It is not that Black women have not been and are not strong; it is simply that this is only a part of our story, a dimension, just as the suffering is another dimension—one that has been most unnoticed and unattended to. —bell hooks, Talking Back: Thinking Feminist, Thinking Black
This may be one of the most candid posts I will share, perhaps because I have been writing it in my head for a few years.
In November 2010, I attended the annual Association for the Study of Higher Education (ASHE) Conference. At the awards ceremony Dr. Lori Patton Davis won the Promising Scholar/Early Career Award. In the very beginning of her acceptance speech she asked all the black women in the audience to stand up so she could acknowledge their presence in the Academy.
As I stood, I found tears streaming down my eyes. As quickly as I tried to wipe one tear another formed. I had never spoken to her in my life, yet I was thankful I could be there to witness her achieve something so wonderful. In addition, for one of the first times I felt like someone saw me—really saw me, for who I was. To this day when I wonder how I fit in this place we call the Academy, I think about her, and the precious moment she took to recognize us.
After some reflection from that day I realized what some of my tears meant as it pertains to being a black woman in the Academy, especially in predominately white and male environments:
- It is being hypervisible yet invisible at the same time. When you are in the room no one wants to acknowledge you. Once you are gone, everyone takes notice and sometimes even attributes it to something negative.
- It is feeling every racial and gendered micro-to-macro aggression and wondering if anyone saw what just happened.
- It is being in a space that has already formed a story about you because of your identity, and you can’t even edit what is there.
- It is those moments where people are in awe that you consistently have something insightful to say … and have the audacity to share it.
- It is knowing that if you make mistakes they might be magnified in comparison to your colleagues.
- It is the hurt of realizing on some occasions even other people that look like you might see you as competition rather than a vital asset to the environment
Some of you may be reading this and thinking, “I am not a black woman, but this pertains to my experience.”
I understand. I hope it does speak to you and is beneficial.
However I am intentional in creating a space for black women scholars in this post. I find that black women often become footnotes in the stories of life and often receive no dedicated space. I didn’t realize it then but Dr. Patton Davis, in her touching acceptance speech, was creating a vital space for black female scholars.
What I have realized about the Academy so far is that it can be as loving as it is painful. I have so many family members, friends, colleagues, and mentors (some that look like me and some that do not) who have invested time, love, and prayers into all that I have accomplished. I am so thankful that these people represent much of what the Academy can and will evolve into if we continue to challenge what exists, and build up new generations of scholars who appreciate the diversity we need in knowledge creation.
I can smile as I write this because I know that one of the most powerful assets we have as people is the ability to be selective in what we allow to define us. Hostile and unsupportive spaces do not have to define you if you remember that they are just a part of a bigger journey. I have learned to take ownership over who I am rather than let an environment tell me my story. If you are black female scholar reading this, I hope you know that your very existence here is revolutionary. I hope you know that there are safe spaces for you. In me there is someone always rooting for you.