Essay: The Importance of the Material

Material existences have long negated academic reflections, because the writings of those “in” the academy have been those who have been privileged, white, and whose positionality has simply not allowed for a sustained reflection on existences other than their own. The beauty of “visible minorities” coming into the academy is the opportunities we have to bring the “outside” in, though we face significant resistance for doing so. Our methods are questioned as not theoretical enough or too caught up in empirical realities of specificities, when it is “specific” viewpoints that have dominated the Eurocentric syllabus that we all learn from in the first place.

As a black, female university student my thirst for a viewpoint of “the other” to be recounted, shared, and celebrated has almost been visceral. “Where am I?” I have often wondered/still wonder to myself. “And has anyone else noticed that there are no non-white, non-male people on this syllabus?” The one or two times I was brave enough to raise this topic with a professor (just one was I brave enough to raise this topic with) I was met with embarrassed apologetics. “Well, we have to teach The Canon… but there are others out there who exist, and write, and think just like you.” But where are we in the syllabuses? Are there others out there crying for our voices to be heard?

In the formal academy I felt/feel minimized to the point of almost non-existence (being a Philosophy major probably doesn’t help), and my fierce criticism of “the system” was/is waged in large part against the fact that I felt/feel there was/is so much to be said than was/is said. How are we supposed to survive in a system that we feel so excluded/disconnected from and misunderstood by? And who really expects a mass influx of blacks/minorities to enter the system and make it all the way through, given the cold reception that we often get when we get here? People may get in and get out, but they will not necessarily advance to the levels where we need them in terms of representation. Canada (the place/space from which I write) has no Historically Black Colleges. I can count on one hand the number of “visible minority” professors I have had in my seven years of university (five years undergrad, 2 years masters). Two. A Chinese Canadian professor that I took an Urban Politics class with, and a professor who originated from Spain, with whom I took multiple Philosophy/Political Science courses. The latter was the one, in fact, who introduced me to the field of African Philosophy, which I was shocked to realize was being offered at all.

Maybe this is why so many blacks and/or women are so critical of the mainstream disciplines that we go off and create our own (which then get ghettoized – which is another topic altogether). This is no simple “identity politics” that I am advocating for. What we need is a place to breathe, a space where we are affirmed, acknowledged, and our positions re-enforced. A place where our ideas are critically engaged with and even criticized, instead of merely being dismissed. A space of alterity; of acknowledgement; of not only that “you matter”  but that “your body was/is to connected to voice that spoke/speaks back, against and in response to the history/present that sought/seeks to lynch, violate, rape, victimize and rape your ancestors/you.”

I am a living testament, having “made it” to the Doctoral level of my studies, which I will be entering in the Fall, that we exist. We think out loud with critical insight and our work matters and can contribute much to the Canon, if it will let us in. If not, we will continue to create alternative spaces of our own and developing them, infiltrating the academy in masses called “black feminism” and “black cultural studies” and “Africana philosophy.”  Again, this is not an attempt to defend an empty identity politics. This is an attempt to represent a politics that sees itself as a necessary intrusion into the landscape of the majority white, majority male-perspective, academia.

  • T. M. G.