. The editorial director, Gisela Fosado, explained in a post on the press’s blog that she, too, had been lied to—in their initial contact, Fosado wrote, Krug claimed that her surname was actually Cruz. Fosado added that she is not sure what’s to be done now with Krug’s scholarship, which “has been widely praised and recognized as important.” I, working far afield from Krug’s work in period, region, and methods, am not equipped to evaluate the fitness of her research. I can only say that her writing evinces an ambivalence about its subjects, which may reflect the author’s broad-mindedness—or insecurity. After the Medium post was published, excerpts from “Fugitive Modernities” circulated on Twitter. Seasoned authors like to joke about the length of the acknowledgements section in books by début authors, who tend to thank everyone they’ve ever encountered, down to their kindergarten teachers. But Krug is light on thanks, and takes a combative tone. The only person acknowledged by name is the late rapper Biggie Smalls; Krug is tempted, she writes, to just “crib” her comments from him, “to stunt on every institution and person who has ever stood in my way.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *