No Country (or graduate degree) for Black Feminists
In a few short months, I’ll have to make a very important decision. I’ll have to write a personal statement that shares why I want to pursue a particular course of study, and I haven’t decided on the course of study. My interests are multi-disciplinary, and they could be interdisciplinary, perhaps even should be, but some recent hashtags tell me they’re worlds apart.
Last week, #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen #BlackPowerIsForBlackMen and #HarrietTubmanSexTape trended on Twitter. In case you missed the excitement, Mikki Kendall started the first trend in response to yet another pop culture incident I know nothing about, but it expanded to a call for an end to the exclusion of women of color in mainstream feminism. A day or so later, EBONY.com editor Jamilah Lemieux created #BlackPowerIsForBlackMen. Lemieux explains, it was “aimed at intra-racial sexism and men who can talk a good game when it comes to race, but are incapable to see the oppressive and harmful impact of patriarchy on Black women.”
And wouldn’t you know, the day after Lemieux’s topic sparked wide discussion (most of which I’m catching up on 5 days later), Russell Simmons’s All Def Digital YouTube channel released a video of comedians imitating how Tubman won her freedom–by pretending she was faking her resistance all those times her master raped her and threatening to expose the affair. I haven’t seen the video–Simmons pulled it at the NAACP’S request–but other writers’ descriptions, like this one and this one, provided enough visual cues for me to get the idea and know I wouldn’t want to see it if I could.
All three of these trending topics send a signal that black women are out of place in circles where practicing identity politics isn’t welcome if you have two (or more) identities.
To make this about me, this is bad for a woman who finds Pan African Studies and Women and Gender Studies her two most appealing options at a time when she could pursue either of them without paying tuition. Though I’m at the point where I want to have a better grasp of stuff I just believe and of theories that I practice in my work as a feminist writer and in my job in social justice research, I’m afraid WGS will have me learning about more whiteness and that PAS will omit women or downplay their contributions to black history.
This should not be a concern. I should note, 80 percent of my concern is not due to anything I’ve heard about the respective departments. (I start a course called “History of U.S. Feminisms” in one week, as a non-degree-seeking student, and the plural in the title is enough to give you a clue.) It’s the known lack of intersectionality in the areas of study themselves and the continued examples of how white women and black men just don’t get or don’t care about black women.
Again, this should not be. It shouldn’t take a national social media campaign to get white feminists to see the impact of their silence when The Onion editors called Quvenzhané Wallis a “cunt.” Black men, and especially a black man who’s backed social justice causes in recent weeks, should know better than to greenlight a Harriet Tubman Sex Tape, and other black men should know better than to think this is funny.
Obviously, I need a graduate degree because I’m having trouble articulating WHY this is a problem. I lack the theoretical language and socio-cultural-historical-political context to explain to you that rape isn’t funny and that black women’s lives matter. I need the words. I need the knowledge. And if the madness causing these hashtags continues, I guess I’ll be applying for master’s degree in interdisciplinary studies to learn what I want to learn and to avoid abandoning my blackness or my womanhood in the process.
Anyone out there face a similar choice? How did you decide what to study? What was your experience in the program? Did you feel like part of you was left out of what you were studying? Share your comments, insights, etc., please!