OK so check it, I have a lot of things going for me. I am young, my melanin is poppin’, I’m a smarty-pants and I am fine as f*ck. Unfortunately however, these same attributes have also been made out to be socially constructed deficits that have caused for many unwarranted bouts with oppression. In my normal daily encounters, it is not uncommon to face microaggressions, sexism, ageism and a little bit of good ol’ fashioned racism sprinkled in here and there as well. From the ignorant comments I receive from people asking if I’m mixed because my hair is so cool, employers positioning me in the front of events to greet potential donors with my womanly charms, or comments implying I’m pushing the limit on time to settle down and get married because of my age, I’m constantly ducking and dodging attacks on the demographics my body was born into.
Despite facing prejudice as far back as pre-school, it wasn’t until my mid-20’s that I truly became Hella Woke and gained the chutzpah to speak the f*ck up about the injustice bullsh*t I encountered.
As I advanced my career in the realm of academia, went to grad school, attended conferences, and networked with some of the brightest brains in the field, I felt alas, I had finally found my safe space. I was surrounded by the most intelligent, socially active, justice oriented, people of color I had ever met. These new partnerships in education equity were inspiring but I quickly became privy to the reality of oppression that still existed within the prestigious realm of academics.
Within the field of education there is a term called the “Ivory Tower” which symbolizes the overrepresented number of White males in higher education spaces that educators of color metaphorically have to climb to gain access to success. This term was not something I was surprised to learn about because it is a direct parallel to the social hierarchy of power and privilege that I was already accustomed to navigating in our American society. What I was surprised to learn however was the subjugation exhibited within the circle of minority intellects that hypocritically mimicked the same sorts of oppression that I’d thought we were fighting to dismantle.
Sexism was staring me directly in my face no matter how bad I wanted to “feel unbothered.” The reality forced me to remember a statement that had consistently proven itself true in my life: A man, is a man, is a man. What do I mean by that? No matter what status, environment, or degree level, men have consistently shown me that no amount of polishing and refinement can mask their animalistic ways.
A few of the disappointing sexist experiences I’ve encountered with men in academia are outlined below:
- While seeking to collaborate professionally whether through general knowledge talk, mentorship, or research collaborations, men have manipulated meetings into conversation that seem like date topics where little to do with our actual work is brought up and much to do with inquiries to get to know me on a more personal level are prioritized.
- When a male PhD learned I was not interested in him, I was called out of my name after I rejected his advances. He questioned how I as a young educator had the same network and resource circle as he did, as if my work grind were not adequate justification.
- After learning about my focus to work on Hip Hop Ed research, a PhD asked me if I was going to teach young girls to analyze music videos and become video vixens.
- I’ve been invited to join vacations described as “research” trips by men whom know little about my actual research interests.
- PhD men have approached me to share unwarranted stats of their accolades and clout in hopes that I will “need them” in the field and that my naivety will see past the preying looks in their eyes as they lick their lips and continue sharing stats with me.
- I’ve received comments made about how well I fill out my skirt by colleagues old enough to be my grandfather.
As a young, black, female, educator, there are a million walls that I have to climb due to the pure existence of this one body I reside in. Ageism, racism, and sexism are all components that I have to navigate in society and in my career, no matter how elite the space I encompass is perceived. It’s really some bullsh*t if you think about it. If educators of color seek to climb the Ivory Tower we must have a serious reflective conversation about the hypocritical nature of our actions. We cannot say we are fighting to dismantle the oppression causing education inequity while simultaneously oppressing the educators trying to dismantle it.
To my ladies in academia: Stand up, speak out, and own your sh*t. Affirm your p*ssy power by being the best at your craft and looking as good as you want to while doing it! Use the same grit, fortitude, and ganas you do to to breakdown the systems of oppression that have subjugated our communities, to now break down the systems of oppression that subjugate your body, mind and spirit. Refuse to stay silent about sexist bullsh*’t. Even the most learned professionals need to be schooled sometimes.
To my fellas in academia: Stop saying you’re for the liberation of our people, while simultaneously oppressing our people. You can’t be woke as f*ck and all of a sudden forget that you are a conscious brotha when a woman enters your presence 5 minutes later. The main thing that the Ivory Tower and the Brown Tower have in common is that they are both phallic symbols. Stop being a d*ck.
We have a responsibility to hold our community accountable if we really wish to see progress made for our community. How many more stories do we have to tell?