Here is my most recent op-ed piece published in “Inside Higher Ed.”
A Checklist to Determine if you are supporting white supremacy
For faculty of color, women and particularly those scholars who are outspoken about dismantling the master narratives of white supremacy within our colleges and universities, playing by the rules is neither an option, nor an obligation. It is, in fact, a terrible burden. A burden to allow an oppressive system breathing down our necks, while we continue to work within institutions that treat us as mere bodies representing “diversity” or what Patti Duncan has called “Hot Commodities, Cheap Labor: Women of Color in the Academy.”
My own cathartic moment arrived when I was able to write about my experience and those of other postcolonial scholars in my book, The Postcolonial Citizen: The Intellectual Migrant in a chapter titled as “Threatening Bodies, Dangerous Knowledge, Legal Interventions.” It was 2001. The problem of exclusions and a lack of “due process” experienced by various postcolonial scholars were widespread.
After many years and many battles, and after much thought, I have created a list of qualities and attributes of those that overtly or covertly support or contribute to a culture of mundane and everyday white supremacy within our institutions. Such mundane acts manifest themselves in who is hired, who is tenured and promoted, whose scholarship is de(valued), who receives the campus awards for teaching and service, whose voice is heard, whose ideas are policed, who is tone-policed, and who is called out as not being “civil”– a coded word for speaking against the status quo of white privilege.
Participating in acts that enable white supremacist structures to exist obstructs the social justice and anti-racist work that many of us are trained to do within the academy. We are marked as “trouble makers” when in truth we are “trouble identifiers.”
Here is then a list of 15 “troubles” that I have identified to help others in academe recognize your un(conscious) contributions to white supremacy:
1. You work in a position of power in a predominantly white institution, and while you claim to be working for social justice, you do nothing to change the white supremacist power structures within your departments, committees and institutional decision-making process.
2. When your colleagues who are marginalized complain to you about their “oppressive” work conditions, you think that they are difficult.
3. When your colleagues and students claim that they experienced micro-aggressions, your response is “I am so sorry. This is unbelievable!”
4. When you are asked to nominate your students and faculty colleagues for awards or leadership positions, your first instinct is to nominate those that are “stellar” (mostly men) and obviously “white.” It doesn’t occur to you that you are implicitly supporting a logic of meritocracy that is built on this racist assumption that everyone has had the same access and opportunities.
5. When it comes to understanding your own white privilege, you get very angry if a faculty member of color points out to you where and how your privilege is operating. You deem such critiques as “uncivil” and as not supporting a collegial environment.
6. You are aware of the many wrongs that you see your institution is doing to your marginal faculty and students, and while you sympathize with people of color and marginal students and faculty members behind your closed door, you never openly confront your institution.
7. When a professor of color stands up in your faculty meetings and expresses their frustrations about inequity, you go to your trusted colleagues (the next day) and ask, “Why is s/he or them always so angry?”
8. When you are on a hiring committee, you think that the writing samples by your white candidates of choice are stellar, while what is “stellar” about the candidates of color is, of course, their ethnicity.
9. You never fail to articulate publicly your commitment for increasing diversity within your institution, but when on a hiring committee you express your strong hesitance to let go of your stellar candidate in exchange for a candidate who you perceive as only adding to your institution’s diversity mission.
10. When people of color (faculty members and students) complain to you about discrimination and racism, you actively discourage them to report their cases, and often try to convince them that “it must be a misunderstanding.”
11. You think of yourself as an ally to your faculty of color colleagues, but cannot understand why your white students are so upset when professors of color teach and critique sites of white privilege.
12. In your institutional reviews for tenure and promotion cases, you advise and critique your faculty of color colleagues to be more sensitive and mindful in respecting the viewpoint of our students. By “our” you really mean “our white students.”
13. You benefit so much from the system that you have decided to stay out of all of this “identity politics.”
14. You have never thought of yourself as an ally to any of the causes of faculty of color and you never have any time to go to any events that they and other marginal folks have organized (where they express their everyday struggles). But you will happily go to an event if Ta-Nehisi Coates is speaking in town.
