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Black Power in the Ivory Tower

February 15, 2019 - 8:25 pm

What is navigating academia like for many people of color? Graduate student, Francesca Simmons sat down with Dr. Georgia McDade, who received a doctorate in English from the  University of Washington, to share their experiences.

Special thanks to the University of Washington, Center for Communication, Difference, and Equity for this recording for their program, Radical Listening.

Unknown Speaker 0:00
91.3 KBCS music and ideas listener supported radio from Bellevue College. What is navigating academia like for many people of color, graduate student, Francesca Simmons sits down with Dr. Georgia McDade, the first African American woman to receive a doctorate from the University of Washington to share their experiences.

Unknown Speaker 0:22
It’s interesting, because I feel like a lot of people in this country, view racism as very regional and only being in the South, which is obviously false, someone growing up on the west coast, there’s racism over here, but to be able to handle it, I think people of color, learn how to deal with their regional racism and so it’s very hard to remove yourself from that region. Yeah, I think that you’re in the northwest, a lot of white people think that race is something that happens to people of color, and that they don’t have to experience it because it is, it’s so white here. But Seattle is one of the most unapologetically white places I have ever been. It’s it’s like they don’t recognize it or think about it.

Unknown Speaker 1:11
And if you do, it’s because you’re just too sensitive. Or you misunderstood. Exactly. You took it the wrong way. Are you sure he said that? Oh, he didn’t mean it. That way. I, they have more ways of explaining how it is not racist. I just think it’s amazing. You know, and it shouldn’t surprise me. But I, Oh,

Unknown Speaker 1:35
yes. It’s very dismissive and very covert. Yes. And, and so as a black woman here, I’m constantly second guessing myself.

Unknown Speaker 1:47
Yes, I like to think that it’s very different now. But I came to the University of Washington. And it’s probably the place where I incurred the most racist. What’s made the UW so bad for me is I grew up thinking, if there is a panacea, then it’s education, forget religion. But if there is something that will make the world a better place, then it’s going to be education. But it was here at the university that I learned some of the most racist people are the most educated people. And when they say ivory tower, they mean ivory tower.

Unknown Speaker 2:34

Unknown Speaker 2:35
So it just takes so much energy to do this. And some days, I’m just not up to it most of the time I am, but some days, and I just, I wanted to believe it was so different. But about two years ago, it occurred to me, I’m gonna be dead. And they still will not have done the things I thought they were going to do in the 60s. So it is ever so painful to know that you are experiencing some of the same racism, that many of us who came. I always think about how different the world would be if all of us live black boys and girls who went to these white colleges in the 60s, had been able to blossom the way we could have. Just think how different the world would have been. And of course, I went on to teach over 30 years, I still teach often not getting paid. But I still love teaching. And so I like to think that I still, I came out, okay, maybe not the best, but well enough, you know, and I’m still and my guess is, you know, all my life, the rest of my life, I’ll be trying to help.

Unknown Speaker 4:04
It’s definitely inspiring to see that you persevere through this, because I’m someone who’s interested in getting my PhD, either in history or a doctorate in education. But going back to your ivory tower comment, like to have to constantly put yourself in these spaces while going through the stress of, you know, getting a doctorate and doing your research. It’s kind of questioning like, Is it worth it, but then I look at you and think of all the paths you’ve paved for people like me and like wanting to do that same thing for other young black women. And so it’s kind of like, what kind of self sacrifice do you make for that? But it’s really inspiring, and it’s really encouraging to see. Even though I know you said you feel like you wish you could have done more just you being here and being a doctor, right? and doing that work was enough for me at least, to be able to see that.

Unknown Speaker 5:08
This is not the way this was supposed to be. (laughter)

Unknown Speaker 5:16
thank you for taking the time to spend and talk with me and share your story with me. I really, really appreciate it this time together.

Unknown Speaker 5:26
Well, you are very welcome my new friend. I’m glad I could share this. Sometimes I think sharing is the best thing that can happen.

Unknown Speaker 5:39
That was Dr. Georgia McDade speaking with graduate student Francesca Simmons. Special thanks to the University of Washington, Center for communication difference and equity for this recording for the program. Radical listening.