Thursday, January 17, 2008

I feel privileged

There are moments when I am amazed, really absolutely amazed, at my life. I was at a meeting recently where we had to go around the room and talk about our "professional autobiographies"--how did we get to be where we're at, academically speaking. And like many people, I never thought I'd be a university professor. My parents, themselves, never went to college. The stakes of getting into a PhD program, finishing, and landing a tenure track job are just SO HIGH that I really am in awe of how I ended up at Southern U. And the fact that I feel passionate about what I do--about the novels I teach and research and the topic of race in America, just adds a cherry to the top of my sundae.

So all in all, I feel privileged.

I was reminded of this feeling last night when sitting around a dinner table with some pretty high caliber folk. Because I want to remain pseudonymous and because such things are confidential, I will only say that at one point, as we're having this lively dinner conversation about how to make the Humanities matter and how to make what we do in the ivory tower more accessible to spheres outside--and the question of knowledge production versus dissemination (are they the same? what counts as good knowledge?) I really just felt privileged, both in the sense of being honored to be part of this conversation but also privileged in having access to being invited to such a dinner, to having my voice heard and my opinions considered.

And it's really about access. And about who feels like they get to take part in the conversation. And language. Who has the language to be part of this conversation. We were, for the most part, a bunch of liberal academics with strong social justice agendas, either in our personal politics or professional lives (or both). I actually disclosed that I "blogged" and that I'm doing this, in part, to try to have conversations with people about race whom I wouldn't normally have conversations--both because I can't possibly be flying to Canada and Oregon and California and all the other places where people who comment live. But also because, in my day to day life, my friends and my co-workers are mostly like me--PhD holders, liberal-progressive, and immersed in life in a university.

So this blog was partly a way for me to practice what I preach--to try to really talk to people about race where it's not just preaching to the choir. And to really have conversations with people about race where we can agree to disagree and try out ideas and be uncomfortable but also to be respectful and to create knowledge, together.

I've often wondered who is reading this blog--especially since I added the nifty map of the world which shows you where readers are coming from (although I know very well that google searches probably account for 80% or more of the traffic, which means it's people accidently clicking on). So if you've never left a comment, here's your chance, just to say why you are reading this blog or even if you just came across it by happenstance. But really, what I want to acknowledge is the kind of privilege I have--to be able to think about race in America, to research mixed-race issues, and to have the time to blog about such things. Because I've had some great conversations with people and have really appreciated all the comments I've gotten, I think especially when they've pricked me, because as a wise person once said, getting people angry and upset doesn't mean there isn't knowledge going on, it means that you've pushed someone's buttons to the point where you are making them think.


atlasien said...

Delurking... I've just been reading your blog for a few weeks now. I have a personal blog and also guest blog over at Rachel's Tavern.

In short, I'm a member of the choir, multiracial, PhD candidate dropout.

The Constructivist said...

Hey, Jennifer, I've been reading here off and on for a few months, after I think it was Tenured Radical who recommended your blog. You and your readers may be interested in my students' posts at American Identities.

baby221 said...

getting people angry and upset doesn't mean there isn't knowledge going on, it means that you've pushed someone's buttons to the point where you are making them think.

Heh. We call those "learning edges" in my classes. :)

But yeah, it's always good to remember the ways in which you can be privileged -- the ways in which you can therefore be an ally to the oppressed -- in addition to working to end your own oppression(s). I have to constantly remind myself that as a (temporarily) able-bodied person I don't get to decide what kinds of dis/abilities are or are not living with, or how best to treat them, which has come up in class not a few times and in other places around the blogosphere (*cough* kactus' piece on feministe about depression *cough*). And I have to remind myself that even though I'm on the lower end of things, I'm still middle-class and all the privilege that entails. I had a moment the other day at trader joe's when I was fretting over whether to buy organic grass-fed beef (to sustain the environment and try to eat cruelty-free meat) or just organic beef (a difference of about a buck a pound, it looked like) -- and it just hit me that this was such a privileged moment, because there are totally people out there who aren't wondering what to eat so much as whether they're going to eat, and then I felt like an asshole (and bought the plain ol' organic meat). It's so easy to forget our agent identities, to forget that we're as much a part of the web of oppression as anyone else. I particularly fall prey to that kind of thinking because I like feeling self-righteous (I grew up Catholic, what can I say), so it's doubly important for me to remember that there are other issues I could and should address, other places I can help out, reach out, etc.

But so far as your blog audience is concerned ... yeah, I'm a member of that choir. Singing loudly and off-key, but definitely present ^_^

multitodd said...

Short time lurker here. I'm a PhD student in history. (You thought you might escape the liberal-progressive academics by blogging?) I'm also straight white male. Currently residing in TX.

I don't know which blog led me here. My wife and I are in the process of adopting transracially. As a beneficiary of nearly all the best privileges society has to offer, I did not feel sufficiently socialized to recognize the more subtle racism out there. I'm working on it. Thank you for your blog.

Jennifer said...

To everyone who left comments on this post (two of whom identified as member of the choir :) ) thanks for de-lurking and letting me know a little bit about you. I had actually figured, from the comments I was getting, that many of the people reading this blog are fellow travelers and like-minded folk on issues of race. Although even among the choir there are always differences and points of disagreement.

At any rate, as much as I say I don't just want to preach to the choir, the truth is, what congregation would survive without a choir???!!! After all, I'm not logging into conservative sites and trying to "dialogue" there--mostly because I haven't found one that hasn't shocked me with its (in my opinion) uber-conservative point of view and un-civil language. I found one about the upcoming election and the things that were said about Clinton, Obama, and Edwards were disturbing, and I don't just mean the racism and sexism and homophobia, but the general tenor of unkindness--of sheer and naked hostility.

And that's what I mean about this work being so tiring--it can be tiring to try to talk to someone whose opinions and perspectives are so different from your own and to try to find common ground while maintaining civility and respect.

So thanks for reading and especially for commenting!

Eastern Reflections said...

I was going to leave a comment on your most latest post...I stumbled upon your site and I am slowly reading through it from start to finish. I'm a mixed (white/Hispanic) 25 year old female that's interested in learning more about mixed-race issues.

Jennifer said...

Eastern Reflections,
Thanks for finding your way to my blog! And thanks for all your comments--I've seen that you've posted a few to other entries. I may not comment on all your comments (I have a really bad head cold right now and am trying to take it easy) but I really appreciate the thoughtfulness of your observations and look forward to a dialogue soon.