This is the part of the year where time begins to get away from me, so I thought I would explore this phenomenon here. I just sat up a few moments ago (so approximately 4:20A.M.) and asked myself when I fell asleep. I could not remember. This is scary. This is the time of year where deadlines, papers, conferences, and all begins to rule the world in the life of a graduate student. I began to think about things like time management and what I could be doing differently in regard to how I frame my semester, and I kept coming up with nothing, so then I became mad at myself. Questions like, “Why don’t you live healthier than you do?” and, ” Why didn’t you think about/plan for this time of year from the beginning of the semester?” Not to mention my Rheumatoid Arthritis rearing its lovely head at any point, just to add injury to insult. Then I thought about the role of our society in the social construction of the college student, more specifically in my case, the poor Black female graduate student.
I think there is a lot going on here, so I hope that I will be able to point out at least a couple things clearly in this blog post, but before I dive right in, I want to make sure to point out that I am speaking primarily for myself as a poor Black female graduate student, so what I am about to discuss may not reflect an entire demographic of people who identify as I do (as there are many unique lived experiences); though I know I am not alone in my reflection.
Predominately, there are the issues of class and race. I have been poor, Black, and female long before I became a college student. The daunting task of balancing job(s) while taking on a full course load brings added stress and higher potential of failure. In fact, I was placed on academic probation early in my undergrad career precisely because of this fact. I had 60+ hour work weeks. Studying, writing papers, and attending any kind of ‘tutoring’ was just not a luxury that I had the time and space to afford as a student who was working through school. I ended up taking some time off of school to think about my choices. Luckily, I came back with a vengeance and was able to graduate with university & departmental honors. I also had to (and still do) take out student loans in order to facilitate any and all I did in college, especially in light of my academic positioning during my undergrad (on probation, I was likely ineligible for any scholarship). The need-based grants I took out as an undergrad stopped being offered at the graduate level (as if I just all of a sudden stopped being poor with the completion of my undergrad). SO now, I am combatting the fear of loans rearing their lovely heads upon completion of my graduate studies, which is not helpful to think about when trying to “achieve.” Did I mention that I was a Philosophy & Psychology double major during my undergrad, and a Women’s & Gender Studies MA student currently? I don’t necessarily have the “credentials” to have a lucrative career while I am in school. In either of these disciplines, one has to follow the academic track to its logical end in order to even think about ANY possibility of making a living for themselves, which costs a lot of money when you’re the sole financial provider for yourself. Philosophy chose me (I am unsure at this point if this is a fortunate or an unfortunate thing), and as a black woman the odds are currently stacked against me. As a woman in general, being black, and being poor ALL are things that within our society, set me at a STRONG disadvantage within the scholarship of Philosophy, though I will continue with the struggle because it is IMPORTANT to have more of us visible within the scholarship able to discuss these types of issues within the towers of higher education and especially in my case, to be able to continue to attempt to bridge the gap between the scholarship and public discourse. I will digress from this discussion, and shift to another thing that grinds my gears that relates to this, but before I do, I want to let my fellow students of Philosophy know that these issues are being thought about and discussed by people who are advanced within the discipline. No, there aren’t really concrete and tangible things around to resolve these issues, but here are some words from Dr. Linda Alcoff that might help to let us know we aren’t alone in this.
Another thing that grinds my gears…
Tolerance. What comes to mind when you read that word? If you ask me, racism, classism, ableism, homophobia, ignorance, hate, misogyny, and mannered institutional and systematic discrimination are among the first things that come to mind when I think of this term. The online Merriam-Webster definition reads:
“Definition of TOLERANCE
b : the maximum amount of a pesticide residue that may lawfully remain on or in food.”
Having these definitions in front of you, do you think it’s a term that should be used in regard to PEOPLE? The reason I bring this up is because of a class that I had the other week. We were talking about tolerance and diversity. I think these are terms that are used to create a false sense of “equality” or “justice” when all I think it is doing is providing a veil for hatred and perpetuation of systematic and institutional discrimination. It allows us as a nation to generate and perpetuate this exceptionalist social schema. That is to say it allows us to explain away our acts of ignorance, discrimination, and hate by saying, “This was a rare event in our ‘culturally tolerant’ society.” I personally think diversity quotas can be and are dangerous in a lot of situations. This does not only alienate already marginal peoples, but it perpetuates a disjointedness in social identity v. individual identity (e.g., how society identifies you v. how you identify yourself) generally, though I place more emphasis here on identity politics within marginal populations. This reminds me of the poem I wrote in my last blog post, specifically the part where we have to provide our Age, Sex, Race, Gender identity, Class, work history, ALL of these demographics in order to apply for jobs, scholarships, schools, and more. These are used to account for how diverse program is, how “equal” the opportunity is. I just think if we are trying to get anywhere on the “other side” of racist/misogynist/ableist/classist/homophobic+ constructs, then issues like the use and abuse of terms like tolerance and diversity, equality and justice, NEED to be addressed and systematically changed.
