I attended a lecture at Rutger’s University about two years ago to view a presentation on the book Ebony and Ivy by Dr. Craig Steven Wilder. The lecture was as informative as it was passionate—its most resounding words being
“ I used to feel thankful to be here, but now I feel as thought I belong.”
There words were powerful, but more so was his presence.
At the time, I was someone aspiring to be within academia, and Dr. Wilder possessed a voracious intellect paired with an unapologetic confidence—attributes I had previously only seen in black professionals in black spaces. To be honest, I have yet to see that confident intellectual charisma, on any black scholar since. This dearth is not accidental but strategic, and directly connects to Dr. Wilder’s words.
Wilder’s sentiments of course do not denounce the obvious gratitude he has for his platform and ability to share his research with interested parties. His sentiments speak to an often unaddressed facet of institutionalism—the implementation of inadequacy. Particularly, blacks who seemingly “gain entry” into an institution because of their skill, endure consistent reminders of their displacement into traditionally white spaces like universities and other so-called professional spaces.
An Ingrained Inferiority
Reminders of this displacement come in many forms. As an instructor, I had an elderly white male supervisor who in addition to consistently treating me as too intellectually deficient to grade my own exams and too “urban” to be trusted with departmental documents, staged an in-class hearing where I was verbally assaulted by my students as he looked on. Given that we had identical credentials, it was obvious that my complexion reflected an incompetency that he would not assume if I were a young white woman. His actions, while crass and demeaning, functioned with cavalier disregard because to him I was “lucky” to be in this space to begin with.
In recent interactions with institutional gatekeepers, I am consistently nudged to be thankful with consistent reminders of how “lucky” or “protected” I am. Rather than acknowledge black achievement and potential, or simply leave blacks to fulfill their purpose in silence, whites, and others who believe themselves to be white or operate as white people, mollify their discomfort by sullying black conventional success with shame— a shame many of those believed to be white feel in the stupor of their own mediocrity.
The Institutional Insult
Like so many black bodies before and after me, I experience daily the wrath of institutionalized racism that has plagued any black daring to reach beyond altheticism and celebrity marketed as the sole escape routes for so called black destitution. I have learned that something as seemingly innocuous as a syllabus can operate as a weapon, mirroring the colonialized perception of black bodies that overtly decorated the ideologies of the centuries that precede us. I’ve obtained an invaluable amount of informal lessons pertaining to black life— inside and outside academia. But most importantly, I have learned the cost, best labeled as consequence, of black confidence and an unwavering belief in oneself. I have met extreme adversity that although tempting to render an individual experience, illustrates a collective effort to destroy the black mind that does not fear whites or the potential for their own greatness.
Despite gaining entry into a institution of higher learning, I have learned firsthand what black female scholar and esteemed writer Audre Lord said decades ago, that “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” As a so called student at the “master’s” school, I know that I will never be handed the keys to my own liberation. I know that every book, every lecture, and every assignment functions to entangle me deeper into the labryinth of institutionalized insanity, known as submission. But, this can only happen if I perceive myself as a student of the institution. That I am not.
What I am, is a student of institutionalized racism.
I am learning first hand what ancestors and elders from Dr. Bobby Wright and Dr. Amos Wilson to Dr. Francis Cress Wesling and Dr. Neeley Fuller (amongst others) spent lifetimes working to articulate in books that function as keys to the mental chains that bind us to the various manifestations of white supremacy. As Neely Fuller famously stated: “If you don’t understand white supremacy/racism, everything that you do understand will only confuse you.” Understanding racism, makes this experience difficult , but necessary in explicating the experience for the majority of blacks displaced in white spaces.
Most blacks do not understand racism because they are conditioned not to. Most whites do not fully understand racism, because they do not have to understand racism to benefit from it, or to be racist. This is s statement I must make to myself daily, so that I do not harbor resentment or excessive disappointment in the daily attempt to navigate the institution while black.
It is very hard being black any where in the globe. But a prisoner of my ancestor’s captivity, I will say that it is very hard to be black in America. But it is even harder to be black and proud, as this pride is deemed as a threat to whites, but also blacks beaten into submission by the pseudo promise of white acceptance.
