Home » Posts tagged 'silence' (Page 2)
Tag Archives: silence
“Lower your voice.”
“Keep your head down and your mouth shut.”
“Don’t rock the boat.”
“You need to tone it down.”
It seems the universe has been dead-set on silencing, immobilizing, paralyzing, and deradicalizing me since my birth. In simply being myself, which happens to entail being outspoken about injustice, I have been labeled uppity, radical, provocative, militant, showy, hypersensitive, and a trouble-maker. In choosing to pursue a career in which I make change from within the system, I have struggled much of my life with finding the right balance of keeping my position and speaking out. Worrying about what others think of me, specifically of losing out in major ways, I remained in the closet until age 17.
You would think it would be smooth sailing since then. Actually, the further I have gone in my career — college, graduate school, and now a tenure-track faculty position — the more anxiety I have felt about how I present myself to the world. At the same time, the “innocent” requests to shut up, hide, and stand still have increased. Even at my quietest, most inauthentic, and politically inert point, I still receive these request. It seems the universe won’t be satisfied until I completely disappear. Or, maybe become a white straight man who upholds the status quo.
Recently, I ran into a friend who relayed to me other friends’ concerns that I am “too out there” in my new job. Their thinking, along with everyone else’s it seems, is that tenure-track faculty should be seen and not heard. Particularly for me as a young Black queer man, in an interracial same-gender relationship, living in the South, I should be ever vigilant about how I present myself to the world. Duh. I did not secure this job without doing that for years in graduate school. I did not burst through my university’s doors declaring I would radically change the place. Trust me. To survive in this racist, sexist, heterosexist society, there is not a single day in which I do not constantly think about self-presentation.
When the quantoid in me lights up, I am really fed up with these requests. I have lost count of the number of times I have been encouraged, usually from a place of concern, to be quiet, tone it down, hide who I am, etc. Whatever the number, it far exceeds the times I have been encouraged to speak up, be seen, or shake things up. And, let’s count the number of people who quietly exist within the status quo. There are plenty. We can afford to have just one more person who may make herstory by refusing to be “well-behaved” and quiet.
Where is the limit on being well-behaved? Is being a good little black gay graduate student for six years enough, just til I get a PhD and a job? No? Oh — maybe it is the seven years of wearing suits that betray my genderqueer identity and stressing myself to publish in my discipline’s top journals — you know, to secure tenure. Assuming I am of the rare sort to finish graduate school before 30, that means I can finally be free to be my outspoken self in my mid-thirties. That is, you know, banking on tomorrows that are not promised to any of us.
And, outspokenness and activism are not the only things that are policed. It is my identities as a queer person of color that are seen as a threat. By entering into spaces that historically have excluded people like me, now shaping the next generation’s minds, I am a threat. I am a threat whether I hold radical politics or not. I could play it “safe” by academic standards and still be lynched outside of work because of my race. Or, I could be denied tenure — you know, because discrimination and harassment occur within academia, too. It is a damn shame, but the truest reality of them all is that my PhD merely affords me a different kind of policing of black and queer bodies.
I am tired of having to name my career path as one that seems out of the norm. I am tired of having to justify not pursuing that good, ol’ prized Research I (R1) path, or even the silent, politically inert journey toward tenure at any type of school. More importantly, in the midst of this miserable first semester, all that I do that is being read as outspoken or radical are merely strategies for my survival. I am trying to carve out space in the universe so that I can actually get out of bed in the morning to go to work.
I note the good intentions behind the requests for silent inaction. I appreciate it. But, they typically come from people who do not know me well enough to give that kind of advice. They do not know how much I really do negotiate interactions with others. They do not know how many times I have completely shutdown because something so offensive has been said and I stew in guilt for not speaking up. They do not know how many mornings I fight with my body and body image issues trying to fit into costumes deemed appropriate for professional men. They have assumed I am recklessly opening my mouth without thinking, without doing my homework to make an informed critique, and without thinking about the potential consequences.
I am not an idiot. I know what can happen to “outspoken faggots” and “uppity niggers”. In a way, I am risking my life, or at least my status and position, to prevent that for myself and others like me.
