Solidarity with Professor Sara Ahmed
There are many women whose work I admire. There are many women of color whose work has changed my life and who have offered me insight and words and explanations when I had none to situate my life and my politics. One of such women, one of the people I admire the most is Sara Ahmed.
Sara’s work is not only life changing because of what she says about gender and politics and racism and feminism. It is life changing because of its bravery. Here is a woman who leads by example. Here is a woman who is not only showing us the way but also living the way. Her life, a life lived within a feminist ethics is also a reflexion of her work. Such a reflexion is, to me, the best example of a feminism of color in praxis. A feminism of ethics and leadership, of breathtaking intellectual rigor.
She doesn’t know this because I never got a chance to tell her in person (I was too sick to talk about these things) but Sara changed my life. She was the first person in academia whose work I admired and respected who treated me like an equal. I have always written from the margins: the immigrant, the lonely shouty feminist trying to carve a space in a media that had no need for a voice like mine. And Sara said there was value in my work. This woman, who had devoted her life to theorizing and writing about the things that explained my (our) life was saying that my shouty, angry ways mattered. When I experienced hostility, even from within feminism, Sara was the reassuring voice that treated me like a peer and, more importantly, like a friend.
If it feels like I am eulogizing Sara Ahmed, it’s only because I haven’t yet had the chance to express my solidarity for her current situation. For those not aware (there might still be one or two left), she has resigned her position at Goldsmiths University due to the University’s failure to address the on going issues of sexual harassment. At the time of her resignation, Sara served as co-convenor of the MA in Gender Media and Culture, convenor of the Feminist Postgraduate Forum, and Director of the Centre for Feminist Research.
As she expressed in her own blog and in different media reports, staying at an institution that did not address the problem of sexual harassment and the toxic culture it breeds would be akin to a tacit approval of such culture. When the time came to take a stand, Sara did the most brave thing that someone in her position could do: she quit so as not to be complicit in a system that perpetuates oppression. Sara’s resignation is a tremendous loss for feminism in general and more specifically, for women of color across all of Europe where we sorely lack strong intellectual voices in public institutions.
I am sure Sara will go on to do great things. If we are lucky, she will continue writing and publishing and we will be better off by being able to read (and think) her work. Future generations of students at Goldsmiths, however, will be less fortunate for not having experienced her mentorship, her leadership and the depth of her courage as a teacher. Those of us in Europe (and more importantly, those currently living in the UK), dealing with the wave of xenophobia, racism and misogyny that targets women of color have one less champion in an academic landscape that builds careers talking about us but never listening to us. Sara listened, wrote, taught and lit a light for us and we are worse off with her resignation.
I might be late with this reflexion but I believe she deserves to hear it: Sara, your work changes lives and, more importantly, it gives us all dignity. All I can offer you is my gratitude and solidarity even though I know it’s nowhere enough to compensate for the unattainable position you were placed in. Thank you for your work. Thank you for your bravery. And above all, thank you for being an example of feminist ethics.