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.