Breathe Easy, You've Found Me ((HUGS))

People will wonder why this blog is needed, why minority midwifery student? It's very simple actually; I was looking for this blog...but I couldn't find it...so I created it. We all have unique experiences, and every experience, every story, can help someone else. I am a black girl from the hood at an ivy league professional school. That, alone, is reason enough to write. Somebody was looking for this blog. Someone wanted proof that what I'm doing can be done - even when you come from where we come from.

To that person especially, WELCOME.

Monday, February 11, 2008

A Conversation About Academia and Ways of Knowing

Ok. So. A couple days ago I had a post called "Facing the Possibility of Impeded Progress" in which I indirectly identified myself as an "academic" by way of saying "so am I...there's no separating myself from them."

Darkdaughta commented the following on that post:

I read this a few days ago but I didn't comment immediately.

It's good that you've got the support you've been after to do the work you want to do.

Simultaneously...
My mind is fairly exploding with all the wimmin I've encountered and heard about and had conversations with Ophelia about who were/are Black academics who pushed up against the structure of things and did not get the support they deserved.

These are older wimmin, seasoned, clear, accomplished, highly intelligent, extremely adept at navigating the halls of the ivory tower who did not come seeking validation, just clear space to continue with their work.

These were also wimmin who questioned and adgitated.

I realized the last time I really spoke about the academy in one of my comments here on this blog was when Navelgazer came and wrote in a very oblique way that I was being negative. :)

Loving Pecola...
I support your work. How could I not support a Black midwife. Elemental, basic, crucial, pivotal, strategic...

I don't support the academy or the sorts of power, hoarding, resistance gentrifying games academics are taught, encouraged, payed to play.

You know what I think about the biggies deciding to support your studies...
You are understood as strategic, as necessary, as mouthy yet intelligent, probably respectful enough of the power structure that those who support you understand that with a little support you will find your place among them with ease. Perhaps if they give validation, support and safe passage, eventually you will decided to stop questioning the structure and the way of things too stringently...perhaps you will decide to reinvest and support the structure that decided to support you.

Otherwise they wouldn't be supporting you to explore and to pose questions...within a particular framework...questions they haven't wanted to have asked or answered in the very same classes you are taking where you rail against the absence of so much you intuitively understand should be there, should be offered.

You are useful to them. You will be more useful as time goes on if they can ensure that you identify with them and through them with the structure they support.

sigh...
I was thinking about you clearly locating yourself among them as "an academic". I wondered about all what lay behind and beyond those words, that identification.

Instead of taking up more space here, I decided to write something over at my place. Hope you'll come visit and read when you can.

darkdaughta

So, of course, I went over to read what she wrote, and here it is pasted below:
Loving Pecola, I've got a question...

Loving Pecola, I've been thinking about the post you wrote where you described yourself as "an academic". I felt a little sad...but also curious.


I felt sad because the existence of the university complex as a corporate, oppressive, power and hierarchical structure designed to crush individuality, dissidence and creativitymakes it difficult to understand myself as allied with people who identify as academics, meaning a large part of how they understand themselves as human beings in the world, as useful in the world, as necessary in the world flows directly from their location in that diseased corporate entity known as the university.

In blogland, I've actually attempted to avoid the blogs of people whose blogland descriptors or even the names of their blogs resonate with an over-identification with the university complex.

So when you wrote about being "an academic" I wondered how you were planning on disturbing your relationship to this super structure? I wondered how you would concede, where and why? I wondered what this would mean for possible alliances with human beings like me, educated, intelligent, inquisitive...
People invested in the free distribution of knowledge as a way to flatten hiearchies rather than maintain them...which is what the university complex teaches academics to do (and to erase with bodies of knowledge they define as radical and defiant).

How do you understand alliance with someone who understands the university complex as enemy?

I realize, I've encountered many bloggers located inside the academy either as students or as those who teach...
I've encountered many people who identify with the academy who have come here...
I realize that as I've welcomed them, I've simultaneously felt a pang of impending separation...the parting of ways...
I realize that I've never asked them who they understood themselves to be, what they understood a resistance politic could look like inside the belly of the beest...
Mostly, I've just given them space...
Watched them come, stay or go...

I think your post was the last heartbreaking straw for me.

I had to ask...
Had to ask to give voice to my trepidation...
Had to ask if I was going to hear rather than invent or project your answer...

This is what came to me today, from another "academic"...
I really don't trust academics even when they attempt to deconstruct their home turfs.

The only ones I've ever really trusted have been those people who haven't been allowed or able to find safe harbour there, who haven't been welcomed, who haven't been supported, who couldn't stay without speaking openly, regularly and fully...and then of course being made to feel intensely uncomfortable, barred from studying or teaching for the threat they posed.

Nonetheless...

Here is one speaking from inside the corporation...a corporate entity masquerading as a purveyor of knowledge.

Here is an academic with a vested interest in the maintenance of the super structure which defines the pinnacle of the educational experience all over the planet.

I do, nonetheless, like what she wrote and the sorts of questions she asked.

I guess in a way, I wonder too, if your focus on studying works located as necessary inside academia, will allow you to more easily read this woman's words, delivered in certain tones, using particular words, bracketed by acceptable biography, suitable credentials, author credit and correct endnotes...is that what they call them?

The pangs remain. I write and reach through them because that's what I know how to do best.

I found this while I was out desperately seeking...as I do everyday...(read this article she found, here)

Then I replied, before reading the above post that she had written:

I want to say something *before* I read this. (I already read your comment at my place, which is how I knew to come over) Then I'll comment again after I read. When I called myself an academic, that was me trying to be truthful about the fact that while I can say and think that academia is really a mass of bullshit, I am, nonetheless, still here, participating, on my own free will...and I think that's a little "pot callin the kettle black" if I try to distance myself from the word. I think there are certainly ways in which I am trying HARD not to lose my mind to them, it, to academia...but I am also trying to tell myself the truth about what is I think I'm doing here, if it aint "becoming an academic" because I could learn more on my own in the absence of their socializing of me and write and print and publish just the same...without the letters behind my name. But I still want them. Which means I've bought into the power of them, even as I try to only buy a piece and not the whole damn pie. I don't want to be an academic in the way that I think of academics, but I also don't want to lie to myself about becoming one. It's very necessary for me to be real about that, so that I can be aware of just "far" I'm going, and why...

And NOW, I'm adding this:

She asked the hard questions. The questions I ask myself often. I keep coming back to this post because, really, this is the heart of it. I see academia as surefire step over the deep end as far as my sanity is concerned. So the next question is why do it? I’m working that out. And in the mean time, I’m working out how to do it without losing myself. This is a real concern. This is reason #1 for my distraction. I realize that this looks backwards…figuring out how to do it before knowing, for sure, concretely, why I’m doing it…if I’m doing it. I only say "if " because if I do not, can not, figure out how I might be able to do this without losing my mind…without being able to clearly see what a non-academic, academic me might look like, I won’t do it.

Hmm.

Yeah. That’s true. Maybe I hadn’t admitted that yet…

If I can not clearly see a way to earn a PhD without losing my mind, I will not be getting one because my sanity is of the utmost importance.

