Tag Archives: college

Hello Scholar

An Open Letter about Representation in Academia from a Black Professor

Because there’s still more room at my table

Hello Scholar,

I want you to know why I am here. I want you to know why I choose to be in a profession where I am most certainly a minority, where across the board, people who look like me are far and few in-between. Did you know that only about 3% of full-time faculty are Black women (National Center for Education Statistics, 2016)?

I am not here by mistake. This is not random. This is just as intentional as it is strategic.

“I teach because I need you to see a visual representation of what you can be…and what you can be better than.” — Yinde Newby, author and educator

Allow me to break this down a little bit.

“…what you can be…and what you can be better than.”

Me teaching, winter 2018

Me teaching, winter 2018

Please don’t for a second think I’m only here teaching you so you can see that you can be like me. Why would I place such limits on you and your beautiful mind? Why would I shame our ancestors, bound by the burdens of slavery and institutional racism, by curbing the leaps and bounds they’ve made for you…the hopes and dreams you were made for? I want you to see you in me and I want you to do bigger and better. I want you to surpass, to transcend, to outshine anything I’ve ever done or ever could do. Don’t see me as the goal or the limit, but rather, see me as the standard. The stepping stone. I want to give you a leg up, but only if you let me.

You may not be familiar with the leaps and bounds I’ve had to make to get this seat at the table, but trust me, I didn’t sit here intending to be the only one. I sat here because I was passed the torch and I plan to pass the torch off to whoever is up to taking the seat.

“…I teach because I need you”

The journey has been far from easy, and it’s far from over. You think you need me, but truth is, I need you. I need you to let me know it was all worth it, that I’m supposed to be here. I need you to justify what I’ve been through.

the dream killers

the “you’re not supposed to be here” stares and micro aggressions

the long nights, the sacrifice

giving college the last 10 plus years of my life

the failures, the questioning of what I’m doing and

who I am

And making God laugh with my own so-called “plans”

tests on material I don’t even remember to get to places I’ll never forget

climbing mountains to help people climb I don’t even know yet

Let me know.

This one is for the scholars, the ancestors and their successors.

With Warm Regards,

Your Black Professor

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Little Black Girl Armed

me microscope

Me, circa 1997

You

Can see the spark in her eyes when

She raises her hand and

When she writes her thoughts out

Or when she opens up a book

Meanwhile the others look

Down on her, the others think less

Of her because they’re shook

By this little Black girl armed

with a mind and a book

They

Don’t know what to do and

They don’t know what to say so

They cover their papers as she looks

The other way on test day because

they wanna say

She is copying their test knowing

Damn well she isn’t

Knowing damn well she knows

The answers

Knowing damn well the answer is

To never question the intellect of the

Precocious little kid

Because she is Black

While fighting what their parents taught them

About who is who and

What their parents taught them

About colors

She

Has it hard in high school

And so do her body, mind and spirit too

Too good for JV, too dark for AP and

Too “white” for the step team, so it seems

She

Doesn’t really know what all this means

Until she met this boy on her way to the bus

He approached her and he read in between the lines that

She was focused on something different

So he said “Listen.

If you keep your nose in them books like that you ain’t ever gonna get no man.”

Words meant to change her course and her plan did no such thing

She walked away and he was shook

By this little Black girl armed

With a mind and a book

She

Grew up and saw the spark

In another young girl’s eye and

She shed a tear and held in a cry because

It took her back to a time when

Being a little Black girl armed

With a mind and a book was

Revolutionary

Then she looked the girl in the eye again and it was a little scary because she

Realized the revolution is far from over for

This little precocious kid

Because she is Black

Mine

mine-image
Because I’m here — and there’s nothing they can do about it.
for a second
I thought I wasn’t supposed to be
here
second guessing never gave anybody the right answer anyway
but on second thought
like a bulldozer
you wore down and
you tore down
the temple
my temple
I’ve spent my whole entire life building
and rebuilding and rebuilding
brick
by brick
by brick
my life’s work
and all this time I thought my time was well spent
until you looked me in the eye
from the other side of the table
while you sat in your seat and
I sat in mine
I didn’t know eyes could talk
until that day
the day I got a seat
at the table
like a fable
you looked at me like
a lie like
a joke like
a mess
well I laughed too see I laughed at
you
because I was too damn big for your small little mind to process
progress
you spoke no words
but your message couldn’t have been any more clear
while your spirit was screaming
I wasn’t supposed to be here
I wasn’t supposed to be
but I’m still
here
while you sit in your seat and I sit in
Mine.

Trigger Warnings and Crooked Triggers

revolver-1558139_1280

I’m writing in a space where I’m the minority. Figuratively and literally.

I’m overhearing a conversation about trigger warnings or warnings before sensitive topics. A girl shares with her friends her disdain for her black African-American history professor. “She showed us pictures of lynchings with no trigger warnings,” she disgustingly exclaimed. She then equated this with this professor’s ability to teach. “I was like ‘you’re an educator, you should know that people are going to react differently to different things.'” She then advised everyone around her to not take her class.

I’m sitting here as my stomach is flipping and flopping. I want to scream but nothing is coming out of my mouth.