15. Claudia Rankine, Frantz Fanon, Aimé Césaire and Teju Cole’s “The White Savior Industrial Complex” — all rubs you the wrong way.
If you have made it to this point, you are probably feeling quite hypervisible, or fragile and have decided to have some hot chamomile tea from a cup that reads, “White Tears” or “Black Lives Matter.”
Dear Tone Policing Colleagues
Tone policing is a tactic
Tone policing is a tool
Tone policing is a symptom
Tone policing is a diagnosis
Tone policing is a digression
Tone policing is a fear
Tone policing is harassment
Tone policing is a privilege
Tone policing is a policy
Tone policing is a threat
Tone policing is a result
Tone policing is gaslighting
Tone policing is a tactic for silencing us
Tone policing is a tool to keep us in place
Tone policing is a symptom of your anxiety, white crumbling fragility
Tone policing is a diagnosis of your alienation
Tone policing is a digression from real conversations
Tone policing is a fear of our voice, our ideas, your change
Tone policing is fear of your fear
Tone policing is a harassment of our thoughts
Tone policing is a slowly slipping privilege you are holding on to
Tone policing is a policy on your terms, not ours
Tone policing is a threat to your status quo
Tone policing is a result of your power no longer here
Tone policing is gaslighting
Tone policing is anti debates Tone policing is anti-intellectual
Tone policing is anti-reason Tone policing is harassment
Tone policing is racist Tone policing is sexist
Tone policing is anti-feminist Tone policing is homophobic and queerphobic
Tone policing is uncivil Tone policing should be banned
Tone policing is gaslighting
I was fired from my first tenure track job. That was 2002. February.
A month after the Twin Towers crumbled, my first tenure track job, a job that I had only been in for about 2 months also began to crumble. I had received a hate letter in my university mailbox, written on a departmental letterhead, sealed in an envelope asking me to leave.
So I shared the letter with my department chair (who was also a faculty of color). Upon seeing my letter she shared with me that she had been receiving cut outs of job postings from The Chronicle of Higher Education in her mailbox ever since she had joined the department. “Women and minorities encouraged to apply” was often highlighted.
So I took my hate letter and shared it with the Dean of Liberal Arts and requested that an investigation be conducted. Given that there were threats in the letter, I also requested that the locks in my office be changed.
Needless to say, nothing happened. It was already December.
So I asked the Dean if I should contact the FBI and have them investigate the matter. After all, receiving hate mails on stamped departmental letterheads is a federal crime.
Upon hearing this, within two weeks, the department put an ad-hoc committee together and did not renew my contract for the following year. My department chair was not on board. Later, the Dean removed my department chair from her “chair” position without following any due process.
I came back to a safe space.
I moved on.
I learned what happens when you complain.
I learned what happens when you are untenured and complain.
I learned what happens when you are a woman of color and complain.
I learned that universities are not always obligated to follow “due process.”
I learned that they are powerful enough to get away.
I learned that I had the potential to be a damn good lawyer.
But I just did not leave. I filed a grievance against the department.
I learned a lot about my constitutional protections, EEOC procedures, AAUP guidelines and academic freedom and “due process” as spelled out in faculty handbooks.
In my grievance hearing a colleague that had left a couple years ago testified. In his testimony he named the colleagues from within the department that could have written my “hate letter.”
I learned that this was the regular practice of the old guards to threaten faculty who they deemed progressive.
I learned that some of them were active supporters of the KKK.
And then this colleague that testified said something quite remarkable to me:
“Being fired is probably the best thing that could have happened to you. You get to leave. Only the healthy ones gets to leave this place. The rest stay and become a part of the cancer.”
Years later, I ran into an old colleague (who had also left by then). She told me that six more junior faculty left. ALL of the faculty of color left. She told me that as a result of my grievance the university investigated the department and named it as one of the most dysfunctional departments on campus.
The department, however, did not think that they had any problems.
