We have been sharing blog posts and Q&As from the contributors to Feminist Teacher 27.2-3, a special issue focused on the experiences of women of color in the academy. Below, S. Tay Glover, shares thoughts from her article ‘“Black Lesbians—Who Will Fight for Our Lives but Us?”: Navigating Power, Belonging, Labor, Resistance, and Graduate Student Survival in the Ivory Tower‘.
Can you discuss why this article is important to you personally?
In a way, this article was my mini autobiography and unsilencing regarding being a trauma- survivor in this life so far as a dark-skinned, Black lesbian femme-nist born and raised in the rural South of the US committed to truth-telling, black lesbian feminist politics, activism, and justice. It’s a testament to the metalanguages and tentacles of white supremacy, capitalist antiblack geographical domination, queerphobic misogynoir, and the ways that most geographies, places, and spaces are “demonic grounds” for someone who stands at these intersections—whether my actual home-space or those that purport to be justice oriented intellectual “home-spaces”— considering and connecting too, this protracted and ironic annihilation from a Southern point of view given the symbolic-historical material role that the US and Global South plays within the national imaginary, and cannon of African American and Black Studies. It’s also personal in that It was very much a spiritual practice and painful cathartic process of writing with Black feminist ancestors and predecessors, plus indigenous and women of color feminist predecessors I cite heavily—Audre Lorde (a personal spiritual guide), Barbara Christian, Barbara Smith, Sara Ahmed, Chandra Mohanty. A practice of personal-intellectual dialogue with the other brave queer women, past-in-present, who’ve named the specific contours of our exploitation and discrimination such as Moiya Bailey. Given this article was written and edited over almost 3 years, unfortunately I was able to keep adding details of the institutional abuse over the course of my matriculation and flight. Sadly, this piece illuminates only the tip of the iceberg. When I first began my graduate career, my scholar activism was an outgrowth of my activist organizing with other QTPOC who were really leading the charge in the BlackLivesMatter movement across many geographies. I was always trying to articulate the personal-political, micro-macro semblances of trans* and queerphobic misogynoir from a Decolonial black lesbian feminist and geographies lens, and tie it to the rallying cry of the #SayherName and larger BlackLivesMatter movement. My first graduate advisor actually stole my ideas and wrote a terrible piece that didn’t do it justice. So while I resent these experiences, I’m proud to have contributed a decolonial theory-in flesh account of Black women and queers’ abuse in the academy, an account of undergraduate discontent and activism, and a theoretical account of Black women and queers’ graduate push-out in the academy to bridge the literature written about the phenomena in secondary education- specifically by Monique Morris, and the experiences of professors of color who died too soon.
What is the “pedagogy of accommodation”?
Chandra Mohanty defines “pedagogy of accommodation” as distinct from “pedagogy of dissent and transformation” (Mohanty 178), whereby pedagogy of accommodation promotes multicultural civility and respectability versus a social justice perspective. It is all about bureaucratic management and quelling race, gender, sexual, and class conflict as opposed to challenging, uprooting and extinguishing them—the definition of feminism and transformation at its most basic level. I mention in the piece that it’s what maintains the “school to oppressor pipeline,” for whites and others in power as much as it maintains the “school to prison/precarity pipeline” for intersectionally marginalized black students no matter the department type.
How does neoliberalism contribute, as you put it, to “the precarity of Black feminisms, Black lesbian impossibility, and the death of Black feminist women”?
Honing in on the ways that this school to prison/precarity pipeline functions for intersectionally marginalized black students no matter the institution or department type—but also especially in departments that actively recruits them lends to understanding the neoliberal undercurrent. It’s about the ways that strategic performance and bureaucratic management, through capitalist marketing and seduction, empty word-service, intimidation, and gaslighting have been and still are the liberal democratic ways we maintain white supremacist hierarchies and structures, as well as how we leverage and control access to resources and chances of life/death. It’s about the ways we have to be able to see the changing sames and see through the seductions by taking a look at practice and history—particularly the histories and voices that people put effort into silencing, understanding that the aforementioned things like strategic performance and bureaucratic management through capitalist marketing, empty word-service, and intimidation are often the seductions and mechanisms that create epistemologies of ignorance, ahistoricism, and complicity with racial-gendered-sexist-classist violence. So in particular, I consider epistemologies of ignorance around this particular problematic of black feminist precarity, black lesbian feminist impossibility and death from an interdisciplinary and historical approach—citing Barbara Christian , Audre Lorde, Barbara Smiths and others’ accounts. I engage Barbara Christian and Grace Hong’s critiques of ways universities and disciplines comply with the state’s historical containment, management, and murder of Black women, Black feminisms, and Black (queer) feminists in particular because they maintain the will of liberation; and I bridge literature exploring modern Black queer women’s specific graduate and early postgraduate experiences in the academy-spotlighting my own- where I explicitly use medical terminology around abuse and recount my medical diagnoses to make this plain and real. In particular, I name the root and contours of its neoliberal manifestation—including roots like the historical and past-in-present academic homelessness Black feminists, particularly black lesbian feminists, have always experienced at the intersection of Women’s Studies, Black Studies, and LGBT and queer studies due to structural, epistemological, and social heteronormative and homonormative misogynoir. But importantly, to underscore the new liberalism, I spotlight how “care” for “diversity,” “feminism,” and “queers” is coopted by liberals as conduits to maintain, inflict, and covet violence done to black women and queers of color in this “progressive” age, in addition to professionalization cultures.
You described some of the ways the stress from your position impacted you. What drove you to stay in academia regardless?
Funny, you ask— I didn’t. I haven’t. I was in fact, driven out. Pushed out. Currently Black-listed a bit because it’s a nepotistic system. Some of the incriminating facts in the piece were actually taken from a 13 page appeal I wrote to fight my push-out, which had been maliciously orchestrated for years under a 3-strike system. But when you’re a Black woman at a PWI and your advisor is the culprit-is the chair-is the founder of the discipline-is an actual performer of Southern hospitality which covets violence-also “controls” aspects of other faculty’s careers, what do you do? While I was fighting my push-out, I’ll tell you what I did—I succeeded with integrity despite. I followed my calling as a mystic and wellness practitioner and successfully completed practitioner certification programs while also successfully completing: qualifying exams for candidacy, my fieldwork research, conference presentations, my teaching responsibilities with glowing student evaluations, my women’s center employee responsibilities, and my university student advocacy responsibilities. I created alternative wellness events that offered free alternative wellness services to queer students. I also completed my prospectus for its approval to be blocked and used as a 3rd strike to kick me out while literally near completion, even though other faculty on my committee disagreed with the rulings. Someone recently told me “I’m free.” And I am. I was saved. Pushed from a burning building, a sinking ship, with dark souls. I practice healing justice for a living–found at thewitchgoddess.com. My writing will still see the light of day. And I’ve earned the title “Dr.” regardless. But Barbara Christian’s and Beverly Smith’s questions remain: What happens to Black feminism when normative (academic) reproduction is subverted or even foreclosed not only by the exclusion of the “children,” as Christian’s essay details, but also by the premature deaths of the “mothers”? And who will fight for Black women’s, black lesbians’ and queer of color lives but us? Sincere thanks to you all at University of Illinois Press for being a part of my healing justice by providing a platform for these truths.
You can read Glover’s full Feminist Teacher article on JSTOR