Afraid of being "stereotypically angry" many accept micro-aggressions.
This semester has been a lesson in moving within academic spaces while Black. I have encountered racist texts without a robust conversation surrounding race. Ideas to write about queer black representation as a final project have been shot down and I have been deemed combative when I called him out on his assertion for a black male critic not liking a black women's writing. Yet, the last week have been heightened in the level of vehement vilification of blackness.
Last week my group and I did a presentation in our History of Rhetoric class about African Rhetoric(s). In our research we found that Egypt was the birthplace for African Rhetoric and it evolved and changed across the continent and by ethnic group. Not only were we to present this material to the rest of the class, but we were to have them read a scholarly article that gave them a taste of our tradition and they had to write a short discussion post about it prior to class. We decided to have them look at an article surrounding the goddess Ma'at. Ma'at was the goddess of truth and justice, but to the Ancient Egyptians, she was the guiding force for all communication (written or spoken). As we opened the floor up for discussion about the article one classmate deemed the material to be "cultish" in relation to the other materials and presentations we had seen thus far. Why? What deemed this reading any different than anything else we had to read or understand? Religion is a large part of many cultures and traditions. Cult like offers a negative connotation. This comment put a bad taste in all of our mouths. Furthermore, when pressed about it the student gave the "why are you getting upset for?" Really? You just dropped that bombshell and then when we are trying to see your line of thinking you don't want to critically engage in your position? Fuck that! Own it.
As we are trying to engage into that dialogue another student is having a side conversation with the professor surrounding slavery. This seems to be of importance because we had posited how Africa is seen as poor, chaotic, and ilrepute, but it actually is a vibrant place full of intellectual history and continuous to be. I pushed back because I'm like many of the negative images we have of Africa is from the West. He counters with some of that perception is found on the continent itself. I re-countered with yes, but that is the result of colonization. There is still European influence at play here that many could argue are fighting against. Then of course we had to have a discussion surrounding slavery. How it was a huge rhetorical endeavor well before slavers landed on the continent to invest in human cargo. Of course we had to discuss how this was a new system of slavery and that slavery of old was different which I also lent my voice to. Yet, in that moment I felt myself getting angry and upset. For a good while we chose silence. We were silenced because we had to be cognoscente of how we were perceived in this predominantly white space. We cannot be seen as aggressors or angry black women, my other group members are women. At one point we touched one another because we were experiencing this anti-blackness as a collective. One of my group members even posited that "anytime Blackness is centered or celebrated it is critiqued much harsher than anything else." I starting snapping my fingers and said "say that." She voiced our feelings and their critique in that statement. I left that classroom angry, upset, frustrated, and with a headache.
The following day I rehash the situation with another professor who sympathized as best she could. Later on in her classroom it seemed the following day was going to repeat itself. This is a class on the genre of American Poetry through the nineteenth century. One of the poets we had to read for class was Paul Dunbar. He was known for writing dialect poetry along with poetry in "Standard English." Several students said they didn't like it and one kept repeating, but he's so eloquent so i don't understand why he would do this and he probably would be "re-appropriated" by folks that do minstrel shows. I piped up and said first there needs to be done away of these Eurocentric ideal of "good speech and writing." Second I went in on how dialect tend to be a way to showcase authenticity and it creates an orality that is steeped in African tradition. Thankfully, the professor of this class acknowledged that Black poets are engaging in this style of writing to correct the egregious over site done by white writers. She also utilized Henry Louis Gates' work to add context and voice to the discussion. Another student also chimed in about not everything is made for everyone and gave an example of writing poetry in Spanish because she's Latinx. There is also another Black girl in the class, but she has been colonized to the point to where every little thing she finds fault in like the use of the word Negro and other things. Again, I left feeling exhausted, but not as drained because I felt supported by other students in the class.
Now, today back in my History of Rhetoric class we circled around the topic of Race. Class began with a crash course in theory and schools of thought surrounding individualism and how they influenced the critical article we had to read for class. We spent a good hour delving deep into these different theorists and how they shaped the canon and how English Departments are constructed. One student began asking questions about where he felt in this moment in time like post-modern era etc. Well, he responded and she kept asking questions including one about social media and if it would be hurting the cause. He had described how there is a move to center community as a theoretical framework. I chimed in and discussed how one of my Instructors at UCLA was a PhD student doing research on Palestinians forming community through social media mainly Facebook and Twitter. She wrote it off as anecdotal. Even though there have been plenty of articles both scholarly and otherwise discussing how women of color and other marginalized communities are forging community and mobilizing around social media.
The discussion moves to discussing how one theorist discusses context and how every experience and situation must be made in context in order for meaning to be made. So, another classmate asked about discussing a racist text and tearing it apart and discussing it in that way. Professor then asked think of a book that's racist. I raddled off The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner. The student who dismissed my previous claim asked how is it racist? Well, the book is loaded with the n-word and how Black folks are constructed its very much in your face. She then asked about Huckleberry Finn and the class agreed that it's a racist text. She seemed to be lost and asked to define racism. I said the best way to describe it is prejudice plus power. The professor writes that on the board and there seems to be in agreement. Then the conversation goes left really quickly. "I don't hat people of color" I said ok, but there are certain advantages that you have that you didn't work for because you are white." She angrily responds with "I was poor, my dad is Asian, and we lived in a trailer and sometimes we only had cabbage in the fridge." Again, I'm not negating that experience from you, but you still have something that I don't. Another white woman jumps in and explains to her that I too was dirt poor, but even in that I don't experience the same microaggressions as people of color. We are not followed in the store." She still seems flabbergasted and just wont let it go. There was a lot of hollering and anger pointed in my direction. Oh let's not forget that she said, " I'm white, I"m proud to be white, and I can't change that." No sweetie you can't. I can't change that I'm Black and have to fight to be heard in this classroom. I am vilified and seen as he aggressor while you are coddled even though you attacked me. I cannot change systematic oppression, but it's a daily reality. Oh, let me not leave out that the spirit of the ancestors moved me and I wrote on the board Intersectionality by Kimberle Crenshaw a Black Feminist Critique/lens. I annoyed my professor, but dammit I had to make sure her work was mentioned. What's funny is that same student left in a huff at the end of class even though I was attacked and the following week I was attacked alongside my group mates. Whew, it's exhausting being Black in Academia. Yet, our voices matter and deserve to be heard so I will continue to show up and fight.
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