Class was very scary, with all of the people who think of tolerance as a step in the right direction. I respect dissenting opinions, but I stand firm on the conviction that one might be able to tolerate a headache, NOT a human being/groups of people. The whole discussion of tolerance and diversity made me think of implicit bias and the role that it plays in the perpetuation of White Male-Middle Class Conservative Hegemony. From the founding of our nation, the space allocated for any person of color was among the dirt and among the people who were ‘uncivilized’ also known as primitives/mongrels, and sadly we are barely past this stage in our own minds to this day. This systematic and institutional, interpersonal and intrapersonal ‘othering’ of people based on Race, Sex, Class, Ability, Sexuality, etc., in all of its historical glory has both implicitly and explicitly set into place this implicit (unspoken/ non-conscious) positioning of any bodies that do not fall into the power majority, as inferior. Tolerance discourse is bolstering this trend. Even though the hope behind tolerance was to challenge the blatant discriminations marginal people have to deal with, it ends up being another concession taken that gets in the way of progress. I mean, I know we have to start somewhere, but I don’t know about you, if I had to choose between, “I tolerate you in spite of your affliction of being (poor/Black/female/queer/feminist)…” or “I embrace you and support your lived experience as a legitimate contributing human in this society, just as I am.” I would choose the latter, as that really is starting at a healthier place with more potential for sociopolitical progress.
In this same vein, I was able to host a very engaging and invigorating movie screening & discussion recently. The movie screened is entitled, “A Place of Rage,” by Pratibha Parmar and the discussion was facilitated by the exuberantly brilliant Alexis Pauline Gumbs (triple Ph.D). What happened at that event was magical. The movie celebrated June Jordan, Angela Davis, and Alice Walker in the movements they were a part of (civil rights, women’s movement, and LGBT rights) in such a way that each of them were able to discuss the place of rage that acted as a catalyst to their action. The discussion that followed was truly invigorating. Alexis asked the audience members to find that place of anger and rage, and when we did, to also try to locate the love behind that anger and rage. She emphasized the connection between love and rage and the power to act that is generated by these intense feelings. That was a REALLY IMPORTANT take-away for me. It is important as a person who believes in facilitating action and engaging places of rage to do this from a loving place, in order to attempt to create any positive potential for progress. I also realized I have SO many places of rage, it is hard to focus when I attempt to lovingly embrace it. If you find yourself in that sort of situation, I find it helpful to breathe, and take things one issue at a time. Don’t you wish life was like that? The ability to take one thing at a time, like, “I’ll combat my poverty this year, my Blackness next year, being a woman the year after, being queer the year after that,” without having to worry about the intersections of inferiority/marginalization/subjugation on a daily basis any and everywhere you are? Let’s face it, we aren’t even safe from these things in our own MINDS let alone in our homes.
In attempt to end things on a more positive note, I will advise those of you who find yourself in a situation like mine, where you are facing looming academic deadlines while being marginalized within our society while at the same time attempting to be active within your communities to incite and create change, to take things as they come. Don’t push yourself to the point of breaking. Life has always been difficult for us, there is no need to hate yourself for not sticking to all of your self-appointed deadlines and push yourself to the point of sickness and self-loathing. You are in the thick of it, so you do need to make it work. You also need to take time for yourself, even if it’s a moment just to realize how much you can take on at once, how strong you are, and how valued your thoughts and opinions are. Know that you’re not the only one out there fighting for systematic change. Take some time to put your thoughts out there, because there will likely be someone who can learn from your contribution.
Speaking of action and community engagement, I am attempting to start a new student group at the university I attend. The aim of this group will be to foster a sense of engagement and connectedness between graduate students and community organizations. So far, I haven’t gotten much return by the community organizations I have reached out to, but the ones that have replied to me all have been positive. I will continue to update this situation as it evolves. I have hope for this group to manifest into something great, fingers crossed.
I will leave you with excerpts from a poem by June Jordan entitled, “Poem About My Rights,” as I find these words constantly in the back of my mind as of late:“Even tonight and I need to take a walk and clear my head about this poem about why I can’t go out without changing my clothes my shoes my body posture my gender identity my age my status as a woman alone in the evening/ alone on the streets/alone not being the point/ the point being that I can’t do what I want to do with my own body because I am the wrong sex the wrong age the wrong skin and suppose it was not here in the city but down on the beach/ or far into the woods and I wanted to go there by myself thinking about God/or thinking about children or thinking about the world/all of it disclosed by the stars and the silence: I could not go and I could not think and I could not stay there alone as I need to be…