Story #3: The "Rho-Rho" Incident

     On the Monday of week four, on what was a rather pleasant fall day in September, I received an email from the same Black female student who made the "chink" comment in Black Women's History. The email, which was in response to my feedback request, began:

Dr. Williams, Rhonda, Ms. Williams, Professor Williams, prof., Rho-Rho,You may have mentioned to us on the first day of class what you preferred to be called,but I was late getting in on the first day.

     I read the first line again. A flurry of feelings: I was flustered, astonished, angry (increasingly a commonly felt emotion). "Rho-Rho!" I thought to myself, not even my best friends have even thought to call me even jokingly, "Rho-Rho!" Not even my parents call me "Rho-Rho." I thought to myself, "Not here."

     What I have since dubbed "The Rho-Rho" Incident raises a flag that we as Black female professors sometimes try to avoid or can never seem to escape - issues of authority, legitimacy and respect.9 The "not-here" comment, I realized, was a reaction to the fact that it was a Black woman in my Black Women's History course (a class which I perceived as a "safe space") who (re)cited me as "Rho-Rho." How was I to take that appellation? And was it related, I wondered, to my challenging her "chink" statement in class last week? The "Rho-Rho" evocation reflects numerous quandaries which many Black women professors face in the classroom and academy. The utterance presented a challenge to my professorial place in the classroom, and maybe even signaled the perceived absence of boundaries between professor and student. Had my race and gender (and age) worked to subsume and encourage a falsely personal sense of familiarity?

     Weeks after this Incident, I received a call from a graduate school friend, Ji-Yeon, whom I adoringly call "Unni" (which means aunt or big sister in Korean). I hadn't heard from her in awhile. We catch each other up on our lives. I tell her about my Black Women's History course and the "Rho-Rho" Incident, which I already had committed to paper. There was an automatic recognition. "You know," Unni said, "I find this,  too" - that her Korean (and/or Asian and Asian American) female students often responded to her in at least two ways: They sought affinity or attempted to down-dress her, as if to say: "Don't forget you're just like me." "Yeah ... that's a problem," Unni continues. "And sometimes I don't know what to do. But I find that tends to happen to women or in minority communities. Yeah."10


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May 2000