That’s the reason for the panic…I’m moving forward with the process of looking for programs, weighing my options, narrowing down topics, etc…without yet knowing how I’m going to do this. I’m doing this because the deadlines are looming. People will also want to know why can’t I just wait, take my time deciding, and go later? My answer is usually “because I know I won’t come back.” What I don’t ever take the time to explain to people (because most times I really don’t care enough about the person asking to go into details about my personal decisions) is why I know I won’t be back. I know because this experience is one that best swallowed with momentum…in other words, it’s easier to play the game when you’ve been playing for some time already, the rules are fresh in your mind, and you’ve become accustomed to the lifestyle of a student. It’s hard to be a student as an independent thinker. (I’d like to think I’m an independent thinker, but I have a ways to go ;o) The independent thinking student has a hard time swallowing gunk whole, a hard time memorizing and regurgitating…a hard time suspending belief of anything contrary to what they’re being told for long enough to pass the exams and get the degree. It makes this so much harder. This is not us fighting the expertise of those teaching us…I believe in experience as a guide and as credibility for teaching. What I’m referring to is things like racism and white privilege that blanket topics covered in class. For example when we start to place value on one diet over another, or one way of treatment for a symptom over another, or one way of belief about a particular practice over another based on the fact this particular diet, treatment, or practice is white western-based and therefore better, it’s hard to not internalize that as “better.” It takes a lot of mental energy to constantly ask one’s self, ok, is what is being sold better because of fact, or because of the presenter’s (un)conscious devaluing of “other?” And if it’s presented as fact, what makes it so? These are the things that are constantly going through my mind…and I can’t turn it off...but it makes it so much harder to just listen, record, and memorize. I’m careful about what I take in mentally… about things that might destroy my building of a positive sense of self and well being…about things that seem to always place me and my experiences as other or backward or ignorant. This is a big deal because if one isn’t careful, one begins to believe that maybe what they know to be true about themselves…about the life they’ve lived…about the people who have lived and seen things they haven’t but have told them of, is not really, actually, what they have experienced. It’s that “I know about your life better than you do” attitude. I have to remind myself everyday of the value of the life I live, have lived, outside of this place. So, my point is that, it’s easier, I think, to just keep going (get the PhD) and get it over with…sort of like ripping a band-aid off fast.

What will conversations with me as a so-called academic mean in terms of alliances with people like you? I have no clue because I do not yet have a concrete vision of what my own politics as a resister within the academy will look like…only that if I can not envision a way of resisting…I mean real resisting…within the setting, I won’t even be there. Which is why I can’t answer exactly how, where, and why I will concede. That is what I’m trying to figure out, or more importantly, I think, how, where and why I absolutely wont concede. What I would hope is that part of my “resistance plan” includes ongoing conversations with folks like yourself. But in that case it would also have to include safe spaces for critique…and right now there are very, very few people who I allow that much of an inner sanctum…partly because I think you need have a lot more knowledge about a person than I normally give in order to assess whether what I'm saying is coming from a place of ignorance or experience…and because my gut reaction in response to critique from someone who doesn’t have that background knowledge about me is usually, “who the hell do you think you are?” I think, though, that an alliance can only be successful with some amount of hope…which requires a level of trust about intention…which is hard to come by. I do not believe in the hoarding of knowledge. That I can say for sure. That’s why I have a blog, to tell people who want to do this, how they can make it happen, and hopefully at the end it will be an example of how to do it without losing self…

How do I understand someone who understands academia as enemy? As ally. As an ally in a different locale. I don’t have a history of discounting non “academic” ways of knowing. (and I’m using that in full awareness that I have not even attempted to define what that is supposed to mean…let’s just say it means people who choose not to accumulate a plethora of letters after their name) Since you don’t really know me, and in the absence of those who do, I guess I just ask that you believe that about me. Hmm…my relationship with the man is political in that way…people often (I am surprised by just how often) ask me about how we came to be a match, being that we are not “equally yoked” in terms of “educational attainment.” It irritates me like thick thighs in the summer time. Like these degrees are supposed to mean that I can’t love someone without them, or that I’m somehow smarter than him because I have them. The man is smart. Actually he’s fuggin brilliant. (ok, this is a tangent…lol) And about “academics”… it’s starting to sound like a dichotomy…you’re wither an out-casted academic or an assimilated academic…you and I both like to play between the lines…so I’m not hoping to be either of those…I’m hoping to be me…forever and always…to take responsibility for defining “academic” for myself. These degrees don’t make reading that article any easier…I have never found reading those things easy, but I do practice it…a lot…why? Because I am sitting in a classroom full of privileged people who I have to hold my own among when called to answer. And other research, I read because I find it interesting, usually things that match up with my own interests. But I don’t find that any easier to read than your blog, the man’s lyrics, or my own writing. It’s just another kind of writing. My undergraduate degree is in writing and linguistics…my research project was on African American English…why? Because I was sick of the BS about how bad it is. I don’t place a higher value on so-called standard english over any other language, or research articles by PhD carrying academics over those with no formal education. At least not consciously, and in fact I make a conscious effort not to do that. How could I when oral story telling by "un"educated people is so important to who I understand myself to be?

