In her piece “The Shape of My Impact”, Alexis Pauline Gumbs (2012) writes of the University and how it isn’t committed to our (People of color) survival, rather it is solely committed to exploiting our genius, and watching idly as its exploitation of us kills us. Not an idea, I must admit, that surprised me. I was aware. I would also argue that any other Black scholar who self identifies as “woke” or sees themselves as critically conscious about the ways we experience these (academic) spaces due to our raced beings must be cognizant of this unfortunate truth, too. It is no secret. There is never a moment when I feel that the University, my university, has my best interests at heart. It knows, as I do, that we cannot co-exist. If the University is Voldemort, I am Harry Potter (for more see Rowling, J.K., 2007). We are inextricably linked but fate will have it that one must destroy the other. Therefore, the University, aware of this prophecy, must erase me as to sustain its own life.
Let us leave the abstract and seemingly disconnected Harry Potter reference
for a moment. Simply put, I am stating that as a BlackQueer scholar-activist from a single-parent, working-class family, I dream of schools in which all marginalized students enjoy learning in spaces with socially just, anti-racist educators. That is why I exist. I exist to dismantle the “imperialist white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy” (hooks, 2000, p.5). In sharp contrast, the University in its current state exists because of the pervasiveness of racism, sexism, classism, heterosexism, and ableism. It is these ‘isms” and other insidious forms of discrimination that give it its lifeblood.
Sure, you may encounter the occasional university official or faculty member who proclaims that Black lives matter and avows to be anti-racist. But too many of these self-proclaimed anti-racist scholars and educators are so anti-Black it’s ridiculous. Hell, too many of these universities are so anti-Black it’s ridiculous. Like, they claim to want to “help” Black people, but they do not want Black people to play any part in our liberation. Quite honestly, they, because the University requires it, are just seeking to write books and articles, give workshops, and deliver keynote addresses, capitalizing off our bodies (Anderson, 2017). They, and the University, are not threats to the current social order. It is for that reason that they have existed for so long. Contrastingly, real threats are “dealt with” (google: Fred Hampton, Harriette Moore, Medgar Evers, Viola Gregg Liuzzo, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King Jr).
To take it a step further, not only is the University home to such racist ideas, but the source of them. In a letter to her colleagues, Dr. Sylvia Wynter (1994) references Carter G. Woodson who noted that lynching happened in the classroom long before it happened in the streets. So, I return to my point that the University and I cannot co-exist. We exist to eliminate each other. Every day I witness yet another attempt by the University to take my (academic) life. Every day, I encounter violence as the University exploits my genius and watches idly as its exploitation attempts to kill me. The University inflicts violence on my Black person every time a professor says that my writing is not academic enough, my sources are not reliable, my understanding of APA is lacking, my complaints about racism are baseless; every time I am asked to cover up the text on my shirt that reads: Black Boy Joy when filming a University-affiliated video, or every instance in which I am asked by security, which I know does not exist to protect me, to show my student ID twice when entering. Every time I highlight the racist practices and policies in my institution and am quickly reminded that just as I chose to attend, I can choose to un-enroll. And every day we talk about social justice but fail to illuminate the myriad ways injustice operates within our institutions; All the instances in which I am reminded that making a difference comes second to publishing in prestigious academic journals. And my entire first year in which I was evaluated on how well I could approximate the thoughts of michel foucault, herbert kliebard, gilles deleuze, sam bowles, herbert gintis, john dewey, marilyn cochran-smith and the rest of them, when the minds of Malcolm X, Angela Davis, and my mother always made more sense to me--these are only but a few of the attempts on my life by the University.
However, unlike Harry who gained many some of his powers from Voldemort, I draw on my ancestors for strength. I draw on a rich tradition of Black intellectual thought. I draw on my mother and her mother. I know that what we have cannot be broken. Beyoncé (2016) pays homage to her grandmother in Lemonade reciting that “nothing real can be broken”; similarly, I continue, knowing that I, WE, cannot be broken. And it is this knowledge that allows me to withstand the University-inflicted violence upon my Black being because I know that in the end, I, WE, will survive. So, when Joyce King (2017) asks, “who will make America great again” and Gumbs (2012) reflects on who will survive, I know that it is Us-Black people. It is Us, as my Professor refers to us, Black graduate students, Black intellectuals who are “mad as hell” (Kynard, personal communication, 2018), our ancestors’ wildest dreams, who will build the bridge to the future we will never see…
 It is also Black womYn, Black cousins, Black retail workers, Black athletes, Black authors, Black film directors, Black uncles, Black electricians, Black janitors, Black teachers, etc.
Anderson, G. (2017). How education researchers have colluded in the rise of neoliberalism: what should the role of academics be in these Trumpian times? International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 30(10), 1006-1012.
Gumbs, A. P. (2012). The shape of my impact. The Feminist Wire. Retrieved January 2018 from
hooks, b. (2000). Feminism is for everybody: Passionate politics. Cambridge, MA: South End Press.
King, J. (2017). Who will make America great again? ‘Black people, of course…’. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 30(10), 946-956.
Rowling, J. K. (2007). Harry Potter and the deathly hallows. London: Bloomsbury.
Wynter, S. (1994). No humans involved: An open letter to my colleagues. Forum N. H. I.:Knowledge for the 21st century, 1(1), 42-73.
This is my challenge for the University: to move beyond superficial diversity and cosmetic approaches to being inclusive, socially just, and antiracist and Pro-Black. No longer can the conversations around diversity, equity, and justice dissipate once faculty, staff, and students of color are recruited. No longer will we accept being left to fend for ourselves in these violent academic spaces as we navigate working, teaching, learning, and conducting research in ways that have been deemed acceptable by a select group. It is time that the academy commits more deeply and intentionally to holding themselves accountable so people of color can thrive and not just survive in our respective institutions; And so it [the University] does not continue to make the same mistakes, mistakes that often disproportionately affect people of color by way of violent attacks against our intellectual, emotional, spiritual and sometimes physical bodies.