Notes on: Doharty, N. (2019) The ‘angry Black woman’ as intellectual bondage : being strategically emotional on the academic plantation. Race Ethnicity and Education, 23 (4). pp. 548-562.
[I have a repository copy:]

Dave Harris

This is a late reply to a doctoral examination question, drawing on CRT to illustrate racial discrimination and disadvantage. It develops the concept of 'strategic emotionality' to describe the decisions Black women academics might have to make about how to deal with their emotions as part of research and analysis and its impact on epistemology (1).

She was asked by a Black female professor why she had not placed her feelings in her original thesis and theorised them as part of the analysis. She had centred the experiences of Black children. The other examiner, a White woman, said she had felt her (Doherty's) anger in the writing. This made her think of the impact of racialised emotions on research and analysis and the images that control Black women's emotions and the methodological challenges this presents.

She was studying the experience of students in Black history month (BHM) and Black History (BH) from a critical race perspective that suggested that racism was still embedded in the history curriculum and so BH offered only a 'compensatory and deficit informed approach', something inferior to Whiteness seen as normal history (2). She tried to locate the experiences of students within wider racisms identified by CRT. [Not that they felt those -- she did]. She did not include her own emotions. She has now realised that there is a 'race – gendered hidden dimension', using Yancy and the White gaze [notmuch of it] There is a danger that Black women will be seen as 'only angry or strong' so they may need to develop strategic emotionality as a theoretical concept, to explain what happens under conditions of White supremacy when writing for colourblind audiences.

She writes as an '"indigenous insider"' [based on Banks 1998] endorsing the values and perspectives of the indigenous community and speaking with authority about it. She claims commonality with Black children even though she does not share the same African Caribbean background, English education or experience of discrimination [so what does she share?].

There is a history of research showing deficit–informed notions of Black children in a system that seems not to privilege particular races. Underachievement of Black children is therefore rooted in White supremacy, with generalisations about them linked to oppressive orders and the policing of marginalised groups. She feels affected by these 'caricature stereotypes and assumptions', a '"space invader"' in PWI universities. She is aware that publications are essential to gain promotion. She was particularly aware that Black people are often accused of '"special pleading"' and do not receive serious consideration, especially if they express feelings and emotions about racism [citing Bell 1992]. There are other layers and complexities as well however, affecting Black women specifically.

The sociology of emotions is classically divided into positivist and anti-positivist camps, the first seeing emotions as naturally occurring. She takes the second view seeing emotions as 'historically rooted, culturally specific and structured as lived experience' (6). Denzin's political economy of emotion stresses the endorsement of particular emotions as suitable and desirable, introducing the idea of social relations of emotions as ideological. This leads to the idea of 'socially constructed (White supremacist) determinants' which guide Black women's emotionality.

Emotions are still seen as controversial in positivism and as 'anathema to academic production'. Qualitative researchers often find it difficult to establish rapport while avoiding overfamiliarity, and often have to maintain a social distance especially when writing up their accounts. She is also aware that knowledge production is used to maintain a racial hierarchy, 'in societies saturated with racism' [tautology of course] and so emotions can be 'racialised and weaponised'. (7)

Jagger argued that there is a hierarchy with reason dominating emotion and this silences those who bear emotion who are seen as more biased and irrational. Children learn this early. There is a gender dimension and also a racial one, and there are differences for Black women. The White gaze explain some of the constraints on agency. Whiteness is 'totalising and essentialising' and underpins emotionality and the type that is permissible. Yancey's White gaze is specific and fundamental, normalising Black bodies through White power. This means that any Black women trying to develop alternative epistemologies or definitions about emotions can induce White fear and be seen as a threat, evoking racial disgust and risking charges of being irrational angry or biased.

This clearly affects the decision whether to include emotions, because it risks displaying a '"natural proclivity towards ire"', which is a racist assumption (9), inviting White control. This epistemological racism [referencing Scheurich and Young] needs to be countered with CRT.

