Often times I am asked why I’m applying to graduate school. That’s followed with questions about my area of study and, upon me explaining it, most ask why I’m choosing to study fine arts. And I appreciate the concern. Making money is a requirement in the game of life. However, there is a seemingly huge contrast between income and studying the arts, you know, music, film, and writing.
A lot of my family and friends ask me, “what do you plan to do with that?” and ‘that,’ being a Master’s of Fine Arts. If they catch me on a good day, when I’m not being stubbornly sarcastic, I tell them that I plan to write, with all of me.
Many people frown upon a fine arts degree as if it’s worthless or something to study just to pass the time. And that may be true for some, but I am an individual who is fully invested in my craft. We don’t ask the pre-law student or the student studying pharmaceuticals, “what do you plan to do with that?” And it should be no different with a student studying arts. Granted, the road may be a bit harder or longer to achieve my dream but I don’t belittle the steps in reaching it.
It’s been almost three years since I completed my undergraduate career and the thought of pursuing a degree again is daunting. So, a little encouragement from my loved ones wouldn’t hurt. The specific school I’m applying to wants a passing GRE test score, a statement of intent and a 30-page sample of my writing that will blow them away. I’ve had the honor of studying for a test that I probably won’t use again in my professional career or life, and writing a paper pleading with admissions to let me in. Sound familiar?
Yup, applying to grad school is just like applying to undergrad except you already have a degree and probably loads of experience in your specific field of study.
I juggle a fulltime job, two part time jobs, a social life, and family relationships with hours of studying, days of blogging consistently and desperately trying to get a freelance writing career afloat. But in the end, I know my choice will pay off.
Like many black women, I have lofty dreams of going back to school, getting a degree or two, making more money, etc. however many of us are intimidated by the application; not to mention the internal conflict of not being smart enough or not having enough time to follow through. This explains why many of us quite soon or never start at all. There’s a part in me that still wonders if I still got it. Its been a while since I had to research and write papers on a deadline so I’m wondering if I still got the juice! But before I can even begin classes though, I have to be accepted. The school I’m applying to is pretty prestigious, given the amount of application materials they require of me, so the acceptance or rejection thing is a big deal.
And to make things worst, I can’t find out if I got in until three months after I submit my application, like people, at least give me a little hope. I have to twiddle my thumbs from February until May. Honestly, in grad school I have to get over my fears: fear of not being enough or being too much. There are plenty more things to lend my emotions to and fear isn’t one of them.
Shanisha is a passionate writer and soon-to-be grad student. She writes over at Honestly Me where she promotes transparency among women of color.
On Thursday, November 30, 2017 I attended my first ever American Anthropological Association (AAAs) Conference. I’ve been regularly attending professional conferences for over seven years, but the AAAs were both overwhelming, exciting, and unlike any other conference I have been to before. The sheer size alone was almost jaw dropping. There were approximately 6,000 people in attendance (!!), meaning that there were over 40 sessions at any given time between 8am and 8pm – totaling 750 sessions across five days. In fact, the conference was so large that it was held in two adjacent hotels in Washington, DC. Session topics ranged from roundtables on feminist ethnographies to oral presentations on manhoods and masculinities, from presentations on the global refugee and migrant crisis to the rise of 21st century nationalism in Europe and the US. The AAAs are an international conference and presentations focused on diverse cultural issues from an array of locations across the globe.
This year’s theme was “Anthropology Matters” and numerous sessions focused on diversity, social justice, and the role of anthropology in a politically and socially turbulent world. One of the most intriguing sessions I attended was “Between Visibilities and Invisibilities: Forms of Racism and Anti-Racism in the Twenty-first Century”, organized and co-chaired by Faye Harrison (University of Illinois at Urbana- Champaign), Yasuko Takezawa (Kyoto University), and Akio Tanabe (The University of Tokyo). This panel examined race, racism, and racialization in the contemporary globalized world, juxtaposing transpacific and transatlantic experiences and perspectives. Ultimately, this session aimed to “provide a common platform for interrogating the various forms and mechanisms of racisms where visible and invisible modalities operate in diverse yet connected ways.” Oral presentations included the racialization of social movements in Ferguson, Flint, and Standing Rock (presented by Harrison), a comparison of the transracial and transsexual movements (presented by John Russell – Gifu University), an examination of the “othering” of Eastern Europeans in Iceland (presented by Kristin Loftsdottir – University of Iceland), racial discrimination in Japan against invisible groups like the Burakumin (an outcaste group that generally lives in small rural communes in Japan; presented by Takezawa), and an exploration of how marginalized social groups have been racialized in Odisha, India during the age of globalization (presented by Tanabe). I especially enjoyed Harrisons presentation, “From Ferguson and Flint to Standing Rock: Resisting Racializing Assaults on Community Sustainability and Human Life.” Harrison illustrated how racial subjection and violence have undermined the well-being and human dignity of racially subjugated communities (namely, Black and Indigenous groups) in the Americas. Additionally, she outlined how groups like Black Lives Matter and the Water Protectors are banning together for their rights to ancestral territories, clean water, and other basic human rights.
