It’s not something everyone has to worry about. But it is something that people who work in white or mostly-white spaces have to be concerned with. I am (apparently) bold enough to think that I deserve to hold this space. That in fact, and much more than that, I have scaled mountains, journeyed through valleys and walked over hills to get to where I am. Which is not to say that I have not been helped along the way – I have. It is to say that I am capable of much more than is often assumed.
For those who do not know me well: I am a social media junkie. Not meaning that I spend every hour of my day on Instagram, Twitter, or even Facebook. But that I have a trusted source of media outlets that deliver to me an eclectic mix of ratchet/classy/world-wide happenings.
This year, the CPA’s (Canadian Philosophical Association) Annual Congress Distinguished Lecturer was Will Kymlicka. For those who do not know the name, he is a well-known philosopher who resides in Canada (is he Canadian? Google says he was born in London), who has written extensively on multiculturalism, liberalism, and “Left-wing” politics. However, he took a sharp turn in focus (at least according to one of my professors) when he and Sue Donaldson published Zoopolis: A Theory of Animal Rights in 2011. Unbeknownst to many, he was a staunch animal rights activist.
An interesting thing happens when you are the only black face in the room. For me, the last time around, it was poetry. Or at least, the beginnings of it. It started off, very shakingly in my journal, as TITLE: “Who are you looking at?” Verse 1: “When you see me, why do you look past me? No eye contact, really?” I know, sad. I used to write poetry when I was much younger, but the degree of vulnerability required (whether real or imagined) to do it well has discouraged me from developing in that area. So, the stuff that comes out when I attempt to write in rhyme is really not that great. I digress.
This year I was invited to the annual Canadian Philosophical Association (CPA) Conference to comment on Sandra De Vries’ essay “Multiraciality in the Philosophy of Race.” The paper was a stimulating discussion on the role that multi-raciality should play in the philosophy of race. Below is my commentary:
One of the things that has been on my mind has been solidarity. In part because of a council orientation session I attended a couple weeks ago for my Graduate Students’ Association, but also because I do not encompass all ways of living or inhabiting this world. Yes. I am a black-woman-immigrant, who is a young-educated-citizen, in pursuit of her career. These intersections encompass and speak to certain degrees of privilege and disadvantage, but there are countless more spaces to be inhabited.
But as humanity is prone to be inspired by the imitative rather than the initiative qualities of life, there was a tendency in many who had been freed from the slavery toil and soil to efface the traces of their origin and past servitude from a sense of shame and approximate, not to the rugged principles of the pioneers of the struggle, but rather to the antedated patterns of the vanquished class.
Claude McKay, Banana Bottom, p. 42
SPOILER ALERT: This is a response to (not a review of) Get Out. Do NOT READ if you plan on seeing the movie, and haven’t yet.
As I sat down to watch “I Am Not Your Negro,” I thought to myself: “I am going to get angry.” I never anticipated anything else would occur. One is, after all, faced with very few options when confronted with issues of grave injustice: to 1) turn a blind eye; 2) weep in sorrow; or 3) bristle with righteous indignation. In this case, my response was a fourth: smoldering rage. Smoldering, because I was watching a film about a struggle that I had not myself experienced. I am a child of the nineties, not the thirties, forties, fifties, or sixties – my context is different. Rage, because the world presented on the screen had allowed too much, responded too late and with great inadequacy.
There may be sophistry in all this; but the condition of a slave confuses all principles of morality, and, in fact, renders the practice of them impossible.
Harriet Jacobs, The Classic Slave Narratives (501)
The extent to which you expect someone to follow a moral code or abide by the law must certainly take into account the extent to which her life circumstances allow her to. Harriet Jacobs was referring to her relationship with a white politician in the quote above. He had fathered two of her children when she was slave, and while she was aware that her relationship with him was of a questionable nature, she also realized that given her circumstances and the historical time within which she lived, to apply any standard of “morality” to her case would be confusing (to say the least).
My introduction to the possibility of taking academia seriously came from the reading of bell hooks’ Black Looks: Race and Representation. I was in my first couple years of university, disillusioned about the connection between what I was learning and how it would end up applying to the real world, and stumbled across one of her books in the library. I found it refreshing and potent. It cut through the presumptuousness of anti-black racism and patriarchy like a knife, and felt like a conviction.