You will not find me trying to convince you to give academics a chance…nor will you find me trying to convince you to keep putting yourself out here simply to be consumed, chewed and spat by those who disdain, and subsequently attempt to hide any wisdom offered by those who chose to walk outside ivy halls and corporate infrastructures masked as institutes of knowledge brimming with open minded scholars wanting to better the world. I understand your apprehension and avoidance of visiting such folks…and your cringe at me, now, because of my self-identification. But what I think is worth the continued conversation, despite my identity-searching labeling of myself, is the trust due someone who is trying to walk alongside you in blogland by way of calling out her own privileges and biases, unpacking her reasons for being in cahoots with known enemies (whether personal or institutional), and sharing more and more personal stuff about herself to you in the hopes of being open to reciprocal learning, in whatever way that can happen.

9 comments:

Dark Daughta said...

I read you once. :) I appreciate all the words...all the thoughts. I think for me mostly what I'm after is the reflection regardless of what the answers end up being. There aren't right or wrong answers. For me there is us attempting tio be conscious of who we are as we bring to bear as much information as we possibly can. I'm hoping for the insightful sharing of information about who we are. I share what I have not to pidgeon hole you but to engage in open negotiation based on what we each bring t o the mix. I want to let you know that your choices are so much your own that your decisions, your struggles, your concerns can occupy open space in conversation rather than just silently being present. I think what I hope for is just more full conversation where neither of us has to avoid consciousness of what we do or why. It feels...true...like we can be who we need to be.

It's funny arguing for something to happen that most people, if asked, would say they already do. But I think the silence, that pervasive silence, where we sort of keep our heads low and don't speak about particular decisions so as to better do them without others realizing...that's so much a part of this society's culture...so much an understood way of dealing, that I find myself asking repeatedly about the possibility of building relationships and alliances away from that place...in full view.

I don't know if that makes sense.

First reading.

Oh, and I completely hear you about your partner having his own intellect. I have a similar understanding of Papi. What becomes difficult is that I process information primarily verbally. He doesn't. I long for that kind of conversation, full, playful, comfortable, depth oriented. He doesn't do that. I tend to gravitate to people who can offer that even if they can't fulfill my above relationship criteria. :)

Thanks for the words and the depth and the honesty. It's all very much appreciated. I'' be back with more after dinner.

Kim said...

Hi!I just read your very first post on this blog and i am someone who was looking for it.I am a black girl from the hood,Philly, looking to become a CPM. I was thinking about starting a blog for the exact reasons you mentioned but also because I liked to write.
I am still in undergraduate doing a thesis on black women's reproductive history in the U.S. I'm glad that your blog exist.Stay up!

Kim

Tried to use my blogger name but I guess it doesn't work anymore

the robot said...

this conversation is intense, and I feel both drawn to it and sliding off the hard parts of it. These topics are very much on my mind lately as I'm making a decision about pursuing an honors project - in terms of allocating my own precious resources to something that may not be valued by the people who will be evaluating it (which is why I'm so happy that the faculty member said yes), in terms of knowing that it's only going to be possible with the momentum, and in terms of wanting to force myself to focus on the stuff that is so painfully absent from the curriculum. I will spend time and energy and thoughts and words on this area and I will demand credit for that from the university, partially because I think they owe me for all the translating and filling-in-of-blanks and forgiving of offenses that I've done this year.

what's more, I'll take it with me when I go, you know? I'll leave it for them to look at, and ignore if they will. But I can also retain ownership of it, and be proud of something that I created my own self. It's going to be a much different sort of pride that I have for getting through this program and graduating with the BSN.

thank you for sharing this conversation...

U said...

I think this conversation is very interesting for a few reasons, but I have to comment on one of them in particular. LP, you mentioned that before you will seriously consider pursuing your PhD you will first determine whether or not you can earn it without losing your mind. This comment is very interesting to me bc I would assume that if you're in the soup already, you should know what it tastes like. And to be honest, I think you do...and it isn't just by chance that you are enrolled at your current institution, YOU selected it. Forgive me if I'm misunderstanding you, but I don't think the issue is that you're trying to figure out WHY you're doing it. The "why" was with you before you began your program..I believe it was what brought you to it in the first place. I think you are still working on figuring out the "how" right now, on the master's track, and that may be why you're still unsettled. How to resist NOW, how to not lose your mind NOW....because if you can't do it NOW, when will you be able to do it? I know you've probably got that part figured out, but I say that only to provide a basis for my next comment...

"Academia as enemy"...I can see that, I get it. Yet we chase after it anyway, right? Some of us do, at least. So that brings us back to the "why", as in why, after all you've been through, you're still trying to figure out why YOU choose to continue pursuing your PhD. That's what I'd like to understand, and you say you're still working on it, which is fine. I appreciate the reflection that you've already shared with us here. I just think it's important to keep in mind that the person you were on the very first day doesn't necessarily have to disappear in order to ADJUST. I think that is a very real fear, losing one's identity, one that may have prompted dark daughta to initiate this discussion. Being an agitator, resistor, someone who questions...hell, do your thing, but whether it's in academia or at a restaurant, you mess with the wrong people you'll get spit in your food (or work)! Like I've said before, and you know this: You aren't being fake if you are being honest with yourself. You are going to do great things, but to think that you will be the exact same person, with the exact same values... or to be so afraid of change that you let it stifle you...that would be sad to see. I think there's something to be said about losing yourself before you can find yourself. Anyway, that's just my two cents.

Dark Daughta said...

"Being an agitator, resistor, someone who questions...hell, do your thing, but whether it's in academia or at a restaurant, you mess with the wrong people you'll get spit in your food (or work)!"

Unh...
Shudder...
That sounds like we're all agreed that if we ask challenging questions of people who have no answers save to fuck with us, our lives and our work, then we deserve what we get.

Fascinating, is that what we've agreed to? To not "messing" with people whose lack of integrity gives them all the reason they need to do harm?

There's a lot rolled up in what you wrote that I don't agree with.

But I do agree that fundamentally, this is about how Loving Pecola wants to move through her life, her educational experience and through her career.

There are a whole bunch of choices she can either roll into without being fully clear or that she can embrace with eyes wide open, being able to identify and justify to her own self the sorts of concessions she chose to make or not make.

U said...

Haha, didn't expect a response so quickly, but while I'm here perusing this blog I might as well answer back now...

I can see why you disagree with my comment, but that may be based on your own take on what I said. Fine with me, that's what makes this fun :) I was never implying that anyone who resists/agitates/questions DESERVES spit in their food or a slap in the face...what I'm saying is that there are people who WILL if they are in a position of power and can do so, and it's a matter of choice if one decides to move forward and take that chance, hoping to still be standing (and REMAIN standing), or to duck and hide....Or more familiar to MY personal experience, maybe even take on the role of a chameleon, capable of blending in with one's surroundings for survival, without losing identity. From what I'm reading, and what I mentioned in my last comment, LP is trying to figure out survival means for HER. In my opinion, just because your mouth is shut it doesn't mean your eyes aren't open. It's easy to confuse the two of course, esp. with the millions of people in this country who are silenced by (but not blind to) injustices everyday. Not that LP needs to keep anything shut, that isn't the point. I think what she is doing, and what she wants to do, is incredible and I believe she is capable. Yet it's so easy for any one of us to sit on the sidelines and try to tell the ballers on the court how to play their own game.

....I'm curious dark daughta, and obviously I don't know you....are you going through a similar situation?

Dark Daughta said...

My story is on my blog. Where is yours? :)

Dark Daughta said...

unh...
but that's not an invitation to come by. your energy is off.

Loving Pecola, who's your friend? And what's their story? The thinly veiled hostility?

Loving Pecola said...

Oh my, a lot happens in a day. I have to read through these again to see what's being said before I ask questions, mainly I have to verify who "U" is...