Notes on: Johnson, A and Joseph – Salisbury, R (2018) 'Are You Supposed to Be In Here? ' Racial Micro-aggressions and Knowledge Production in Higher Education. In  J.Arday, and H Mirza (Eds.) Dismantling Race In Higher Education. Racism, Whiteness and Decolonising the Academy, pp 143--160. Palgrave Macmillan imprint. Gewerbestrasse: Springer International Publishing AG.

Dave Harris

Remi arrived at work early entered the staffroom, photocopied a paper and a member of the cleaning staff entered the room and asked him 'are you supposed to be in here? in an accusatory tone'. He was 'slightly stunned' (143) [so is this micro-aggression?]

HE is often imagined as a utopian space 'beyond racial inequality but it is in fact 'deeply implicated' in maintaining conditions that give rise to racial micro-aggressions. They draw on ethnographic accounts and experiences of other racialised academics to illustrate how White supremacy is perpetuated. They provide a counter narrative to the myth that HE is beyond racial inequality. The quote illustrates the main dilemma whether they are supposed to be there or not.

They draw upon 'an episteme of Blackness' [attributed to Yancy 2008] which shapes their experiences, as 'a way of knowing that is developed experientially, collectively and into generationally' (144). They can draw from CRT, Black feminism and postcolonial theory. The episteme has been developed through conversations with each other 'and amongst other doctoral students'. The episteme has been  essential to survival. These 'lived experiences of Blackness engender a unique and valuable source of knowledge (Solorzano and Yosso 2002)' to help them see how race operates and to observe '"perceptional differences" between Black and White academics views on race in HE'. This will help disrupt the 'epistemologies of ignorance' the 'structured blindness' that obscure normalised racist structures, and the centrality of Whiteness in a branch of knowledge production. They recognise that an episteme of Blackness may 'seem anathema to traditional social science' (145), but find it particularly useful to understand racial micro-aggressions, especially as a theoretical concept, how it fixes scholars of colour as spectacles, and how it reproduces the Academy as the legitimate space to produce knowledge.

Chester Pierce first defined racial micro-aggressions as a form of systemic everyday racism, 'often subtle and seemingly innocuous' connected with White supremacist racial structures, and reinforcing their ideological foundation. This is often obfuscated, which makes micro-aggressions seem relatively innocuous although in practice this makes discriminatory acts even more repressive, micro only in name [citing Pierce]. [Sue is also quoted here]. Rollock 2012 shows how racism is no longer overt, and the concept of racial micro-aggressions was increasingly used to bring attention to the everyday form of racism on university campuses. It is also found itself in CRT informed education research [a useful list on 146].

They can be difficult to identify and challenge. Pierce has argued that a theoretical grasp of racism is required, and they think especially epistemes of Blackness as a legitimate site of knowledge. This is help them to see the opening episode as 'always situated in the wider context of systemic and institutional White supremacy' (147). We can see how Remi was rendered out of place, how the interaction became 'racially significant' and how the micro re-trenched the conditions and reminded him of his 'marginal position'. Micro-aggressions are 'always in iteration with institutional and macro White supremacy'. A series of vignettes follow to describe some of their experiences and help them to weave an analysis that situates racial micro-aggressions in a broader context.

Remi describes another episode when he arrived earlier at a seminar room and one of the students [NB] shouted 'with piercing incredulity' 'do you teach here?' [Emphasis on you]. This showed how his body was rendered out of place, how his absence from spaces like this is 'intertwined with how White supremacist racial structures sustain themselves in the micro level' (147), how some are marked as belonging and others as trespassers, how his body was marked as something like a trespasser or criminal rather than an academic. This and the earlier one show how he faced 'the cumulative burden'. He was reminded of the first episode. His whole legitimacy as a knowledge holder was called into question. The specific question 'might be interpreted as a metonym for the more intrusive and challenging meta-communication '"can you teach here?"' (148). Black bodies are hyper- visible [Yancy does a lot of work], to specific to be objective universal producers of knowledge.

Academics often speak of racism differently as located out there on other people's everyday bodies, never on themselves, never located in academia. There is another episode related by somebody else [Puwar] concerning an encounter by Lévi-Strauss [!] Who was '"thrown by the sight of a feathered Indian with a Parker pen"' within the New York Public library (149).  Puwar says that Lévi-Strauss sees this is odd, not authentically Indian, and goes on to say that someone else is discomfited because "'the natives are no longer staying in their frames"' [so by now we are getting to 3rd or fourth hand accounts]. Apparently, Lévi-Strauss's Whiteness is neutralised but the Indian becomes highlighted and fetishised. As a holder of knowledge, the 'Indian' is 'unconsciously yet undoubtedly stained onto the research created through Lévi-Strauss and recreated/perpetrated through scholars using and reusing his work within the walls of academia. It is these same academics and texts which are centred in the Academy without a critical understanding of how Whiteness is maintained as neutral' [so now Johnson and Joseph Salisbury are commenting on this fourth hand account! Implying that Lévi-Strauss is racist, or without a sense of ironic humour is particularly tin eared]