The range of diversity at the conference was so refreshing. Over the years, I have become used to being one of the only (or one of a handful of) black scholars at many of the conferences I attend. The disproportionate population of Euro-Americans scholars to Black and Indigenous scholars is well known within the archaeological community and has led to calls of a more inclusive archaeology over the years. But I have noticed that ethnic diversity is still severely lacking at the two to three archaeological conferences I attend or present at each year. Although, Euro-Americans and Europeans are still generally overrepresented in anthropology, Black, Indigenous, Asian, and Latinx scholars were well represented throughout the AAAs. This allowed for a variety of sessions and individual papers to focus on topics that commonly effect marginalized groups like decolonizing institutions (including anthropology and archaeology), health and sustainability for marginalized groups, activist scholarship, and race and racism. Although these topics are not new to anthropology, minority scholars allow for emic perspectives of the issues and fresh ideas for possible solutions to these challenges.
The first session I attended and perhaps, the one I took the most away from was the “Enhancing the Presence of African Americans in Anthropology: Discussion of the Problem” roundtable organized by Tony Whitehead (University of Maryland). When I walked into the room it was jammed packed with mostly African American graduate students and professors (including Michael Blakey, Faye Harrison, Rachel Watkins, Kalfani Ture, and Anna Agbe-Davies). The roundtable style allowed for an open, honest, and critical discussion of the issues that face Black anthropologists throughout our careers. How can Black anthropologists successfully navigate the persistence of anthropology as White space? Will it ever be possible to establish (or in some cases, reestablish) Anthropology Departments at HBCUs? What is the role of Black anthropologists in social justice movements like Black Lives Matter and Standing Rock? As we worked through these questions, a point that was stressed time and time again was the importance of being connected to uplifting communities, mentors, and groups (like the Association of Black Anthropologists). Graduate school can be very isolating and self-doubt plagues many, but having a community to reach out to will help you navigate through the often turbulent waters of academia and remind you that you’re not alone.
Finally, the dual African Burial Ground sessions, “Beyond the African Burial Ground: Anthropological and Trans-Disciplinary Innovations in Theory, Methods, and Technologies” and “Anthropology Beyond the African Burial Ground Project: Epistemologies, Ethics, and Interpreting the African Diasporic and Native American Pasts”, were thought provoking and inspiring. Presentations included with the African American descendant community members at James Madison’s Montpelier (Matthew Reeves – the Montpelier Foundation), the intersection of science and social justice in community-based anthropological investigations (Joseph Jones – William and Mary), the value of Black feminist anthropology (Rachel Watkins), the use of paleogenomics in African Diaspora archaeology (Hannes Schroeder – University of Copenhagen), lessons learned through the Werowocomoco archaeological project (Danielle Moretti-Langholtz), Indigenous archaeology and anthropology for and by Indigenous people (Ashley Atkins Spivey – Pamunkey Indian Tribe), and much more. These oral presentations highlighted the importance of ethical public engagement in anthropology and key takeaways from activist anthropological projects.
Although, I was thoroughly exhausted by the end of the conference on Sunday, December 5th, I really enjoyed my first AAAs and learned a lot. I saw old friends and made new contacts at the nightly mixers. I met a few of my favorite anthropological scholars which allowed me the chance to ask them questions about their research and get advice on my own research interests. It was an invaluable and encouraging experience as a whole.
The next AAAs will be held in San Jose, California from November 14-18, 2018.
About the Author:
Chardé Reid is a first year M.A./ Ph.D. historical archaeology student in the Department of Anthropology at William and Mary. She received her B.A. in Archaeology in 2009 from the George Washington University. She has a wide range of archaeological field work experience, having worked on archaeological sites in the District of Columbia, Virginia, Maryland, and Athens, Greece. Chardé served as the co-field director of the Shotgun House Public Archaeology Project, Yarrow Mamout Archaeological Project (recipient of a SHA Gender and Minority Affairs Committee’s inaugural Mark E. Mack Community Engagement Award and a 2017 DC Award for Excellence in Historic Preservation), and the Stanton Road Archaeological Project, all in Washington, DC. She is interested in the relationship between landscape and memory in historically Black spaces. Chardé’s graduate research will focus on the intersection between race, identity, cultural landscapes, and materiality through community-based archaeology.
Note from the editor: This post is the first in a series featuring the experiences of black girls doing grad school across various disciplines.
“Between me and the other world there is ever an unasked question: unasked by some through feelings of delicacy; by others through the difficulty of rightly framing it. All, nevertheless, flutter round it. They approach me in a half- hesitant sort of way, eye me curiously or compassionately, and then, instead of saying directly, how does it feel to be a problem? they say, I know an excellent colored man in my town…or, do not these Southern outrages make your blood boil? At these I smile, or am interested, or reduce the boiling to a simmer, as the occasion may require. To the real question, how does it feel to be a problem? I answer seldom a word.
