Auditioning for my master

January 20, 2018

There comes a time where every fledgling academic, who wants to make academia less racist, sexist, and xenophobic, must audition for a member of the establishment. Oftentimes, these people are made to give a 30 second to 2 minute impromptu pitch on why things need to change for the better. Sometimes they are met with sympathetic eyes, eyes that say you're too young. You haven't read enough. Don't worry little fledgling, I will show you the way. Some are met with bigoted questions disguised in a quest for truth and desire for the "right" method to arrive at the truth. A lot of times the bigotry won't be explicit. They will de-contextualize the issue at hand or spin the conversation to be about something else. This generally shows a lack of understanding or a disregard about the plight of oppressed groups. The whole thing sucks. It really does.

 

 

I know that some people will read this and think, they put themselves in that situation on their own volition. Well, yes, many of us who choose to use our hardworking money, energy, and time to apply to graduate schools know what we are up against. There are many grad students, like myself, who apply and enlist with the hope that they can help change the culture in academia. The idea is that you have to be apart of the culture to change it. So we work our asses off with the hope that one day we can influence the journals, the direction of conversation within academic debates, and even influence the amount of POC/women in academia by being apart of hiring processes.

 

 

 

The thing is that nothing could prepare us for the day when we have to meet face to face with a member of the establishment, (who by the way, oftentimes take the form of a professor who is grading us or who we need to write us a reference letter in the future).  I am constantly having to battle my desire to change academia (thus changing the world) with my disbelief that it actually will change the world. My understanding and acceptance that the task of changing academia will be difficult does not eliminate the thoughts in my head that wonders whether it is worth the emotional energy of doing so.

 

But let's go back to the "audition".  You want to move the field in a more "progressive" direction. The fact that you want this at all means that you differ with many of your professors and cohort on how you define education. This has to come up sometime, with someone who has power over you. You can either say nothing or you can explain yourself. The fact that you are met with this choice is in itself a burden. You want to change the culture but you don't want to mess up your relationship with your peers, professors, or mentors. You want to say something but you don't know if you are capable of explaining yourself correctly. You want to say something and you feel that if you don't the fate of academia is on you in some sense. You can't change the hearts and minds of people if they don't know that something is wrong. You have to educate people. You want to say something but you aren't sure if it is the right time to say it.; if you should be more strategic about where and who you say it to. You want to say something but you don't know if this is the best time in your career to speak up. 

 

 

 If you decide to explain yourself, you do so knowing that people like Frantz Fanon, James Baldwin, and Derrick Bell (individuals whose work will probably surpass anything that you could ever hope to write) have already tried and failed at persuading the academic establishment to change their thinking. To add on to this, we have to  explain ourselves in such a way, as to not offend our professors. Again, we need that recommendation letter that only they can write.  We need to be a TA on that class so that we can teach it on our own later. We need to continue to work with our professors on questions that interest us because they are the only one in the department working on those questions.  We have to explain to our professors and mentors, individuals who yield great power over our lives and future,  how the shrine that they and their esteemed colleagues have built to uphold certain methodologies have failed us. We have to persuade them to believe that the rhetoric that they use delegitimizes the work that we want to do. We do this knowing that if we don't succeed, we will suffer and the students who come after us will suffer. So we try to find the right words, the right way to frame our problem. We try our very best to package our thoughts and gift it presentably to them so that they will have no trouble consuming it. We do this knowing that we are just one out of many students in the world seeking to do the same thing. 

 

 

We listen patiently as they tell us (and they often have the same response) that if someone does not like the traditionalist methods then they should go into another field. This argument is of course, very similar to arguments that people make to members of oppressed classses on the internet and in the news. If you don't like America, leave! I've often wondered at my own decision to stay in a field that is so regressive. I am filled with dismay at the prospect of leaving something that I love so much. I love the questions that philosophy asks, I love the sort of introspection and critical thinking it requires . I love it so much that despite the fact that the establishment is racist and sexist, I still want to immerse myself in it. I love it so much that I would drain myself and put myself in a position where I would have to audition for yet another white man to find my thoughts valuable; my concerns legitimate. I am a black woman. My whole life is geared towards making myself, my way of being acceptable to white people so that I can live. I have purposefully chosen a career where my success is dependent on whether white men will like my papers enough to allow me into their conferences, or allow me to submit my papers in their journals. I can't help but compare  my sacrifice, and the sacrifice that so many members in oppressed groups make to be apart of academia. I can't help but compare it to the care and devotion traditionalist have in order for upholding the traditionalist way of thinking. 

 

 

It goes without saying that people can and should work on whatever they are interested in. If they do not want to use another methodology they do not have to. The issue is when people in power delegitimize the efforts of members of oppressed groups and their allies to change things. 

Understandably, in every field there have been new "fads", new methodologies, new way of framing information. Anyone who has wanted a new way of doing things have had to "audition" to people in their field. They've had to explain themselves. This is just apart of academia. I want to make it clear that I am not talking about this. This discussion isn't a discussion about traditionalist views versus nontraditional ways of thinking. The issue becomes a problem of racism, sexism, and xenophobia when academics, who have a surmountable amount of privilege, tell members of oppressed groups that they cannot or should not try to contextualize their plight within their respective fields. It becomes a problem of racism, sexism, and xenophobia when people are taught that the only way to do the work they want to do is to remove themselves from the events that are unfolding as history unfolds.  The point at which you do this; you become apart of the system working to oppress whole peoples.  You become one person, in a long line of people throughout history, who have deterred oppressed people. 

 

 

 

 

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