Black (Academic) Women's Health: To Be in Context

October 29, 2012
By

By Tressie McMillan Cottom

My great grandmother used to pay me to talk, about anything and nothing. She just “loved to hear that child speak!” She said my oratory would be my saving grace. My mother said my little red tongue would get me into more trouble than she could save me from.

They were both right.

It is no small thing for a colored girl child to refuse to be silent.

Silence is common to all of the essays in this special forum of The Feminist Wire. When Tamara Nopper, a Feminist Wire champion, thought to recommend me for a guest editorship, I was honored. Little did I know that it was only the beginning of a collaborative journey for which I will always be grateful. I could not have guessed the myriad ways my own biography would be reflected in so many different voices and stories, all of them refusing to be silent even when the price of being heard is so very, very high.

Early in the editorial process I asked the editorial team if we should frame “health” in our call for papers on the subject of Black women academics’ health. I was afraid the broadness of the term would stymie the responses we received. I could not have been more wrong (and Tamura more right). The response was overwhelming. We received autoethnographies, empirical findings, creative narratives, and essays. Their respective authors told of notebooks cataloging years of microaggressions in an almost obsessive bid to control the uncontrollable. Graduate students spoke of the symbolic violence enacted daily in classrooms where they are asked to leave critical parts of themselves behind in order that they be remade and “professionalized.” There were stories upon stories about the physical manifestations of emotional and psychic pain: cancer, fibroids, breakouts, and breakdowns. And there were the stories of the mental anguish whose refusal to be made corporal exacerbates the pain by minimizing its social importance.

There were also stories of redemption and triumph, of mothers choosing to live better for the sake of their children, like Melva Sampson’s essay on raising womanish girls. It’s there, too, in the many essays about women-friends forging bonds that sustain and protect. A sociologist and an organizational theorist to boot, I was particularly struck by the themes of structural violence and social responses to that violence. Several essays spoke of the lack of dignity in the way academic work is currently being restructured to use more adjunct, temporary, and contract labor. These new work arrangements come at a very high cost: instability, diminished labor rights, lack of health insurance, and institutionalized disrespect.  Black women are over-represented in adjunct and lecturing positions. It is not overstating the case to say that the price of making colleges more modern and nimble is being paid in black women’s bodies.

I was also reminded that support can come from the most unlikely of places. So can enemies. Women spoke of the disappointment they experienced when they realized that historically black colleges are not a panacea for racialized antagonism that marks predominately white colleges. I was so affected by an essay on “frienemies” – the women who look like you while actively seeking to diminish and destroy you – that I had to walk away halfway through reading it. It hit too close to home and the wounds of betrayal from black women in the academy were far too fresh for me to read it objectively.

My story could have been all of these stories. The death of the only child I will ever have broke me beyond measure. I can recall, still, the fog of depression that drowns out all rational thought and basic functioning that Mari Morales-Williams speaks of in her essay, “Occupy Myself.”  It was because I had been so thoroughly broken that I left behind one whole life to start another in graduate school. And every day I am grateful for that total destruction of self. Not even academe is bad enough to destroy you when you are already always destroyed. That permanent broken-ness is often the only thing that stands between me and a notebook full of microaggressions stashed in my purse like the one Marcia Allan Owens describes in her essay. Hers is a compulsion I understand. The need to order the disorderly, to make sense of the nonsensical is real and ever-present.

I turn often to social media to broadcast some irrational remark from a white colleague about how she wants to be black because “black women have always worked!” as if we agreed to be enslaved so that we could be good feminists.  It’s the professor in quantitative methods who attributes your correct answers to the only Asian male in the class who couldn’t find an output if it landed on his head. Or, it’s the time when I submitted my first graduate school paper only to be asked who helped me write it. Or, when it is assumed that I am a first generation college student by a black woman scholar. You want to not be alone at such moments. You want a record of your experience if only as evidence that you did not imagine it all. One woman’s microaggressions notebook is another woman’s twitter account.

It all prompted me to ask something I’ve asked before: where in the world can a black woman be?

The answer, of course, is nowhere and anywhere.

We be when we are vocal. We be where we stand and where we lie down for awhile. We be in the pages of our journals, our yoga practices, our spiritual safe houses. We be when others demand our silence, when doctors deny us the right to be sick, when institutions deny us the right to get well, when insurance companies deny us access to medical care, when women deny us allies, when men deny us humanity, when academe denies us tenure, and when our society denies us basic human dignity.

We be.

I never learned how to shut up. My mother was right about that. My little red tongue has gotten me into plenty of trouble in my life. I’d wager it’s not done yet.

It is a good thing because academia is not for the silent, even when it structurally demands your silence.

It is also a dangerous thing because the very tool of salvation – our voices – is the tool that would be used to dismantle us.

We cannot speak except in ways formatted for journal articles and book publishers. Our voices must first be vetted (and erased, re-written, re-packaged) in peer review, no matter that we don’t get to designate who should be our peers. Our voices are constrained in new pedagogical models that privilege sanitized curriculum. Our voices are not allowed a vote in faculty meetings until we get tenure. After tenure our voices are a minority and, thus, often overruled.

What would happen if we could speak, uncensored and without reprisal, on our own behalf? Would we remember what it is to be well, both in body and spirit?

The Feminist Wire set out to discover just that. We drew inspiration from Sister Scholars like Emilie Townes and Darlene Clark Hine, both of whom wrote love notes to us as we embarked upon this journey.

My work must be put into perspective, as a part of who I am as a thinking, feeling, sensing human being in a creation that is vast, and my mind and body are welcomed into that vastness.  Moving our work into the larger context of what it means for us to be alive helps us see the importance of cherishing our body and minds.~Emilie Townes

 

Demands are daunting and  Black women academicians should be especially mindful of the need to take care of themselves.  Health and wellness are essential and all of our sisters, both in the academy and beyond, must become much more cognizant of the destructive consequences of too much stress from too many sources. The goal, seemingly too slippery to grasp firmly in our hands, or so it seems, is to create balance in our lives and thus maximize our joy, wellness, and productivity.~Darlene Clarke Hine

Over the next two weeks you are invited to a conversation and a revival of black women’s voices that contextualizes the experience of black women, health, and the academy.

________________________________________________

Tressie McMillan Cottom is a PhD candidate in the Sociology Department at Emory University. Broadly, Tressie is interested in organizations, education, labor and stratification. Currently, her research examines the implications of for-profit colleges being number one granter of bachelor’s degrees to African-Americans. She also studies the interaction effects of gender, poverty, and motherhood status in these enrollment patterns. Why do students choose for-profits and to what ends?

Her public writing has been published in Inside HigherEd, Huffington Post, The Nation, Contexts, and The Feminist Magazine. She is a Public Voices Thought Leadership Fellow, a researcher with the Research Network on Racial and Ethnic Inequality at Duke University, and a former Engaged Research Fellow with Emory’s Office of University-Community Partnerships. She also continues to consult with national and international clients on education policy and organizational effectiveness.

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80 Responses to Black (Academic) Women's Health: To Be in Context

  1. Melva Sampson on October 29, 2012 at 7:30 am

    Dr. McMillan Cottom,

    I am preparing to take my second comprehensive exam in a few moments. I picked up my phone to silence it but before doing so I made one last email/social media sweep. Your words just gave me LIFE! I’m in my bathroom weeping tears of sadness and tears of joy at ‘the same damn time!’ I was nervous going in but now I feel empowered. I take each one of my sisters with me today and everyday. Thank you for sharing your most intimate thoughts and experiences. Through your testimony WE are all made well!

    • Tressie on November 1, 2012 at 10:31 am

      Thank you, Dr. Sampson. :) I felt the same when I read your submission. I have no doubt that you slayed your comps.

  2. Melva Sampson on October 29, 2012 at 7:30 am

    Dr. McMillan Cottom,

    I am preparing to take my second comprehensive exam in a few moments. I picked up my phone to silence it but before doing so I made one last email/social media sweep. Your words just gave me LIFE! I’m in my bathroom weeping tears of sadness and tears of joy at ‘the same damn time!’ I was nervous going in but now I feel empowered. I take each one of my sisters with me today and everyday. Thank you for sharing your most intimate thoughts and experiences. Through your testimony WE are all made well!

    • Tressie on November 1, 2012 at 10:31 am

      Thank you, Dr. Sampson. :) I felt the same when I read your submission. I have no doubt that you slayed your comps.

  3. Melva Sampson on October 29, 2012 at 7:30 am

    Dr. McMillan Cottom,

    I am preparing to take my second comprehensive exam in a few moments. I picked up my phone to silence it but before doing so I made one last email/social media sweep. Your words just gave me LIFE! I’m in my bathroom weeping tears of sadness and tears of joy at ‘the same damn time!’ I was nervous going in but now I feel empowered. I take each one of my sisters with me today and everyday. Thank you for sharing your most intimate thoughts and experiences. Through your testimony WE are all made well!

    • Tressie on November 1, 2012 at 10:31 am

      Thank you, Dr. Sampson. :) I felt the same when I read your submission. I have no doubt that you slayed your comps.

  4. Melva Sampson on October 29, 2012 at 7:30 am

    Dr. McMillan Cottom,

    I am preparing to take my second comprehensive exam in a few moments. I picked up my phone to silence it but before doing so I made one last email/social media sweep. Your words just gave me LIFE! I’m in my bathroom weeping tears of sadness and tears of joy at ‘the same damn time!’ I was nervous going in but now I feel empowered. I take each one of my sisters with me today and everyday. Thank you for sharing your most intimate thoughts and experiences. Through your testimony WE are all made well!

    • Tressie on November 1, 2012 at 10:31 am

      Thank you, Dr. Sampson. :) I felt the same when I read your submission. I have no doubt that you slayed your comps.

  5. professLCH on October 29, 2012 at 8:44 am

    Where do I sign up to enter this conversation?

    • Tamura A. Lomax on October 29, 2012 at 8:59 am

      Greetings! Just visit us everyday for the next two weeks. Comment as you please. Visit us here, ‘like’ us on facebook, and follow us on twitter!

  6. professLCH on October 29, 2012 at 8:44 am

    Where do I sign up to enter this conversation?

    • Tamura A. Lomax on October 29, 2012 at 8:59 am

      Greetings! Just visit us everyday for the next two weeks. Comment as you please. Visit us here, ‘like’ us on facebook, and follow us on twitter!

  7. professLCH on October 29, 2012 at 8:44 am

    Where do I sign up to enter this conversation?

    • Tamura A. Lomax on October 29, 2012 at 8:59 am

      Greetings! Just visit us everyday for the next two weeks. Comment as you please. Visit us here, ‘like’ us on facebook, and follow us on twitter!

  8. professLCH on October 29, 2012 at 8:44 am

    Where do I sign up to enter this conversation?

    • Tamura A. Lomax on October 29, 2012 at 8:59 am

      Greetings! Just visit us everyday for the next two weeks. Comment as you please. Visit us here, ‘like’ us on facebook, and follow us on twitter!

  9. Roselyn Thomas on October 29, 2012 at 2:41 pm

    Tressie! This is amazing! Your words strike me so hard. Lately I have felt that I fought that fight ’till I couldn’t fight no mo’ and then wondering where do I go from here? What is the line between persevering and staying in a toxic space. There’ s.
    probably there’s no right answer and each person has to decide for herself. Regardless I’m really excited about this series and will be checking back in throughout the week.

    • Tressie on November 1, 2012 at 10:33 am

      Thank you so much for reading and commenting, Roselyn.

      Be sure to check in on the final day of the forum. It mattered greatly to the whole team that we end with a roadmap for the future. Part of that is to talk about exactly what you describe: how do we care for ourselves and carve out our own path forward to both health AND success.

  10. Roselyn Thomas on October 29, 2012 at 2:41 pm

    Tressie! This is amazing! Your words strike me so hard. Lately I have felt that I fought that fight ’till I couldn’t fight no mo’ and then wondering where do I go from here? What is the line between persevering and staying in a toxic space. There’ s.
    probably there’s no right answer and each person has to decide for herself. Regardless I’m really excited about this series and will be checking back in throughout the week.

    • Tressie on November 1, 2012 at 10:33 am

      Thank you so much for reading and commenting, Roselyn.

      Be sure to check in on the final day of the forum. It mattered greatly to the whole team that we end with a roadmap for the future. Part of that is to talk about exactly what you describe: how do we care for ourselves and carve out our own path forward to both health AND success.

  11. Roselyn Thomas on October 29, 2012 at 2:41 pm

    Tressie! This is amazing! Your words strike me so hard. Lately I have felt that I fought that fight ’till I couldn’t fight no mo’ and then wondering where do I go from here? What is the line between persevering and staying in a toxic space. There’ s.
    probably there’s no right answer and each person has to decide for herself. Regardless I’m really excited about this series and will be checking back in throughout the week.

    • Tressie on November 1, 2012 at 10:33 am

      Thank you so much for reading and commenting, Roselyn.

      Be sure to check in on the final day of the forum. It mattered greatly to the whole team that we end with a roadmap for the future. Part of that is to talk about exactly what you describe: how do we care for ourselves and carve out our own path forward to both health AND success.

  12. Roselyn Thomas on October 29, 2012 at 2:41 pm

    Tressie! This is amazing! Your words strike me so hard. Lately I have felt that I fought that fight ’till I couldn’t fight no mo’ and then wondering where do I go from here? What is the line between persevering and staying in a toxic space. There’ s.
    probably there’s no right answer and each person has to decide for herself. Regardless I’m really excited about this series and will be checking back in throughout the week.

    • Tressie on November 1, 2012 at 10:33 am

      Thank you so much for reading and commenting, Roselyn.

      Be sure to check in on the final day of the forum. It mattered greatly to the whole team that we end with a roadmap for the future. Part of that is to talk about exactly what you describe: how do we care for ourselves and carve out our own path forward to both health AND success.

  13. Trudy on October 29, 2012 at 2:59 pm

    Powerful. I am glad that you speak so well on this nuanced position of being a part of “elite” education, which is a privilege, but also the UNIQUE difficult experiences for Black women there. It is difficult to give voice to this because with or without merit, it is often silenced even among other Black people. It is written off at times as “fancy education” which may be true, but only partially. That’s not the whole picture. That doesn’t summarize the complexity of the experience and the challenges of the merge of academia and Blackness and womanhood.

    • Tressie on November 1, 2012 at 10:35 am

      Thank you for reading, Trudy.

      One of the difficult things is exactly what you describe: feeling guilty about being tired in such a privileged position. It’s a position many of our sisters in other parts of the economy would kill for and one our grandmothers could not have even imagined. I’m still negotiating that myself. :/

  14. Trudy on October 29, 2012 at 2:59 pm

    Powerful. I am glad that you speak so well on this nuanced position of being a part of “elite” education, which is a privilege, but also the UNIQUE difficult experiences for Black women there. It is difficult to give voice to this because with or without merit, it is often silenced even among other Black people. It is written off at times as “fancy education” which may be true, but only partially. That’s not the whole picture. That doesn’t summarize the complexity of the experience and the challenges of the merge of academia and Blackness and womanhood.

    • Tressie on November 1, 2012 at 10:35 am

      Thank you for reading, Trudy.

      One of the difficult things is exactly what you describe: feeling guilty about being tired in such a privileged position. It’s a position many of our sisters in other parts of the economy would kill for and one our grandmothers could not have even imagined. I’m still negotiating that myself. :/

  15. Trudy on October 29, 2012 at 2:59 pm

    Powerful. I am glad that you speak so well on this nuanced position of being a part of “elite” education, which is a privilege, but also the UNIQUE difficult experiences for Black women there. It is difficult to give voice to this because with or without merit, it is often silenced even among other Black people. It is written off at times as “fancy education” which may be true, but only partially. That’s not the whole picture. That doesn’t summarize the complexity of the experience and the challenges of the merge of academia and Blackness and womanhood.

    • Tressie on November 1, 2012 at 10:35 am

      Thank you for reading, Trudy.

      One of the difficult things is exactly what you describe: feeling guilty about being tired in such a privileged position. It’s a position many of our sisters in other parts of the economy would kill for and one our grandmothers could not have even imagined. I’m still negotiating that myself. :/

  16. Trudy on October 29, 2012 at 2:59 pm

    Powerful. I am glad that you speak so well on this nuanced position of being a part of “elite” education, which is a privilege, but also the UNIQUE difficult experiences for Black women there. It is difficult to give voice to this because with or without merit, it is often silenced even among other Black people. It is written off at times as “fancy education” which may be true, but only partially. That’s not the whole picture. That doesn’t summarize the complexity of the experience and the challenges of the merge of academia and Blackness and womanhood.

    • Tressie on November 1, 2012 at 10:35 am

      Thank you for reading, Trudy.

      One of the difficult things is exactly what you describe: feeling guilty about being tired in such a privileged position. It’s a position many of our sisters in other parts of the economy would kill for and one our grandmothers could not have even imagined. I’m still negotiating that myself. :/

  17. Sheri Davis-Faulkner on October 29, 2012 at 7:58 pm

    Damn Sistah Tressie,
    This is truth and it is powerful. Give thanks and praises for refusing to be silen(ced)t.

    Peace

    • Tressie on November 1, 2012 at 10:35 am

      Thank you, Dr. Davis-Faulkner. :)

  18. Sheri Davis-Faulkner on October 29, 2012 at 7:58 pm

    Damn Sistah Tressie,
    This is truth and it is powerful. Give thanks and praises for refusing to be silen(ced)t.

    Peace

    • Tressie on November 1, 2012 at 10:35 am

      Thank you, Dr. Davis-Faulkner. :)

  19. Sheri Davis-Faulkner on October 29, 2012 at 7:58 pm

    Damn Sistah Tressie,
    This is truth and it is powerful. Give thanks and praises for refusing to be silen(ced)t.

    Peace

    • Tressie on November 1, 2012 at 10:35 am

      Thank you, Dr. Davis-Faulkner. :)

  20. Sheri Davis-Faulkner on October 29, 2012 at 7:58 pm

    Damn Sistah Tressie,
    This is truth and it is powerful. Give thanks and praises for refusing to be silen(ced)t.

    Peace

    • Tressie on November 1, 2012 at 10:35 am

      Thank you, Dr. Davis-Faulkner. :)

  21. Valerie Bridgeman on October 30, 2012 at 8:41 am

    No words except “thank you.”

    • Tressie on November 1, 2012 at 10:38 am

      And thank you right back at you for reading.

  22. Valerie Bridgeman on October 30, 2012 at 8:41 am

    No words except “thank you.”

    • Tressie on November 1, 2012 at 10:38 am

      And thank you right back at you for reading.

  23. Valerie Bridgeman on October 30, 2012 at 8:41 am

    No words except “thank you.”

    • Tressie on November 1, 2012 at 10:38 am

      And thank you right back at you for reading.

  24. Valerie Bridgeman on October 30, 2012 at 8:41 am

    No words except “thank you.”

    • Tressie on November 1, 2012 at 10:38 am

      And thank you right back at you for reading.

  25. yvette joy harris on October 30, 2012 at 11:32 pm

    OMG! My diss is on black women, religion and health! I am soooooo interested in what will take place in this discussion. Love the candor and the sincerity. Please keep me posted. How can I participate and be involved in this discussion?!?!?!

    • Tamura A. Lomax on October 31, 2012 at 12:00 am

      Hello Yvette,
      Thanks for visiting TFW. The best way to join the discussion is to visit us here daily, ‘like’ us on Facebook, and follow us on twitter. You can raise questions and/or make comments in any of these venues. We love engagement! In addition, due to the sheer volume in terms of interest and need, we’re currently planning other exciting opportunities for this topic. Please be on the lookout!
      The very best,
      TAL

  26. yvette joy harris on October 30, 2012 at 11:32 pm

    OMG! My diss is on black women, religion and health! I am soooooo interested in what will take place in this discussion. Love the candor and the sincerity. Please keep me posted. How can I participate and be involved in this discussion?!?!?!

