My “Place”

Strap in folks, this is serious.

As of late, my love/hate relationship with the academy has been pretty firmly in the I-hate-your-ass-off side of the binary.  It’s not just because I’m dissertating.  I’ve been dealing with the standard amount of soul crushing bullshit that comes with being a Black woman in the academy.  I’m not going to get into details about what happened, but I was made well aware that the Powers-That-Be couldn’t care less about me, my comfort, or my academic game. I have fantastic advisors who were supportive, but when you are facing down the dragons of Hetero-patriarchy, the academic grind, and multiple forms of racism/privilege/power, sometimes that’s not enough. It’s hard not to think a whole bunch of what happened to me was because I am a Black, queer woman, and hey, who really cares at the end of the day.  I spoke to my old mentor at another school, and we shared horror stories.  Every single Woman of Color in the academy I know has stories like mine. Every single one, without exception. I often think about my gender performance in regards to all of this.  When I asked my advisor what new and special acts would be added to this shit show if I was not cis-gendered, she told me some parts of the harassment would have been better, some parts would have probably been worse.  I’m not sure if this is a blessing or a curse.

Several events have triggered this blog post.  A few weeks ago, I got contacted by a brilliant undergrad who was worried what happened to me would happen to her. She is young, and brilliant, and already changing the world, and I don’t want her to have to face what I faced. The scary part is, I know that she’ll have to. Maybe not exactly what I went though, but something close to it, somewhere.  Such is the nature of the academy and its race/gender/sexuality relations. Even in the liberal ivory tower. I hope and pray to God that her fire never dims.

Another thing that happened is a colleague and dear friend was cyber bullied by a fellow academic over something so stupid and inconsequential it boggles the mind.  I always tell her, “never underestimate the pettiness of small stakes” and I was sadly proved right. This is bullshit, but so common anyone hardly bats an eye anymore.

The thing that really pushed me into action is the post by tressiemc.  You should look at her post here: http://tressiemc.com/2013/01/30/whats-in-a-name-robert-lee-mitchell-iii-and-arrianna-marie-coleman/  The amount of bullying and threats she went though is unacceptable, ridiculous, and rage-making.  We, as Black scholars, need to do better.  We, as people in the academy need to do better.  We, as people need to do better.  This is insane.  Reading her post is salt in the jagged wound of what I’ve gone though these last few years, and pretty much all my past academic career.  It’s salt in the wounds that will undoubtedly be made in the future.

‘Cause I’m staying in the academy.  At my old program, when I was trying to talk to my department’s administration about a student who was stalking me, I was told/mansplained to: “Are you going to listen to me, or are you just going to sit here and tell me how right you are?”  He then reminded me that I was just a grad student and I needed to know my place.  I know “my place”.  It is in front of a classroom, teaching.  It is doing research that will change perceptions about communities.  It is being a visible and loud presence in an academy that wishes I would be a quiet token and an occasional Negro/Queer tour guide when they need diversity points. It is fighting the good fight, every single day.  It is in the academy, or in a non-profit, or wherever I want to be.  That is my place.

When I was talking to the brilliant undergrad that is already changing the world about what happened to me, she was outraged and began listing resources to contact, people to talk to, banners to raise.  At the time, I was tired, still emotionally raw, and bitter.  So bitter.  I told her that it didn’t matter, and that as a Black woman in the academy, “I knew what this was.”  I was wrong.

Most days when I teach, I listen to my “tying on my cape” music before I go in.  I sometimes need a little something to motivate me to fight the good fight.  I don’t often invoke gospel in my public life, but I feel it is fitting here. The song of my heart, every day I face down the academy, and work to change it, is gonna be “Eyes on the Prize”.

The wait is slow, and we’ve so far to go
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on

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