Black and Brown in Academia

I am weary and my bones ache. I’ve battled for long and hard and am bruised and black and brown. My enemy is a thousand times my size and doesn’t even feel my blows; my scars are not from deliberate thrusts and parries from my enemy but because I’ve thrown myself against this implacable monster time and again. So silly. It is all my mother’s fault really. She is an Indian mom, an ex-nun, the oldest of 7 girls, and she was most irritated with me whenever I was shy or scared or backing away from a fight or wanting to do girly things like dress up and wear pretty shoes. She was proudest of me when I beat all the boys and won. She would cut my hair so short I looked almost like a boy, especially if I dressed in loose jeans. Her heroine was Kiran Bedi, the police woman who faced down a corrupt institution and won (sort of – at least she got a lot of press even though she didn’t really go very high career-wise, but that is neither here nor there). Kiran Bedi was my mother’s hero, and I always knew that I should aspire to be someone like Kiran Bedi; a little woman taking on a goliath and winning. And so I’ve found myself my own goliath to fight with and am beating my fists against this implacable enemy, screaming myself hoarse, throwing all my weight against this great wall of china to see if it would move. So silly. But really what else am I to do? Should I give up and stay at home and raise my kids and have a comfortable life, one where I get 8 hrs of sleep every day and don’t feel guilty about bathing or reading a book, and don’t come home everyday scarred and bleeding from the day’s battles and then spend all night with a sick child; a life where I stay in my rightful place at the bottom of the social hierarchy. Things are so much easier when you stay in your place. Like when the four of us (husband, wife, and two kids) go for a walk; people smile benevolently at us – the kids are cute and clean and brown, my husband and I are foreign and don’t speak the language, but we are dressed well and, together, the four of us, we add to the color on a bright sunny day in Europe; my husband pays for the groceries and I stay and run after our 2 year old. Everyone plays their rightful roles and the sun beams down at us. It is nice, easy, soft like a cocoon to play my rightful role. Not sharp and biting like when I have to admit that I’m the breadwinner in the family, or when I have to walk into a class full of Europe’s elite and teach them strategy, or when I say in the department meeting that I want to teach executive education. That is where the money in academia is, it’s in exec-ed, and I have to send my son to private school where the expat kids  are less likely to say that his skin “is the color of my shit” and where he won’t feel so alone (there is one Chinese kid in the expat school and one other brown kid) and I still have a hope that he will grow up thinking of himself as leader-material and not the worker-bee, the number-cruncher, the computer nerd who works 12 hrs, the side-kick to his more charismatic white-guy leader who works 5 hrs but is smart and knows how to reel the investors in. So I need to teach exec-ed (for the money, for my son, and also because, really, how can I back down and slink away like a scared little girl). And in the department there is a dire need for exec-ed teachers, and I am now the most senior among the possible candidates, but to teach exec-ed, a prerequisite is a penis, white skin is a plus, and volunteering myself is yet another throw-myself-against-the-great-wall-of-china, and I can feel the department’s thoughts as clearly as I can read the pages of a book – “why can’t this little brown woman not embarrass herself by pushing herself forward so crassly and really, who are we kidding here, executives are going to laugh at all of us if we send this little brown twit from some piss-poor country to teach – she looks like she is about 20 years old!” But I was brought up to battle goliaths, and so I ask about exec-ed, and the department head says, with remarkable restraint, I later thought, that exec-ed teaching is for seniors. There is a brief pause while everyone else looks away from my embarrassment, and then the conversation moves on as if I’d never interrupted the steady smooth ebb and flow.



Hello, World

So a while ago I decided that I should start a feminist/critical sociological blog and shared the idea with a group of my beloved sociologist friends.  I received loving support from all of them and Bodhi and Unamerican even started writing blog entries, powerful and moving words. Then I don’t know how to move forward. The thought that my ideas might actually become something, even just more ideas on the Internet, is strange, and strangely paralyzing. What if people who read it get offended? What if we are tracked down by our employers? What if I encourage my friends to charge at all these tall, thick, and cold walls and in the end just break our own heads and bones? What if I am being naïve and unfair when I got angry for the world being fucked up? What if I am just being a bitch?

Then I remember that it is exactly these fearful thoughts that took me here: the moment when my friend commented on a neighborhood being “bad” because it’s not majority white and I did not say anything; the confusion of whether I should feel offended when my English was complimented; the ambivalent feelings toward all the people that I respect and love with my whole heart thriving in systems that I find unjust and corrupted; the exhaustion of over thinking the implication of each and every word and action by myself and by others ; the anger toward myself for always being angry. Small, uncomplicated, insignificant moments that build up and lead me to decide that I need support and companionship in fighting the battle.

Maybe sociology HAS ruined us all as it takes away our ability to take everything for granted, suck it up and make peace with it. Now that we have been ruined for good, maybe it’s time to do some damage to the world as it is.

So here we are, with love and solidarity, and once in a while, rage.