The token African

15 Apr

goats int eh villageThe invitation to deliver the presentation arrives unexpectedly, and with very little lead time to the event. Has the research to which she devoted almost two years attracted a following in this crowd as well? She devotes precious time to writing her speech and preparing a stunning Prezi presentation, asks for a second, third and fourth opinion on whether the Prezi animations are over the top. ‘You’ll be fine! Don’t worry. The animations will bring the statistics to life.”

She catches a taxi to the airport in the wee hours of the morning, just in time for her flight and barely makes the connection to the final destination.  “We’re so excited you’re here! Thank you so much for accepting the invitation”. The excitement is a bit excessive, she thinks. What are they expecting and how will she live up to it? No way to disappoint, she realizes, when the motivation for the invite reveals itself. It’s not because the meeting organizers believe the research findings are an amazing contribution to knowledge production. They were looking for someone ‘different’.

Not to be deflated, she takes the new revelations in stride. The big day arrives several hours later. She goes over the technical details with the technician who, despite the quizzical looks that yours truly here IS the keynote speaker, provides top-notch support. He hooks up her notebook computer to the projector and ensures her microphone is working fine.

The big moment arrives. After a pompous introduction she walks to the podium. The audience appears to be as quizzical as the technician, but willing to give her a chance. Some minutes into the presentation, she becomes aware of a shift in the room. No longer are they simply looking at her, they are actually listening and actively engaging with the ideas she is presenting.  The intellectual debate that ensues evidences a genuine grappling with the ideas. Forty-five minutes later, the moderator calls the discussion to a close with a comment “that doctorate was well-earned”.

Activists of all hues, what is your verdict?


Posted by on April 15, 2011 in Uncategorized


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3 responses to “The token African

  1. kweligee

    April 16, 2011 at 1:27 am

    Racism within academic setting can drive one crazy. You’ve done the research, but you wonder if the objections to your conclusions are valid or if they are motivated by something else you can’t really put your finger on firmly. And because you can’t put your finger on it firmly, you become a little schizo about it all. But sometimes you find allies…friends who look you in the eye and confirm the great work you’ve done.

    • womynpolitiks

      April 16, 2011 at 2:59 am

      Thank you for the verdict. Racism it is, and more. This is not strictly an academic crowd, rather one that is vaguely aware about the research. There’s no question the research findings have gained an audience in the relevant circles. The ‘surprise’ on the face behind the research is for those with a peripheral interest, and the reactions have faithfully followed a certain script: polite (almost dismissive) patience that quickly gives way to rapt attention and ends with an energized debate. Comments about my ‘eloquence’ (read ‘despite my accent’) follow on the one-on-one encounters. As much as I am honoured to have these opportunities to present the work, I also cannot help but feel exasperated at the racist ideologies that permeate these spaces.

  2. kweligee

    April 17, 2011 at 7:03 pm

    Ah, the eloquence bit, as in “you are so eloquent.” One of my favorites. There was a German play about Afro-Germans…this black German woman is sitting on a park bench. An old white German lady sits next to her, asks what time it is. When the black woman answers, the old woman chimes, “Oh my God, your German is so good.” The black woman quips, “I don’t believe it, but so is yours.” Awkward silence.

    The other one I really like is when someone introduces me as their “African” friend, stressing the African part more than even the friend part. Not my friend who just happens to be African, but my African friend. It tickles me. Anyway, post more stuff so I can read it.



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