In the academy today, who writes? Who teaches? Who do we read? What classes are available to us? What and who is “included”? In last week’s readings we saw the bleak reality in France (which is not dissimilar to many other academic contexts):
“In France there is the problem with what is admissible as theory, but also with queer (and straight) of colour access to the academy. In the entire French academy there is only one out lesbian of colour professor, hired only last year. She does excellent work on migration but none on queer theory. There is not a single out trans professor (white or of colour). There are some courses on race and gender (not sexualities) but not one course on queer of colour theories (from anywhere).” (Bacchetta and Haritaworn 136)
And then just yesterday, Sara Ahmed posted a blog entitled ‘Being in Question’. She explores what it means to “to be questioned, to be questionable” as a person of colour – where are you from? She examines various contexts, but also that of being a professor of colour. She writes, using Orrelus as an example:
“You become questionable when you do not fulfil an expectation of who will turn up. I think also of Pierre W. Orrelus’s work on immigrants and transnationals of colour. He notes how as a professor of colour he is often met with surprise: “after I formally introduce myself in class, I have undergraduate students who ask me, in a surprised tone of voice, ‘Are you really the professor?’ I sometimes overhear them asking their peers, ‘Is he really the professor’” (2011: 31). Orrelus compares this mode of questioning, this sense of curiosity and astonishment, with the questions typically asked of immigrants about “funny accents.” Really: really? When we are asked questions, we are being held up, we become questionable. In my book, Strange Encounters (2000) I drew on Mary Douglas’s understanding of dirt as “matter out of place,” to redescribe the stranger as “the body out of place.” Being asked whether you are the professor is also a way of being made into a stranger: not being at home in a category that gives residence to others.“
Belonging is tied to notions of place, race, and structures. The attitudes, interpretations and methodologies that Mohanty’s article from the 1980s identify are still present in academia’s (in the broadest sense of the feminist academy) ways of seeing difference. We need to think about ways we can be accountable for who talks about what, when, and how; and in thinking about transnational feminist practise we should foreground these questions.
Marieke voices some concerns in her post about what transnational feminism in practise really looks like, concerns I share for the most part. And yet, when I read the title for this class I immediately thought of a colleague of ours from the gender department who edits an online magazine called Subversion/Subversión. Their mission is explicitly trasnationally feminist – to put “transnational feminist theory into practice, from academia into our everyday lives.” They define it as follows:
“Transnational feminist theory and practice moves away from Western mainstream feminism and its self-important tendencies. In the fight to end gender-based oppression (along with other forms of identity-based subjugation), we need to acknowledge colonial legacies and fight neo-colonialism. Gender oppression intersects with many other forms of oppression; transnational feminism demands a recognition of and respect for the differences between people and cultures and their specific dynamics and histories. For this we need to step away from a worldview that defines the West as the center and highlight the experiences of the global south. Anti-globalization and anti-capitalism are essential in this process.
It is imperative for the progression of social justice that the oppressed can be heard in their own voices, as opposed to filtered through Western opinions. We need to be aware that the power of being heard is currently still limited to those with privilege. Activists and academics have to be self-conscious and have to use their privilege to create much needed space for the oppressed to take an active part in the conversation.”
(Everything quoted here, like everything on the website, is also included on the site in Spanish but I am including only the English versions).
It’s not perfect, but it’s a beginning to start thinking about how we might take the radical politics of transnational feminism and put them into our own lives and work.
What do you think of the website?