Too Big, Too Brown, and Too Much – WOC Guest Post

I am delighted to offer another guest post in my series of contributed posts by black women and other women of color.

If you’d like to submit a post or an idea for a post for consideration, email me at gettenure@gmail.com. I pay $150 for accepted posts. The posts can be anonymous or not, as you prefer and can be about your experiences of racism/microaggressions in grad school or the career, your post-academic musings, hard-won advice for other students/faculty of color coming up, intersectional practices in teaching or research that you have found valuable, and also of course, makeup and clothes, or even tech gear you’ve found that helps in your work. More information can be found here.

Today’s post is by Naiomi Gonzalez, doctoral student in History at Texas Christian University. Naiomi and I had lengthy discussions about whether or not she wished to publish this anonymously, and sought the opinions of mentors and on FB. Naiomi carefully considered all responses, and in the end decided to publish it under her name.

I’m not only brown but I’m also fat and opinionated. This means that I not only take up more physical space but that I also insist that my voice be heard and respected. For the most part, I have been lucky to have professors that have supported me throughout my academic career. They know I am opinionated and they have attempted to create nurturing environments that allow all students, particularly those from marginalized groups the opportunity to express themselves.  

However, academia in general, despite all its lofty conversations regarding the importance of “diversity” continues to embrace the stereotypes of “the big angry black woman” and the “fiery” Latina. These stereotypes pathologize and treat as character flaws the very real and the very justifiable anger that many black and latinx graduate students feel as we confront and navigate institutions that were built off of our oppression.  Issues regarding racism, sexism, ableism and the many other forms of oppression that intersect with race and gender, are not, for many of us, abstract problems that we can have a friendly debate about and then move on. Many of these issues impact our lives in very real, tangible ways.

For instance, discussions about police brutality and violence against black and brown people are not simply matters of opinion. The issue is not whether black and brown people “like” or “don’t like” individual police officers. The problem is that an institution that holds so much power is able to murder our loved ones with impunity. The issue is not that “free speech is under threat” at so called “liberal” institutions, but that black and brown students are expected to be ok with our peers inviting speakers who advocate for our continued oppression. Meanwhile we get criticized as “snowflakes” or “social justice warriors” for demanding that our campuses protect us and treat us as human beings. While our white male peers are encouraged to voice their opinions and are allowed to express anger, black and brown graduate students are often mocked for being too “emotional” when discussing subjects that directly impact our lives. White students are allowed to express their anger and displeasure and not be reduced to the stereotype of an “angry white man” or “fiery” white woman.  Yet when we protest and demand that our humanity be respected, we are often ridiculed in subtle and not so subtle ways for not endorsing the status quo and remaining silent.

How many black and brown graduate students wonder if their outspokenness will prevent them from being gainfully employed in a job market that is already focused on shutting out large numbers of people or shunting them into adjunct hell? How many black and brown graduate students worry that their activism somehow makes them “less serious academics?” How many black and brown graduate students, studying subjects dominated by white men, agonize over whether or not they be given the opportunity to be heard? How many black and brown students are at the verge of giving up-on their studies and on academia in general, because they refuse or are unable to confirm to the standards that white academia has set as normative?  Standards that claim that only certain topics are ‘valuable” or that only certain voices have the ability to be authoritative?

Academia has a lot of good qualities. In addition to the supportive professors I have had throughout my career, I have had the opportunity to travel to different countries; something that seemed off limits to me as a child because I grew up in public housing and my family relied on government assistance to survive. I have studied so many interesting subjects related to my own personal interests and outside of them. While yes, no one needs to go to college or grad school to read books, the reality is that I have learned more from interacting with my peers then I would have by reading a book in isolation. I love learning and academia has provided me with the time and resources to discover and embrace my passions. I am beyond thankful for that.

But academia also has a long way to go if it truly wants to live up to its lofty ideals and rhetoric regarding equality and diversity. It is not enough to simply acknowledge that most universities and colleges need to admit more students and people of color. It is not even enough to actively implement programs that seek to increase students and faculty of color on campus. But academia needs to be willing to embrace us: all of us. Academia needs to embrace our concerns, our opinions, and yes, even our anger. If academia is truly serious about changing and doing better, it needs to be willing to accept those of us who are too big, too brown/black, and just too much.


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