    • Tamura A. Lomax on October 31, 2012 at 12:00 am

      Hello Yvette,
      Thanks for visiting TFW. The best way to join the discussion is to visit us here daily, ‘like’ us on Facebook, and follow us on twitter. You can raise questions and/or make comments in any of these venues. We love engagement! In addition, due to the sheer volume in terms of interest and need, we’re currently planning other exciting opportunities for this topic. Please be on the lookout!
      The very best,
      TAL

  27. yvette joy harris on October 30, 2012 at 11:32 pm

    OMG! My diss is on black women, religion and health! I am soooooo interested in what will take place in this discussion. Love the candor and the sincerity. Please keep me posted. How can I participate and be involved in this discussion?!?!?!

    • Tamura A. Lomax on October 31, 2012 at 12:00 am

      Hello Yvette,
      Thanks for visiting TFW. The best way to join the discussion is to visit us here daily, ‘like’ us on Facebook, and follow us on twitter. You can raise questions and/or make comments in any of these venues. We love engagement! In addition, due to the sheer volume in terms of interest and need, we’re currently planning other exciting opportunities for this topic. Please be on the lookout!
      The very best,
      TAL

  28. yvette joy harris on October 30, 2012 at 11:32 pm

    OMG! My diss is on black women, religion and health! I am soooooo interested in what will take place in this discussion. Love the candor and the sincerity. Please keep me posted. How can I participate and be involved in this discussion?!?!?!

    • Tamura A. Lomax on October 31, 2012 at 12:00 am

      Hello Yvette,
      Thanks for visiting TFW. The best way to join the discussion is to visit us here daily, ‘like’ us on Facebook, and follow us on twitter. You can raise questions and/or make comments in any of these venues. We love engagement! In addition, due to the sheer volume in terms of interest and need, we’re currently planning other exciting opportunities for this topic. Please be on the lookout!
      The very best,
      TAL

  29. Tiffany Wilkins on October 31, 2012 at 6:17 pm

    Dr. McMillan Cottom,
    I can’t begin to express what reading your article has done to the frame of my work in my doc program, my dissertation writing, my claims and evidence that speak directly to what you’ve said about other Black women (I’d add to that Black men as well) who wound so deeply in place of the solidarity I both seek out and offer. My work addresses LGBTQ African American youth and their experiences in secondary schools and consequent lack of access to higher education; I talk about HBCUs and many other things in our “family” that hurt these kids as I experience it myself fighting to find my mind in the world of academe. As a genderqueer lesbian woman I’m struck most by those wounds of structural violence, particularly those coming from our community as it’s directed at these babies. We all know how they’ll end up if something doesn’t change; even in my pain of having lost my mother recently, you spoke of that numbness too, this work simultaneously breaks and recreates me. I look to other people of color in the academy not only as colleagues but also as teachers and models of being better, making this better. I’ve learned a tremendous amount from you. Thank you doesn’t cover it. One more year. I defend next year. And every day.

    • Tressie on November 1, 2012 at 10:40 am

      Oh, Tiffany. I am honored and touched and inspired by the work you are doing. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment.

      I struggle(d) with speaking plainly about the violence our community inflicts upon itself. In the end, like you, I decided I cared more for truth and people than rhetoric. That does not make it easy. You’re trapped between a rock and a hard place, right? I understand and I will keep you in my meditations.

      “I defend next year. And every day.”

      And that’s just beautiful.

  30. Tiffany Wilkins on October 31, 2012 at 6:17 pm

    Dr. McMillan Cottom,
    I can’t begin to express what reading your article has done to the frame of my work in my doc program, my dissertation writing, my claims and evidence that speak directly to what you’ve said about other Black women (I’d add to that Black men as well) who wound so deeply in place of the solidarity I both seek out and offer. My work addresses LGBTQ African American youth and their experiences in secondary schools and consequent lack of access to higher education; I talk about HBCUs and many other things in our “family” that hurt these kids as I experience it myself fighting to find my mind in the world of academe. As a genderqueer lesbian woman I’m struck most by those wounds of structural violence, particularly those coming from our community as it’s directed at these babies. We all know how they’ll end up if something doesn’t change; even in my pain of having lost my mother recently, you spoke of that numbness too, this work simultaneously breaks and recreates me. I look to other people of color in the academy not only as colleagues but also as teachers and models of being better, making this better. I’ve learned a tremendous amount from you. Thank you doesn’t cover it. One more year. I defend next year. And every day.

    • Tressie on November 1, 2012 at 10:40 am

      Oh, Tiffany. I am honored and touched and inspired by the work you are doing. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment.

      I struggle(d) with speaking plainly about the violence our community inflicts upon itself. In the end, like you, I decided I cared more for truth and people than rhetoric. That does not make it easy. You’re trapped between a rock and a hard place, right? I understand and I will keep you in my meditations.

      “I defend next year. And every day.”

      And that’s just beautiful.

  31. Tiffany Wilkins on October 31, 2012 at 6:17 pm

    Dr. McMillan Cottom,
    I can’t begin to express what reading your article has done to the frame of my work in my doc program, my dissertation writing, my claims and evidence that speak directly to what you’ve said about other Black women (I’d add to that Black men as well) who wound so deeply in place of the solidarity I both seek out and offer. My work addresses LGBTQ African American youth and their experiences in secondary schools and consequent lack of access to higher education; I talk about HBCUs and many other things in our “family” that hurt these kids as I experience it myself fighting to find my mind in the world of academe. As a genderqueer lesbian woman I’m struck most by those wounds of structural violence, particularly those coming from our community as it’s directed at these babies. We all know how they’ll end up if something doesn’t change; even in my pain of having lost my mother recently, you spoke of that numbness too, this work simultaneously breaks and recreates me. I look to other people of color in the academy not only as colleagues but also as teachers and models of being better, making this better. I’ve learned a tremendous amount from you. Thank you doesn’t cover it. One more year. I defend next year. And every day.

    • Tressie on November 1, 2012 at 10:40 am

      Oh, Tiffany. I am honored and touched and inspired by the work you are doing. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment.

      I struggle(d) with speaking plainly about the violence our community inflicts upon itself. In the end, like you, I decided I cared more for truth and people than rhetoric. That does not make it easy. You’re trapped between a rock and a hard place, right? I understand and I will keep you in my meditations.

      “I defend next year. And every day.”

      And that’s just beautiful.

  32. Tiffany Wilkins on October 31, 2012 at 6:17 pm

    Dr. McMillan Cottom,
    I can’t begin to express what reading your article has done to the frame of my work in my doc program, my dissertation writing, my claims and evidence that speak directly to what you’ve said about other Black women (I’d add to that Black men as well) who wound so deeply in place of the solidarity I both seek out and offer. My work addresses LGBTQ African American youth and their experiences in secondary schools and consequent lack of access to higher education; I talk about HBCUs and many other things in our “family” that hurt these kids as I experience it myself fighting to find my mind in the world of academe. As a genderqueer lesbian woman I’m struck most by those wounds of structural violence, particularly those coming from our community as it’s directed at these babies. We all know how they’ll end up if something doesn’t change; even in my pain of having lost my mother recently, you spoke of that numbness too, this work simultaneously breaks and recreates me. I look to other people of color in the academy not only as colleagues but also as teachers and models of being better, making this better. I’ve learned a tremendous amount from you. Thank you doesn’t cover it. One more year. I defend next year. And every day.

    • Tressie on November 1, 2012 at 10:40 am

      Oh, Tiffany. I am honored and touched and inspired by the work you are doing. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment.

      I struggle(d) with speaking plainly about the violence our community inflicts upon itself. In the end, like you, I decided I cared more for truth and people than rhetoric. That does not make it easy. You’re trapped between a rock and a hard place, right? I understand and I will keep you in my meditations.

      “I defend next year. And every day.”

      And that’s just beautiful.

  33. Sydnie on November 1, 2012 at 12:33 pm

    Tressie,

    I write this with my heart in my throat and my hands shaking. I just earned my MA this past spring and decided I would enter academia as a professor. I was encouraged by my prof that I would make an excellent professor but I would need to get my PhD first. This both uplifted me and knocked the wind from my lungs. I wasn’t sure if I loved anything enough to study it as closely as need for a PhD or if I was even smart enough to be granted entry into a program once I picked a concentration. I know the journey wouldn’t be an easy one, my master’s journey at times felt like it was killing me, but your words here have only strengthened my desire earn that degree and become a professor. My tongue has been getting me in trouble my entire life and I was concerned it would keep me from accomplishing my goals. I have tried to tame it, make it be still for the sake of keeping a job. But if I lose myself in my silence, what was the point in me remaining quite? I have found new resolve to enter the fray of academia, all myself present. The loud, sassy child, the curious student and the bold quizzical educator who refuses to “just be still.” Thank you so much for being one the many guides I will need on this journey.

  34. Sydnie on November 1, 2012 at 12:33 pm

    Tressie,

    I write this with my heart in my throat and my hands shaking. I just earned my MA this past spring and decided I would enter academia as a professor. I was encouraged by my prof that I would make an excellent professor but I would need to get my PhD first. This both uplifted me and knocked the wind from my lungs. I wasn’t sure if I loved anything enough to study it as closely as need for a PhD or if I was even smart enough to be granted entry into a program once I picked a concentration. I know the journey wouldn’t be an easy one, my master’s journey at times felt like it was killing me, but your words here have only strengthened my desire earn that degree and become a professor. My tongue has been getting me in trouble my entire life and I was concerned it would keep me from accomplishing my goals. I have tried to tame it, make it be still for the sake of keeping a job. But if I lose myself in my silence, what was the point in me remaining quite? I have found new resolve to enter the fray of academia, all myself present. The loud, sassy child, the curious student and the bold quizzical educator who refuses to “just be still.” Thank you so much for being one the many guides I will need on this journey.