Trigger warnings. Masks. Excuses. Bullshit. Or whatever you want to call them. I want to call it what it is and enlighten them all. But then I’d be playing the victim, as folk say.

Because she’s the victim — or at least that’s what she wants to believe.

If the recent police murders of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile and countless others ever since weren’t recorded, shared on social media and exposed to the public at-large, these unjust killings would have gone virtually unnoticed.

Did these victims of police brutality get a warning before they were shot to death by the very people who are supposed to protect them? Did Philando Castile’s preschool-aged daughter get a warning, letting her know that she would sit in the backseat of the family car while watching the passenger seat change colors as her father’s blood slowly stained it red, by way of a crooked, lethal trigger? Did she know ahead of time that she would carry the burden of consoling her mother, sitting in a precinct for 15 hours with no food and no water?

To be warned is to be privileged, and privilege does not exist in true victimhood.

“People have mental illnesses and traumatic experiences,” she said. “Why can’t they get permission to skip the class?” She asked.

Mental illness. If you were a person, I would feel the most sorry for you. Your name is misused and abused. People who suffer with you are being overlooked and people who want to overlook racial history use your name in vain as a beard to hide their deep-seated fear of the truth.

When I write about race, I am complaining.

When I speak about race, I am angry.

When she avoids addressing the ugly truth of the Jim Crow South and lynchings and race, she’s standing up for people.

God bless the black woman educator. I am she. She is me. A black woman who has worked her ass off to be finally granted the ultimate privilege of teaching as a student (granted, under an assistantship) at a university. A black woman who is employed to enlighten young scholars of all ages, colors and hues. A black woman who has more than likely fought through the wraths of racism, sexism, hateration, micro-aggressions and everything else in between on her way to the top.

God bless the victims of police murders and other unjust, racially-charged crimes against humanity. No trigger warning could ever stop a crooked trigger.

God bless those that suffer from mental illness. I pray that you feel as comfortable as possible no matter where you are or where you happen to go. If you know me, you know my mother is a therapist and if you’re suffering, I extend my hand to you with her services. But this isn’t about mental illness.

I want to talk about masks.

I don’t like them. I want to rip them off. All of them. I want the tape affixed to the masks to pull all the little hairs off the faces of the hidden. And I want it to sting, like nothing ever felt before.

This girl. She wants the mask to stay on. She wants to marry it and live happily ever after with it, ’til death do they part. This is the same girl that felt so compelled to prove to me how “down” for black folk she is when I first met her.

“My friends told me not to move here because they’re so many black people but I thought that was awesome.”

“A lot of the time I’m the only white person in my classes but that’s fine, really.”

“Where I used to live, there were white people everywhere and I just couldn’t take the lack of diversity.”

But she doesn’t want to address the plight of the people she claims to love so much?

She’s not alone. The masks are permanently congealed to the faces of many.

To the true victims: Don’t be weary and don’t be still.

But know.

Know your history. Know your right to know your history. Black people were slaves. Black people were lynched. Black people were systematically degraded by the rule of the law. Nobody can change the past. Too many people are doing too much to undo. Fight it. Always fight it in your own way. When I fight, I write.

And when the past constantly taunts the present by way of the school to prison pipeline, police brutality, racial profiling, a widening achievement gap and endless covert discriminatory tactics woven into the thread of the nation, you have no choice but to face history head on. It is your duty —

when you are a victim.

We are in a space where everybody wants to play the victim, but most are far too fragile for this line of work.

 

Help a Sista Help a Sista

“Unfortunately, history has shown us that [sisterhood] must be learned, when it should be natural.” — Josephine Baker

JJ Jendayi Johnson 2

Jendayi Johnson

 

Today, my mom and I ran into a man at the mall. In conversation, he brought  up his daughter. His face lit up when he spoke of her.

My face lit up when his face lit up. I was loving this father’s love.

“She just finished up at University of Virginia and now she’s headed to New York for graduate school.” Jendayi Johnson, his daughter, is headed to Columbia in the fall to study speech-language pathology. Her studies have been inspired by her grandmother, who suffered a stroke and lost most of her speaking ability.

While the doctor was claiming defeat, alleging that Jendayi’s grandmother may never speak again, the speech pathologist was working to prove otherwise. After months of working with the speech pathologist, Jendayi’s grandmother was speaking whole sentences.

How sweet a feeling it is when we prove doubt and defeat wrong.

Unfortunately, Jendayi herself has dealt with a great deal of doubt from others and even from herself. “When I was accepted into college, I was told that I only got in because I was Black,” she explained on her Just Jobs scholarship page. She went on to talk about overheard conversations demeaning Black students and minimizing the validity of their accomplishments. After internalizing all of this, she, like many students, developed Impostor Syndrome, or an inability to accept personal success and achievement. People who experience Impostor Syndrome often fear that they should not be where they are in life and aren’t as capable as their peers.

It’s easy to feel like an impostor as a black woman in higher education. In many spaces of higher education, we are limited or even non-existent. Nonetheless, our presence in these spaces is needed and well overdue. Many black women miss opportunities for higher education, not because we are incapable, but rather, because we are unsupported.

Sisterhood.

