I am privileged to be able to attend the college that I do, and every day I am reminded of this. I am reminded every time I am able to navigate spaces that were not built to house me. When I code switch to answer questions in class, when I ‘dress for success’, when I write emails, and go to networking events, I am faced with the glaring fact that I am defying the barriers that were put in place to stop me. While this sounds inspiring and empowering, I am realizing that it is not. Yes, I am able to create a space for myself in a room that denies my existence, but what am I doing beyond that? I am growing increasingly aware that my complacency in this system, in academia, does more harm than it does good.
I am not just a Black face disrupting a white space. I am not just a Black girl in academia. To simplify my identity to just that is to erase the intersections that my fellow Black people exist in. I am a classed Black girl in academia with the ability to assimilate enough to be “taken seriously” by the powers that be. This is an important distinction because it comes with privileges that I cannot continue to ignore if I truly believe in the liberation of my people. I must be constantly aware that these spaces enforce practices that serve as gatekeepers to keep Blackness out. Unless we code switch and relax our hair, Black people and Blackness are not allowed in academia or the corporate world. Under the guise of “being professional”, we are convinced we are only accepted if we do away with what is culturally ours. This is a lot deeper than businesses not hiring people with locs; it is about the pervasive ways we are reminded that Western academia and the corporate world are not, and have never been, for us.
Not surprisingly, I have not seen much resistance to this push to “professionalism” in academia. What is surprising to me, however, is my fellow classed and college educated Black folk who taken on the title of being “woke”, but fall in line with “professionalism”. They don their suits and ties, speak in a language our families would not understand, and see freedom in climbing the socioeconomic ladder rather than getting rid of it altogether. By falling in line with being “professional” and climbing the corporate ladder, we are not breaking the barriers that already exist — we are reinforcing them.
We have to remember that class and race are inextricably entangled. When we, as classed Black folk, navigate the academic/corporate world without dismantling classism, we are only aiding in the very same gatekeeping that was constructed against us. My Blackness may disrupt whiteness, but my class location and ability to assimilate does not disrupt white supremacy, it falls in line. Instead of inching towards liberation, we should leverage our privileges and resist white supremacy every day, not just whiteness. We cannot be satisfied with being Black faces in white spaces/positions, because that means we are taking the seats of those who have oppressed us.
As a classed Black college student, it is not my duty to just break barriers in white spaces. It is my duty to dismantle these white spaces to the best of my ability. I must resist the pressure to be “professional”, however that may look, because falling in line should have never been an option.
Thank you for taking the time to read, “Falling In Line” by Idil Hussein. If you enjoyed this article or it has moved you in any way, please consider supporting the Joseph and Evelyn Lowery Institute for Justice & Human Rights at www.loweryinstitute.org. Let us be the change!