  35. Sydnie on November 1, 2012 at 12:33 pm

    Tressie,

    I write this with my heart in my throat and my hands shaking. I just earned my MA this past spring and decided I would enter academia as a professor. I was encouraged by my prof that I would make an excellent professor but I would need to get my PhD first. This both uplifted me and knocked the wind from my lungs. I wasn’t sure if I loved anything enough to study it as closely as need for a PhD or if I was even smart enough to be granted entry into a program once I picked a concentration. I know the journey wouldn’t be an easy one, my master’s journey at times felt like it was killing me, but your words here have only strengthened my desire earn that degree and become a professor. My tongue has been getting me in trouble my entire life and I was concerned it would keep me from accomplishing my goals. I have tried to tame it, make it be still for the sake of keeping a job. But if I lose myself in my silence, what was the point in me remaining quite? I have found new resolve to enter the fray of academia, all myself present. The loud, sassy child, the curious student and the bold quizzical educator who refuses to “just be still.” Thank you so much for being one the many guides I will need on this journey.

  36. Sydnie on November 1, 2012 at 12:33 pm

    Tressie,

    I write this with my heart in my throat and my hands shaking. I just earned my MA this past spring and decided I would enter academia as a professor. I was encouraged by my prof that I would make an excellent professor but I would need to get my PhD first. This both uplifted me and knocked the wind from my lungs. I wasn’t sure if I loved anything enough to study it as closely as need for a PhD or if I was even smart enough to be granted entry into a program once I picked a concentration. I know the journey wouldn’t be an easy one, my master’s journey at times felt like it was killing me, but your words here have only strengthened my desire earn that degree and become a professor. My tongue has been getting me in trouble my entire life and I was concerned it would keep me from accomplishing my goals. I have tried to tame it, make it be still for the sake of keeping a job. But if I lose myself in my silence, what was the point in me remaining quite? I have found new resolve to enter the fray of academia, all myself present. The loud, sassy child, the curious student and the bold quizzical educator who refuses to “just be still.” Thank you so much for being one the many guides I will need on this journey.

  37. Crystal Fleming on November 3, 2012 at 1:58 pm

    Dear Tressie,

    Thank you so much for getting this dialogue started. I am so excited about the energy, thoughtfulness and spirit I see in the words you’ve shared with us and the overall project. Bravo!

    I would like to ask you whether your framing of black women’s place within the academy has to be quite as grim as the picture I see outlined here. Trust me when I say I am not downplaying the structural and interpersonal struggles folks face. But I am asking whether you personally have any examples and mentors of men or women of color who are thriving in the academy? Having been exposed to many stories of travail and struggle from my foremothers and forefathers as well as my peers in the academy, I also found it prudent and important for my own sanity and peace of mind to seek out examples of scholars who were, to put it bluntly, fucking happy. While I continue to be deeply concerned about the manifold cases of hidden and blatant racism, sexism, homophobia, classism and various forms of exclusion that persist both within and outside of the academy, it is also quite important for me that I not approach my work with the assumption that I’m oppressed or excluded. I study oppression, racism, exclusion and discrimination. I document such cases, both within and outside the academy, as part of my professional work. I am attentive to how I’m treated in various interpersonal situations – as well as to the structural ways in which women and minorities can be overburdened, disrespected and overlooked in the ivory tower. But I do not let this knowledge frame my expectations. I don’t begin from a place of “I am a black woman academic, hear me roar.” I begin from a place of power, undefined and unconstrained by my ethnicity, race, gender, sexuality or political views. If and when a situation arises (an inappropriate remark by a college or student; a request to serve on a committee that would not be imposed on a white male faculty member, or anything else untoward), I deal with it. But I don’t presume such scenarios are going to happen. Most of the time, in my experience, they don’t.

    Refusing to first see myself as oppressed or silenced allows me to be open and attentive to the many opportunities for inter-ethnic connection, cooperation, friendship and mentorship that also happen in the academy. Such positive interactions do not negate the shit that goes down. But remaining grounded in my own undefined being-ness (not in the particulars of my egoic identities or my structural position within the scheme of power relations) allows me address injustice within my own experience and out there in the world while also remaining at peace, powerful, joyful, open to the best that humanity has to offer and not routinely expecting the worse. Being rooted in the universal, but attentive to the particular when the need arises, is key to my own spiritual, mental and physical well-being.

  38. Crystal Fleming on November 3, 2012 at 1:58 pm

    Dear Tressie,

    Thank you so much for getting this dialogue started. I am so excited about the energy, thoughtfulness and spirit I see in the words you’ve shared with us and the overall project. Bravo!

    I would like to ask you whether your framing of black women’s place within the academy has to be quite as grim as the picture I see outlined here. Trust me when I say I am not downplaying the structural and interpersonal struggles folks face. But I am asking whether you personally have any examples and mentors of men or women of color who are thriving in the academy? Having been exposed to many stories of travail and struggle from my foremothers and forefathers as well as my peers in the academy, I also found it prudent and important for my own sanity and peace of mind to seek out examples of scholars who were, to put it bluntly, fucking happy. While I continue to be deeply concerned about the manifold cases of hidden and blatant racism, sexism, homophobia, classism and various forms of exclusion that persist both within and outside of the academy, it is also quite important for me that I not approach my work with the assumption that I’m oppressed or excluded. I study oppression, racism, exclusion and discrimination. I document such cases, both within and outside the academy, as part of my professional work. I am attentive to how I’m treated in various interpersonal situations – as well as to the structural ways in which women and minorities can be overburdened, disrespected and overlooked in the ivory tower. But I do not let this knowledge frame my expectations. I don’t begin from a place of “I am a black woman academic, hear me roar.” I begin from a place of power, undefined and unconstrained by my ethnicity, race, gender, sexuality or political views. If and when a situation arises (an inappropriate remark by a college or student; a request to serve on a committee that would not be imposed on a white male faculty member, or anything else untoward), I deal with it. But I don’t presume such scenarios are going to happen. Most of the time, in my experience, they don’t.

    Refusing to first see myself as oppressed or silenced allows me to be open and attentive to the many opportunities for inter-ethnic connection, cooperation, friendship and mentorship that also happen in the academy. Such positive interactions do not negate the shit that goes down. But remaining grounded in my own undefined being-ness (not in the particulars of my egoic identities or my structural position within the scheme of power relations) allows me address injustice within my own experience and out there in the world while also remaining at peace, powerful, joyful, open to the best that humanity has to offer and not routinely expecting the worse. Being rooted in the universal, but attentive to the particular when the need arises, is key to my own spiritual, mental and physical well-being.

  39. Crystal Fleming on November 3, 2012 at 1:58 pm

    Dear Tressie,

    Thank you so much for getting this dialogue started. I am so excited about the energy, thoughtfulness and spirit I see in the words you’ve shared with us and the overall project. Bravo!

    I would like to ask you whether your framing of black women’s place within the academy has to be quite as grim as the picture I see outlined here. Trust me when I say I am not downplaying the structural and interpersonal struggles folks face. But I am asking whether you personally have any examples and mentors of men or women of color who are thriving in the academy? Having been exposed to many stories of travail and struggle from my foremothers and forefathers as well as my peers in the academy, I also found it prudent and important for my own sanity and peace of mind to seek out examples of scholars who were, to put it bluntly, fucking happy. While I continue to be deeply concerned about the manifold cases of hidden and blatant racism, sexism, homophobia, classism and various forms of exclusion that persist both within and outside of the academy, it is also quite important for me that I not approach my work with the assumption that I’m oppressed or excluded. I study oppression, racism, exclusion and discrimination. I document such cases, both within and outside the academy, as part of my professional work. I am attentive to how I’m treated in various interpersonal situations – as well as to the structural ways in which women and minorities can be overburdened, disrespected and overlooked in the ivory tower. But I do not let this knowledge frame my expectations. I don’t begin from a place of “I am a black woman academic, hear me roar.” I begin from a place of power, undefined and unconstrained by my ethnicity, race, gender, sexuality or political views. If and when a situation arises (an inappropriate remark by a college or student; a request to serve on a committee that would not be imposed on a white male faculty member, or anything else untoward), I deal with it. But I don’t presume such scenarios are going to happen. Most of the time, in my experience, they don’t.

    Refusing to first see myself as oppressed or silenced allows me to be open and attentive to the many opportunities for inter-ethnic connection, cooperation, friendship and mentorship that also happen in the academy. Such positive interactions do not negate the shit that goes down. But remaining grounded in my own undefined being-ness (not in the particulars of my egoic identities or my structural position within the scheme of power relations) allows me address injustice within my own experience and out there in the world while also remaining at peace, powerful, joyful, open to the best that humanity has to offer and not routinely expecting the worse. Being rooted in the universal, but attentive to the particular when the need arises, is key to my own spiritual, mental and physical well-being.

  40. Crystal Fleming on November 3, 2012 at 1:58 pm

    Dear Tressie,

    Thank you so much for getting this dialogue started. I am so excited about the energy, thoughtfulness and spirit I see in the words you’ve shared with us and the overall project. Bravo!

    I would like to ask you whether your framing of black women’s place within the academy has to be quite as grim as the picture I see outlined here. Trust me when I say I am not downplaying the structural and interpersonal struggles folks face. But I am asking whether you personally have any examples and mentors of men or women of color who are thriving in the academy? Having been exposed to many stories of travail and struggle from my foremothers and forefathers as well as my peers in the academy, I also found it prudent and important for my own sanity and peace of mind to seek out examples of scholars who were, to put it bluntly, fucking happy. While I continue to be deeply concerned about the manifold cases of hidden and blatant racism, sexism, homophobia, classism and various forms of exclusion that persist both within and outside of the academy, it is also quite important for me that I not approach my work with the assumption that I’m oppressed or excluded. I study oppression, racism, exclusion and discrimination. I document such cases, both within and outside the academy, as part of my professional work. I am attentive to how I’m treated in various interpersonal situations – as well as to the structural ways in which women and minorities can be overburdened, disrespected and overlooked in the ivory tower. But I do not let this knowledge frame my expectations. I don’t begin from a place of “I am a black woman academic, hear me roar.” I begin from a place of power, undefined and unconstrained by my ethnicity, race, gender, sexuality or political views. If and when a situation arises (an inappropriate remark by a college or student; a request to serve on a committee that would not be imposed on a white male faculty member, or anything else untoward), I deal with it. But I don’t presume such scenarios are going to happen. Most of the time, in my experience, they don’t.

