I previously did a blog post called “Educated African/Intelligent = Weaponized African“, detailing my experiences in class when a number of classmates labeled me as a literal physical threat to their well-being because I was smarter than them. Such instances have happened to me all the time with people in class. Their stereotypical generalizations of Black women deem me as a threat and my supposed “deviation” from those said stereotypes also deem me as just as dangerous if not more. But I must admit, I was still naïve. I never thought a professor would attack, disrespect, and belittle me in class until today.
This semester I am taking a “Readings in Feminist Theory” course, taught by a professor who is a White woman and also the chair of the Global Gender Studies department at the university that I attend. I was so excited to take this course and I was hoping that I would come to learn more about the experiences of other women of color in other oppressed contexts that I am not familiar with so that I can be a more effective and thorough ally. I thought wrong. From the very beginning of class, everything was conceptualized from the experiences of middle class White heterosexual and lesbian women. Not only could I nor any other person of color or LGBTQIA* member relate, but those articulations of theory and interpretations are inaccurate and don’t apply in other contexts.
So, seeing that I am in a graduate seminar course that is about critical discourse, I mentioned the overwhelming Whiteness of the readings and the articulations of the readings. In each class, I made it my business to ask the tough questions. What about women of color? What about poor women? What about queer & transgender peoples? What about people outside of the U.S.? I also suggested other readings to everyone in class, even the famous Peggy McIntosh piece “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack”. I even suggested Black feminist, Indigenous Feminist, and PoC LGBTQIA* blogs and writers in class.
My theory for how to deal with the major holes in this class was simple, I would speak up for marginalized, silenced, and oppressed peoples because I’d rather be tired from resisting and fighting domination than letting someone or something dominate me. But this all came at a major cost, and a cost that I am willing to pay again and again for doing what is right for the political liberation for all. My best friend’s father (who is like a father to me) always told me, “You can change the program but you can’t change your principles.” So I did just that, I decided to change the program, be the resident critical thinker in the room that challenged everyone (including myself) to take the sitatedness of people not like ourselves into consideration.
Well…the professor did not take so kindly to such acts. I went to class, ready and excited to discuss First Nation and Chicana/o Feminisms (especially since I am in love with decolonization and you can’t decolonize without depatriarchalizing). So I sat in my usual seat that I have been sitting in since week 2 of classes, oddly enough, the professor came and sat next to me, on the exact opposite side of the table where she usually sits (she sat on the opposite end of the table for 6 weeks until today). And I am a graduate student so, my print quota ran out during the 4th week of classes for me. I had my tablet out and ready to open up my response paper to the readings so my discussion questions would be ready after the presentation was done. The professor grabbed my tablet and closed it on my hands while I was opening my document and then proceeded to try to take my tablet from me while one of my hands was sandwiched in between the tablet and the keyboard. In dismay I responded, “Excuse me; what do you think you’re doing?” She stated, “I said on the first day of class that I don’t want laptops used in class.” My response, “I was not in your class on the first day, I registered during the second week of classes; so I was unaware of this. And I have used my tablet in class before. Do not touch my belongings or me. What you did was uncalled for and unprofessional and please do not do it again. All you have to do is ask nicely, you do not need to touch other people’s belongings.” After making that statement I packed my belongings and left class because I did not feel that I was in a safe learning environment after being disrespected and belittled. Mind you, this happened in a graduate course at a tier one research university.
The professor treated me as her inferior in front of an entire class of graduate students, I spoke up for myself but NONE of my classmates spoke up for me. I am glad I stood my ground. This incident speaks volumes! This was done to me not just out of spite but also because I am a Black woman who is a dual PhD student. I am not supposed to be in her space, challenging White supremacist racist ideals or dominant Western intellectual traditions. I was disrespected because she felt she had the power to do so, I do not believe she would have done this to a White female student. This incident is the epitome of what White feminism does to women of color all the time.
I am blogging about this account because I want everyone to know that this happens to people of color, especially Black people in the academy. I was targeted, disrespected, and wronged in an academic space where I am a graduate student, thus a paying customer. Eighty percent of tuition at the university that I attend goes to paying faculty. Yet today I was treated like the unwanted child in front of my colleagues, oddly enough, only a week after doing my class facilitation on Black feminism. I share this account because I want you to all be encouraged to STAND UP and SPEAK UP for what is right in your classes, in your research, in your families, in your community. Though this incident was quite painful and bothersome I am not giving up. And I want other graduate students of color and activists out there doing counter-hegemonic work to know that they are NOT alone and that they should never give up. I will continue to demand high quality, critical scholarly work & discourse and accept nothing less.