Five years passed by. By then I had landed another tenure track job in another institution. I was happy. My new colleagues were nothing like my old colleagues. They knew my past. They knew my story. They thought I was brave.
I received tenure in 2007. I was finally ready to throw away my entire file that contained all that grievance materials. It was like an encyclopedia. It was toxic. I wanted to burn it.
So before I threw it away, I took one last look at these pages that contained my past, my scars, their audacity, their power, their capacity for abuse. My eyes finally rested on a page that contained a brief email from the Dean. In that email he had written to me that he did not find that there was reasonable cause to prompt an investigation about the hate letter I had received.
I wanted to know if this Dean was still the Dean. So I googled him.
What I found was an obituary. I learned that the Dean and his wife were taking a vacation in the Bahamas and he had drowned.
After all those years I was finally able to throw away my grievance file. I was saved.
via On Being Uncivil
“On Being Uncivil”
Sometimes, you must raise your voice.
It is the only way to be heard
when they will not listen to you otherwise.
Sometimes, you have to tell the truth.
It is the only way to be true to yourself
when they are all telling you
“you must lie if you want to succeed.”
Sometimes, you have to be angry.
It is the only way to release the seeds of justice
when they want to normalize
injustice as justice.
Sometimes, you have to be betrayed.
For this is the only way you will know your allies
as those that will betray you
will have their face painted by guilt
Sometimes you must file a complaint.
This is the only way you will make a record
of your abuses and abusers,
their clandestine investigations
for the world to see.
And sometimes, you must leave and leave behind
those that made you sick. Very sick.
It is only the healthy, the brave,
the ones with dignity and self love,
the ones that will not want to be erased
from the history of being silenced
can set themselves free.
From Their grips
That You Disallow/ed.
A History of Anger: Theirs. Not Yours
If you are like me, a faculty of color teaching in a lily-white private liberal arts college, then there is a good chance that my story is also your story.
Let me tell you then, how your gradual road from happiness to hell or fury on your campus may have unfolded. Nobody in your graduate school, even your dear advisor ever told you that this “tenure track” route is indeed a long and treacherous road. Road filled with uneven sidewalks and occasional open manholes.
And if you have made it on this track to being granted tenure, or tenure with an associate ranking and even “full professorship,” I know, we know that you have scars. Deep scars. Scars from humiliations. Scars from betrayals. Scars from simply being stepped over. Multiple times.
But you always knew your worth, although they made you doubt it from time to time. You passed all those gatekeepers who didn’t want to promote you –– not because you didn’t achieve the excellence required of your teaching or scholarship, but deep down they were angry with you. Yes, you angered them. You angered them because your students loved you. You angered them because your scholarship made you more prominent that their golden boys and girls. You angered them so much that they probably had “secret” meetings in your absence to process their rage with each other.
But you certainly didn’t know about their fragile emotional states. How could you? They were always polite to you. Always. But beneath their politeness, there was contempt. Deep contempt.
You (their token of diversity subject) must have unknowingly spoken back. Must have spoken back about their very white and Eurocentric curriculum with daffodils and clouds. If you are like me (growing up in a former British colony) you may have never ever seen a daffodil. Neither did Jamaica Kincaid. “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” said Kincaid, “became not an individual vision coolly astonishing the mind’s eye but the tyrannical order of a people, the British people, in my child’s life.”
By invoking Kincaid in your conversations you made it clear that you are not that kind of subaltern. And even worse. One day when amongst the feminists in your institution, you declared that you did not gain much from the second wave feminism. You always had a voice. You mother did too.
Then you heard from some of your trusted white allies (yes they exist) that you made your white women colleagues cry in each other’s offices, if not in each other’s arms. They were particularly shocked to hear that you did not believe in their Lean In Feminism.
The men, on the other hand could not understand your antipathy towards their beloved Wordsworth. They fumed behind closed doors. Alone.
As a result of all of these white tears shed on your behalf, or fumes released, the reality was/is, that you must have accumulated a fair number of colleagues that began to disdain you–– your guts, your mind, your words and mostly your audacity to question.