So, please do me a favor. Stop telling me to be quiet.
I am inspired by Dr. Radhika Nagpal‘s essay, “The Awesomest 7-Year Postdoc or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Tenure-Track Faculty Life.” In it, she writes about taking control of her life while she was on the tenure-track, rather than letting tenure control her. If you have not read it yet, do so right now (you’re welcome) and then don’t forget to come back here!
There is some great reflection that I suspect will be useful to tenure-track academics with young children. But, I feel the essay is missing other important contexts that are omnipresent in the stories of marginalized scholars: prejudice, discrimination, stereotypes, harassment, double-standards, invisibility, hypervisibility, tokenism — just to name a few manifestations of oppression in academia. There is a good chance Nagpal faced some of these realities herself, though not addressing them explicitly in her essay. So, a great way to repackage her essay to scholars on the margins would be to infuse the experiences relayed in Presumed incompetent and the advice from The Black Academic’s Guide to Winning Tenure–Without Losing Your Soul.
A 7-Year Experiment
Of course, as a brand new assistant professor, I do not have a story of the tenure-track without the stress (in the contexts of racism, heterosexism, and other systems of oppression). But, rather than telling my story after I receive tenure, I offer my story while pursuing tenure without the stress.
Consider this my 7-year experiment. Beginning today, I have decided to work toward obtaining tenure without compromising my health, happiness, authenticity, or politics. I will reflect on my experiences over the next seven years so that others may learn from my successes and failures. Yes, I am putting myself on the line to test this hypothesis: can marginalized academics win tenure “without losing their souls”?
First, I should note that I feel relatively comfortable embarking on this experiment for the world to see because I accepted a position where the tenure requirements seem doable. So, a first step toward pursuing a stress-free life on the tenure-track is placing achievable tenure expectations as a top priority for a job, rather than letting the school’s prestige dominate the list. Yes, I do want to be challenged, and the expectations are high enough that I cannot do research or teach once in a blue moon. But, I struggled with anxiety long enough to forgo signing up to be challenged at anxiety-provoking levels.
I can also tweak Nagpal’s own guidelines to fit with my journey toward tenure without losing my soul:
- I decided that this is a 7-year postdoc.
- I stopped taking advice.
- I created a “feelgood” email folder.
- I work fixed hours and in fixed amounts.
- I try to be the best “whole” person I can.
- I found real friends.
- I have fun “now”.
1 — I printed out a similar little note that says “This is a 7-year postdoc.” But, I am inclined to see this more as “I am a professor at this university for at least 7 years.” This is my reward for six difficult years in graduate school, plus four years in college. My time in graduate school entailed many instances of remaining silent, or censored, or deferential — even when I saw injustices or was the target of a microaggression myself. I learned to present myself, my work, and my perspective in “safe”, apolitical, and mainstream ways to get ahead. Why be silent, censored, and subservient for another seven years? I worked hard for my freedom (the PhD), and I have my “papers” to prove it. My PhD will serve its intended purposes of liberating me, my voice, my perspective, and my communities.
2 — “I stopped taking advice,” especially from people who are not of the same or similar social locations, or, at a minimum, clearly do not have my best interests (as a whole person) in mind. Upon hearing the awful, and sometimes oppressive advice throughout graduate school (“remind them that you’re Black,” “man up!”, “a little bit of anxiety is good for you”), I have learned the hard lesson that there is a lot of advice that is thrown around, and most of it speaks to privileged scholars’ experiences (if it is based in truth at all). The most helpful sources of advice as I progressed through the difficult year of job market and dissertating were my partner, my family, my friends, and my own heart, mind, and spirit. My career will never mirror that of another person, so I have to do a better job of listening to that internal adviser.
3 — I acknowledge the institutionally valued markers of success (i.e., publication, grants, student evaluations, awards), but I will stop ignoring other signs of being loved, valued, and respected. I have been collecting nice notes from friends and family in a Word document. After attending the American Sociological Association annual meeting this weekend, I realized that I should better appreciate how many people value this blog. (I heard from a dozen people, “I love your blog!”, but only once heard “I’m familiar with your research.) This includes allowing being valued to work both up (i.e., from senior and higher-status scholars) and down (i.e., from younger and lower-status scholars), for chasing the attention of overburdened “stars” in my subfields places too much of my self-worth in the hands of people I must convince to notice me.
