In education, the voice of the educator is important. The lessons we learn are shaped by those who pass them on to us, just as they are shaped by the writers chosen for curricula. It’s telling, then, that as an undergraduate, I never had a single professor of color–but also telling that I didn’t realize that until recently.
I was thinking about my undergraduate education, and how I didn’t really start reading many works by people of color until law school, and didn’t start to tip the balance of my reading more towards a 50/50 split between white authors and authors of color until much later. This was my own fault, but I also noticed when thinking about the books I read at that time that I couldn’t think of a single undergraduate professor of color. When I went systemically through all the classes I took, I realized that there wasn’t one.
My university (UMBC) was a medium-sized public school in Maryland that emphasized diversity in the sciences, in particular. Our university president was a brilliant black man who was a frequent guest on NPR. But in the humanities and dance, all my professors were white. I never took an “ethnic studies” course, but I also never had a professor of color for any “mainstream” subject. In law school, I had three professors of color out of maybe twenty.
I wonder how common this experience is for white folks, and how many of us don’t even notice. I’m certain my classmates of color were noticing. So if you get a chance, white folks who attended an undergraduate institution, think back and see if you can recall how many professors of color you had. Let me know in the comments.
As a white person, I don’t want to use #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen and the Schwyzer debacle as a platform for my own thoughts, but I do want to lead my readers to just a few amazing women of color speaking for themselves. Please take a look at the following bloggers and authors, as well as the #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen hashtag on Twitter and Mikki Kendall’s article explaining the subject.
Andrea Smith, Conquest
Adrien Wing, ed., Critical Race Feminism
INCITE! Women of Color Collective, Color of Violence and The Revolution Will Not Be Funded
Jessica Danforth, ed., Feminism for Real
Gloria Anzaldua & Cherrie Moraga, eds., This Bridge Called My Back
Ching-In Chen, Jai Dulani, & Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, eds., The Revolution Starts at Home
bell hooks, Feminist Theory from Margin to Center
We’re at day twelve of the Blogging “Yes” project, and today I read the essay “Trial by Media: Black Female Lasciviousness and the Question of Consent” by Samhita Mukhopadhyay (yes, two Feministing contributors in a row, if you noticed). This essay gets back to the question of black female sexuality and focuses especially on cases like the Duke lacrosse case and how the rape of women of color is “tried” in the media.
Today I read Miriam Zoila Pérez’s essay, “When Sexual Autonomy Isn’t Enough: Sexual Violence Against Immigrant Women in the United States” for day eleven of the Blogging “Yes” project. You may know Miriam from Feministing, or from her own blog, Radical Doula. She’s one of my favorite bloggers out there, and in this essay she sheds light on an important issue, namely sexual violence faced by immigrant women. I also want to recommend a related blog post on Feministe written by brownfemipower, Confronting Citizenship in Sexual Assault.
For day seven of the Blogging “Yes” project, I read an essay by Sri Lankan writer and activist Leah Lakshmi Piepezna-Samarasinha entitled “What It Feels Like When It Finally Comes: Surviving Incest in Real Life.” I found this essay particularly powerful because Piepezna-Samarasinha really gets into the different ways she went through the healing process after child sexual abuse, and in so doing provides an alternative to the Oprah model of survivor memoir that focuses on the event itself and the immediate aftermath only. I think all kinds of survivors could learn some lessons about healing and about activism from Piepezna-Samarasinha’s experience, and I especially like how she focuses on intersectionality.
For day six of the blogging “yes” project, I read “Queering Black Female Heterosexuality” by Kimberly Springer. Springer’s essay addresses black female sexuality and the problems with the mammy vs. jezebel stereotypes and appropriates queer discourse (sort of) in searching for a solution to this false dichotomy. I found this an interesting take on the intersection between race and sexuality, though aimed entirely at a heterosexual audience.
Welcome to the First Blog Carnival on Privilege! First, thanks to all the bloggers who contributed to this first round of the carnival. I was excited to see all the different takes on privilege represented here, and the diversity of those who submitted. You can see all the entries below the cut, and follow links through to read the complete posts. I also want to announce that we will be having a second carnival, since this first round was so successful. To give everyone plenty of time to think about submissions, the second carnival entries will be due Sunday, May 23rd. The topic for the second carnival will be White Privilege, so start thinking about race and racism for your posts. I would also accept posts for the second carnival that deal with other sorts of racial privilege, for example if you want to write about a community where one group is privileged based on the color of their skin, but that group isn’t “white,” that’s perfectly fine. Submissions again can be e-mailed to judithavory [at] gmail [dot] com. If we get a lot of submissions again, then I’ll probably switch over to a monthly format, and perhaps ask for other hosts for future carnivals. Also, because this came up a couple of times in this round, I do prefer new posts, but if you want to submit an older post for a carnival and not rehash an issue, that’s also fine.
And now, on with the carnival!
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about perspective this week.
It’s a topic I often hone in on, though in my everyday life I settle fairly firmly into my own shoes, like most people. Still, I remember the absolute eureka moment when I once learned about some particular African tribal practice (don’t ask me now what it was) and it occurred to me, some time late in my high school career, that I didn’t know shit about what it meant to look at a problem from a different perspective. I thought I knew difference, but in fact, the multitude of options of this world are always going to be beyond my grasp – and I like that. I like knowing that there’s always a new way of looking at things, a new way of understanding.
