In the talk with Tressie McMillan Cottom & Carla Shedd, it was truly the very, very end that resonated with me. It has only been this semester, after 2 and a half years of college, that I have had the pleasure of having a Black Woman professor as a mentor for a fellowship:
Let alone never having one as a professor in the classroom.
When the fellowship requirements made clear that I would need to have a full-time faculty “mentor” on the books, my mind started to take inventory of all the professors I have made contact with over the last year or so. But after filtering through dozens of professors — some of them exceptional and with heavy impact on my life — as if from outer space, a thought occurred to ask the Black Woman Professor that had helped me navigate applying for the fellowship and was the acting director of it, to be my mentor, and to my joy she accepted.
When I asked her to be my mentor, we had a total of 2 or 3 prior zoom calls and no in-class history. Her field of was American Black history — mine is 20th century African decolonial theory, perhaps close enough but not a love connection. So why had I chosen her? It was because she was a Black Woman (and nice enough), and I let her know straight up. The Black Woman, just like Dr. Cottom spoke about: so marginalized in academia but at once able to unsettle a room and ground a conversation.
So voiceless in public spaces, but at once a voice of reason, nurture and protection. I just wanted a Black Woman, just like my mother, by my side — but in this case helping me navigate an academic world that is disheartening, frustrating and performative.
I have had a pattern making itself clear in regards to white women — specifically older white women — in academic spaces. It would suffice to say that we, in fact, don’t jive. I sent a text to a friend, in regard to an older white woman professor demanding that I turn my camera on:
Every old ass white lady i’ve ever met is always trying to boss me around and shit
shit is starting to irritate me
It was cute at first
But now I’m starting to have a problem
Now, the ask might seem minuscule, but it’s the principle and the pattern.
It’s the passive-aggressiveness.
It’s the pimping out of BIPOC struggle by white women — a historical phenomenon.
It’s the being told that I’m too aggressive by a white woman.
It’s the comment on my paper that I wrote “too colloquial” by a white woman, when in fact, I can dance circles around grammar and syntax, but choose to make my writing accessible and not full of it.
It’s the being told to dress differently by a white woman.
Yes, it’s the navigating the academic world as a Woman. as a Black Woman. as a half-Hispanic Woman. as a Woman with tattoos. as a Woman with a lot to say. as Woman who has been militant-ized by the writings of Fanon or Rodney. as a Woman who has never had a Black Woman as a professor, the whole time I’ve been in college.
Yes, it’s me refusing to lose my identity to work in an academia male, pale and stale. It’s me refusing to be the yes-woman that Black Women are programmed to be, kept in check by white women. So yes, I chose a professor the same reason why half the population voted for Obama — because she’s Black.
So, of course I want to see more Black Women — the most educated of the American population — to be on tenure-track and high level administration. But we should not put these burdens on the shoulders of Black Women, to be protectors or guiders. It is up to the student population to make their voices heard, to say no to code-switching, to stand-up in the face of conformity towards an outdated political and educational system.
But in the meantime, it feels good, real good to have my mentor.