|We do this bridging by naming
our selves and by telling our stories in our own words" (as quoted in Caraway 1991,
6). Cooper contends that the voice telling the story is both Black and female. This
combination is problematic in the academy.
I often introduce myself on the first day of class as "an African American woman." I am saying who and what I am. I am telling my students that both Black and female are engaged in my definition of myself. Race, class, gender, and culture combine to inform them about who I am as I finish introducing myself. I know that I am a racialized person, particularly in the academy. Others might wish that I was just a woman, or they might have "no recognition that Black and female identity ever coexist" (Smith 1977, 1). Moreover, "For whites, this specialized lack of knowledge is inextricably connected to their not knowing in any concrete or politically transforming way that Black women of any description dwell in this place." We are so few in the academy. For example, my mentor and friend at the University of Iowa, the first African American woman in the department of Special Education, was asked by a white male colleague if she wanted to meet the first woman. What does this mean if we are continually seen as part rather than as whole?
I define myself, and I am keenly aware that others define me from their perspectives: white, middle-class, and female. In teacher education programs that consist of white middle-class women, white womanhood remains the normative position by which I am assessed even after I define myself. In the academy, as elsewhere, however, Black women remain invisible. White women are "maintaining the superiority of dominate voices " and are failing " to acknowledge and understand how assumptions of whiteness shape and even dictate the limits of discourse, in the classroom as elsewhere" (Maher and Tetreault 1998, 413). How do white women "fully not interrogate our (their) social position of privilege, which made us vis a vis our subjects, oppressors as well as feminist allies" (Maher and Tetreault 412)? White women "set about creating something else to be" (Maher and Tetreault 411) and forget, that Sula, the little Black girl who dared to define herself, gave them that freedom. As African American scholars, we must wrestle with this.