A Somali student, on what has surprised her most about the United States. (via 33113)
Edward Said, Between Worlds: a memoir
Great commentary on how academics, scholars, etc. that write/research about certain ethnicity or community of people often treat them as such, a study, a research topic, a “a peculiar creature” as Said points out, people that need help with gaining a voice, someone who needs assistance. This kind of narcissistic mentality where the savior complex of these people is in full force is not only toxic and demeaning to people they “study” but it’s disrespectful the issue at hand, because at the end of the day what might be a paper topic, a book that needs to be published, an article for these so called scholars is a real ongoing issue for people they study. Writing, studying, researching certain issues, people, and communities does not automatically excuse you from being considered racist unless you actively work against that racism already in place.
It’s been a long day.
The first agenda was a meeting with an adviser about Fullbright scholarships and talking about graduate schools in general. I have been “researching” graduate schools since last year almost with no real concrete results to speak of. It feels so much like my experience for my (undergraduate) college search was. Did the college have a good reputation in the program I was interested in? When I visited (and I was lucky that I could afford that), what did I think of the environment? How much financial aid was the college offering me?
Ready, set, go!
I have been trying to not repeat that strange rudimentary search process for graduate school. My interests: South Asia diaspora in Myanmar. Since I want to stay in the East Coast, and since there are so few “South Asian” programs here anyway, how much choice do I have? I reasoned with myself: I cannot afford a Masters Program so might as well shoot for a Ph.D program straight out of Bachelors so that someone can pay me stipends while I don’t go broke. I already hustle to support myself and my family. Oh, and see if they mention Burma in their South East Asian concentrations … . .
Ready, set, go?
Turns out it doesn’t exactly work like that. Apparently there are some Ph.D programs who require that you have a Masters, and some programs that are a “masters to Ph.D”. Hmm. I don’t know what the latter is, but I guess that’s where Google is for. Oh, and it turns out that not all area studies department are open to “feminist work” (mine is currently focused on family/social dynamics, identity building and issues of justice and power). Perhaps I’d like to broaden my research into Feminist and Anthropoloical/Historical Programs?
It is overwhelming to go back to the drawing board. It is also overwhelming to know that with this job market, there are increasingly hiring adjuncts, and favoring graduates who’ve had some teaching experience. Even though no body teaches graduate students “to teach”. Places who’d like you to churn out research the moment you got hired.
"What if I don’t get a job as a professor? What other jobs do people interested in this tenure do?"
Because we’re not going to talk about having to pay back student loans while supporting a family and not having a job.
(The answer, by the way, is Consultant work.)
A thought struck me as I was coming out of my senior methods and research class. I am in the habit of constantly explaining and defending. My research for women and gender studies class is on Pakistani women, particularly, on how Pakistani women navigate and subvert space to their advantage in a patriarchal institution. But before talking about Pakistan and navigating spaces in Pakistan, I put it in an American context. “This happens in American and Pakistan, I don’t know about the rest of the world”. Because I don’t and because I don’t want the other students othering Pakistanis, no matter how good their intentions are.
I don’t just do this in the classroom. This long line of explanation and defenses. I do it everywhere.
One of my close friends, and African American woman, filed a complaint against one of her professors who is teaching Jazz. He believes that anti-white racism exists and that she should confront her feelings about she doesn’t believe “anti-white racism” to be valid. She’s trying to get out of the class but needs the equivalent credits to graduate. Though the Chair of the African American department is sympathetic (the class is crosslisted as a music class and an AfAm class), her hands are tied behind institutional policies. My friend is upset that money would be going to this professor who vocally upholds white supremacy.
I am not surprised. Academia is not a good place for marginalized students, and I suspect that it is not a good place for marginalized staff or faculty either. But here I am. Here I am quietly committed to becoming a professor and to enter this institution where I’ll have to hear quiet a number of things (as though I don’t already). I am already exhausted. And yet, this desire burns in me. To teach.
I never even wanted to be a teacher.
Found a fascinating blog by a Ph.D candidate and some of her work is on higher education. It’s a fascinating read.
Lehazz and takalafu do not have English equivalents and that is when my tongue trips to accommodate myself and the one I’m addressing.
But this is no longer a question of adaab. I am writing an academic paper for an American audience so I footnote everything. Footnote kalar while I fight down the nausea that rises in my throat, footnote purdah while desperately writing and rewriting definitions so that I am sure my American audience, my academic audience, can understand, footnote izzat with a sense of apprehension because what if the men of my culture are chalked down simply as “strict patriarchs”?
It is 3am and I am desperately claustrophobic, but I keep myself from taking off on a long walk. I am a woman. I cannot afford recklessness.
Until I started translating my everyday life for an academic audience, I did not realize how much a language can hold - how much love, how much meaning, how much burden, how much misunderstood ethics … One of my professors described himself as critical on the first day of class except he made it clear that he was vicious in his words and he enjoyed being vicious for the sake of being vicious. Nine people in his class, three girls, and I’m the only person of color. Their response is laughter, some nervous, but most of them affirming him, joining him. I hold my gaze level, don’t crack a smile. Ethics. I feel disgust at his lack of humility and I think of adaab, of lehaaz. and how he expects it of us, but would not afford it to us.
I grit my teeth and position my fingers on the keyboard again. I idly wonder if my fingers would tremble at this point of exhaustion were I holding a pen and I hear my mother’s voice in my mind: “Concentrate”. And I am thankful for the years of discipline taught in her proud voice. So far from home, my mother and my mother tongue envelope me in a warm embrace to provide me a sturdy home.
The reason I love Gloria Anzaldúa’s Borderlands so much is that she writes without apology. Language provides a home and she refuses to step out of her home to bare herself to an imperialistic audience and I wonder if I’ll ever be able to do that. If I will have the chance, or the courage, or both. bell hooks once said that there is no real place for black and brown women in this world, much less in academia so we must make spaces for ourselves. So I push and dodge and elbow people in the ribs and I fiercely wear my shalwar kamees and I attempt at standing, at taking up space without apology. Those are the key words: Without Apology. And I remain cautious and defensive and I practice being. Even if I must accommodate in my writing, I will (practice at) not accommodate(ing) in my physical presence. For now, this is where I’ll begin.
Life is like a box of chocolates except lately I haven’t been craving any.
So where does that leave me?
I just finished reading Mary Beard’s “The Public Voice of Women” and I love that she starts off with the first recorded example of a man telling a woman to shut up, and that of course, this tradition is the beginning of Western tradition. She is talking about the Odyssey.
If you have some time to yourself, I would encourage you to read the article. It is interesting and a delightful read. But I suppose what struck me as I read through the article was that for much of my life, I have heard a lot of the same refrains that the ancient Greek used. Oratory was defined exclusively as a skill required and relegated for the male gender for the Greeks. In turn, my conservative Muslim family have told me numerous times that the female voice is also part of her awrah.
What is striking of course is that apparently the female voice was not part of her awrah during the time of the Prophet Muhammad (perhaps it was starting to become so during the time of the Caliph Umer but I really am not an Islamic History scholar). Leila Ahmed describes in her book “Women and Gender in Islam” of how women made demands and were heard during the time of the Prophet. It was not always smooth sailing and the Bedouins are unmistakably patriarchal.
Still. I did not realize that the Greeks essentially thought of women’s voices as their awrah too and I can’t help but wonder if this is where the idea seeped into Muslim jurisprudence. Afterall, don’t Muslims proudly own the fact that they were the ones preserving and translating Greek and Roman facts while Europe was busy burning itself to the ground in the Middle Ages?