Wednesday night, I went to an MLK week discussion called “Open Mouth, Insert Foot: An Open Community Discussion on Hate.” Though a lot of what we talked about were things I’d already considered, I did hear some perspectives that were new to me. It had never occurred to me, for example, that when journalists always mention that the Postville immigration raids happened at the largest kosher meatpacking plant in the country, the decision to include the kosher part might be interpreted as anti-Semitic, even though Judaism is part of my (rather complex and syncretic) faith. As a panelist put it, “those guys weren’t Jewish crooks. They were crooks.”
Yesterday, I listened to an inspiring address by National Urban League President Marc Morial on the topic of Obama’s presidency and the new multi-racial America. He’s a fabulous speaker, and even in a lecture hall at the law school with maybe thirty people, he spoke as if he were addressing a crowd of hundreds. He made a lot of very poignant statements, but the one I copied down was this: “We as we look to the future cannot be restrained and straitjacketed by the analytical frameworks of the past.” A simple statement, yes, but immensely powerful. He spoke about how whites will soon no longer be the majority, but also about how minorities themselves are complex and diverse – more Africans and Caribbean blacks, for example, are coming to this country, and Latino and Asian populations are similarly made up of individuals from a variety of backgrounds, with a variety of interests, values, and concerns. He didn’t mention this, but I also thought about how ethnic minorities include women, and LGBT people, and linguistic and religious minorities. He spoke about how the society is not post-racial, but multi-racial, and we should embrace that. I wholeheartedly agree. I also would add that we should reach across lines, find commonalities and use those points to approach and learn about difference. For example, I have friends who are women of color whom I met because we share a lesbian sexuality. Though I’m learning how to do this in appropriate ways, I would like to use this connection to ask questions about these friends’ perspectives as a racial minority, and as women of color specifically, and I would like to learn what interests and concerns these friends have that are different from my own, both as someone who may be involved in policy and also just as an interested citizen.
Finally, I read this article by Robert Kagan for my European Union law class, and I found it very interesting (and readable whether you’re a legal person or not). Rather than race, it’s talking about the difference in perspectives based on position of power, comparing the United States and Europe, and it’s a way of looking at geopolitics that I hadn’t quite considered.
As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts on any of this.
Stars and Stripes
There’s red states and blue,
But what it all comes down to
Is the votes of whites.
I would by no stretch of the imagination consider myself a racist, but like anyone I have internal prejudices, whether a product of socialization, education, experience, or whatever else. When I was a teenager, I would say that “no! I would never have a racist thought!” and then feel terribly guilty when I had one. I do from time to time have such a thought now, and feel guilty, but I’m trying to figure out more productive ways to address and confront my own racist thoughts so that I can be more effective at fighting against racism externally, whether in the gay community or elsewhere.
I’d like to note, incidentally, that any racism on my part has nothing at all to do with my parents. They raised me to be colorblind, and to respect everyone. As I got older, I learned to go beyond colorblindness, and to embrace and respect and learn from everyone’s backgrounds, whether race, nationality, ethnicity, hometown, etc etc. I’m sure I got some racist messages from school and the media, but for the most part it’s a couple of unfortunate experiences that I tried hard to block out, and wonder now if I should in some way confront instead.
When I was a kid, I went to a school in a neighborhood where I was in the minority, and I was a perfectly happy camper. Most of my friends were black or Latina, and I didn’t really understand race in elementary school. I told my mom that one of my friends was black, and the other was “brown,” because I was just analyzing how their skin tone physically looked to me. My best friend in the neighborhood was also black. Unfortunately, after that experience, I went to two schools that were probably 97% white. One was a magnet school, and the other was a charter high school for academically gifted kids.
One of the negative experiences I had was when I was eleven, and a fourteen-year-old boy upstairs who was black became my friend and then wanted to be my girlfriend. I should point out that I said yes, so he wasn’t doing anything wrong, really. Nothing was his fault, personally. I just didn’t know how to say “no.” So we kissed a couple of times, and I felt uncomfortable, and then when we were with another friend of his (that friend was white, incidentally), he touched my breast while the other friend smirked and the guy’s six-year-old brother looked rather embarrassed. After that, I was extremely freaked out, and started having nightmares about rape. Again, no fault of that individual whatsoever, I just didn’t know what I was doing and unfortunately it triggered a negative association. I shoved the memory down into the recesses of my brain, but as a teenager I ended up having a generalized fear of black men.
The second incident involved a coworker, also a black man, who flirted a lot, kept trying to get rides with me, would occasionally attempt a grope, and also happened to be a cocaine dealer. Now he did do something wrong. He shouldn’t have been trying to touch me. But that said, I do think it fed into my stereotype. I have a bad habit, when I pass someone who has a certain look – usually but not always black or Latino, wearing certain clothes, smirking in a certain way – to be frightened. I smile, but I walk a little more quickly. I should note that I’ve had several great black male friends since that time, and one adult black male role model when I was an undergrad, and so it’s not so much that I’m afraid of black men. It’s just a certain “type” that gives me the heebie-jeebies, and I want to try to get that out of my head.
So I’m wondering – any suggestions? Anyone else been able to successfully combat this sort of internal racism, or do any people of color have any thoughts? I’m starting to write and talk more about how lesbians of color have been marginalized in the gay community, but I feel that it’s unfair to accuse others of racism when I haven’t dealt with this problem in my own head.
Also, on a completely unrelated note, another slam poem, this one much more safe for work, and more on the humorous side.