Can African-Americans appropriate African cultures?

I went to undergrad with a Ghanaian girl who was not born in Ghana, but both of her parents were. She is extremely proud of her Ghanaian heritage and culture. I remember a few years ago she saw a facebook post of an African-American woman (who we also went to school with) in kente cloth (headscarf and outfit). She commented on the post, calling it inappropriate for her to have worn the kente cloth. After a few back and forth comments, she went as far as to say that by wearing kente cloth the young woman was appropriating her culture. I felt conflicted and a bit attacked although the comment was not directed toward me or even having anything directly to do with me. Later, I saw another post that this woman commented on. In this one, there was a roomful of white women wearing kente cloth (very similar to the attire that the African-American woman was wearing and was scolded for). Instead of telling them they were appropriating her culture as she had done to the African-American woman, she commented that she loved seeing them embrace her culture. Serious double standard!

Her point was that the young woman, being African-American, did not know where her cultural heritage lied. Therefore, she was unable to claim any particular culture as her own and it “wasn’t her culture to represent”. She talked about how African-Americans did not know the meaning of and history behind the use of kente cloth or much else about African cultures, West African cultures in particular. By representing cultures we do not know very much about or have direct familial ties to, she felt like we were appropriating her culture and that we are out of place.

My point is the same as hers at its root. We do not know where our cultural heritage lies, but that is not our fault. We were robbed of the opportunity to know where we are from and to know what culture is truly ours to represent, but I don’t think we should be penalized for that. To say that despite your ancestors being kidnapped from their home land, being enslaved for centuries, and struggling with an incomplete sense of identity, you may not partake in any component of my culture is inconsiderate. To say you are not welcome instead of recognizing the difficult position African-Americans are in or at least taking the opportunity to educate instead of attack is inconsiderate. On top of all of that, the fact that she had no issue and was even excited to see White Americans embracing her culture showed that cultural appropriation really wasn’t her issue. Cultural appropriation could easily be claimed in the case with White Americans wearing the cloth, but she had no issue in that case.

To me, her double standard shows that African-Americans associating with her culture was undesirable to her but that White Americans associating with her culture felt like validation and was exciting. It is possible that the double standard stems from the negative perception of African-Americans by some Africans or from the perception of whiteness is better and leads to validation. Either way, it is truly unfortunate and misinformed. There should be some sense of unity between Africans and African-Americans but many times there isn’t. Even if African-Americans representing cultures that they are not sure are their own of origin, I don’t think that should be called appropriation. But how do you even know that this isn’t my heritage and that you aren’t attacking me for embracing and representing my own culture? It’s a sensitive situation, but it would be fantastic if it could actually lead to open discussions instead of just arguments in facebook comments sections…

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“Shifting”

My diversity scholars proposal is focused on the phenomenon of “shifting” faced by black women in the United States. When I was deciding on this topic, I talked to several black women who were friends and family members. None of them had heard of the actual term, but all of them knew what I was talking about and had experienced the same struggles. After my presentation in class, Christian even mentioned that he had reached out to a black female faculty member here at VT who he assumed had heard of the term, but had not. I hadn’t heard of the term either, although I knew the feeling. Strangely, I had never really thought about the possibility of there being a term to describe what I was feeling. For some reason, I and apparently many other black women just accepted the fact that the feeling was there and found a way to cope.

What is the emotional and mental impact of struggling with something that you can’t name? Does it make it easier to tackle that struggle if you know others struggle with the same thing? If so, how does that experience of struggle change if you don’t know that others struggle with it, that it has a name, and that it IS a real thing?

Lots of graduate students struggle with imposter syndrome, but I’ve heard a disproportionate number of people of color describe struggling with feeling like an imposter. I wonder if these 2 are connected…do people of color face additional struggles and burdens at school and in the workplace that just widen the gap between them and their white peers? Do those additional burdens exacerbate the feeling of being an imposter?

The fact that I am just now thinking about these questions has caught me a little bit off guard and has really intensified my drive to explore these questions with others. I’m not sure why I accepted that personal struggle as part of the difficulty of being a person of color in academia and never questioned whether this was felt widespread. This realization has made me realize that I need to pay more attention moving forward to not assume that I am struggling with things by myself. Usually there is some community to engage with who knows the struggle….

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Discourse?

I was elated to have the opportunity to hear one of my favorite authors in a question and answer session as Hollins University a few weeks ago. My first semester of graduate school in a non-formal learning class I was introduced to bell hooks, and my teaching philosophy as well as my drive for life have forever been changed. In the course I was introduced to the pedagogy of the oppressed as well as the purpose and importance of discourse.

Many of the discussions in this course have continued to demonstrate the importance of asking those hard and difficult questions that require deep thought and being willing to listen to the answer even if it is different from your own. I do plan t join the academy at the end of my PhD program and have benefited from hearing the many different voices in the class. We are all on this journey and it will take all of us being willing to take a chance ask the question and wait for the response.

