Thursday, September 11, 2014

On Being The Only One

For a long time, I worked in towns and schools where I was the only one or one of a very small group. I want to talk about what that feels like. I've been thinking about this and saving it up, but recent discussions have made me realize that I should put out what I'm thinking and then keep talking about it periodically.

I'm Jewish and I'm queer, which are both identifications where, arguably, I can pass. There are definitely instances where not saying anything puts me in a position of privilege that would be much more tenuous if I would have been more overt about those identities. I tend to think that from my appearance people will assume that I am queer (I do have what Cecily called an "alternative lifestyle haircut"), but that's not always the case. Religion is definitely something that is easy to avoid, hide, and play along with.

I won't speak about the kind of self-harm that would come from deciding to actively hide these parts of my identity, but know that I have felt keenly aware of my otherness many times in many places, and that there was a time when my default was to be quiet and to let people assume that I was like them. And I know I can perpetrate the same wrongs done me.

Two things I've been thinking about recently, and I'll just put them out there as a start to this exploration:

The first was about how important my visibility was to students as a young queer faculty member. Representation matters. I had never considered the fact of my being, and being in a place, nothing more, could have such an impact on young lives. I really don't know how to explain that realization. It is something I'm too sure our colleagues of color also understand. Seeing the power of representation and the impact it has on students makes me more willing to stand up and be vocal and visible. Looking at them gives me the courage to do it when I might otherwise pass quietly into a position of privilege.

Secondly, I've been reflecting on how we in colleges and universities especially don't meet the mark in terms of treating diverse colleagues humanely. I mean, as humans. I can't tell you the number of times I've had discussions with nice white ladies who are fully intent on inclusion and diversity which are marked by their excitement to meet me! I really do want to believe their intent, and I know that often their experiences are limited by circumstance as well as individual choice, but I walk away feeling like, "if you're really excited to meet me, why do you treat me like a pokémon?"

These are just two thoughts I've been thinking recently. I want to take these and put them out there from my own perspective knowing that they are only representative of my experience, but also knowing that there are many more individual and collective stories. To realize a holistic profession, we need to recognize whole people, and to do that we need to constantly work on how we relate to each other, our institutional colleagues and students, and personal stories can be an important part of that. They have been for me as I struggle with how I relate to myself and to others.

So, tell me what you think. What do you think about representation, about tokenism (pokéism as I will now call it), about how to get better as people and as a profession? What do you think about the new iPhone? What do you think?

Keep Rockin'


Cecily Walker said...

Visuals matter. Representation matters. I think the only people who can say these things don't matter are those who have the privilege of seeing someone who looks like them.

I feel a particular obligation as a queer woman of colour to show up and be present in places where I know folks like me will be in short supply. That obligation has waned a bit now that my mobility is limited, and it can be a burdensome obligation. But it's one I shoulder gladly because I know how I felt (and still feel) when I walk into a room and see a version of myself reflected back.

Anonymous said...

You two have put this very well. R