[I would like to preface this by saying that this blog is in no way affiliated with Purdue University, nor is it a reflection on or discussion about their current or future outreach endeavors in reference to diversity.]
I find myself unable to find an appropriate introduction for this particular topic. My high school English professors are cringing as I type this, I’m sure. Unfortunately, they’ll just have to cope with my seeming inability to write a constructive intro for a very volatile topic. Where do I begin…Ah yes…
It was recently brought to my attention, in an admittedly roundabout way, that I play “the race card” quote “all the time.” Sigh. Heavy sigh.
This comment prompted me to go back and examine how many times I’d actually played this “race card.” I didn’t know that I carried it with me, but apparently it occupies a space in my wallet unbeknownst to me. The comment, in all fairness, may have been made in a joking manner, but, nevertheless, it stimulated my gray matter and induced action potentials within various neurons…I’m sorry. Translation from nerd to English: it got me thinking.
I am black. I am a woman. I am a black woman (hear me roar) in a discipline dominated by white males. I am the only black student in my incoming class of PhD students - 1 of 33. I attend school in a predominately white, predominately right wing, conservative, republican community in which I only see 1, maybe 2, black people a day, if I’m lucky. Is it wrong that I would like to see other black women in male dominated labs or professions that somehow manage to eek out a living in a white, mostly right wing, conservative republican community? AAARRRGGGHHH! The frustration has me pulling out my hair. I could reintroduce one of those ugly, naked cats to fur with the strands that litter my bedroom floor alone.
So, with the unleashing of the aforementioned comment, I find myself at a loss. Who do I turn to? Who can I run to when I need to vent about someone making a comment about my locs (No, they do not stink, have you ever smelled them? Yes I do wash my hair, don't you?)? Am I to simply keep my frustrations to myself and not complain about the lack of Black people in not only my program, but programs across the country? Who do I discuss the state of race relations with, especially in terms of how this country views the current president? Who do I have conversations with about why it is not okay to say things like “don’t you listen to Jay-Z” to a person just because they are black? I’d like to have someone with whom to discuss what it means to be a black woman in the sciences these days. And I don't think I am asking for much.
So, with my whining sufficiently (but not summarily or even comprehensively) over with, I’ve decided that I am going to discuss it with you. Yes, you. Those of you out there that are reading this, prepare yourselves. Prepare your brethren for my apocalyptic wrath of taboo destruction. I wake up a black woman every morning and I go to bed a black woman every night. As long as that continues to happen, race will be a part of my life, my aesthetic, and my manifest. It will follow me around like a love sick freshman strung out on pheromones. So why should I be afraid to both embrace and discuss it, being that it is a part of who I am? I should not and I will not any longer.
I will not apologize because I make a “big deal” about there not being enough black people in my program. I will not apologize for questioning why people think that I know every famous black person that ever lived. I will not apologize for feeling the way I feel or for making those feelings known. I’ve always been told to be the change I want to see in the world. Well this is my very first big change. I want people to be able to discuss race openly. I want to be able to talk about race with people that look like me and people that don’t.
You may not be able to understand why this is important or why it matters at all, but don’t worry your pretty little head. You will.
P.S. I went to www.Purdue.edu and did a search for diversity. I unearthed the following link which you can use to make your own calculations and draw your own conclusions, should you desire to do so: http://www.purdue.edu/datadigest/pages/students/index.htm I think what you’ll find there is a wonderful testament to why I sometimes feel like a guppy in an ocean of bull sharks (i.e. the data showing the enrollment of 7639 graduate students in the fall 2009. 3% of those students were black. 0.4% of those students were classified as “American Indian.” who, I'm sure, feel even less at home than I do. I'd like for you to just take a moment and nibble on that tasty morsel of diversity knowledge.)