“The privilege of being able to go to a library and find a book that has a character on the cover that looks like you. A book that has a story that is about you or as simple as watching a commercial and finding a product to shampoo your hair. To learn about that from watching TV, which is not an experience that I have. I have to take other measures to find out about different products for my hair, as a black woman. I don’t have the privilege of just watching network TV and just seeing a commercial that is talking about people like me, who have hair like me.”
–Sonja Cherry-Paul: Dismantling Racism in Education
I’ve had a lot to think about lately, but I’ll focus on this week’s topic. The readings have been primarily about where diversity fits in higher education and how to navigate the inevitable minefield that is created when a diverse group of people come together to figure out what it means for them and their institution. However, my intuitive response to the readings and the word “diversity” is a visceral, gut-wrenching realization–a reminder, really–of my difference, my Otherness. Being a young woman of color in higher education is both an incredible opportunity to effect change from within and a daily dose of prejudice from all sides: because I am young, female, and nonwhite, I contend with three different forms of bias at a minimum. Because of my background, I had to grow up quickly to grasp the implications of my embodied experience (e.g., a nonwhite, female body moving through primarily white, male spaces) and every possible snap judgement that could be made about me as a result. For as long as I have been able to read the news, I have understood that being who I am actively works against my safety, my bodily autonomy, my freedom, and my peace of mind, all of which are basic human rights that are by no means guaranteed to me.
But that’s what happens when bias is at its worst. In my everyday life, bias is more subtle than potentially fatal police encounters and gender-based violence. Whenever I think of how stereotypes have affected me in my daily life, I can’t help but remember the first installment of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, in which Hermione is shocked–SHOCKED!–that Ron is capable of stepping up to the plate to do something brilliant, like saving the life of Nymphadora Tonks (one of the best characters in the entire series, if I say so myself). It happens less often now that I’m older and have the look of someone who spends more time in the library than anywhere else, but it still happens: I’m in a place that People Like Me™ don’t stereotypically go or I’m dong something that “we don’t do” or that’s “for [insert literally any other demographic here] people” (and I’m usually the Only One there anyway, which always raises a few eyebrows), and someone feels the need to comment on it.
Having read the articles on Difficult Discussions and what to do if a subject gets “too hot” for one or more parties in the class, I have real concerns about what could happen in such a scenario, precisely because of my background and the potential for things to become…hairy. I have real concerns about how to navigate a tricky subject that may be “too hot” for me. I have real concerns full stop.
To look at these conversations as hard conversations is one thing, but to look at these conversations that are going to solidify friendships, to look at these conversations that are going to strengthen professional bonds, to look at these conversations and say these are conversations that are going to sharpen my abilities to teach kids, I think that’s the win.
–Cornelius Minor: Dismantling Racism in Education