    Refusing to first see myself as oppressed or silenced allows me to be open and attentive to the many opportunities for inter-ethnic connection, cooperation, friendship and mentorship that also happen in the academy. Such positive interactions do not negate the shit that goes down. But remaining grounded in my own undefined being-ness (not in the particulars of my egoic identities or my structural position within the scheme of power relations) allows me address injustice within my own experience and out there in the world while also remaining at peace, powerful, joyful, open to the best that humanity has to offer and not routinely expecting the worse. Being rooted in the universal, but attentive to the particular when the need arises, is key to my own spiritual, mental and physical well-being.

  41. Tiffany Wilkins on November 5, 2012 at 6:34 pm

    Ms Crystal,

    I’m sure I won’t be quite as eloquent as Dr. McMillan Cottom in my response but I wanted to give it a shot anyway. I think your re-framing of black women’s place within the academy is important and certainly one that we all strive to achieve. I do not believe any of the women who wrote and shared their feelings and struggles want their experiences “to be quite as grim as the picture I see outlined here.” I’d also go so far as to add that we are all likely doing everything we can at this moment to move to the place you wrote about. But the reality is that the academy IS as grim as outlined in these beautiful stories these absolutely amazing women use to do exactly what you referred to, “not let this knowledge frame my expectations,” to dig down deep inside someplace nonexistent until these very experiences that we survived allow us to discover our capacity to “[refuse] to first see myself as oppressed or silenced [allowing] me to be open and attentive to the many opportunities for inter-ethnic connection, cooperation, friendship and mentorship that also happen in the academy.”

    Because as you say “the shit [that] goes down” all of this is a process, it’s also hard as a mofo, and for me personally (cannot presume to speak for the other women here) moving to that place you speak about takes time. So when I hurt, I let myself feel it because for a long time I couldn’t, but yeah afterwards I still get up in the morning to work my 3 jobs to supplement my scholarship to afford to be here. I know that I’m blessed with an opportunity and do all I can to take advantage of it; this is how I am “remaining grounded”, different from you but just as valuable. Initially it is my own “family” that I go to, dance with, am moved by before “inter-ethnic connections” can happen in order that I may keep pushing. Mostly because where I am everybody everywhere is mostly white, and coming from where I grew up, lived, built my career I needed “us” first to be able to reach out to others. Makes little difference because I experienced rejection and hostility from almost all of them and “us”. Doesn’t keep me from reaching out, volunteering, teaching with love and compassion. But I can understand how for some it does. I try to reach out a hand to people where they are even when it means I get bit from time to time.

    I don’t want to imply that you were being in any way mean spirited or trying to diss folks. I took to heart everything you wrote as powerful, thoughtful and useful advice. Mentors are key (mine is amazing and she kicks my tail to DO better; NOTHING can be an excuse as she often says. Sistah is off the chain inspiring and a wonderful teacher). But she also knows and understands what I go through as best as she can, knowing I’ll get “there”, helping me navigate my way. There are men and women of color thriving in the academy, but I don’t think any of them walked in unscathed; everybody goes through some shit beforehand, but there is a privilege in speaking from that place where you don’t have to brace yourself for the worse anymore whether “you routinely expect it” or not as well as choosing not to. Again, I don’t want to assume anything about you or negate your experiences that got you to where you are at all, Ms. Crystal. I give you props for doing what you do and modeling this for others, for me. But privilege is also earned. You have yours and I like to think that this is the way that we’re all trying to get ours, know what I mean?

    I don’t know. Maybe some of us need more time than others, than you. Just something to think about when you ask about everything “having” to be this way rather than another way for black women academics. Maybe in the grimness of things we’re doing exactly what you’re saying, just not in the way you were able to. Either way challenge from another angle is important and so is support.

    Thanks, Ms Crystal.

  42. Tiffany Wilkins on November 5, 2012 at 6:34 pm

    Ms Crystal,

    I’m sure I won’t be quite as eloquent as Dr. McMillan Cottom in my response but I wanted to give it a shot anyway. I think your re-framing of black women’s place within the academy is important and certainly one that we all strive to achieve. I do not believe any of the women who wrote and shared their feelings and struggles want their experiences “to be quite as grim as the picture I see outlined here.” I’d also go so far as to add that we are all likely doing everything we can at this moment to move to the place you wrote about. But the reality is that the academy IS as grim as outlined in these beautiful stories these absolutely amazing women use to do exactly what you referred to, “not let this knowledge frame my expectations,” to dig down deep inside someplace nonexistent until these very experiences that we survived allow us to discover our capacity to “[refuse] to first see myself as oppressed or silenced [allowing] me to be open and attentive to the many opportunities for inter-ethnic connection, cooperation, friendship and mentorship that also happen in the academy.”

    Because as you say “the shit [that] goes down” all of this is a process, it’s also hard as a mofo, and for me personally (cannot presume to speak for the other women here) moving to that place you speak about takes time. So when I hurt, I let myself feel it because for a long time I couldn’t, but yeah afterwards I still get up in the morning to work my 3 jobs to supplement my scholarship to afford to be here. I know that I’m blessed with an opportunity and do all I can to take advantage of it; this is how I am “remaining grounded”, different from you but just as valuable. Initially it is my own “family” that I go to, dance with, am moved by before “inter-ethnic connections” can happen in order that I may keep pushing. Mostly because where I am everybody everywhere is mostly white, and coming from where I grew up, lived, built my career I needed “us” first to be able to reach out to others. Makes little difference because I experienced rejection and hostility from almost all of them and “us”. Doesn’t keep me from reaching out, volunteering, teaching with love and compassion. But I can understand how for some it does. I try to reach out a hand to people where they are even when it means I get bit from time to time.

    I don’t want to imply that you were being in any way mean spirited or trying to diss folks. I took to heart everything you wrote as powerful, thoughtful and useful advice. Mentors are key (mine is amazing and she kicks my tail to DO better; NOTHING can be an excuse as she often says. Sistah is off the chain inspiring and a wonderful teacher). But she also knows and understands what I go through as best as she can, knowing I’ll get “there”, helping me navigate my way. There are men and women of color thriving in the academy, but I don’t think any of them walked in unscathed; everybody goes through some shit beforehand, but there is a privilege in speaking from that place where you don’t have to brace yourself for the worse anymore whether “you routinely expect it” or not as well as choosing not to. Again, I don’t want to assume anything about you or negate your experiences that got you to where you are at all, Ms. Crystal. I give you props for doing what you do and modeling this for others, for me. But privilege is also earned. You have yours and I like to think that this is the way that we’re all trying to get ours, know what I mean?

    I don’t know. Maybe some of us need more time than others, than you. Just something to think about when you ask about everything “having” to be this way rather than another way for black women academics. Maybe in the grimness of things we’re doing exactly what you’re saying, just not in the way you were able to. Either way challenge from another angle is important and so is support.

    Thanks, Ms Crystal.

  43. Tiffany Wilkins on November 5, 2012 at 6:34 pm

    Ms Crystal,

    I’m sure I won’t be quite as eloquent as Dr. McMillan Cottom in my response but I wanted to give it a shot anyway. I think your re-framing of black women’s place within the academy is important and certainly one that we all strive to achieve. I do not believe any of the women who wrote and shared their feelings and struggles want their experiences “to be quite as grim as the picture I see outlined here.” I’d also go so far as to add that we are all likely doing everything we can at this moment to move to the place you wrote about. But the reality is that the academy IS as grim as outlined in these beautiful stories these absolutely amazing women use to do exactly what you referred to, “not let this knowledge frame my expectations,” to dig down deep inside someplace nonexistent until these very experiences that we survived allow us to discover our capacity to “[refuse] to first see myself as oppressed or silenced [allowing] me to be open and attentive to the many opportunities for inter-ethnic connection, cooperation, friendship and mentorship that also happen in the academy.”

    Because as you say “the shit [that] goes down” all of this is a process, it’s also hard as a mofo, and for me personally (cannot presume to speak for the other women here) moving to that place you speak about takes time. So when I hurt, I let myself feel it because for a long time I couldn’t, but yeah afterwards I still get up in the morning to work my 3 jobs to supplement my scholarship to afford to be here. I know that I’m blessed with an opportunity and do all I can to take advantage of it; this is how I am “remaining grounded”, different from you but just as valuable. Initially it is my own “family” that I go to, dance with, am moved by before “inter-ethnic connections” can happen in order that I may keep pushing. Mostly because where I am everybody everywhere is mostly white, and coming from where I grew up, lived, built my career I needed “us” first to be able to reach out to others. Makes little difference because I experienced rejection and hostility from almost all of them and “us”. Doesn’t keep me from reaching out, volunteering, teaching with love and compassion. But I can understand how for some it does. I try to reach out a hand to people where they are even when it means I get bit from time to time.

    I don’t want to imply that you were being in any way mean spirited or trying to diss folks. I took to heart everything you wrote as powerful, thoughtful and useful advice. Mentors are key (mine is amazing and she kicks my tail to DO better; NOTHING can be an excuse as she often says. Sistah is off the chain inspiring and a wonderful teacher). But she also knows and understands what I go through as best as she can, knowing I’ll get “there”, helping me navigate my way. There are men and women of color thriving in the academy, but I don’t think any of them walked in unscathed; everybody goes through some shit beforehand, but there is a privilege in speaking from that place where you don’t have to brace yourself for the worse anymore whether “you routinely expect it” or not as well as choosing not to. Again, I don’t want to assume anything about you or negate your experiences that got you to where you are at all, Ms. Crystal. I give you props for doing what you do and modeling this for others, for me. But privilege is also earned. You have yours and I like to think that this is the way that we’re all trying to get ours, know what I mean?

    I don’t know. Maybe some of us need more time than others, than you. Just something to think about when you ask about everything “having” to be this way rather than another way for black women academics. Maybe in the grimness of things we’re doing exactly what you’re saying, just not in the way you were able to. Either way challenge from another angle is important and so is support.

    Thanks, Ms Crystal.

