Several years ago, during a tenure-track search, I asked two questions – two questions which I ask of every scholar applying for a position with our institution. The first is innocent enough: “How important is racial/ethnic diversity in your scholarship and teaching?” Not surprisingly, all enthusiastically answer in the affirmative. Then I ask my second question: “Which scholars and/or books from racial and ethnic minorities do you include on your syllabus and why?” Here is when the squirming begins, revealing the candidate’s lack of academic rigor.
I’m becoming. I’m becoming authentic. I’m becoming solid in the fact that I am good at my job, that I deserve to be in front of these students each day, just as much as any white, cishet male counterparts with degrees from way up North. I’m becoming solid in the understanding that by accepting my own identities (and the privileges and oppressions that come with them) I can clear space for my students to do the same.
I have found that academia can offer a lower-class West Virginian from a single-mother family the chance to live an illusion. I have been able to travel countries, gain audiences of affluent scholars, and been given a platform for my voice that I would not have received outside of academia.
In a sense, I knew what I was getting into. I entered well-aware of the institutional, systemic norms that have precluded Black women from doing this work and creating knowledge that seeks to disrupt many of the corrupt, perverse, misguided myths about who we are and what we have done. My awareness, though, has not made my short journey less arduous.
As an individual, there are so many identities (or labels) that apply to me: a Pakistani, a Muslim, a man, a historian, and so on. On their own, these identities are not too different from millions of others in the world. But it is the combination of all these identities that made me pursue a career as a historian, and it is also the combination of all these identities that acted as the biggest roadblock in doing so.