by Dr. Amber Riaz, Canadian Scholar
When I decided to speak up at the #Ferguson2MLA gathering, I was motivated by Dr. Koritha Mitchell’s assertion that we, as academics of color, belong to the academy, not only because we are exceptional—given how much harder we have had to work to ‘prove’ ourselves—but also because we earned the right to be there by following their rules. We worked hard, and it is because we worked hard that we get to assume positions of authority. Speaking up in large gatherings is distinctly uncharacteristic of me. I have learnt over the years to disengage my emotions from scholarly debate. And yet, I spoke up on Friday.
It wasn’t enough, however, to simply speak up. What was more important for me was walking up to center stage, claiming the space and then proclaiming my identity, to show that I can occupy the space because I belong in this organization as an equal, not a marginalized identity. And that is what #AllBlackLivesMatter means to me: it is a movement that seeks to lay claim to spaces that have been denied to Black bodies. Access is granted, but in the moment that access is granted, Black bodies are reminded of the conditional access: you can come, but you do not belong.
I have been reminded consistently of this as a woman of color teaching Academic Writing and Composition in white-dominated classrooms. My racial identity and my gender have been used to marginalize me. I have been told by students that I do not have the right to teach English Writing to them. The fact that students felt emboldened enough to tell me (to my face) that I did not belong in my authoritative role is telling in and of itself. It is a symptom of State machinery that is predicated on principles of racism and violence. This violence must be rigorously questioned.
I write today as an academic who has spent most of her career working on, writing about, State-sponsored violence against “minorities” and “marginalized” people. I am writing because I wholeheartedly believe that the voices and actions of instigators of violence, and perpetrators of that violence (regardless of nationality or religion), should be drowned out by the voices of those who believe that violence is unacceptable. When the State sponsors violence, it tells a segment of its population that they don’t belong, as Dr. Mitchell has pointed out. Violence, in all its myriad forms, must end. All Black voices must be heard.
Dr. Mitchell’s reframing of the discourse as one about reclamation of space and of citizenship spoke to me at an emotional level. Having been told in numerous ways that I did not belong, I found power and energy in the collective reclamation of space: Whose space? Our space! As a Pakistani Muslim mother, I choose to insist: I belong.