So let me take you back to that lovely fall day, sometime in August when you arrived for the first time on your “tenure track” job.
You were ready. You were happy. You knew that you were lucky.
You probably couldn’t keep track of the number of colleagues that shook hands with you, or at least conveyed to you verbally, how glad they’re at your arrival! How glad they were that you’ve joined their community!
“We sure needed some color. It’s dreary here in the cornfields,” said the soon to retire SheTheFrench professor.
You were told that this SheTheFrench professor had a dry sense of humor.
After a few months into your job you too realized that it sure was dreary. So you started looking for more colleagues of color. Well, you found only three. Three.
This is when it dawned on you that after all the meta-theorization on race and racializations and hypervisibility and erasures, and all the books and papers you had read and written in graduate school about “the discourse of invisibility and marginality” ––were all wrong. Dead wrong.
You and your three other colleagues stood out in any crowd like white teeth. White teeth that glowed when the room was full. Glowed when it was dark. Pitch dark, like tar. Bright teeth that were visible even on the dreariest days. And just like your white teeth, you three all looked alike. Hyper –Visible- Clones.
Your visibility and resemblance (although you looked nothing like Cheryl other than your hair and skin tone) made you interchangeable. Yes, by then you had met Cheryl. She was brown. She grew up in a border town near San Antonio. She was an adjunct in your building teaching in the business department.
Cheryl was you and you were Cheryl like a song. Like a merry-go-around.
And with your Cheryl you must have attended those readings sponsored by your “state of the art” and newly renovated library. Readings, where accomplished and award winning white authors and scholars (mostly men with unshaved faces and women with their short bobbed hair and knee high boots, short skirts, and Eileen Fisher linen shirts, (or khaki trousers and Keen hiking shoes) came to speak on campus about the future of our environments and the disappearing rivers and forests, bears and wolves.
And who could forget that moment when you looked around and saw just rows and rows of white people, except your colleague Cheryl (who was hiding behind the stacks, since she was only an adjunct).
This is when it struck you that it was only you two that added any strokes of brown on an overwhelmingly white canvas. You didn’t want to be a part of that painting any longer.
What Is Next?:
Hit with this realization that there may be some serious issues with under-representation on your campus, you must have walked to one of your colleague’s office and asked, “Does the college have any plans to hire more faculty of color? How about strategies for increasing students of color?”
This is when you heard a deep and concerned voice leaning back against his chair and telling you, “Well we are in the middle of these cornfields or mountains, or vineyards. Faculty of color does not want to come here. I don’t think they will be happy here.”
You wondered if HeTheAnthropologist knew what made faculty of color so unhappy?
This was followed by more shocking revelations by a few other well meaning colleagues that you had the pleasure of knowing by the virtue of working on a few committees with them. “Increasing students of color will make work too difficult for us. They may not be ready to come here,” said SheTheHistory professor. Then you overheard, SheTheMedievalist whispering, “Faculty of color are too demanding.”
You stood there in the fish bowl, or perhaps sat down. Like some ghost, your presence was invisible to them. It became obvious to you that the Emancipation and Proclamation Act of 1963 may not have arrived on your campus. It was 2007. Or may be 2008.
The next day you did something bold, or rather subversive. You slipped under each of their doors an article or two from the Chronicle of Higher Education about the pitfalls of a campus that lacks diversity. You emailed the director of the library and asked her to get a copy of White Privilege: Essential Readings on the Other Side of Racism edited by Paula S Rothenberg.
That evening tired and exhausted you came back home. Read for the next day. Graded. Then you picked up from your bookshelf something that you had not read for a while. This Bridge Called My Back. You could barely keep your eyes open anymore, but still had to read Mitsuye Yamada’s words like a prayer:
We need to raise our voices a little more, even as they say to us “This is so uncharacteristic of you.” To finally recognize our own invisibility is to finally be on the path towards visibility. Invisibility is not a natural state for anyone.