Decolonize ALL The Things

The UNsettling reflections of a Decolonial Scientist in a Constant State of Rage

Constant State of Rage: Being an Academic Misfit in Class

March 3, 2014
Shay-Akil

So as a continuation to providing survival tactics for people of color (especially Black women & Black LGBTQ*) in academia I have decided to share some of my experiences and a bit of my discussions with my brother Will about some tactics of surviving whitewashed, imperialist, and andro-centric discussions in the classroom.

“To be black and conscious in America is to be in a constant state of rage.” – James Baldwin

So this semester I am taking a “Poverty & Inequality” class in the Sociology department at the university I currently attend.  I am the only Black person in the class.  I was unfortunately under the impression that this class was going to just be the bomb dot com but I definitely lied to myself. Excuse me ya’ll, I’m still removing the rosy shades I have when it comes to the learning process.  So the topic for the day’s class was basically Blackness & Poverty.  All of the white people in the room (including the professor) sat & theorized about what it means to be poor & Black and family & kin networks among poor Blacks in the US.  They had an intellectual circle jerk about poor Black life & kinship while a poor Black woman sat in the damn class.  Now my whole plan was to go to class &  ignore them for the most part since I hadn’t learned a damn thing & its week 5.  But when I heard them sharing their perspectives & opinions about being poor & Black and Black kinship networks I sat there like:

kid-fury-o

Yes this happened.  & then when I mentioned that hey this is my damn life ya’ll are failing to theorize correctly & I shared my experiences as well as expertise from my research work a White woman in the class said to me, “All of what you are saying is anecdotes not data.”  I was like hold up, excuse me?  Basically throughout the first half of the class I attempted to explain the intersections of poverty, Blackness, and the many diasporic Black kinship networks and the problems with hyper obsession with reducing all of human life to objective empirical measurement.  And every time I said something it was shot down, diminished, because it didn’t placate to cishet middle class whiteness.  And a few times I made points that were shot down and then accepted as great ideas when a white girl repeated the same thing.  The professor even at a number of points continued to disrespect me & try to slowly explain to me what sociology is so I stopped her and stated, “Okay, I have two BA degrees and one is in Sociology and the other is in Anthropology so I know what sociology is and what sociologists do, I AM A SOCIOLOGIST.”

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So as the racial microaggressions piled on, I couldn’t take it anymore & I decided that my mental and physical health was more important than this class & when the professor announced a five minute break I ran out of the door with the quickness.  I later talked to a fellow person of color who has more experience dealing with the white academics in the sociology department here.  For the past few weeks of the semester all of the classes I am in have included white people who either culturally appropriate, think they are experts on Blackness/African-ness, or just flat out refuse to accept that people of color are experts on anything.

“theory’s cool, but theory with no practice ain’t shit.”
— Fred Hampton

So while they can speak from their experiences of rural white life in the past.  I can not talk about or theorize about poor Blackness even though I’m still poor & Black, & live in the same neighborhood that I grew up in.  My academic experiences in these classes are summed up by both of the gif files above.  So I shared my experiences with a friend of mine and we discussed how important it is to strategically approach incidents like this in class & here are some of the ideas we came up with:

(1) Speak from your RESEARCH EXPERTISE.

You are an expert. You have a BA degree right, MA?  You’ve conducted research? Then speak from those points.   My best bet in this class is to speak as a sociologist who has done research work on poverty, food deserts, urban sociology, religious anthropology, public anthropology, medical anthropology, biocultural anthropology, public health, paleopathology, human biology, human osteology and so much more.  When you critique or make a point, situate yourself as the expert, it is the only way to stand your ground in a room filled with cishet middle class White privilege.  Its a sucky game to play but there are ways to beat them at it.

(2) Cite PoC scholars like Critical Race Theorists cause most white Academics & grad students don’t read them & aren’t likely to come up with a rebuttal.

This allows you to lean in on the expertise of the work of marginalized people who have already debunked the ridiculous racist, classist, and patriarchal arguments you hear in class.  While cishet middle class whites in a sociology class may feel great trying me, they will not challenge the sacred name of Dr. Patricia Hill-Collins or Dr. Michele Wallace or Dr. Dorothy Roberts.  So I lean in on the works of these scholars.

(3) READ, READ, READ, and then CITE, CITE, CITE.  Whenever they dismiss you as an expert you need to cite critical scholars.  So READ OUTSIDE OF CLASS!!!!! Your academic life depends on it & this is your ammo, this is how you defend yourself against the bullshit “me-search” claims thrown around by cishet middle class whites.

It is important for you to understand something about privilege: it is NOT additive or linear.  So that means that it is contextual and complicated and if you are a poor woman of color in a university setting you have very little, if any, privilege.  The whole purpose of  you getting an education is actually amassing educational privilege that you can put to contextual use to place you where you want to be in life.  Until you get that diploma/receipt you have to begin to see every class a battlefield to be navigated.  You have to tread very carefully & strategically utilize your expertise so that professors and graduate students alike are not capable of silencing your narrative and throwing microaggressions in your direction.  You have to find ways to resist that take shots at the status quo, and shake the foundations of imperialist white supremacist racist cis-hetero-patriarchal capitalism.  So keep in mind that you are not a prop, you are not a people pokemon simply there for their diversity count to feed into the university’s colorblindness, you have a purpose all of your own.  Create spaces of critical counter hegemonic discourse and thought in class because we all know the cishet middle class whites won’t do it for us.  So I encourage you to theorize from your own epistemology and not from Western intellectual traditions.  Walk into every class letting those drunk on the privileged kool aid know that…

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