Monday, August 20, 2007


Since yesterday's post was about racial paranoia, I thought that I should reflect on some more positive aspects of race awareness, namely the many allies I have found in my years working on race issues. And I don't just mean other Asian American academics or people of color--I mean white allies. It's easy for me to forget how race is not a barometer for progressive thinking when I'm in the grip of racial paranoia--when I assume that just because I'm the only person of color in the room I will face misunderstanding or non-like minded people. But the truth is, I have found myself listening to some pretty racist stuff from people of color (I suppose an asterisk should be placed on whether or not people of color can be racist--a topic for tomorrow's post perhaps) and some extremely radical thought and action on race coming from white academics/activists.

I am specifically reminded of this after reading a post in Sociologist CN Le's blog (which I like VERY MUCH and would encourage everyone to check out--it's listed under "Blogs I like" in the sidebar) under his posting about "Job Satisfaction Among College Faculty." The article he cites is from Inside Higher Ed (click here for the article) and basically both Le and the article point to the issues that junior faculty of color and female junior faculty face with support at the department level. Universities have all sorts of diversity protocols and guidelines in place, but in terms of actual mentorship and real support, oftentimes women and faculty of color do not find themselves adequately supported in their march towards tenure.

And while I agree with both Le and the article, I also realize that I have been fortunate enough to be in a VERY supportive department. People have gone out of their way to be generous with me--taking me to lunch, showing me around campus, telling me about research opportunities, reading through fellowship materials, offering me advice about my career and my scholarship. And even outside my department, I have met so many wonderful people--and truly, as is evidenced by my post from yesterday, my racial radar is always tuned to the highest frequency, but with very few exceptions, I have to say that Southern U is a place where I absolutely feel supported and welcomed and valued -- and that the really tricky balancing act that has been accomplished is that people recognize and value the diversity factor that I bring (both in my research and my person) and totally ignore it. It's like that Pat Parker poem, "To the white woman who wants to know how to be my friend...the first thing you should do is forget I am black. The second thing you should do is never forget that I'm black" (I'm loosely paraphrasing). In other words, the tricky thing when you are a person of color who works on race in a largely white department, is that you want your colleagues to recognize that you are bringing something new to the table that is valued -- that you are adding diversity in many ways. But you also want to be treated just like the junior faculty in Shakespeare Studies or Antebellum Lit.

I know, from the article and from anecdotal evidence from friends, that not everyone has been as fortunate. That there are real institutional barriers in place at many schools that prevent junior faculty from feeling part of the community, whether due to issues of race or gender (or sexuality for that matter). Which is why it IS important that we recognize that there are subtle forms of privilege that exist all the time, which is why I think I do feel bouts of racial paranoia and hypochondria.

Anyway, I wouldn't be here without the many allies, of color and not. And truthfully, it is the white allies in my life, especially the fierce white female academics who were such wonderful role models for me at the many universities I've studied/taught at, who have really been inspirational for me--women who study race, class, gender, and sexuality TOGETHER, showing the many intersections of these identity vectors. So here's just a little note of appreciation to the many people who have mentored me throughout the years. THANK YOU!


Lisa Movius said...

I feel like there are two perspectives on rights issues. One is a paradigm of power, which is zero sum, the more Team Other has, the less power I have. The other is of humanism, which holds that we all win together or lose together, and what dehumanises one denigrates all.

I became a feminist when I was nine after reading about the suffragettes. I became a proto anti-racist as a teen after realizing that my PoC friends dealt with shit very parallel to what I did as a woman - and because I began to pay critical attention to the things my conservative white family said about non-WASPS (as well as women). While I've long been pro gay rights, it was only the past five years, late 20s/early 30s, due to having several close gay friends, that I've overcome my initial homophobia. It was a learning curve.

I don't feel that being an ally should require thanks. It is something that ought to be. It is the golden rule. I want to be a person, gender/race/sexuality irregardless, so I should respect others as people, gender/race/sexuality irregardless.

As a Caucasian in China, I get a daily heap of racial slurs and harassment that I mostly cannot be bothered to call out. But, when a Chinese friend gets offended on my behalf, gives the name-caller a drubbing. Very appreciated. But, they don't do it for me, they do it for our shared human dignity.

I try to do likewise.

Jennifer said...

Thanks for your comment--I would imagine that you do face a fair amount of criticism/discriminatory remarks as a white woman in China--I certainly don't think that the U.S. is the only place where racial discrimination and institutional forces or racism (or sexism/homophobia for that matter) occur. As I tell my students, talking about racism in my classes is generally confined to a U.S. context because that's the context I know best from both an experiential as well as research perspective.

I do like your point about humanism--I think my own fear and experience with a discourse of humanism is that some folks (and I'm not saying you AT ALL) use it as a way of ignoring the partiuclar history of racism/sexism/homophobia that has gone before--that they use an idea of humanism and human rights to argue from a neo-conservative position of equal playing field.

I do think that we need to move towards not just talking about humanism but practising a humanism that takes into account a history of institutional discrimination that is still entrenched in U.S. society. How do we do this is, I suppose, the million dollar question.

It does make me feel heartened to know you are someone who seems to be actively working on this issue--so I suppose I should take the glass-half full attitude.

At any rate, thanks so much for stopping by and I hope you leave future comments!