Final Presentation Day

For those who wonder how racism and sexism work in academia (Yes. There are many such who think this. One of my colleagues, a Polish guy, a white one with a feminist wife, a liberal-progressive with Marx and Foucault to cite….all this and the firm belief that education is the one place where race-sex-class don’t matter). For all such friends, let me give you a snapshot, a freeze frame, selected moments of my day:

Final group presentations are today and the next group should be good – it has my three most engaged students, the ones who sit in front every 8 am class, Julie, Carla, and Tarun-the-Indian-IIM-guy-with-kind-eyes; the fourth is less-known, a Jonas. I don’t remember him in class except for once when he sat in the back and said many things. So this Jonas, this little-known one, goes in and out of class while the previous group is presenting, picking up and dropping off what looks like a fancy suit. It’s rude and against class rules but I let it go for now. Then it is their turn, and in walks Jonas in the fancy suit playing the role of Jean-Messier, the swaggering ex-boss of Vivendi who bought this water business to its knees with acquisitions left and right. So our Jonas/Jean-Messier toots his horn and says he will turn things around, and waves in Julliet-Carla-Tarun, and then sits back and gives them leave to start. Varun has 6 slides of analysis into each of Vivendi’s many wrong-headed moves with many numbers and figures, and Jonas/Jean-Messier doesn’t have time for this plodding Indian, and interrupts “Get to the point Man, I don’t have all day.” So Varun wraps up with facts summarized-simplified, and then Juliette and Caroline, pretty and dressed-up, gesture and laugh and wake the audience up again, adding lightness and giggles, and then hand over to the seated Jean-Messier, who gives the two-line summary of all that has gone before.

These scenes play out before me – all of us, actors on a stage, playing out our given roles – the good Asian worker bee, plodding but sure and necessary, the pretty wallpaper white women, light and inconsequential, and of course, the boss – the one who just needs to show up in white skin and a suit. Over and over, unthinking, sleep-walking, like some horror-comedy-zombie-movie come alive. Would Tarun have got away with playing Jean-Messier who-does-no-work but has “leadership qualities”? Would my smart young women have? And yet, they are in earnest – these three my hard-working students, playing their God-given roles to perfection with no quibbles, no angry foul-smelling protests tearing up the perfect rhythm of this pointless play.

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