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Black Feminism in the Academy

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Jaymie Sampa

on 10 May 2014

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Transcript of Black Feminism in the Academy

The Experience
Wane's Call:
Arya's Call:
To African Canadian women to research, publish and write works that we use in classrooms. By writing and researching on issues that speak to Black people and their communities we recognize and acknowledge the works and contributions of our mothers and grandmothers, our elders and teachers. In addition to that it is important to design courses that examine issues pertaining to African Canadian women writings.

When we use them in the academy, we contribute to our knowledge base and create a critical alternative theory!

Lives in the realms of pedagogy and decolonization of the institution. This includes:
> Teaching histories of oppression and colonization
> Diversifying the curriculum

"In order for Black feminism to be assimilated into scholarship more widely, it needs to make the transition from being read as fictional works that convey individual and collective biographies to being regarded as expounding political account of oppression." (569)
Safe Spaces
Knowing Academic Culture and its Expectations
Mentorship & Relationships
Sweeping Themes
March. 25, 2014
Carving out Critical Space: African-Canadian Women and the Academy by Njoki Nathani Wane
under representation

Sentiments of...
Lack of
Beatrice Anane-Bediakoh
Jaymie Sampa
Questions? Comments?
Thank you!
HSSSJ 1989H: Black Feminist Thought
Black Feminism and the Academy
Black +
Female +
In the academy...
The literature on this topic consistently notes:
Tenured Professors

Teaching Positions

Student Body

Administrative Positions
Black Feminism in the Academy: Equality, Diversity and Inclusion by Rina Arya
Carving out Critical Space: African-Canadian Women and the Academy by Njoki Wane
Lack of
Black Feminism in the Academy: Equality, Diversity and Inclusion by Rina Arya
African-Canadian Women in the Academy
Wane introduces her piece by acknowledging the transformation within the academy that has increased the representation of people of colour, gay, lesbian and white women. At the forefront of these movements have been traditionally marginalized groups that have demonstrated how the educational system is locked into a Eurocentric paradigm, not only in terms of focus but in terms of heritage, methodologies and conceptual structures (177)

Wane addresses how Women’s studies, gender, ethnic and anti- racist studies have made great strides in integrating the realities and issues of marginalized groups painting a fuller picture of how society functions. The task of excavating and validating the knowledge of traditionally muted subjects is no easy task.

For knowledge to be considered legitimate, it must be approved by the ruling class which is constructed through the
hegemony of white males
who set the bar for what is considered and or constituted as
valid knowledge
in our society.

Wane locates hegemony within the
“community of experts”—
which is in constant action of refuting and suppressing

'the Other'
Community of Experts
Subjugated Knowledge
has the power to define another’s credibility or lack thereof despite theoretical constructs
knowledge produced by marginalized groups and placed low on the hierarchy—far away from mainstream society –posed as non-threatening

Value & Credibility
But Why?

Reasons cited as linked to the current reality for Black female scholars include:

o Explicit marginalization
o Barriers to promotion
o Chilly climate
o Constant negotiation of legitimacy
o Exclusion from the curriculum

The exclusion of African-Canadian women scholars in mainstream academic discourse, reveals how potent Euro-patriarchal knowledge production is.

Feminist scholarship, however has demonstrated that so called 'universal object knowledge' is constructed by men for men!

Challenging this dominant group has created strife and obstacles for not only feminist scholars but scholars of colour as well.
Black women have been excluded in the academy as definers, producers and conduits of knowledge about their own realities.

Part of this exclusion is based on the misconception that for many decades “Black women writers did not exist…the black literary scene had historically been predominately male preserve... [and the] white, male dominated publishing industry hadn’t seen fit to publish the works of Black women writers” (178)

In text example: Ama Ata Aidoo who challenged her White male professor who was presenting a lecture on African literature and had not mentioned African women’s writing. When she addressed him about it he said he was sorry, but I had been so natural not to. -----it is this naturalness to omit or exclude African women writers that Black women in North American academy have struggled to reverse (178).

Challenges as a Female Writer

Toni Morrison, Author

Interesting points to explore...

My challenge as a beginning writer, was to say the opposite of what I was expected to say.

I don’t want to be an honorary white writer, or an honorary male writer.

…to really be competitive…
” Morrison sheds lilght on how this is associated with a movement away from Black female: subject matter, characters, narratives, etc.
The inclusion of Black women in academic writings are important as they provide conscious shifts placing Black women in the centre of analysis, it also privileges the voices that have always occupied the margins, provides space where misrepresentations can be corrected and where achievements of Black women can be highlighted and celebrated (179)
In North American culture, men in any profession can be powerful, assertive, ambitious and achieving. A woman’s work is often not given the same credit as a man’s; her accomplishments may be ignored or, conversely scrutinized very carefully; she may be perceived as moving too fast. For Black women, gender and race intensifies this perception.

When Black educators try to balance professional with family and community responsibility. They have a long tradition of managing these responsibilities and have done so at a great psychological and professional cost.