[CRT is summarised in the usual way, 10, and she says there are no problems applying it outside of North America. It has offshoots in feminism Latina and critical mixed race studies to extend the analysis. She drew on counter ethnographies and counter narratives, and it is an even more radical departure from Black feminism because it uses data to explore experiences and ask questions on a larger sociological scale of analysis, especially their experiences and their location 'within wider institutional and ideological constructions of anti-Blackness that legitimated racist acts in the classroom' (11). At the same time, she says that CRT would benefit by engaging with researchers' emotions to disrupt 'the totalising and essentialising force Whiteness plays on emotionality' but this would be more subtle than just including emotions, partly because the audience needs to be taken into account, especially if it claims to be 'post-racial'.

The role of emotions in critical race work is still under theorised. Rollock had to add a post script after being criticised for being emotionally vulnerable and writing a counter narrative that might harm herself. Living under White supremacy does involve an 'emotional toll'. The interplay of emotions must inform analysis including memories that are now described as 'racial micro-aggressions, misogynoir, and a Eurocentric/White supremacist curriculum' (12). This will break the monopoly that Whiteness has on Black women's emotions as only angry or strong.

Matthias and Zembylas [haven't got that one, but I do have lots of other Zembylas] agree that emotions are not exempt from power relations and that includes Whiteness [some piece in 2014]. This means that Black women using CRT have to be strategic with their emotions if their work is not to be silenced or ignored, because Whites interpret emotional encounters with issues of race and racism. Strategic emotionality here means 'the deliberate and conscious thought Black women engaging when considering whether they do or do not, can or cannot theorise their emotions as part of their race research and, the extent and type of emotions they are prepared to reveal' (13). They are aware that their work can be read as mere identity politics, or might result in it not being published, that they might conform to stereotypes.

This is more than 'emotional management' which goes on in professional work settings, developed by Hochschild, especially to refer to women and their emotional labour. This work assumes that all ethnic minority women are positioned in the same way, and are unconscious, a matter of social paranoia. Some Black women are well aware that there are positions for them.

Racist stereotypes of stoicism and anger have been connected with femininity, associated with White women. Implications are that Black women are always out to identify problems, have bad attitudes and are generally mean. This could affect research on race, suggesting some unavoidable bias, although this is 'somewhat more muted in England' (16). A recent collection by Gabriel and Tate explores uncertainty around expressing emotions and being honest about impacts, showing weakness. In her own work she was upset, enraged and disappointed when observing lessons, especially as teachers tried to re-create conditions on slave ships or plantations. She was also 'visibly upset in the viva'. She now realises that the need to be strong can involve '"flexible, ever expanding circles of obligation"', a matter of being complicit in your own powerlessness.

There is also the audience to consider, especially if there are implications for policy. Emotions should not be suppressed, if the effects of power are to be displayed, but these effects need to be understood better — for example racial dialogue can suffer if anger and humiliation is countered with guilt or silence (18).

Sometimes silence is necessary for survival, a result of double consciousness arising from being in the HE system and needing to conform. [All this helps her rationalise her decision not to include her emotions in the thesis].

The White woman who claimed to feel the anger in the writing was simply reproducing a racialised and gendered stereotype, positioning her as angry, despite her attempts to avoid including her emotions. She was still being over determined. She might have been expressing guilt, or an unease about social class and the workings of equal opportunities for Black kids. Black women are aware that they will constantly be greeted with disbelief if they express anger, even if expressed as reasonable and thoughtful argument — those are often seen as really signs of anger anyway, at best a misidentification of racism.

So, overall, 'there is a racialised emotional tax Black women must pay' as their complex emotions are rendered simple manifestations of anger or strength. This is the risk they face if they incorporate their emotions in their analysis. They have a double consciousness, aware of the context in which they can engage with emotions and to what extent, and what the consequences might be, including the impact on the audience.

CRT was useful [she doesn't give many examples of this wider context]. The main concern is whether she was right to theorise her emotions and conclude she was in order to survive properly. Lots of other Black women apparently agree. Implications for CRT should be pursued.

[Ends in a damp squib. Substantial implications for the authenticity of counter narratives of course. This is the equivalent of the denial of racism?]