Some of the techniques and topics discussed have helped me to understand difference and diversity even more knowing that shifting is an actual thing and it happens to all of us as well as it costs all of us energy. That may be one of the main reasons that graduate school is so exhausting as we work to prove we belong and that we can do this and we will do this.

I encourage all of my future colleagues in the academy to continue to embrace discourse and fight the good fight.  If we all join the system and remember the struggle we can make a difference!

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Campus Protesting…. Yay or Nay?

I knew in November 2016 that 2017 would be an interesting year full of turmoil and multiple protests. I had hoped that none of them would be violent, but then as we prepared to start this semester Charlottesville occurred.  With that came the realization that white supremist are all around us and are even share our graduate offices and classrooms. The march in Charlottesville were the first time I remember seeing white supremist out in the public without hiding behind something all in the name of free speech. Our society has created a double standard for free speech where we say what we want when we want to and how we want to, but if anyone speaks against us then they are wrong and are not protected by free speech.

Where do we draw the line at hate speech and freedom as speech as far as the university level? Yes, VT does have the principles of community, but these principles are not rules or the end all be all, but rather a collection of guidelines that are there to allow for a productive community to develop. Our government can not pass legislation that is bipartisan or quickly the healthcare plan is an example as well as the tax plan that was rushed, so that even our legislatures did not have time to read and comprehend all that it included, so how could we expect them to define and set boundaries for free speech. In this case that falls on the university. It is up to our administration to be transparent and make a decision. It may not be the popular decision, but it is one that must be made if a community is to continue to thrive.

Personally, I am in support of free speech as long as it does not contain words or symbols of hate or demeans a population. The graduate student here at VT has a right to be part of whatever political or organization they wish, because I would like to have the same opportunity. I disagree with this particular student’s choice, but in the end, it is their choice. The issue comes when that choice impacts the students and classroom the graduate student is involved in. If students of an instructor are persuaded towards or away from a cause or belief or if unfair treatment is occurring then a problem is present and the instructor should be removed. If we want to celebrate or freedoms of choice when we need to allow choice to occur, but stay vigilant in protecting the classroom and students.

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Campus Protesting…. Yay or Nay?

I knew in November 2016 that 2017 would be an interesting year full of turmoil and multiple protests. I had hoped that none of them would be violent, but then as we prepared to start this semester Charlottesville occurred.  With that came the realization that white supremist are all around us and are even share our graduate offices and classrooms. The march in Charlottesville were the first time I remember seeing white supremist out in the public without hiding behind something all in the name of free speech. Our society has created a double standard for free speech where we say what we want when we want to and how we want to, but if anyone speaks against us then they are wrong and are not protected by free speech.

Where do we draw the line at hate speech and freedom as speech as far as the university level? Yes, VT does have the principles of community, but these principles are not rules or the end all be all, but rather a collection of guidelines that are there to allow for a productive community to develop. Our government can not pass legislation that is bipartisan or quickly the healthcare plan is an example as well as the tax plan that was rushed, so that even our legislatures did not have time to read and comprehend all that it included, so how could we expect them to define and set boundaries for free speech. In this case that falls on the university. It is up to our administration to be transparent and make a decision. It may not be the popular decision, but it is one that must be made if a community is to continue to thrive.

Personally, I am in support of free speech as long as it does not contain words or symbols of hate or demeans a population. The graduate student here at VT has a right to be part of whatever political or organization they wish, because I would like to have the same opportunity. I disagree with this particular student’s choice, but in the end, it is their choice. The issue comes when that choice impacts the students and classroom the graduate student is involved in. If students of an instructor are persuaded towards or away from a cause or belief or if unfair treatment is occurring then a problem is present and the instructor should be removed. If we want to celebrate or freedoms of choice when we need to allow choice to occur, but stay vigilant in protecting the classroom and students.

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I have privilege, you have privilege, we all have privilege!

Why is privilege such a hard subject for some to grasp and accept that they possess. I am well aware that I can do things and not think twice because of what I look like. I remember when I was a teenager I learned about middle age white woman privilege when my mother would get access to various parts of the stadium on game days because she played the I am a middle-aged woman and need to go this rout to a restroom or because it is closer to my seats. The security personnel did not even question it, they waved us through and cleared a path for my mother who at the time was in her late 30’s and not middle aged just yet.  In a previous blog entry, I discussed needing to call the problem by its name and begin to use the term White Supremacy, so let’s talk about white privilege.

If you listen to certain news outlets and public figures you will hear that white privilege does not exist. Time after time on social network sites I have seen white individuals proclaim they do not have white privilege and that it does not exist because they work hard for what they have. I know I have multiple types of privilege. I am white, female, middle class, parents with well payed stable careers, and one educated parent with a specialist degree. I know that I have had access to experience just because of those things.  I have been able to attend two top tier research universities and never worried once how I would afford enrollment. I have accepted this, but just like having a bias you have to recognize it first.