4 — I will continue working weekdays during reasonable work hours (sometimes 8am-6pm), as I have been doing since the second to last year of my graduate training. Labor rights activists worked too hard to block off Saturday and Sunday as days off from work for me to relinquish the weekend. That, and my salary is based on a 40-hour workweek, so I would rather save time in which I am volunteering for community service rather than to academic service. I learned that I ultimately become too tired to work, and trying to do so every day left me unproductive and riddled with guilt and anxiety for not working.
5 — I must be a whole person. This means I will have to stop extensively managing my self-presentation. As a student, and even as new professor, I find it incredibly reassuring to see advisers as whole people — people who have families, laugh, cry, dress up and dress down, drink, etc. I can stop using a professional-looking photo as my profile picture on Facebook. I will not fall into “shop talk” outside of the office with colleagues who are also friends. I owe it to myself, my partner, and my friends and family to be something more than the one-dimension of scholar.
6 — I will work at finding “real” friends, which may include my colleagues, but should include non-academics, as well.
7 — I will start having fun now because my health depends on it, and tomorrow is not promised to me. It seems odd to me to work so hard for 6-10 years for a PhD, to then work even harder for another seven — all in the name of the job security we assume non-academics are not promised.
Status Or Happiness? I’m Choosing Both
Inherent in this experiment, as well as Napgal’s post, is the assumed contradiction between status and happiness. I have reflected in personal writing on these two paths as a series of major and minor crossroads throughout my life as a marginalized scholar:
These crossroads are just one aspect of the larger decision I face: do I choose status, or do I choose happiness? In some ways, I have already made decisions toward both ends. Unknowingly, I chose a top-ranked PhD program; I liked the feel, and assumed I would have support for my work in sexualities. But, I took a liberal arts position close to my family, forgoing a longer stay in graduate school to increase my marketability (to research intensive schools). My work took on a mainstream approach, while pushing the envelope. I present myself in normative ways, but make no secret of my politics, views, and experiences.
I was reminded of the importance of reflective writing. Immediately after I wrote the previous paragraph (yesterday, on my flight back from the ASA conference), I wrote the following:
The more I reflect on this, I realize I am actually on neither path. I have not selected the “easy” route, completely relinquishing hope for status or prestige. But, I also have not completely sold my soul for the status-driven route. By bouncing back and forth between the two routes, I am actually on my own path. And, it is my hope of hopes that I actually pave a new path, that my footsteps are making visible a new route for others. With a commitment to paving the way, I must be open and honest with others about my successes and missteps. My tale may even be a cautionary one for others behind me. I must tell my story and live openly for the purview of others like me!
That is, it was this personal reflection that sparked the idea for this post. I have done some digging to find out about other scholars before me who pursued alternative paths, for these individuals were either invisible in my graduate training or the more radical aspects of their lives were stripped away. For example, though sociologists are slowly beginning to recognize the work of W. E. B. DuBois, we never talk about his work with NAACP, his experiences of racist discrimination, or anything other than his published works. This, in my opinion, speaks back to being a whole person, even for other academics. I would love to hear, “wow, I liked your article in Journal of Health and Social Behavior, and omg, your blog is amazing!”
So, here it goes. For the next seven years, I will continue to publish research, teach courses, mentor students, blog, and work with community organizations. I have chosen to stop biting my tongue because I am tired of tasting blood. I will be a whole person to my colleagues, students, friends, and family — and myself. I chose not to stress about tenure, working on projects that meet my goals of social justice and accessibility at my own pace. I will focus on “connecting up”, forging connections with senior scholars and the “big names” in my field, as well as “connecting down” by making genuine efforts to connect with my peers and younger scholars and students. I will give occasional updates, and, in the end, report back on the findings of this 7-year experiment. Wish me luck!