Its when I reached out to a UVA student via Facebook when I first got accepted into my master’s program and she took time out her busy schedule to talk to me before I even got there, came over and gave me a 3 hour pep talk the night I moved to Charlottesville and afterwards, became a lifelong friend and role model.

Its when a dean at my undergraduate alma mater, University of Richmond, supported me when I was threatened and had property vandalized for the words I wrote in the school newspaper, from the moment it happened to the police hearing, which she attended with me. She continued to support me well after it was all said and done.

Its when a retired philanthropist decided to sow seeds through me and pay for me to travel in order to work with marginalized girls throughout Virginia and beyond before ever meeting me in person.

There were way more than three black women who helped pave the way for me. Now, its Jendayi’s turn. She needs way more than that to help support her vision as well.

“Receiving my degree will allow me to prove everyone that thought that I didn’t have the ability to succeed wrong. More importantly, it would be the first step of many towards achieving my goal of fortifying my clients’ abilities to communicate their thoughts, opinions, and desires and continuing on the trajectory that other Black scholars that came before me created,” Jendayi asserted.

Black people are crabs in a barrel.

Black women never support each other.

Our community is tainted by these false stereotypes.

Jendayi wants to prove the naysayers wrong by helping others do the same.

My momma and I told her daddy that he ran into the right people today. Help me follow through.

Help a sista help a sista and vote for this young queen to win a scholarship so she can go on to Columbia and really show out and show and prove.

Because sisterhood should be natural.

(Its extremely easy to vote. From what I was told, clicking the heart above the comments section counts as a vote. Also, leaving comments on the page and sharing her page on Facebook also helps to convince the judges. You have until Friday, 7/ 15/2016 to vote.)

Cleaning Lady

cleaning lady feet
I saw this lady
Clean the bathroom
Mop up the malice, bleach clean the bigotry and throw away the arrogance of a civilization
This United States of a nation
It’s too bad when folk act too good to clean up they own mess
I saw this lady
With the weight of the world on her shoulders
The kids at the college seem frozen in time while she grows older
and older and older
I told her “good morning” and she smiled too
It was the kind of halfway smile that don’t really believe you
I didn’t speak soon enough. Or I spoke too soon.
Then her silence told me that she just here to clean the bathroom.
Society tends to treat its hardest workers with the least respect. Silence kills the spirit. I wrote this to kill the silence. 
Love, Kiara

A Fist in the Air for the Black Professors

college classroom EDIT

“I think she’s the hardest professor in the department,” a classmate of mine said. “I mean, maybe she just doesn’t like me. Maybe she doesn’t like white people or something.”

We were reflecting on our professors while waiting for a class to start. The classmate I was talking to was equating a professor’s challenging and rigorous coursework to discrimination, because to her, a black professor that pushes students intellectually was not acceptable.

I was much younger back then when this conversation occurred. I remember feeling the need to reassure the girl that the professor in question was not racist. We talked about it a few seconds more and then our class started. But don’t think for a second that I forgot about this encounter.

In my experience in education thus far, black and brown professors are far and few in-between, in white-dominated American academia. I cherish the few times I’ve been able to take a class led by someone who looks like me. I look up to these black professors. I commend them.  For me, they help legitimate my place in academia. When I watch them teach, I get a warm and tingly feeling sometimes. In short, their very presence reiterates a sense of black pride.

But my pride takes a hit in the jugular when the ability of the black professor is questioned…simply because he or she indeed has ability. The wound stings even more when white professors known to be difficult are accepted by fellow students while black professors in the same boat are chastised and even reported – simply for doing their job. And my blood begins to boil when, in the midst of all this, the “easy” black professors are put on a pedestal by students. These professors easily become the “favorites.”

After having conversations with students and black professors at multiple institutions, many black professors are at a fork in the road – I either have to dumb down my work and myself to seem less intimidating to students or I can continue to push my students toward bigger and better, taking the risk of being perceived as black and educated by the students I teach. In this instance, who is the racist here?

But it gets even murkier when tenure, accountability and university standards are thrown into the mix, as many black professors feel forced to be as demanding as possible and to dish out the hardest readings, assignments and projects one could fathom, as many black professors are pressured to “prove” themselves to their colleagues, working ten, twenty times harder, simply to be given the time of day.

To the Black Proffesors:

I will admit, in the beginning, I was wrong. I was wrong to admire you, simply because you look like me. Yes, image certainly speaks volumes in this image-saturated world we live in, but image is barely the tip of the ice burg. I am now in awe of you all, because of your plight. You are pushed and pulled in every direction. You are burdened with research, micro aggressions, students who love your failure and hate your fruition, colleagues who doubt you simply because of how you look, students (like me) who hold you to high standards in your work and in your blackness, students who are afraid of you because you know more than they do, faculty anxiously waiting for the day you slip up to call your bluff, and students who look like you waiting in the same line, because unfortunately, they do not yet know that they look like you and then some.

A few weeks ago, I accepted an offer to pursue my Ph.D. in education. To say the least, I will need your guidance and your love, but I also realize you need my support as much as I need yours.

This is why my fist is in the air for the black professors; this is why yours should be too.