  44. Tiffany Wilkins on November 5, 2012 at 6:34 pm

    Ms Crystal,

    I’m sure I won’t be quite as eloquent as Dr. McMillan Cottom in my response but I wanted to give it a shot anyway. I think your re-framing of black women’s place within the academy is important and certainly one that we all strive to achieve. I do not believe any of the women who wrote and shared their feelings and struggles want their experiences “to be quite as grim as the picture I see outlined here.” I’d also go so far as to add that we are all likely doing everything we can at this moment to move to the place you wrote about. But the reality is that the academy IS as grim as outlined in these beautiful stories these absolutely amazing women use to do exactly what you referred to, “not let this knowledge frame my expectations,” to dig down deep inside someplace nonexistent until these very experiences that we survived allow us to discover our capacity to “[refuse] to first see myself as oppressed or silenced [allowing] me to be open and attentive to the many opportunities for inter-ethnic connection, cooperation, friendship and mentorship that also happen in the academy.”

    Because as you say “the shit [that] goes down” all of this is a process, it’s also hard as a mofo, and for me personally (cannot presume to speak for the other women here) moving to that place you speak about takes time. So when I hurt, I let myself feel it because for a long time I couldn’t, but yeah afterwards I still get up in the morning to work my 3 jobs to supplement my scholarship to afford to be here. I know that I’m blessed with an opportunity and do all I can to take advantage of it; this is how I am “remaining grounded”, different from you but just as valuable. Initially it is my own “family” that I go to, dance with, am moved by before “inter-ethnic connections” can happen in order that I may keep pushing. Mostly because where I am everybody everywhere is mostly white, and coming from where I grew up, lived, built my career I needed “us” first to be able to reach out to others. Makes little difference because I experienced rejection and hostility from almost all of them and “us”. Doesn’t keep me from reaching out, volunteering, teaching with love and compassion. But I can understand how for some it does. I try to reach out a hand to people where they are even when it means I get bit from time to time.

    I don’t want to imply that you were being in any way mean spirited or trying to diss folks. I took to heart everything you wrote as powerful, thoughtful and useful advice. Mentors are key (mine is amazing and she kicks my tail to DO better; NOTHING can be an excuse as she often says. Sistah is off the chain inspiring and a wonderful teacher). But she also knows and understands what I go through as best as she can, knowing I’ll get “there”, helping me navigate my way. There are men and women of color thriving in the academy, but I don’t think any of them walked in unscathed; everybody goes through some shit beforehand, but there is a privilege in speaking from that place where you don’t have to brace yourself for the worse anymore whether “you routinely expect it” or not as well as choosing not to. Again, I don’t want to assume anything about you or negate your experiences that got you to where you are at all, Ms. Crystal. I give you props for doing what you do and modeling this for others, for me. But privilege is also earned. You have yours and I like to think that this is the way that we’re all trying to get ours, know what I mean?

    I don’t know. Maybe some of us need more time than others, than you. Just something to think about when you ask about everything “having” to be this way rather than another way for black women academics. Maybe in the grimness of things we’re doing exactly what you’re saying, just not in the way you were able to. Either way challenge from another angle is important and so is support.

    Thanks, Ms Crystal.

  45. Crystal Fleming on November 7, 2012 at 2:57 am

    Hi Tiffany -

    Thank you for your heartfelt and profoundly moving response. I reply to some of your important and insightful comments below:

    “I think your re-framing of black women’s place within the academy is important and certainly one that we all strive to achieve. I do not believe any of the women who wrote and shared their feelings and struggles want their experiences “to be quite as grim as the picture I see outlined here.””

    Please understand me clearly: There’s a difference between framing one’s individual experience and framing the experience of all black women in academia. What I am pushing back on here is not the legitimacy and importance of black women talking about their struggles in public and private settings. This is crucial, highly important and courageous work.

    But as we draw attention to the struggles, it is also important to include stories of women of color who are happy, supported, healthy, mentored, networked, joyful, at peace – even if they are far less frequent than the horrifying realities of travail that many if not all of us have faced in some way, shape or form.

    When the author powerfully and eloquently writes:

    ‘We cannot speak except in ways formatted for journal articles and book publishers. Our voices must first be vetted (and erased, re-written, re-packaged) in peer review, no matter that we don’t get to designate who should be our peers. Our voices are constrained in new pedagogical models that privilege sanitized curriculum. Our voices are not allowed a vote in faculty meetings until we get tenure. After tenure our voices are a minority and, thus, often overruled.’

    .. this is true for many of us much of the time, but not true about all of us all of the time. Yes, sometimes we can speak and write in ways that challenge the orthodox of our profession. Yes, sometimes our votes do count in faculty meetings, even as junior faculty. Yes, there’s absolutely stratification and privilege within all non-dominant communities, women of color faculty included. But the conversation should include these perspectives, too.

    “I’d also go so far as to add that we are all likely doing everything we can at this moment to move to the place you wrote about. But the reality is that the academy IS as grim as outlined in these beautiful stories..”

    The academy is as grim as the stories outlined in the lives of the brave, courageous women who have survived and overcome these circumstances – and it is also a space within which some black women experience happiness. I want us to think and talk about both: the shit and the beauty, the struggles and the gifts, the challenges and the opportunities. But I understand that not everyone feels that way. Some prefer to define the experience of the group by the worst struggles of the most vulnerable members. I understand the ethics and the politics of that choice.

    “Because as you say “the shit [that] goes down” all of this is a process, it’s also hard as a mofo, and for me personally (cannot presume to speak for the other women here) moving to that place you speak about takes time.”

    Absolutely. I could talk to you all day about how long it has taken me and is still taking me to get to my happy place.

    “So when I hurt, I let myself feel it because for a long time I couldn’t, but yeah afterwards I still get up in the morning to work my 3 jobs to supplement my scholarship to afford to be here.”

    Yes – again. It is abundantly healthy, in my experience, to acknowledge, express and allow that hurt. Not challenging that at all. Part of the process.

    “I know that I’m blessed with an opportunity and do all I can to take advantage of it; this is how I am “remaining grounded”, different from you but just as valuable.”

    Not at all different from me – I very much identify with this.

    “Initially it is my own “family” that I go to, dance with, am moved by before “inter-ethnic connections” can happen in order that I may keep pushing.”

    Nothing wrong with that – we get support when and where we can.

    “Mostly because where I am everybody everywhere is mostly white, and coming from where I grew up, lived, built my career I needed “us” first to be able to reach out to others. Makes little difference because I experienced rejection and hostility from almost all of them and “us”. Doesn’t keep me from reaching out, volunteering, teaching with love and compassion. But I can understand how for some it does. I try to reach out a hand to people where they are even when it means I get bit from time to time.”

    Again, I certainly understand and identify with much of what you say here. I am not preaching that everyone should be as keen on the inter-ethnic solidarity bandwagon as I am. As you rightly point out, it’s not simply a matter of choice – we can’t force out-group members (or in-group members for that matter) to extend solidarity. We get in where we fit in and we reach out how and if we can. All I’ve offered is the perspective of someone who has been blessed to find support, friendship and mentors among folks who look like me and folks who don’t. It doesn’t happen enough, but it does happen.

    “I don’t want to imply that you were being in any way mean spirited or trying to diss folks. I took to heart everything you wrote as powerful, thoughtful and useful advice. Mentors are key (mine is amazing and she kicks my tail to DO better; NOTHING can be an excuse as she often says. Sistah is off the chain inspiring and a wonderful teacher). But she also knows and understands what I go through as best as she can, knowing I’ll get “there”, helping me navigate my way. There are men and women of color thriving in the academy, but I don’t think any of them walked in unscathed; everybody goes through some shit beforehand, but there is a privilege in speaking from that place where you don’t have to brace yourself for the worse anymore whether “you routinely expect it” or not as well as choosing not to.”

    Part of what my research in the U.S. and Europe explores is the range of ways in which African Americans understand and respond to racism is not simply a matter of privilege. Blacks vary to some extent with regard to their expectations about being treated poorly in day-to-day situations. What explains those variations? Is it simply a matter of privilege? Structural position must be part of the answer. But there are other factors that matter, too. My point here is that we exercise some degree of agency and control – a bounded, limited agency, to be sure – over how we manage our attitude and perspective when we enter social situations. Some folks think it’s preferable to always be “on guard” when it comes to racism and discrimination. But such a stance has a price: namely, your sanity and well-being. So the challenge we all face is: how do we navigate interpersonal and structural racism without also being worn down by the stress and wear and tear of expecting the worse? Is it possible to understand the potential dangers, to learn from our own experiences and those of our foremothers, forefathers and peers – yet also remain open to the positive, receptive to the beautiful, expectant of opportunities?

    “I don’t know. Maybe some of us need more time than others, than you. Just something to think about when you ask about everything “having” to be this way rather than another way for black women academics. Maybe in the grimness of things we’re doing exactly what you’re saying, just not in the way you were able to. Either way challenge from another angle is important and so is support.”

    For me, happiness and joy is not about securing a privileged position, getting tenure or impressing anyone and getting props. The ethos of competition and conformity to the standards of the mythical Academy-In-My-Mind made me miserable in graduate school and even in my first few months as an Assistant Professor. Yes, I certainly had the privilege to take a moment and breath once I was blessed to finish the PhD and find a job I loved — but even this did not bring me happiness. The only thing that has brought me happiness is putting God first in my life. It is the prioritization of my spirituality that allows me to know that my well-being matters more than the ambitions, expectations and goals that used to drive me. It is also my spiritual practice that defines my perspective – not in negation of my lived reality as a first-generation academic, a black bisexual woman raised by a single-mother from the South. And yes, it is absolutely true that I didn’t have the bandwith to pay attention to my spiritual, physical and mental wellbeing before securing employment. And yet, for many of us – even folks with the privilege you describe – getting that tenure track job is not a pathway to peace. Much to the contrary. But I’ve chosen a different way, which I blog about here: awareofawareness.wordpress.com

    Sending you support – keep your head up,
    C.

  46. Crystal Fleming on November 7, 2012 at 2:57 am

    Hi Tiffany -

    Thank you for your heartfelt and profoundly moving response. I reply to some of your important and insightful comments below:

    “I think your re-framing of black women’s place within the academy is important and certainly one that we all strive to achieve. I do not believe any of the women who wrote and shared their feelings and struggles want their experiences “to be quite as grim as the picture I see outlined here.””

