Newly Minted

Newly Minted
Right after I was hooded

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Diversity, Equity and a Whole Lot of Yelling...

My department hosted its first student conference on diversity, equity and social justice: “Imagining Communities without Walls”. One panel was made up of students of mine from last year and this year who are studying in my “Examining Mixed Race Identity” class. The students had decided the content of their panel entirely on their own. I do believe my influence was present in the way they chose to share their lived experiences through a narrative articulation. They started with part of my area project documentary that many of them had been part of. After the documentary and music montage of mixed race families, the students shared each of their own mixed race identity stories. On the panel were “mixed race”, “mono-racial”, and “transracial adoptee” representations. All of the students spoke of mixed race from a place of lived experience and intimacy. Clay, a young man who identifies as monoracial and white, spoke of how he has experienced his race shift as he nears his wedding day with a mixed race African American and Puerto Rican female student. Clay talked about how his love for her and his growing love for her family and theirs' of him has changed his relationship to whiteness. This closely mirrors the experiences my husband and his family have had as well as that of my adopted family. It is this intimacy that allows a white man (enter any other race and gender here) to let go of the binary social conditioning that separates, categorizes and perpetuates the hierarchies that we understand as the racial continuum of the west. It is found in loving a child so much that it hurts when they are the victims of racism and subordination.
I had not prepared my students well. I had not told my students of the vicious attacks I have experienced in the academy by the radical black scholars who find it necessary to not only subordinate my identity and lived experience, but to negate both entirely. I can remember my first graduate class when a class mate, an African female, told me my mother could not have possibly loved me because she was white. What I know now, and wish I had been strong enough to say then is, yes, yes she does. In fact, love in its purist form and often in its more problematic forms (dating, marriage, community) is transcendent. Not only is the intimate transcendent, it is transformative. Sadly, my students were attacked as well as called confused. One student burst into tears when her lived experience was negated and labeled confused. After the panel session that student told me she was not confused; she knew what love was and that the intimate reality of her mixed race-ness could not be taken from her.
The attack that day came from an academic colleague of mine from another institution. I felt blessed that she came down to our conference, but I experienced harm from the way she chastised and belittled my students. This colleague is an aesthetically white Latina female who has invoked a politically black identity. She and I have talked about how her journey was shaped and part of that journey to blackness was, which I chose not to throw in her face, through the intimate. This colleague also experienced, and my guess is that she still experiences, resistance to her invocation of a black identity. What I want to speak to in this moment is that even though I and my students accepted her blackness without question; she refused publically to accept ours. Even after I lovingly pointed out that her argument about historical realities was not invalid; it was simply incomplete, she continued to discipline and to demean my students who were trapped behind the panel table unable to get a word in edgewise. She kept saying “there is a confusion here”. She was correct but she failed to see that the confusion was hers.
I am proud of my students. I am proud that they decided to participate in their first conference and put their intimate realities out there for what turned out to be an inquisition. What my colleague doesn’t understand is that my students left more certain that what they are thinking and writing about has merit. Their certainty comes from the reality that what they experienced was simply a validation of what they have been experiencing their whole lives. My students and I learned more than anyone else in that room. We learned that when someone reacts with such fury, you may very well have discovered a truth – yours - and theirs. I would also offer that such a performance of negation also suggests that it is an intimate truth as those have proven in my life to be the most painful.

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