Denouncing Inclusion: The Black Female Form as a Pre-Woman Form
In my enlightenment, I see this this submission is perhaps most deeply embedded in inclusion. This inclusion is not simply wishing to obtain a seat at the table alongside whites, but inclusion into so called radical factions like “feminism”, “marxism,” etc.that seek to place seemingly de-centered factions as central. Regrettably,“womanism” performs this same deed. Womanism, although an attempt to engage the intersectionality of blackness and femininity, still implements the term “woman”— a concept established on the exclusion of black female bodies. The rape, physical bludgeoning and mental mutilation of the black female birthed the piety, domesticity, submissiveness, and chastity attributed to white womanhood. As a black female striving for consciousness, I can no longer strive for inclusion in the woman concept. I acknowledge that I am female, but the woman concept is far too small to encapsulate the totality of black female identity. Thus, my pending dissertation and future blog post now even mores than before, will function to push the black body beyond spaces established in their exclusion.
I wish to clarify that my use of the word “woman” on this blog in part and whole, does not to speak to black female inclusion, but to reference the black female body as a pre-woman concept. Thus, I do not wish to compartmentalize the black female as woman. Instead, my use of the term “womanism” functions to assert the black female form as a being far greater than “woman.”
In challenging what Sylvia Wynter called the over-representation of man, or pervasive whiteness, I find my purpose in replacing this fascination with pro-black initiatives. So the adversity of watching white professors overly praise whites and non-blacks for mediocre work, a brown professor highlighting black “insecurity” as the crux of the course, amongst other evils, I too feel as though I belong. I feel a sense of privilege in having a front row seat to the inter-workings of white supremacy. A proximity that breeds a strength that emerges from sitting so close to the fire without being burned is a strategy I hope to teach other member of the black collective in years to come.
I worked a really long time to occupy the illusive space I currently occupy. Upon my acceptance I was thankful that my hard word had “paid off.” My experiences have shown me that this ideology is wrong on so many levels. That way of thinking “paid” for my current frustrations, and hindered my sense of belonging. Feeling as though my hard work needed to “pay off” symbolized my desire to subconsciously “belong” to an institution.
Similarly, when I started this site I did not even realize that I sought to belong to the woman concept with the title “womanism.” Now, in my pending consciousness, I am on a journey to belong to myself, to my collective. So while black spaces are integral to the advancement of our people, the first space we must possess as a collective is the one in our mind.
So while there is an “I,” in institution, there is no “we.” That is because the “we” combats institutionalism. When “we” symbolizes a collective anchored in unity, the intent to institutionalize, an intent strategically embedded in the commonality of western conventions, becomes an obsolete agenda unable to annihilate a people anchored in their majestic past, and not the enslavement socially reproduced for centuries by who the late Dr. Francis Cress Wesling called the genetically inferior race.
Black Power ❤
4 Comments Add yours
This: “Reminders of this displacement come in many forms. As an instructor, I had an elderly white male supervisor who in addition to consistently treating me as too intellectually deficient to grade my own exams and too “urban” to be trusted with departmental documents, staged an in-class hearing where I was verbally assaulted by my students as he looked on. Given that we had identical credentials, it was obvious that my complexion reflected an incompetency that he would not assume if I were a young white woman. His actions, while crass and demeaning, functioned with cavalier disregard because to him I was “lucky” to be in this space to begin with.” It’s hard to form a response because you’ve said it all. I thought about swearing. I do share in the feeling and experience of white male degradation and inherent worthlessness/wrongness from trauma and poverty in childhood. But my skin is white. I sometimes fear that as my career affords me a better life I will be mistaken for a particular kind of white American woman who is not me, who I have never been. And yet I believe through social-emotional intelligence building these fears of being unseen, degraded, stratified and punitively judged could eventually become a thing of distant and ugly past. Until that perfect day, we tell.
Your statement about having a “front row seat to the inner workings white supremacy” reminds me of a quote from “I am not your Negro” by James Baldwin:
“You cannot lynch me and keep me in ghettos without becoming something monstrous yourselves. And, furthermore, you give me a terrifying advantage. You never had to look at me. I had to look at you. I know more about you than you know about me. Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” Your position is much more than a privilege, it’s a “terrifying advantage”. One that they don’t seem to be aware of yet. They’re not looking at us unless we’re being useful to them like dancing a jig or something. They don’t want to hear our thoughts, ideas, or perceptions of the world if it’s in conflict with theirs. They just want us to be like parrots and mimic them. They truly don’t see us as Intelligent Beings and that’s their Ultimate downfall. Sometimes we have to risk being among them while not falling into them and learn to study them. It’s the only way that having a close proximity to whiteness will actually work out for us. Keep up the good work.
Truly resonant point! Thank you for your comment 🙂
I have been following your blog for a little while, and I must say, I am reading this article at work, on a special day where I see that I will never be treated the same as my colleagues, solely on the fact that I do not look like anyone around here. It is painful however comforting to notice that we share the same struggle, even if we are miles and miles away.