    Please understand me clearly: There’s a difference between framing one’s individual experience and framing the experience of all black women in academia. What I am pushing back on here is not the legitimacy and importance of black women talking about their struggles in public and private settings. This is crucial, highly important and courageous work.

    But as we draw attention to the struggles, it is also important to include stories of women of color who are happy, supported, healthy, mentored, networked, joyful, at peace – even if they are far less frequent than the horrifying realities of travail that many if not all of us have faced in some way, shape or form.

    When the author powerfully and eloquently writes:

    ‘We cannot speak except in ways formatted for journal articles and book publishers. Our voices must first be vetted (and erased, re-written, re-packaged) in peer review, no matter that we don’t get to designate who should be our peers. Our voices are constrained in new pedagogical models that privilege sanitized curriculum. Our voices are not allowed a vote in faculty meetings until we get tenure. After tenure our voices are a minority and, thus, often overruled.’

    .. this is true for many of us much of the time, but not true about all of us all of the time. Yes, sometimes we can speak and write in ways that challenge the orthodox of our profession. Yes, sometimes our votes do count in faculty meetings, even as junior faculty. Yes, there’s absolutely stratification and privilege within all non-dominant communities, women of color faculty included. But the conversation should include these perspectives, too.

    “I’d also go so far as to add that we are all likely doing everything we can at this moment to move to the place you wrote about. But the reality is that the academy IS as grim as outlined in these beautiful stories..”

    The academy is as grim as the stories outlined in the lives of the brave, courageous women who have survived and overcome these circumstances – and it is also a space within which some black women experience happiness. I want us to think and talk about both: the shit and the beauty, the struggles and the gifts, the challenges and the opportunities. But I understand that not everyone feels that way. Some prefer to define the experience of the group by the worst struggles of the most vulnerable members. I understand the ethics and the politics of that choice.

    “Because as you say “the shit [that] goes down” all of this is a process, it’s also hard as a mofo, and for me personally (cannot presume to speak for the other women here) moving to that place you speak about takes time.”

    Absolutely. I could talk to you all day about how long it has taken me and is still taking me to get to my happy place.

    “So when I hurt, I let myself feel it because for a long time I couldn’t, but yeah afterwards I still get up in the morning to work my 3 jobs to supplement my scholarship to afford to be here.”

    Yes – again. It is abundantly healthy, in my experience, to acknowledge, express and allow that hurt. Not challenging that at all. Part of the process.

    “I know that I’m blessed with an opportunity and do all I can to take advantage of it; this is how I am “remaining grounded”, different from you but just as valuable.”

    Not at all different from me – I very much identify with this.

    “Initially it is my own “family” that I go to, dance with, am moved by before “inter-ethnic connections” can happen in order that I may keep pushing.”

    Nothing wrong with that – we get support when and where we can.

    “Mostly because where I am everybody everywhere is mostly white, and coming from where I grew up, lived, built my career I needed “us” first to be able to reach out to others. Makes little difference because I experienced rejection and hostility from almost all of them and “us”. Doesn’t keep me from reaching out, volunteering, teaching with love and compassion. But I can understand how for some it does. I try to reach out a hand to people where they are even when it means I get bit from time to time.”

    Again, I certainly understand and identify with much of what you say here. I am not preaching that everyone should be as keen on the inter-ethnic solidarity bandwagon as I am. As you rightly point out, it’s not simply a matter of choice – we can’t force out-group members (or in-group members for that matter) to extend solidarity. We get in where we fit in and we reach out how and if we can. All I’ve offered is the perspective of someone who has been blessed to find support, friendship and mentors among folks who look like me and folks who don’t. It doesn’t happen enough, but it does happen.

    “I don’t want to imply that you were being in any way mean spirited or trying to diss folks. I took to heart everything you wrote as powerful, thoughtful and useful advice. Mentors are key (mine is amazing and she kicks my tail to DO better; NOTHING can be an excuse as she often says. Sistah is off the chain inspiring and a wonderful teacher). But she also knows and understands what I go through as best as she can, knowing I’ll get “there”, helping me navigate my way. There are men and women of color thriving in the academy, but I don’t think any of them walked in unscathed; everybody goes through some shit beforehand, but there is a privilege in speaking from that place where you don’t have to brace yourself for the worse anymore whether “you routinely expect it” or not as well as choosing not to.”

    Part of what my research in the U.S. and Europe explores is the range of ways in which African Americans understand and respond to racism is not simply a matter of privilege. Blacks vary to some extent with regard to their expectations about being treated poorly in day-to-day situations. What explains those variations? Is it simply a matter of privilege? Structural position must be part of the answer. But there are other factors that matter, too. My point here is that we exercise some degree of agency and control – a bounded, limited agency, to be sure – over how we manage our attitude and perspective when we enter social situations. Some folks think it’s preferable to always be “on guard” when it comes to racism and discrimination. But such a stance has a price: namely, your sanity and well-being. So the challenge we all face is: how do we navigate interpersonal and structural racism without also being worn down by the stress and wear and tear of expecting the worse? Is it possible to understand the potential dangers, to learn from our own experiences and those of our foremothers, forefathers and peers – yet also remain open to the positive, receptive to the beautiful, expectant of opportunities?

    “I don’t know. Maybe some of us need more time than others, than you. Just something to think about when you ask about everything “having” to be this way rather than another way for black women academics. Maybe in the grimness of things we’re doing exactly what you’re saying, just not in the way you were able to. Either way challenge from another angle is important and so is support.”

    For me, happiness and joy is not about securing a privileged position, getting tenure or impressing anyone and getting props. The ethos of competition and conformity to the standards of the mythical Academy-In-My-Mind made me miserable in graduate school and even in my first few months as an Assistant Professor. Yes, I certainly had the privilege to take a moment and breath once I was blessed to finish the PhD and find a job I loved — but even this did not bring me happiness. The only thing that has brought me happiness is putting God first in my life. It is the prioritization of my spirituality that allows me to know that my well-being matters more than the ambitions, expectations and goals that used to drive me. It is also my spiritual practice that defines my perspective – not in negation of my lived reality as a first-generation academic, a black bisexual woman raised by a single-mother from the South. And yes, it is absolutely true that I didn’t have the bandwith to pay attention to my spiritual, physical and mental wellbeing before securing employment. And yet, for many of us – even folks with the privilege you describe – getting that tenure track job is not a pathway to peace. Much to the contrary. But I’ve chosen a different way, which I blog about here: awareofawareness.wordpress.com

    Sending you support – keep your head up,
    C.

  47. Crystal Fleming on November 7, 2012 at 2:57 am

    Hi Tiffany -

    Thank you for your heartfelt and profoundly moving response. I reply to some of your important and insightful comments below:

    “I think your re-framing of black women’s place within the academy is important and certainly one that we all strive to achieve. I do not believe any of the women who wrote and shared their feelings and struggles want their experiences “to be quite as grim as the picture I see outlined here.””

    Please understand me clearly: There’s a difference between framing one’s individual experience and framing the experience of all black women in academia. What I am pushing back on here is not the legitimacy and importance of black women talking about their struggles in public and private settings. This is crucial, highly important and courageous work.

    But as we draw attention to the struggles, it is also important to include stories of women of color who are happy, supported, healthy, mentored, networked, joyful, at peace – even if they are far less frequent than the horrifying realities of travail that many if not all of us have faced in some way, shape or form.

    When the author powerfully and eloquently writes:

    ‘We cannot speak except in ways formatted for journal articles and book publishers. Our voices must first be vetted (and erased, re-written, re-packaged) in peer review, no matter that we don’t get to designate who should be our peers. Our voices are constrained in new pedagogical models that privilege sanitized curriculum. Our voices are not allowed a vote in faculty meetings until we get tenure. After tenure our voices are a minority and, thus, often overruled.’

    .. this is true for many of us much of the time, but not true about all of us all of the time. Yes, sometimes we can speak and write in ways that challenge the orthodox of our profession. Yes, sometimes our votes do count in faculty meetings, even as junior faculty. Yes, there’s absolutely stratification and privilege within all non-dominant communities, women of color faculty included. But the conversation should include these perspectives, too.

    “I’d also go so far as to add that we are all likely doing everything we can at this moment to move to the place you wrote about. But the reality is that the academy IS as grim as outlined in these beautiful stories..”

    The academy is as grim as the stories outlined in the lives of the brave, courageous women who have survived and overcome these circumstances – and it is also a space within which some black women experience happiness. I want us to think and talk about both: the shit and the beauty, the struggles and the gifts, the challenges and the opportunities. But I understand that not everyone feels that way. Some prefer to define the experience of the group by the worst struggles of the most vulnerable members. I understand the ethics and the politics of that choice.

    “Because as you say “the shit [that] goes down” all of this is a process, it’s also hard as a mofo, and for me personally (cannot presume to speak for the other women here) moving to that place you speak about takes time.”

    Absolutely. I could talk to you all day about how long it has taken me and is still taking me to get to my happy place.

    “So when I hurt, I let myself feel it because for a long time I couldn’t, but yeah afterwards I still get up in the morning to work my 3 jobs to supplement my scholarship to afford to be here.”

    Yes – again. It is abundantly healthy, in my experience, to acknowledge, express and allow that hurt. Not challenging that at all. Part of the process.

    “I know that I’m blessed with an opportunity and do all I can to take advantage of it; this is how I am “remaining grounded”, different from you but just as valuable.”

    Not at all different from me – I very much identify with this.

    “Initially it is my own “family” that I go to, dance with, am moved by before “inter-ethnic connections” can happen in order that I may keep pushing.”

    Nothing wrong with that – we get support when and where we can.

    “Mostly because where I am everybody everywhere is mostly white, and coming from where I grew up, lived, built my career I needed “us” first to be able to reach out to others. Makes little difference because I experienced rejection and hostility from almost all of them and “us”. Doesn’t keep me from reaching out, volunteering, teaching with love and compassion. But I can understand how for some it does. I try to reach out a hand to people where they are even when it means I get bit from time to time.”

