Academic journal article Educational Foundations

Care-Sickness: Black Women Educators, Care Theory, and a Hermeneutic of Suspicion

Academic journal article Educational Foundations

Care-Sickness: Black Women Educators, Care Theory, and a Hermeneutic of Suspicion

Article excerpt

Introduction

As Black (1) women educators, we situate ourselves at the intersection of race, gender, and pedagogy. For us, to be Black women educators demands that we attune ourselves to the critical ways institutional structures create, shape, and manipulate our lives. We find ourselves consistently questioning what it means to be Black women educators at predominantly White institutions. In many ways, our pedagogy was inherited, consciously and unconsciously, as we watched our mothers, grandmothers, and great grandmothers, educate in unfathomable circumstances. In being with these maternal caretakers, we learned the importance of presence, being in relationship, being with ourselves, and being engaged with the past. From them we learned that to be a Black woman was to teach, to embody the political in word and deed. They taught us how and when to "read the world" and to "read the word," to gaze in ways that would interpret, erase, and transcend Jim Crow segregation as well as its residual affects (Freire, 1998b; hooks, 2003).

In framing this article, we discovered that we could not divorce the social and familial from the academic. From our perspective, writing as critical educators begins with the personal, connects with the political, and extends to the spiritual. We center our critical perspectives on the spiritual because we believe that, to fight against injustice, we must engage in a pedagogy of the soul (O'Malley, 2003, 2007) or emancipatory spirituality (Lerner, 2005)--a way of teaching and learning that allows us to teach and learn as integrated beings (hooks, 1994; Krishnamurti, 1953; Purpel, 2005). A pedagogy of the soul allows educators to engage in teaching and learning as connoisseurs (Eisner, 1985) able to perceive subtleties and contradictions. Such a pedagogy makes possible an attunement to affliction (interior suffering) and quest for human goodness. In modeling for us what it meant to be present, our maternal ancestors embodied a womanist ideology (Beauboeuf-Lafontant, 2002, 2005; Walker, 1983; Williams, 2002) which mirrors O'Malley's (2003, 2007) pedagogy of the soul in that they lived in the nexus between pedagogy, politics, and spirituality.

A pedagogy of the soul disturbs us, however, because we have witnessed its destructive affects on our Black women ancestors. In a sense, they have cared too much, worked too hard, and come to understand exhaustion as the norm rather than the exception. In defying and refuting multiple oppressions (e.g., racism, sexism, classism), they constructed a persona of strength which has, in its interpretation and application become a primary paradigm for Black women's lives. While the lived experiences of Black women and their transcendent survival may speak truth to the metaphor "strong Black woman," such comparisons trap Black women into cyclical modes of being which demand that they "live" the metaphor. In attempting to do so, they dismiss weakness and privilege strength; with such privileging, they embody normative notions of womanhood which differ from those assigned to White women (e.g., humble, frail, dependent, etc.) (Piper, 2003; Wittig, 1993). To embody (or to perform--see Butler, 1993, 2003) a womanhood which differs from the norm situates Black women in perpetual conflict and predisposes them to alienation, isolation, and insecurity--all of which, if navigated while living the metaphor of "strong Black woman," can lead Black women to disproportionately suffer from depression (Beauboeuf-Lafontant, 2007).

Embracing Beauboeuf-Lafontant's (2002) exposition of black womanist pedagogy, we contend that Black women teachers historically have operated with an embrace of the maternal, political clarity, and an ethic of risk. With such a pedagogy, they perceive teaching to be a political act, one grounded in "other mothering" (Collins, 2000), and contextualized by a race-based positionality which marks them as oppressed. This "marking" assigns Black women educators to a culturally inferior border position. …

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