The costs are that they do less research and write fewer publications.

-Zainabu’s experience
Absence of collegiality

Collegiality oftentimes fosters a sense of community as well as an atmosphere of creativity in which Black women can work and foster ideas—for many this is missing from their professional experience.

Oftentimes their ideas are not valued, they are rarely invited to participate in joint sponsorship –mentoring or as co-authors. Instead the research of Black women is trivialized and devalued if it focuses on African Canadian issues.

-Rosemarie’s experience

-Why can’t Rosemarie find collegiality in the academy?

-The numbers

-Survival (“creeping survivalism”)

African Canadian women and marginalized groups have been accused of being incapable of producing interpretive, objective analytical thought that is accepted as valid theory in Western academies.

However, what is not understood is that African Canadian women cannot separate theory and practice.

Our everyday experiences inform our theory. We can analytically interrogate our lived experiences of racism, sexism and classism by examining the social, historical and economic construction of Black people as a race, and so we are in a position to come up with a theory of our oppression (184).

Counter theory is not only a weapon used against hegemonic discourses, but it provides certain kinds that are a requisite if these groups are to act effectively.

Carol Boyce Davis argues that theories then must be understood as “modes of intelligibility through which circulate in any given culture rather than a reified discourse for the privileged few” ---thus theories produced by , for and on behalf of Black women become vitally important in resisting oppression in the academy.

Question of Theory
Wane's contribution acknowledges such tensions that live within intersectional identities as well, stating:

Black feminism’s entry into the discourse of anti-racism has shown that anti-racist theory has merely put a coat of paint on the issue of Black female subordination. In speaking about sexism and racism, Black women have been charged with racial infidelity by Black male critics.

Racial infidelity as argued by Joy James accuses Black women of putting their gender before their race and inventing historical functions that serves a feminist agenda rather than an anti-racist one---however black women not only face sexism but also racism thus it cannot be separated

Thus, since mainstream and critical theories have not given priority to Black women or their scholarly weeks, African women have collectively initiated and led the discourse contributing to the recovery and analysis of the works they have produced

Wane introduces the shortcomings of critical social theories who propose to be in support of the oppressed. Despite, their seemly progressive intentions on closer examinations we can see how their frameworks often replicate hierarchical structures—can be seem in feminist theory or anti-racist theory often marginalizing Black women----bell hooks explains that social theories of difference used by intellectuals who are privileged within hierarchical powers relations of race, class and gender may operate differently than comparable theories forwarded by intellectuals emerging from the centers of opposed groups or
“outsider-within locations”

The language of critical theory mystifies rather than clarifies making it impossible to access the critical sense
Wane argues that although uncovering and reclaiming subjugated knowledge’s is one way to lay claim to alternative histories these knowledge’s need to be understood and defined pedagogically as scholarship in order to transform educational institutions—thus the goal is to decolonize disciplinary and pedagogical practices.*

*It is the responsibility of all educators, regardless of race, ethnicity, religious background or sexual orientation to engage in decolonizing the colonial idea of supremacy that was conceived centuries ago that sustains in the academy today (189).
In order to decolonize the disciplines we need to decolonize the minds of educators which details remembering how colonialism and imperialism impacted the lives of the colonizer and the colonized –decolonizing education practices requires transformation at a number of levels both within and outside the academy.

Within the academy—decolonization begins
with teachers
who then integrate these practices into what they teach and how they teach it. Examples include: sitting in a circle, teaching through storytelling, inviting non-academic scholars from the community—in essence privileging other ways of knowing and learning.
Decolonizing the classroom is not only about engaging the mind but the souls-holistic ways of education. It’s about thinking outside the hegemonic box.

Wane argues that the starting point begins with the traces of colonialism with us. She calls for an interrogation of the colonial experience. She calls us to ask ourselves whose voices, words, writings do we privilege or reproduce? Are we writing as a reaction to or o a particular moment in history that we can allude to as a starting point of anti-colonial thought?

To decolonize our minds and our institutions, we must adopt a fluid relationship between our teacher - student identities and understand that we all sit upon... -

The Knower's Chair.
Arya writes as a scholar in the UK

: "This paper aims to be a critical reflection on the author's position as a Black female academic in the academy, and comes from a motivation to raise Black consciousness about the importance of Black feminist scholarship". (556)

Study - Situates itself within her pedagogical practices in the realms of feminism and feminist theory with her students.

"My main objective is to examine the primary concerns of Black feminism and to discuss the marginalization of Black feminist scholarship in the Academy"
Waves of Feminism
Arya goes on to situate her work within the history of feminist theory and action.

