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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

College Teaching While Black and Female: Sustaining the Culture of Open Minds and Open Hands

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An article in a recent Chronicle of Higher Education discussed whether there is a propensity for black female professors to become “mean.” You can read the entire piece at A Black Female Professor Struggles With 'Going Mean'.

The author writes:

...we forget that minorities and women, especially minority women, are not granted authority even after earning a doctorate and being hired in a very competitive academic market. It is an uphill battle for authority; they must prove their merit. For women and minorities, it is a frustrating process, and feeling as if they don’t have the same status creates distance between them and their colleagues and their students. I believe that helps explain why some minority professors become so overwhelmed that they "go mean." They become cold and, dare I say it, angry.

I have been there, struggling with coldness and anger in the course of my professional life. I have, for the most part, managed to retain the grace and warmth of my true self. But it is not easy.

As I explain to people, college teaching while black and female is, for some of us, a little like constantly putting your hand out for a handshake and having it ignored or slapped (and I don't mean the slap of a high five, but rather something more violent. However, even getting a high five when you meant to solicit a traditional handshake can be an odd form of cultural violence when performed by non-black people on blacks) students and colleagues on numerous occasions. Thank heavens, it doesn’t happen all the time. Sometimes you get a true handshake of fellowship when you extend your hand. But because of all those negative experiences, after a while, you are more inclined to either keep your hand to yourself or, even without your knowing it, your hand begins to form into a fist at every new interaction, as you anticipate what comes next. Hence, for many of us who have been in academia for a while, extending your open hand for a handshake sometimes takes an enormous amount of psychic and emotional energy. These are efforts that are often unacknowledged and uncredited.

I have found that there are more open hands and open hearts in places where there is open-minded inquiry and mutual respect for others. Of course, we cannot always know where these places are. And even when places start out that way, they can and do change.  Hence, the job for those of us who care about these issues is to put practices into place that create and sustain the culture of the open mind and the outstretched, open hand.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

#BringBackOurDaughters, #BringBackOurGirls

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#BringBackOurDaughters, #BringBackOurGirls

The kidnapped girls of Chibok are on my mind.  On April 15, 2014, armed men kidnapped well over two hundred Nigerian schoolgirls (estimates range up 276) from their school.  The kidnapping occurred at the Government Girls Secondary School, in Chibok, Borno State, Nigeria. Chibok is a rural village in the northeastern portion of Nigeria near the borders of Chad and Cameroon. The kidnapped girls were in the midst of taking examinations. While some of the kidnapped girls have escaped, the majority of the girls remain either in the hands of the captors or in parts unknown.  As horrifying as the kidnappings are, perhaps more distressing is the fact that to date there is apparently no official, state-based or international effort to recover the girls.  Instead, parents and concerned citizens have formed groups to attempt the rescue of the girls.

#BringBackOurDaughters, #BringBackOurGirls

The kidnappings are a reminder that despite the freedoms that some women enjoy today, there is an ever-present fact that shadows the scene: women’s bodies are often the field on which political, social and legal battles are fought. These battles are seen in the continuing threat of sexual assault and gender-based violence; these battles are also seen in efforts to control reproductive freedom and access to education, and in proliferating pornographic norms that elide art, aesthetics, commerce and political speech and in the process demean and diminish women. While in some ways some women gain power, at the same time many women’s rights are reduced, and their voices are frequently silenced. Women too often find themselves not only muted but transmuted from members of the body politic to principal objects in the politics of the body.

#BringBackOurDaughters, #BringBackOurGirls

The politics of the body put the human body, and especially women’s bodies, at the center of political engagements and manipulations. The kidnapping of the girls of Chibok, in order, say some, to make then “wives,” not only terrorizes the girls and their families, but also serves as a means of relegating girls and women to civic outsiders, mere pawns in a cynical game of political brinksmanship. And the tepid response of the international community makes it difficult to distinguish condemnation from condonation.

#BringBackOurDaughters, #BringBackOurGirls

So please join me in moving this matter to the center of public consciousness. Don’t be saddened. Be outraged. Command, demand. Speak, write, march to bring our daughters, our girls, home.