And yet, being a problem is a strange experience,–peculiar even for one who has never been anything else….”
–W.E.B. DuBois, The Souls of Black Folk
How does it feel to be a problem? I started law school on August 24, 2016 and in each of the 63 days since then, I have been confronted with this question in one form or another. It’s in the way that I am simultaneously the most visible and invisible I’ve ever been. It’s in the way a white man turns to me to ask me to clarify something the professor said and then in the middle of my explanation, finding it inadequate, he turns instead to two other white men to get the answer because there’s no way I could know. It’s in the way that when discussing the readings or the lecture in a group, I am almost certainly interrupted each time I open my mouth. It’s in the way that someone makes a joke about “house slaves” while we’re talking about a school-wide auction. It’s in the way that everyone shifts uncomfortably in their seats when the 13th amendment comes up. Or the way that your professor casually throws out the term “Nigerian scammers” to illustrate a point about contract law. It’s in the way that when you read the cases, you, and people who look like you, are either absent or construed as deviant misfits, incapable of following the law and unworthy of its protection. How does it feel to be a problem?
It’s in the way that a professor completely avoids talking about an affirmative action case although we’ve talked at length about all of the other cases and instead, to demonstrate the concept, he shares an anecdote from his time at a firm. It’s in the way that after a discussion on Stand Your Ground Laws, someone thinks it appropriate to ask the question “But what if statistics were to show that Black people really do commit more crimes and are more dangerous, then fear of them would be founded right? (Read: Black people are decidedly more dangerous and criminal than others and therefore them dying at the hands of vigilante justice or state sanctioned violence is justified). It’s in the way that in an environment that prides itself on collegiality, I’m afraid to say “Hey! My colleagues are hurting me and I really don’t think they’re trying to be my colleagues at all and some of them kind of suck as people.”
How does it feel to be a problem? As I wrestle with this question, I wrestle with myself. I wrestle often and in silence. I shrink. I hide myself. I have moments where I feel less than (I get over those quickly though; Mom and Dad didn’t raise no fool). I find myself trying to be “less.” Less vocal. Less woman. Less hurt. Less loud. Less real. Less Black. Less…me. And that, my friends, is a mistake of monumental proportions. Because the world, and certainly the legal profession, needs less people who struggle to see the humanity in Black life and more people like me. I thought by exercising silence in the face of not-so-micro-aggressions, I was practicing, preparing myself for what life as a Black woman in the legal profession would be. I was content to “get used to it.” I was content to let myself be turned into a white man. So often as people of color, we believe the only way to get where we’re going is to appeal to white sensibilities. We call this “playing the game.” But sometimes I think that we’ve forgotten it’s a game. Sometimes I think it stops being a game and becomes the accepted way of life. We begin to believe that there is no power, no success, and no value in being just who we are. And that’s scary. Because by believing and continuing to act as though the only power worth having is without, we render ourselves impotent, forfeiting the power within. I’m gonna get a little gospel here for a second but when God has prepared a seat at the table for you…He didn’t prepare that seat for who you try to be or who other people want or expect you to be. He’s called you to that place and that time to be just who you are and just who He made you to be.
With this in mind, I turn my thoughts toward a new inquiry: How does it feel to be a solution? I ask this recognizing that I am both problem and solution, existing all in one. See…Harriet Tubman was a problem. Ida B. Wells was a problem. Fannie Lou Hamer? Problem. Ella Baker? Problem. Marcus, Martin, Malcolm? Problem, problem, problem. Each of them and certainly the names of the many, many, many other Black people who refused to “get used to things,” were seen as problems by a society who desperately wanted them to be complacent and accept the status quo. Instead each of these individuals and the many faceless people behind racial progress in this nation, insisted on being a “problem.” Despite all that it cost them, they understood that the cost of complacency was far greater.
Because of them, I can. We can. When Martin had a dream, he didn’t have it for himself, he had it for his children and their children and their children. Now, I’m certainly no Martin (my policy on nonviolence: he who throwest the hands may also catcheth the hands…God is still working on me though), but I do have to hold on the hope that my dream and my presence in a space that was never intended for me, will make it easier for my children and their children and their children. Make no mistake, we are in perilous times in this country. We are living in a time when people are desperately trying to cling on to the “great American past” (Read: the time before Black people and women were recognized as full human beings…although sometimes its questionable if we even think that now but…I digress). This desperation has expressed itself in dangerous and frightening ways. There are days when I feel utterly hopeless about the state of race relations in this country (a lot of days in fact). But we cannot afford to be hopeless. We cannot afford to be silent.
We cannot afford to be complacent.
About the author:
Kelsey. First year law student at the University of Virginia. Lover of all things pink. Always in an empire state of mind (even though I’m in my fifth year of living below the Mason Dixon). Whitley and Dwayne are my fave. My parents are pretty cool, too. Dwell in possibility.