‘Table’ manners in academia- racial etiquette and queer subjectivity

This past weekend, Conditionally Accepted reposted a few essays a former student of mine had written.  Stating he would be my student at the crossroads of my disillusionment with higher ed, I didn’t have the grounding to speak the truth of the moment to him. He opted to take my class at a time when I didn’t feel I had the strength to teach him let alone the strength to complete the semester. A great deal of the unspoken between us that can be summed up into the relief he and I both felt when, on completing the semester, I said he could stop calling me ‘Professor’ and start referring to me as ‘Erika’ again.

I decided to respond to Jackson Wright Shultz’s piece call Truth and Subjectivity. He echoes what emerges from Bodies of Evidence, whose contributors explain the significance of oral histories as a starting point to documenting LGBTIQ history. Generations earlier, those who survived to tell the tale did the best to do so. Today, increased visibility allows our generation and will allow later generations to document our struggle and resilience beyond stories reflecting on the distant past. His essay extends decades long dialog that intersectional and interdisciplinary studies (Gender, Ethnic, Area, Cultural, Queer, Disability Studies, to name a few) introduced between the 1960s and 70s.

The caste within/among academics/scholars informs the visibility of truth and subjectivity even as the invalidation of subjectivity takes place within ‘higher-tiered’ institutions. Schulz reminded me of that a decade ago; queer of color senior colleagues reinforce that now.

I’ll go back to the semester he was in my classroom to explain.

Before class, he arrive to the Women’s Studies office with his mouth taped with SILENCE written over it in honor of the National Day of Silence 2009. In response to the silence of others, I decided to not be silent. At the beginning of class, I read/performed”What is the struggle today,” to explain the discrimination I experienced both in the community of color I once considered friends (among other graduate students), and the racialized isolation I had felt as the only visible queer (doctoral) activist student of color among white peers. I would perform it again the day after my proposal defense at an open mic student organizations were holding.

That April, I spoke my truth because I had gotten to the point that what/who I knew I would lose was no longer worth keeping or no longer mine to keep.

 

It’s taken years to laugh about the grief of that moment. Grief I did my best to hide in the bathroom; bury in books and gaslight in everywhere I lived in between then and now. Temporary departures from higher ed allowed me to reclaim my truth as my own. I literally returned to stay when the solidarity/family I built across education, immigration, LGBTIQ lines were strong enough to make acceptance insignificant. When a senior colleague talks about the inherent difficulty to review the reflections of other graduate students of color, not sure if racism or homophobia informed her difficulty. Looking back at 2009, within the context of the economic crisis’ social anxiety, either or both informed mine.

Teaching 55% students of color, m current discomfort is the normalization of opportunity with which I am incredibly inpatient. Opportunity that does not ask me to put other truths before mine. Opportunity that inspires me to do so without the marianista (Christianity’s Mary’s inspired ‘sacrifice’ and self-repression) self-silencing of 2009. I sat at the table of intellectual privilege and at the table(s) of queer and brownness with nothing to eat. It’s taken eight years to find a plate, fill it and learn how to sit, eat, and feed at each table. Elders’ continued difficulty/reluctance with their truth reminds me that I have the responsibility to remember that difficulty. Years of wanting to forget my own informs the political necessity to forgive it.

Truth, even among scholars, writers and academics, continues to be a privilege no matter how many of us discuss how access to it should be a right.

 

 

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