    Again, I certainly understand and identify with much of what you say here. I am not preaching that everyone should be as keen on the inter-ethnic solidarity bandwagon as I am. As you rightly point out, it’s not simply a matter of choice – we can’t force out-group members (or in-group members for that matter) to extend solidarity. We get in where we fit in and we reach out how and if we can. All I’ve offered is the perspective of someone who has been blessed to find support, friendship and mentors among folks who look like me and folks who don’t. It doesn’t happen enough, but it does happen.

    “I don’t want to imply that you were being in any way mean spirited or trying to diss folks. I took to heart everything you wrote as powerful, thoughtful and useful advice. Mentors are key (mine is amazing and she kicks my tail to DO better; NOTHING can be an excuse as she often says. Sistah is off the chain inspiring and a wonderful teacher). But she also knows and understands what I go through as best as she can, knowing I’ll get “there”, helping me navigate my way. There are men and women of color thriving in the academy, but I don’t think any of them walked in unscathed; everybody goes through some shit beforehand, but there is a privilege in speaking from that place where you don’t have to brace yourself for the worse anymore whether “you routinely expect it” or not as well as choosing not to.”

    Part of what my research in the U.S. and Europe explores is the range of ways in which African Americans understand and respond to racism is not simply a matter of privilege. Blacks vary to some extent with regard to their expectations about being treated poorly in day-to-day situations. What explains those variations? Is it simply a matter of privilege? Structural position must be part of the answer. But there are other factors that matter, too. My point here is that we exercise some degree of agency and control – a bounded, limited agency, to be sure – over how we manage our attitude and perspective when we enter social situations. Some folks think it’s preferable to always be “on guard” when it comes to racism and discrimination. But such a stance has a price: namely, your sanity and well-being. So the challenge we all face is: how do we navigate interpersonal and structural racism without also being worn down by the stress and wear and tear of expecting the worse? Is it possible to understand the potential dangers, to learn from our own experiences and those of our foremothers, forefathers and peers – yet also remain open to the positive, receptive to the beautiful, expectant of opportunities?

    “I don’t know. Maybe some of us need more time than others, than you. Just something to think about when you ask about everything “having” to be this way rather than another way for black women academics. Maybe in the grimness of things we’re doing exactly what you’re saying, just not in the way you were able to. Either way challenge from another angle is important and so is support.”

    For me, happiness and joy is not about securing a privileged position, getting tenure or impressing anyone and getting props. The ethos of competition and conformity to the standards of the mythical Academy-In-My-Mind made me miserable in graduate school and even in my first few months as an Assistant Professor. Yes, I certainly had the privilege to take a moment and breath once I was blessed to finish the PhD and find a job I loved — but even this did not bring me happiness. The only thing that has brought me happiness is putting God first in my life. It is the prioritization of my spirituality that allows me to know that my well-being matters more than the ambitions, expectations and goals that used to drive me. It is also my spiritual practice that defines my perspective – not in negation of my lived reality as a first-generation academic, a black bisexual woman raised by a single-mother from the South. And yes, it is absolutely true that I didn’t have the bandwith to pay attention to my spiritual, physical and mental wellbeing before securing employment. And yet, for many of us – even folks with the privilege you describe – getting that tenure track job is not a pathway to peace. Much to the contrary. But I’ve chosen a different way, which I blog about here: awareofawareness.wordpress.com

    Sending you support – keep your head up,
    C.

  48. Crystal Fleming on November 7, 2012 at 2:57 am

    Hi Tiffany -

    Thank you for your heartfelt and profoundly moving response. I reply to some of your important and insightful comments below:

    “I think your re-framing of black women’s place within the academy is important and certainly one that we all strive to achieve. I do not believe any of the women who wrote and shared their feelings and struggles want their experiences “to be quite as grim as the picture I see outlined here.””

    Please understand me clearly: There’s a difference between framing one’s individual experience and framing the experience of all black women in academia. What I am pushing back on here is not the legitimacy and importance of black women talking about their struggles in public and private settings. This is crucial, highly important and courageous work.

    But as we draw attention to the struggles, it is also important to include stories of women of color who are happy, supported, healthy, mentored, networked, joyful, at peace – even if they are far less frequent than the horrifying realities of travail that many if not all of us have faced in some way, shape or form.

    When the author powerfully and eloquently writes:

    ‘We cannot speak except in ways formatted for journal articles and book publishers. Our voices must first be vetted (and erased, re-written, re-packaged) in peer review, no matter that we don’t get to designate who should be our peers. Our voices are constrained in new pedagogical models that privilege sanitized curriculum. Our voices are not allowed a vote in faculty meetings until we get tenure. After tenure our voices are a minority and, thus, often overruled.’

    .. this is true for many of us much of the time, but not true about all of us all of the time. Yes, sometimes we can speak and write in ways that challenge the orthodox of our profession. Yes, sometimes our votes do count in faculty meetings, even as junior faculty. Yes, there’s absolutely stratification and privilege within all non-dominant communities, women of color faculty included. But the conversation should include these perspectives, too.

    “I’d also go so far as to add that we are all likely doing everything we can at this moment to move to the place you wrote about. But the reality is that the academy IS as grim as outlined in these beautiful stories..”

    The academy is as grim as the stories outlined in the lives of the brave, courageous women who have survived and overcome these circumstances – and it is also a space within which some black women experience happiness. I want us to think and talk about both: the shit and the beauty, the struggles and the gifts, the challenges and the opportunities. But I understand that not everyone feels that way. Some prefer to define the experience of the group by the worst struggles of the most vulnerable members. I understand the ethics and the politics of that choice.

    “Because as you say “the shit [that] goes down” all of this is a process, it’s also hard as a mofo, and for me personally (cannot presume to speak for the other women here) moving to that place you speak about takes time.”

    Absolutely. I could talk to you all day about how long it has taken me and is still taking me to get to my happy place.

    “So when I hurt, I let myself feel it because for a long time I couldn’t, but yeah afterwards I still get up in the morning to work my 3 jobs to supplement my scholarship to afford to be here.”

    Yes – again. It is abundantly healthy, in my experience, to acknowledge, express and allow that hurt. Not challenging that at all. Part of the process.

    “I know that I’m blessed with an opportunity and do all I can to take advantage of it; this is how I am “remaining grounded”, different from you but just as valuable.”

    Not at all different from me – I very much identify with this.

    “Initially it is my own “family” that I go to, dance with, am moved by before “inter-ethnic connections” can happen in order that I may keep pushing.”

    Nothing wrong with that – we get support when and where we can.

    “Mostly because where I am everybody everywhere is mostly white, and coming from where I grew up, lived, built my career I needed “us” first to be able to reach out to others. Makes little difference because I experienced rejection and hostility from almost all of them and “us”. Doesn’t keep me from reaching out, volunteering, teaching with love and compassion. But I can understand how for some it does. I try to reach out a hand to people where they are even when it means I get bit from time to time.”

    Again, I certainly understand and identify with much of what you say here. I am not preaching that everyone should be as keen on the inter-ethnic solidarity bandwagon as I am. As you rightly point out, it’s not simply a matter of choice – we can’t force out-group members (or in-group members for that matter) to extend solidarity. We get in where we fit in and we reach out how and if we can. All I’ve offered is the perspective of someone who has been blessed to find support, friendship and mentors among folks who look like me and folks who don’t. It doesn’t happen enough, but it does happen.

    “I don’t want to imply that you were being in any way mean spirited or trying to diss folks. I took to heart everything you wrote as powerful, thoughtful and useful advice. Mentors are key (mine is amazing and she kicks my tail to DO better; NOTHING can be an excuse as she often says. Sistah is off the chain inspiring and a wonderful teacher). But she also knows and understands what I go through as best as she can, knowing I’ll get “there”, helping me navigate my way. There are men and women of color thriving in the academy, but I don’t think any of them walked in unscathed; everybody goes through some shit beforehand, but there is a privilege in speaking from that place where you don’t have to brace yourself for the worse anymore whether “you routinely expect it” or not as well as choosing not to.”

    Part of what my research in the U.S. and Europe explores is the range of ways in which African Americans understand and respond to racism is not simply a matter of privilege. Blacks vary to some extent with regard to their expectations about being treated poorly in day-to-day situations. What explains those variations? Is it simply a matter of privilege? Structural position must be part of the answer. But there are other factors that matter, too. My point here is that we exercise some degree of agency and control – a bounded, limited agency, to be sure – over how we manage our attitude and perspective when we enter social situations. Some folks think it’s preferable to always be “on guard” when it comes to racism and discrimination. But such a stance has a price: namely, your sanity and well-being. So the challenge we all face is: how do we navigate interpersonal and structural racism without also being worn down by the stress and wear and tear of expecting the worse? Is it possible to understand the potential dangers, to learn from our own experiences and those of our foremothers, forefathers and peers – yet also remain open to the positive, receptive to the beautiful, expectant of opportunities?

    “I don’t know. Maybe some of us need more time than others, than you. Just something to think about when you ask about everything “having” to be this way rather than another way for black women academics. Maybe in the grimness of things we’re doing exactly what you’re saying, just not in the way you were able to. Either way challenge from another angle is important and so is support.”

    For me, happiness and joy is not about securing a privileged position, getting tenure or impressing anyone and getting props. The ethos of competition and conformity to the standards of the mythical Academy-In-My-Mind made me miserable in graduate school and even in my first few months as an Assistant Professor. Yes, I certainly had the privilege to take a moment and breath once I was blessed to finish the PhD and find a job I loved — but even this did not bring me happiness. The only thing that has brought me happiness is putting God first in my life. It is the prioritization of my spirituality that allows me to know that my well-being matters more than the ambitions, expectations and goals that used to drive me. It is also my spiritual practice that defines my perspective – not in negation of my lived reality as a first-generation academic, a black bisexual woman raised by a single-mother from the South. And yes, it is absolutely true that I didn’t have the bandwith to pay attention to my spiritual, physical and mental wellbeing before securing employment. And yet, for many of us – even folks with the privilege you describe – getting that tenure track job is not a pathway to peace. Much to the contrary. But I’ve chosen a different way, which I blog about here: awareofawareness.wordpress.com

    Sending you support – keep your head up,
    C.

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