Blog #7/ The Balancing Act

“They have to find that unique balance of not losing who they are while still doing the work that will get them where they want to be. I would never advise anyone to make themselves small in order to fit into this industry.” - Shana L. Redmond, Associate Professor of American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California

This week’s readings pivoted around race, racism, and the scholar activist Specifically, in the article “Against the politics of desperation: educational justice, critical race theory, and Chicago school reform,” David Stovall discusses critical race theory’s utility of counterstories and interest convergence theory. A potent quote from Stovall was: “White-dominated mainstream society will promote racial justice only to the extent that it advantages White mainstream society.” I kept that quote in the forefront of my mind as I progressed through this week’s readings…except I swapped out “White-dominated mainstream society” for “the academe” (not that the academe isn’t representative of White-dominated mainstream society).

I further came away from the readings largely thinking about two things:
1) The ways (and the whys) scholar activists engage with audiences outside the ivory tower of the academe and 2) The construction, sustainability, and maintenance of the balancing act that scholar activists inevitably experience. Because I am a visual person, I took to a quick Google image search to see if I could manifest an image that matched what was lurking in my mind. And I found this:

Google Image search

I love how we can dissect the symbolism laden in this image as a means to visually translate the balancing act of a scholar activist in the academe (aside from the fact that the individuals in the image are appear to be white and male, of course).

Let’s start with the image’s composition: the two individuals are precariously standing on a ledge wearing business formal clothing under a formidably, gloomy sky (though there appears to be a spot of light peeking through the overcast sky — ray of hope!). One individual is doing a hand stand on top of a chair that is on top of a table that is on top of another table that is perched on the edge of a ledge. It is complicated, taking great balance, control, endurance, and A LOT of bravery. Also, this individual is not sitting on that chair, the individual is doing a hand stand. As if it weren’t enough to do all of that, they must be upside down looking stories below at the ground. Oh the metaphors here are endless! Then there is what looks like an authority figure overseeing all of this transpire and either there is a cigarette in his mouth or maybe it’s a whistle, I cannot tell. Either way, I will deconstruct as follows:

-Individual doing hand stand = Scholar Activist
-Authority figure watching = Gatekeepers in the ivory tower of the academe
-Ledge of the building they are standing on = representing the parameters and social norms assumed by the academe
-The first table, the second table, and the chair = representing the many levels and layers embedded in a scholar activist (e.g. academe, activism, personal histories).
-Let us not forget the gloomy overcast sky = formidable environment for the scholar activist

Mainly I just love that the individual is performing this balancing act upside down in a handstand.

After reading Dr. Zandria F. Robinson’s blog entry “Zeezus Does the Firing ‘Round Hurr,” I started to fixate on her mention that “it was the institution that didn’t come to the table” so she “had to fire the institution.” When the internet trolls went trolling after Robinson blogged about the confederate flag, her institution failed to question the public’s veracity and cowered behind its 72-character message that had been stamped on various social media pages.

I admit that after reading about the gross mistreatment of Zandria F. Robinson by her institution, I felt depleted yet roused by the splintering reality that her story is not just her story, it is all of our stories — should we decide to be brave. More to the point, as Robinson explains, this is about:

“Institutions who are all for public scholarship and engagement to raise their profile but who are not for protecting public scholars, and especially black women ones. This is about institutions that don’t do us right regardless of whether or not we are on Twitter being gloriously humorous about the tough topics. This is about institutions caving to publics interested in maintaining an unequal status quo.”

Ah, and there is interest convergence theory right there in the mention of maintaining an unequal status quo.

And then I reread the last paragraph about Ida B. Wells where Robinson says: “We do this for Ida and all the ones that have come before us who have written the truth and compelled the nation, against some terrible odds, to reckon with itself. We are still doing it, and we must continue to do it.”

So, let’s do it for Ida and for all of the Idas out there today and tomorrow.

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