I have found that individuals especially those in my extended family understand privilege they just do not believe they have any. They see my privilege and say things like well you can do that because your parents have good jobs, or you got into college because your mother is a teacher and she knew how to help you prepare and plan. Oddly enough they never mention my white privilege because if they did they would admit they have it to. How do we start this conversation and how do we expose their white privilege?  I have started with owning my own and being the example, as well as adding in the snarky “your privilege is showing.”

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I have privilege, you have privilege, we all have privilege!

Why is privilege such a hard subject for some to grasp and accept that they possess. I am well aware that I can do things and not think twice because of what I look like. I remember when I was a teenager I learned about middle age white woman privilege when my mother would get access to various parts of the stadium on game days because she played the I am a middle-aged woman and need to go this rout to a restroom or because it is closer to my seats. The security personnel did not even question it, they waved us through and cleared a path for my mother who at the time was in her late 30’s and not middle aged just yet.  In a previous blog entry, I discussed needing to call the problem by its name and begin to use the term White Supremacy, so let’s talk about white privilege.

If you listen to certain news outlets and public figures you will hear that white privilege does not exist. Time after time on social network sites I have seen white individuals proclaim they do not have white privilege and that it does not exist because they work hard for what they have. I know I have multiple types of privilege. I am white, female, middle class, parents with well payed stable careers, and one educated parent with a specialist degree. I know that I have had access to experience just because of those things.  I have been able to attend two top tier research universities and never worried once how I would afford enrollment. I have accepted this, but just like having a bias you have to recognize it first.

I have found that individuals especially those in my extended family understand privilege they just do not believe they have any. They see my privilege and say things like well you can do that because your parents have good jobs, or you got into college because your mother is a teacher and she knew how to help you prepare and plan. Oddly enough they never mention my white privilege because if they did they would admit they have it to. How do we start this conversation and how do we expose their white privilege?  I have started with owning my own and being the example, as well as adding in the snarky “your privilege is showing.”

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Bias much?

Harvard has developed several implicit association tests that identify our implicit bias within certain situations or groups of individuals. As a researcher we are taught that our bias always exists and must be included in our studies because we must understand how it changes our research or how we develop our research. So, if we all have biases is it wrong to be bias in a situation?

I connect being bias with stereotypes. A few years ago, I had a communication’s professor share with the class that stereotypes were a way for our brains to make sense of the world around us and to allow us to organize and determine how to respond in various situations with various kinds of people. I was confused because I had always been told that it was wrong and that it was called profiling. So, I guess that is where bias comes in as a type of stereotyping.

Why is it so hard to accept that we are humans and are bias in situations? I guess because we have been told it is wrong. Perhaps the only way to see that a bias is not wrong is to first admit you are bias. If we can admit that we are bias towards a particular skin tone or gender role then we can more effectively fight the negative outcomes produced from being bias. We need to check our biases and leave them at the door!

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Your ability is not mine…

We often thing of a disability as a negative description of a persons, so personally I like to say I am of different ability. I am handicapped, but on a good day you may never know. I have mobility limitations and anxiety that comes with that. Some individuals believe that I like to be in charge of events and organizations because I am a bit of a control freak. That might be true in some form, but the truth is I like to make sure there is adequate parking close to the venue and adequate seating that is part of the program or space as well as limited stairs. Accessibility is my focus for events, but it is because those are my needs.

When planning for classroom activities as educators we must remember to utilize inclusive pedagogy, but it should go beyond our lesson planning and become integrated into our daily lives. We have to remember not everyone has my ability and it is not that individuals fault for having a different ability. I know my friends do not patronize me for being a bit slower or needing and elevator to just go up or down one floor, but I know that individuals that do not know me or see my knee brace are judging.

I and other must work constantly to remember that different abilities do not mean and individual is lesser and it is not simply related to physical ability, but mental as well. By using inclusive pedagogy, we can create environments that are welcoming and inclusive to all people.

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The System of VT

In a previous blog entry, I discussed needing to change the system and that the reason for us continuing to fight the same fights is because of the root of our problems are connected and fed by the system. Let’s look at Virginia Tech’s system. As part of class we reviewed the history of the university focused around presidents and the naming of buildings. During discussion we found that all of the presidents were white and male. A good portion of them were even VT graduates.  I can see a problem with both. While some individuals think it is important for universities to employee their own graduates, I believe otherwise.

If you want to change the system you have to branch out. Maybe they do not want to change. Change is scary for everyone and we all react differently, but we need to stop with the lame excuse of the unknown is threatening. Universities that have committed to brining in new hires from international searches have experienced a larger growth in diversity and inclusion. This trend is typically found with private universities like Hollins University just up the road in Roanoke. So, why not a large Research I institution?

What can we do? How does VT make the change and bring in new thought at the president’s level of administration? Is it a Board of Visitor’s need for change?

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