#BlackPeopleSpeakUpinClass

Yesterday in a class, a student aired a complaint about the way they believe white people infiltrate spaces not meant for them. They spoke in general about situations on campus but then brought it to the particularity of the class, a class which by name alone, might suggest an all-black space but by the university’s student population would make that an impossible feat. The professor issued a gracious rejoinder that took a little edge off–without this the snaps in agreement to the student may have escalated to a conflict. Yet what was disappointing was when the student was encouraged to speak about the lecture at hand and the readings, they were silent. Granted the student might have been flustered and frustrated in the moment, but it made me think about an issue I struggle with being a Black person in mostly white spaces, particularly a Black PhD student in mostly white spaces. I’ve been uncomfortable with the ways that White people fill spaces too, so I understand the student(s) concern.

What I’ve discovered is, white people are going to fill spaces, especially the spaces where they’ve been privileged to be all their lives as we struggle to figure out our worth in the space. Even if it is a 20-something college student, they benefit by being a descendent of people who’ve always had access and never had to question their belonging in the world. I realized that I can’t continue to spend my time worrying about the ways they move around in the world because it won’t change, immediately–if it ever. What I can do is worry about myself.

In the first semester of my doctoral program I spent a lot of time being frustrated by the ways White people, specifically White men, take up space with their command of the scholarly lexicon and their body language. The ease with which they walk into a room, pull up a seat at the table and make seminar rooms their own–even when they don’t realize they’ve monopolized and exploited spaces for the sake of gaining social and intellectual capital with the professor–rarely is it ever to the advantage of their colleagues given the level of obscurantism present in their speech. I spent a lot of time complaining to family, friends, and colleagues about this phenomena all the while being silent in the classroom because I didn’t think what I had to say was worthwhile–because I didn’t speak or think like “them.” But I realized that the time it takes to worry and complain about them, while remaining silent, ensures I don’t move the needle forward in gaining my own social or intellectual capital or putting forth my own ideas. I realized I couldn’t spend another day talking about the ways in which I feel white people are silencing me in the classroom. I have to say it and say it without apology. Not sheepishly, not with disclaimers, not with cowering voice but with courage, certainty, and a little bass in my voice. It took me a whole year to learn that and I’ve since gotten better in the classroom because I believe I have as much as right to the space as “they” do. Now I try to take up space with my blackness and by that I mean with my perceived difference, with the determination of my people, on the prayers of ancestors, the dream and the hope of the slaves, and every freedom fighter without whom, I may not be here.

So I’ve learned that what the classroom doesn’t need is black and brown people who will idly sit in silence because they perceive the White voices in the room as too big. No voice should dim your light regardless of how big its performance–because remember, a lot of this is a performance. What the classroom needs is Black and Brown people courageous enough to decide that their voice, their ideas, their thoughts are worth hearing. Black and Brown people in the classroom, at a base level, must believe what they have to say is worth saying and worth hearing. No longer can we sit in silence or in circles after class complaining about white people and their voices and their bodies claiming spaces. We have to claim and re-claim the space against all odds and believe we are as entitled as they are–and sometimes we are even more entitled than they are.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: