4/8/2019 0 Comments
Elizabeth Eckford. The photograph of her walking through a mob of hateful white people trying to keep her out of their school comes to mind. My struggle in the academy does not compare to that of Elizabeth Eckford, but this image evokes the common narrative of black students enduring hostility to enter a white academic space. That “colored woman living in a white world”  reflects back to me my experience as a black woman in the white-dominated, hostile, engineering academic space where my legitimacy as a scientist is continually challenged.
My first encounter with the politics of research involved the politics of the “valid” research question. Surviving in my PhD program became dependent upon me defining research questions that satisfied my desire to do environmental equity- and justice-focused research while being deemed “scholarly-enough” (read: novel-, rigorous-, and technical-enough) for environmental engineering by my professors. Throughout this process, I have carried the words of Dr. Carolyn Finney. In a speech given during my second year, she said, “What is your vision…it’s the commitment to that. Not commitment to the degree, not commitment to the dissertation, not commitment to someone else’s idea of who you need to be and what your work is supposed to look like. You get clear about what you are committed to.” Her praxis of “doing the work on your own terms” inspired me to remain committed to making space for interdisciplinary, environmental justice work in engineering. Three years later, it is Dr. Charisma Acey who is helping me develop my final dissertation chapter and serves as a committee member. The mentorship of these two black women faculty, both in outside departments, helped me navigate and broaden colonial notions of “valid, technical” science and persist in academia.
The technical validity of my work is recurrently interrogated until a chapter is accepted to a conference or peer-reviewed journal. Before I became aware of citational politics, I was made to understand that publication is equated with merit. It was when I came across a retweet of a Cite Black Women post about a year ago that I began to think of citation as a practice. In the sciences, we are encouraged to look at an author’s h-index, a metric based on number of papers and citations. The h-index is indicative of science’s false claim of apolitical knowledge production. Using this value to select article citations reproduces the exclusion of black scientific scholarship due to limited access to and visibility in science fields. Seeing the words “Cite Black Women” reified the need to seek, read, and cite black women in environmental engineering and related fields. Since publication and citation are the institutional metrics of legitimate scientific research, the practice of citing black women is critical for our collective survival in white-dominated, hostile, engineering academic spaces.
 Terrell, Mary Church (1940). A Colored Woman in a White World. GK Hall.
Regan F. Patterson is a PhD Candidate in Environmental Engineering at the University of California, Berkeley. Her dissertation research focuses on the environmental justice and equity outcomes of diesel truck emission control regulations and truck routing policies in freight-impacted communities. In addition to research, she enjoys teaching and tutoring K-12 students, always finding ways to incorporate environmental themes and student experiences. Regan holds a B.S. in Chemical Engineering from UCLA and an M.S. in Environmental Engineering from UC Berkeley.
4/8/2019 0 Comments
Black women bookend all of my educational endeavors. Though I had no black professors as an undergraduate student, sociologists Margaret L. Anderson and Patricia Hill Collins edited the book that introduced me to feminist studies during my first semester. Though I had no training in psychology, social psychologist Dr. Onnie Rogers trained me how use my black feminist inspired sociological imagination to assist her in researching adolescent racial and gender identity development. And though I questioned how much of my formal undergraduate studies was miseducating, bell hooks could (new) school me via Youtube about the spiritual foundations and impetus of black liberation.
When I arrived at UC Berkeley, black women had already occupied places of influence and been ensuring that I could live and move and breathe more freely. Dean Prudence Carter recognized our exceptionalism, and outgoing Vice President of Equity and Inclusion Na'ilah Nasir applauded how our greatness was about what we could do for others. Tiffani Johnson encouraged us to play the game of doctoral studies on the turf of our interests rather than measuring ourselves according to our professor's expertise. Derrika Hunt reminded us to not lose why we came to Berkeley when we got to and move through Berkeley. These were my first 24 hours of visiting campus. These were only the initial greetings. Many of these and many more black women have constructed and led the various formal and informal sites that hold, protect, refresh, and prepare me to live and love my blackness in an antiblack society. There is no manner for us to adequately comprehend what suffering is being mitigated or who we are becoming apart from centering the legacies of black women.
I was not impressed that there were impactful black women at Berkeley. I was reminded and humbled by how devoted and generous black women have been to ensure that incomers across the board would be affirmed, encouraged, oriented, and connected to a sense of place and purpose bigger than any institution. But I have also reflected on how rare it is for any institution to honor the lives and labor of black women. Most of us actually benefit from and do not mind black women doing too much of the much needed work. And too few of us other than black women care whether black women get credit or survive the work of ensuring our collective survival.
I believe that black men like myself can and should make space for black women to speak (CBW Praxis #4). I recognize that black women have been more than capable, resourceful, and efficacious at making room for themselves, but I want people to set up black women as generously as we as a society have been set up by black women. I want black women to have moments when they can just show up and simply benefit from others' care and commitment to them just as the rest of the world does with black women. I firmly believe that if we are to give black women the space and time to breathe (CBW Praxis #5), other folk like myself need to step up and share the workload of sustaining our freedom dreams, especially those of black women. I hope that when my book ends, so too will the exploitation of black women's labor. May we build other paths toward freedom than the bridge called her back.
Caleb Dawson studies how antiblackness is reproduced in "progressive" educational institutions and how black folk sustain themselves in those sites. In his current work, he seeks to make sense of black struggles in historically white colleges and universities (HWCUs). He is using interview methods to learn about the desires that black students and staff bring to HWCUs, their perception of institutional commitments to black people, and the gendered configuration of sources and practices of support on which black folk rely. He is committed to advancing black life beyond the possibilities of educational institutions as we know them. Caleb is a PhD student in the Critical Studies of Race, Class, and Gender cluster at UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Education.
4/2/2019 1 Comment
In the field of archaeology less than 1 percent of professionals are people of African descent (Odewale et.al. 2018). I felt this immensely during my first conference experience at the Society for Historical Archaeology in January of 2010. As a Black queer woman in the field, I did not see myself reflected in the faces of my predominately White male colleagues. While the number of Black archaeologists has not risen over one percent, the interest in historical research pertaining to African Diaspora sites has been on the rise since Charles Fairbanks first broke ground at Kingsley Plantation in the late 1960s (Flewellen 2017). However, this interest has not come with a renewed desire by archaeologists in the intellectual production of African Diaspora folks, particularly how we theorize our past, present, and future.
In walks, Maria Franklin who in 2001 asked for an Black Feminist Inspired archaeology, a decade after Crenshaw’s call for intersectional scholarship (Franklin 2001). After being introduced to her work in early 2009, I later devouring Whitney Battle-Baptist work Black Feminist Archaeology in 2011 (Battle-Baptist 2011). I come from this legacy of Black women archeologists, who have fought to theoretically advance the field of archaeology. Within this rich legacy I’ve found that my epistemological scope centers material culture while demanding that it be placed in conversation with the words and experiences of Black women from the past (See Wheatley 1773; Truth 1850; Jacobs 1861; Copper 1892, 1925; Wells 1895, 1892a, 1892b; Terrell 1940; Guy-Sheftall 1995) and those who theorize our lives in the present (Crenshaw 1991, 1989; Hill-Collins, 1990, 1991, 2002, 2004; Gross 2006; McKittrick 2000, 2006; Hine 1989, 1994, 1998; Terborg-Penn 1998; Giddings 1984, 2008; Bettye Collier-Thomas 1998; and Deborah Gray White 1999). My epistemology stretches to include Black women narrative forms both fiction and non-fiction, into reimaginings of the archival record, oral history, and historical photographs; all of which provide a variety of ways to unearth and interpret the past lived experiences of African Diasporic peoples.
The largest challenge I’ve faced in my citation practice is validating my need for sources, particularly the use of Black women both within and outside of the ivory tower. I’m constantly having to answer at conferences, in reviewers’ comments, at lectures, how my work is in fact archaeological. A prime example of this was while I was at a job talk I was asked by a faculty member “if I dug.” Beyond the fact that my talk outlined how I co-direct an award winning archaeology field school in the Caribbean, the question is literally akin to asking a historian if they ever have been in the archives. Another example of this, are the very real concerns I have regarding whether my first book project is “archaeological enough” for archaeology audiences and how that might affect my tenure. All of these concerns are real and reflect the ways our citation practices can have real impacts on our jobs security. Yet it is work that needs to be done as a practice is validating not only my expertise but the expertise of my intellectual foremothers.
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2017 Locating Marginalized Historical Narratives at Kingsley Plantation. Historical Archaeology, 51(1), 71-87.
2001 A Black feminist-inspired archaeology?. Journal of Social Archaeology, 1(1), 108-125
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Odewale, Alicia, Justin Dunnavant, Ayana Flewellen, and Alexandra Jones.
2018 "Archaeology for the Next Generation." Anthropology News 59, no. 1: e210-e215.
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1892a On lynchings. Courier Corporation.
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Dr. Ayana Omilade Flewellen is a UC President’s Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of California Berkeley and a 2019 Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies Fellow working with the Digital Archaeological Archive of Comparative Slavery. Her research and teaching interests are shaped by and speak to Black Feminist Theory, historical archaeology, public and community-engaged archaeology, processes of identity formations, and representations of slavery.The bulk of her research interests span geographically across the archaeology of the African Diaspora. She has conducted archaeological excavations and oral historical research related to slavery and freedom in the U.S. South as well as the Caribbean. Her current book project, tentatively titled A Black Feminist Archaeology of Adornment, builds off her dissertation research that examined sartorial practices of self-making among African American tenant, sharecropping and landowning farmers in post-emancipated Texas.
Dr. Flewellen is also the co-founder of Society of Black Archaeologists, a non-profit organization launched in 2011 to create a strong network of archaeologists that advocate for proper treatment of African and African diaspora material culture, promote more people of African descent to enter the field of archaeology, ensure community collaborative research, and highlight the past and present achievements and contributions people of African descent have made to the field of archaeology.Flewellen is currently the Co-PI of the Estate Little Princess Archaeology Project, an award-winning collaborative community engaged archaeological project on St. Croix, USVI. The Estate Little Princess Archaeology Project is in collaboration with The Slave Wrecks Project (SWP) - a global change program comprised of an international network of institutions and individual associates that investigate the global history and enduring legacies of the African Slave Trade, administered by George Washington University and the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture – as well as the University of the Virgin Islands (UVI), and Diving with a Purpose (DWP), an underwater archaeology advocacy group. The Estate Little Princess Archaeology Project is also part of a larger University of California Historically Black College and University Grant – providing archaeological field school training to students attending HBCUs around the country.