Problematizing second-wave feminism

"...overlooked the effects of imperialism and colonialism, which were central concerns of Black third-wave feminism,"

Adopting third-wave feminism
"...to tackle the monolithic nature of White femiism whilst also trying to develop feminisms that were specific to racial and cultural identities.
This included Black, Latina, Native American and Asian feminist organizations." (558)

Author's Positionality:
"Although I am Asian I have chosen to define myself as "Black" throughout, where I am using the term as 'a politically and culturally constructed category'." (557)

So...'Who Takes the Cake?'
"Technically feminism is not singular but plural and multiple, where each expression sits alongside the others without any imposing mastery over any other" (560).
"It is inaccurate and antithetical to the spirit of third-wave inclusivity to view it as being diametrically opposed to second-wave feminism.

It should instead be viewed as revisionary and inclusive of different expressions of feminism." (560)
Arya (2012) also discusses WOMANISM
in situating her work stating:

"...'womanist is to feminist as purple is to lavender'. The difference between feminism and womanism is a difference in tone and degree, rather than in kind." (559)

So how does Arya's 2012 work engage with, as well as stand apart from, other literature on Black female scholarship?

> The Experience
> Intersectionality
> Decolonization
Similar to Wane, Arya(2012) notes that both 'feminism' and 'minority ethnics' have
gained currency
in the academia.

"However, what is noticeably lacking is literature on the combination of these terms: black and minority feminism in academia".(561)
Paucity of literature in this area and a tendency to "collectivise women's experience under the umbrella term 'feminism'."(561)
"The publication also conveyed the obstacles that Black feminists in the Academy faced, what Schiller describes as the

'struggle to get the recognition and respect they deserve'."

(Naomi Shiller's 2000 compilation of Black feminist scholars, Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, 119, in Arya, 2012, 562)

"The sense of split identities is common in feminist literature and is what Jody Berland describes as an "oscillation":

'This occasional, very private, sometimes empowering and sometimes extremely destablishing movement between different sense of one's place there'." (561)
"both/or" orientation
Deborah K. King
Paralleling the
orientation, it is

"the act of being simultaneously a member of a group and yet standing apart from it
(Hill Collins, in Arya, 561)

These theories manifest in
our perspectives about



> Sociological Theory coined by Crenshaw (1989) that:

"refers to the intersections between gender, race, and other categories of difference in individual lives, social practices, institutional arrangements, and cultural ideologies and the outcomes of these interactions in terms of power"(558)

> Third Wave Feminism

"Intersectionality is an important methodological tool that enables us to identify differences and multiple perspectives". (559)
> Complexity & 'Wicked' Social Problems

"As a theoretical tool intersectionality exposes the complexity of identity, something that cannot be determined by gender alone and involves other variables. It is the distinct position of dual oppression of racism and sexism that places Black feminism in a distinct position in history and in personal identity" (569)
"The struggle for liberation is often ordered, whereby racial expression precedes feminist identity...for women of colour, racial identities are often more 'salient and political' because racial identity constitutes a barrier to feminist identification" (560)
Challenges of Intersectional Identities
"In the Academy Black feminists often exhibit a split identity - at times being seen as a feminist, at other times being seen as a Black person, but very rarely being viewed holistically, as a Black feminist." (560)
As we move forward as actors
in the academy consider...
"...the end goal of feminism, which she (Hill Collins citing bell hooks) views as not simply being about the equality of the sexes but about "a commitment to eradicating the ideology of domination that permeates western culture on various levels - sex, race, class, to name a few..." (564)
The reflection and sometimes confessional nature of Black feminist writings differs from the traditional notion of scholarship that is set by male White scholarship and that is rooted in histories of imperialism and colonialism.'' (563)

"...each group have distinct epistemologies or theories of knowledge"

"The use of the personal narrative or autobiography shows the integrity of the lived experiences nd the oral traditions of storytelling in the construction of narratives."
(Arya, 2012; 563)

Different From

does not equate

Less Than
How can we engage with decolonization in praxis?
What does it look like?
What does it feel like?
What are pragmatic strategies for daily activities
Where does activism come into the equation, if at all?
"Fundamental to the exercise of self-determination is the right of peoples to construct knowledge in accordance with self-determined definitions of what is valuable and what is real."
- Marlene Brant-Castellano
- Reclaiming subjugated knowledges and ways of knowing

- Personal transformation

- Knower’s Chair
o Everyone has not only a seat but a voice that is listened to and respected.

- Histories of oppression as key to decolonizing our minds and understanding our current realities.
o Both a process for the colonizer and the colonized

As a racialized and gendered body in the academy -

What strategies have you found useful to facilitate your time in the academy and help you cope?


-Carving out Critical Space
- Student Groups & Clubs
- 'Non-academic' spaces
- Spiritual spaces
Repeatedly cited as a site for resilience,
support, guidance, and increased success and
How can we engage with decolonization in theory?
➢ Rubrics?
‘performance indicators’ (pass/fail? Grade levels, compartmentalized subject matter…etc)

➢ Teaching in circle
➢ Njoki talks about use of a candle &
➢ Outdoor teaching
➢ Movement
➢ Story-telling/oral tradition
➢ Cloth…Indigenous teachings/bundles (gifts and materials gathered along one’s life path)

Food for Thought
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