This shows that skin colour is highlighted and Whiteness is neutralised, and that they know themselves as apart from institutions despite being researchers and doctoral students, that their presence in academic institutions is deviant, that they see themselves as outsiders at every level from the curriculum to the professoriate to the architecture. 'These are the conditions that breed racial micro-aggressions and threatened to determine our positionalities' (149) in those spaces of knowledge production 'our Blackness is part of the spectacle: we are the oddity of 'the feathered Indian with a Parker pen'.

Azeezat tells how she feels on coming back to university to give back to the Black Muslim women who had taught her. She felt she was being asked to describe and objectify her life experiences 'for the purposes of overwhelmingly White audiences' and questioned her role' (150).

So many racialised people are absent. She is concerned apparently. Other academics of colour found the same problem, becoming hyper- visible speaking to primarily White audiences, having to '"perform the native"'. [The normal setting is] that knowledge holders remain neutralised bodies, and knowledge is distinct from lived experience, [but this is racialised]. Black people are 'located between the subjective Self and the objectified Other' [citing DuBois], so that racialised academics know themselves both through a relation to a White self, whose very subject is defined in contrast to them, so they can never be 'situated as a Self', but only by relation to a Black other, a racialised spectacle rather than a knowledge producer, an object of knowing, with difficulties in claiming their own voice [bit speculative but I think I understand]

This has been discussed by Black feminists [it makes more sense now], and Black feminists have been forced to find their own spaces, alternative institutions and among women who are not traditionally regarded as intellectuals, different ways of knowing [citing Collins, who also struck parallels with White working class radicals, of course]. Intersectionality also offers a challenge, [but only in 'centring women of colour'] (152). However, 'this does come without its own problems [sic]… [Various people] pointed to how the political impetus behind intersectionality is emptied out from the term in order for it to be used in mainstream feminist research… The explicitly Black feminist standpoint which created intersectionality is kept offstage whilst the term is redeployed for "the positivist dictates of traditional disciplines"'. And 'this is what happens when a few racialised persons are let into the walls of academia without the knowledge produced by these institutions being challenged'. This is 'superficial inclusion' described by buzzwords like diversity.

Another comment by Azeezat. She struggled as a first year PhD and was encouraged by two White academics to claim representation and a voice, but this caught her offguard and she could not see how to do this because the university was 'in no way built with our bodies in mind' [so how did this get aggressive?] (152 – 3].

This question has 'led us to this search for the episteme of Blackness'. Yancy says 'these epistemes create the space to speak back to deficit thinking' (153) and helps challenge academia and understand its role, provide a language to understand how Blackness has become a spectacle and Whiteness normalised. Once they've grasped this they can begin dialogues to challenge the knowledge produced by the Academy. Conversations with each other and with other people of colour have helped them move beyond 'accusations of "being too sensitive" and resist individual deficit explanations' (153). They have stopped worrying about being preoccupied with race and see themselves [much more heroically] in the forefront of a struggle. They were appreciated when they shared their experiences with a panel and were met with other stories of similar experiences. Their collective challenges helps break the distinctions between racism out there and in here [they were all part of the same struggle?] Recovering their own racialised experiences, no longer seeing them as  just data. They did not experience themselves as failures compared to the standards set by knowledge holders in the ivory tower.

They are wary of research claiming to have dismantled the inequalities in academic institutions, for example sceptical about reflexive feminist researchers who claim to have unmasked power relationships between interviewers and interviewees. This implies they are 'all- seeing researchers'[bit odd] (154). Micro-aggressions are not always explicit or discoverable and guarded by powerful forces. They just want to find a place within these institutions, to be realistic about the work involved, to develop their episteme of Blackness as a priority, to make their own spaces.

They have realised that they may have to leave the Academy, they might not be able to transform it from within, there may be possibilities to produce knowledge outside. The Academy can create 'fertile conditions for micro aggressive acts' and so it is 'perfectly reasonable for people of colour to opt to leave' (155) rather than risk 'stress anxiety and mental health'. They are grappling with this issue themselves. Like hooks, they now know that they must '"use lectures, radio, television and conversation in diverse settings"' [Try YouTube and the Web!]

They would now retort that they recognise that they are not supposed to be in places that render them out of place, but they wish to cultivate an episteme of Blackness to understand and confront the Academy. They don't just want to belong they want to find a way to thrive, and destabilise the Academy's position as the only legitimate producers of knowledge

Yancy, G (2008) Black bodies, White gazes: the continuing significance of race. Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield