Minority Labor at Bates College

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The environment in and surrounding Bates College is not “safe” for marginalized groups. Many of my friends of color here have experienced innumerable microaggressions and direct discrimination in social settings, while queer and trans folks of color also experience this violence toward multiple of their identities. Being that queer and trans people of color (QTPOC) who are “out” on this campus make up roughly one percent of the student population, there is not much hope for the community at-large to understand the complexity of QTPOC lived experiences unless they have some external exposure to them. Thus, this reality brings us to the question of: whose livelihoods are threatened in striving for greater diversity and cultural exchanges, through what Bates refers to as “the transformative power of difference”?

In my semester abroad, when I was in Johannesburg, South Africa, I was rubbing my head and looking down at my shoes as I thought about something — is there such thing as ethical cultural exchange? As I was walking down the street, I noticed that many people were selling paintings of elephants and persons carrying water on their heads, to tourists. I asked my friend the question that was in my head. They responded, “I think the answer relies on the what the power dynamics are between the people participating in said exchange.” I nodded my head and smirked. I had the impression that my question did not have an answer, but I liked what I heard.

At Bates, marginalized students — namely, people of color, international students, trans and queer students — are also in the minority. So, while it cannot be assumed that all people within minority groups experience anxiety as a result of their minority status, it is true that, at the very least, they possess less ‘power in numbers.’ And, many students who do experience an anxiety with their minority or marginalized status are in a position in which their exchange of knowledge does not enter at such a level playing field compared to others of a privileged majority group given that their ‘truth,’ and the norm of their lived experience, is displaced from or lacking representation within the mainstream culture.

So, then, the notion of emotional and intellectual labor becomes relevant. When students are expected to serve as authorities on their less represented cultures or truths, they are also expected to participate in more emotional and intellectual labor to participate in whatever exchange. It then becomes a matter of marginalized people teaching people of privilege (with the simplified binary as not a representation of the true social reality but instead as facilitating the broader point for argumentation). In “Self-Care and Black Intellectual Labor,” Claire Garcia asks the questions, “how do we ensure our own well-being within an institutional framework that has historically undervalued the contributions of men and women of African descent?” and “what strategies must we utilize so that we can sustain satisfying careers in the Academy while maintaining our own health and sanity?”

Garcia asks these questions in the context of an existing U.S. historical reality involving the exploitation of Black labor. I think the fundamental concepts behind her questions, though, are also relevant to discussions about other structurally marginalized groups. It’s very much time to discuss self-care in the context of power, exchange, and minority existence at predominantly white institutions (PWIs) like Bates. Then, marginalized groups existing within and entering Bates can begin thinking about survival within the institution and considering healthier alternatives.

 

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