The Politics of ‘Gratitude’ in Higher Learning Institutions: A Black Feminist Perspective
As a university student in Canada, I eagerly sought out feminist classes primarily because the focus was on women’s issues. I felt being a racialized woman, I had much to contribute to the construction and sharing of knowledge. To my surprise, throughout my bachelors, masters, and PhD studies, my educational experience was marred by silence. When I dared to speak, with the expressed aim of exposing the contradictions and tensions in the way ‘women’s oppression’ was being framed by white feminists, which frequently contradicted my own lived experiences, my white feminist professors were swift to take disciplinary actions via the assignment of ‘lowered’ grades and ‘bad’ reference letters. To those of us on the margins, there is a constant threat and this threat must be taken very seriously: Very seriously, because we are expected to remain passive and silent; Very seriously, because we are loosing our spirit to fight for our rights to be heard within academia. Very seriously, because as the dominant voices of feminism and academic correctness increases - so to increases, the need to suppress and oppress the voices of those of us who seek to illuminate and disrupt contradictions between theory and practice. Today, as a professor, I realize that speaking out as a Black feminist is also dangerous – I forgot about ‘tenure and promotion’! To speak about racism labels one as having ‘a chip on the shoulder’ or more critically, of ‘playing the race card.’ To my White feminist ‘sisters’ - When will you allow me to enter ‘honest’ discussions around racialized women’s issues in academia? Must you continue to advance on experiences that do not belong to you while claiming to speak on my behalf in the interest of social justice?
Keywords: Racism, Social Justice, Diversity, Feminism, Sisterhood, Higher Learning
Dr. Janet M. Haynes
Assistant Professor, Department of Social Work, Univeristy of Minnesota