Protecting my Melanin: Confessions of a first year, Black female professor

Hi Everyone,

So today wraps up my first semester as a first year professor in higher education as a Black female and I want to share my reflections.   I intentionally included the “as a Black female” part because I believe my identity as a Black person and as a woman intersects with my identity as a college professor…and not that it’s a good thing or a bad thing, it just is what it is.  I begin each point with a question I created and then I’ll just answer the question.

  1. I don’t represent all Black people, all Black professors, nor all Black female educators!  No, of course, I don’t!!  I decided to receive a PhD and become a professor because I wanted to, not because I’m trying to represent the whole collective of (beautiful) Black womanhood in America.  BUT, I do want to acknowledge that I feel like my presence has made a difference in how my students understand the diversities in the identities of educators.  Although I don’t represent all Black female professors, I believe that my identity and presence does communicate the diversity of who and what a Black female can be–and that’s a beautiful thing.
  2. Am I expected to have a child/family?   I remember when I first started, a colleague asked if I had a child.  Now, this question, had absolutely nothing to do with the conversation we were having, but she asked because she somehow turned the conversation into being about access to childcare as a professor.  I don’t have children, nor did I ask her about childcare at all, so I didn’t understand why she asked that question.  I wondered if she asked, because of the socialized expectations of women.  Or perhaps, she asked that question because it’s a stereotyped assumption that many young Black women are also single mothers.  In any case, I don’t know why she asked, but I must confess, that I didn’t appreciate her asking that particular question, nor did I think it was appropriate or relevant to the matter at hand.  Nor was it any of her business, to be honest.
  3. Respect the title and position.  I think this is a big one.  Perhaps, because I have a youthful look to my appearance, other people may not automatically consider me as a professor.  I’ve already heard the phrase “girl” being used in reference to me (as compared to “lady”, “woman”, or “professor).  And then I had one small instance, where a student referred to me as “Ms.”  I had to tell him, no sir, it’s “Dr.”!  I confess, that as a Black female professor, respect has to be established and commanded.  People are not going to always “see” me as a professor; but I have to make sure that they do understand and respect me for the title and position I have.
  4. I have to be intentional in “Protecting My Melanin”.  I realize that as a professor, I’m in a very different space.  The academy is a space that has historically been (and still is in many ways), a very Eurocentric, privileged, male-dominated space.  I confess that I have to be very careful and intentional about protecting my melanin.  In other words, I make sure to practice self-care on a daily, continual basis.  What does this mean for me?  It means affirming my self-love daily.  It means taking time to write in my journal.  It means taking time to rest and relax when I need it.  It means writing and researching at a Black-owned coffee shop in Brooklyn from time-to-time.

In writing this post, I realize that what I’ve discussed here a lot is the topic of expectations.  Now, let me say something about expectations–the only expectations I adhere to are the ones I CREATE ABOUT MYSELF!!! I only live for the expectations that I set and establish for my life and where I’m headed.  That’s it.

I just wanted to share some of my confessions as a first-year professor.  I do want to say, however, that I absolutely LOVE MY PROFESSION!!  It’s what I absolutely live for!

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I love being able to have the CREATIVE FREEDOM to teach what I want to teach!!! There is no one telling me that I can’t teach this or that, or that I can’t talk about this topic or that topic. I’m very glad that I made the decision to receive my PhD and enter into the academic setting.  It’s truly a joy!

~~Dr. Manning

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