Being a Warrior Scholar Activist Ain't Easy
According to the US Census, only 2% of the United States population has a doctoral degree.
I am pursuing something only 2% of the United States population has attained. I never think of myself as belonging to such an exclusive and privileged group of people. And that’s 2% of the entire US population so you know it’s mostly white folks. My immediate question becomes, well how many BLACK women are in this group with me? I couldn’t find that number. But we know it’s not alot. But my crew is sprinkled with Black women who either have a doctorate or are pursuing one. My department alone has graduated 3 black women with doctorates in 2017. Because I belong to the academic world, I have access to and knowledge of many Black women who are getting that paper. But it wasn’t until I did some research that I had the epiphany of what a privilege it is to be able to earn your doctorate.
I want to make one thing clear. . . .
I am not praising institutions of higher learning at all. They are structures that uphold European epistemology, values, culture, and white-supremacist-capitalist-heteropatriarchy. But just like anything else, it’s a tool. How you use it is up to you.
Which leads to my point. Navigating graduate school as a Black woman is like being dropped off in the middle of nowhere with a map that only shows highways and being asked to find your way to a mysterious holy grail. I have heard story after story from Black women who have described their graduate school experience as such. No or little support, not being given the same guidance as white students, having financial support taken away, committee members not fulfilling their duties, not being explained the process or financial obligations of dissertator status, advisors leaving the university, being told their work is not interesting - not valid - not worthy.
I have been done with my course-work for 2 years, but I still have not taken my preliminary exams. I’ve been scheduled 3 times, but have walked away right before the test was to be administered. I didn’t have faith that I was ready. I was tired of the bureaucracy, tired of the manipulation, tired of the racism and sexism apparent in the university system. I told myself I didn’t need this piece of paper to do my work. Truth be told I don’t need to have a doctorate to be a cooperative developer. So I hung my hat on that truth and gave up on being Dr. Thomas. Or so I thought. For 2 years I’ve been saying, yes I do want to be Dr. Thomas, wait no I don’t. Okay, I could use a Ph.D. Nevermind, I don’t need it. Well, it would afford me more opportunities. But my network is bananas, I can make it on hard work and determination alone.
It wasn’t until my daugher was born that I realized what it would mean for me to earn my doctorate. When you are a Ph.D. you are considered a knowledge producer. And the fact of the matter, in this white-supremacist-capitalist-heteropatriarchy, is that we NEED more BLACK. WOMEN. KNOWLEDGE. PRODUCERS. Now Black women been producing knowledge since we birthed the human race. But because of the world we live in our stories have been erased, appropriated, twisted, and buried. It is our job to uncover these stories, to reclaim our time and our throne.
Completing my doctorate will show my daughter what it means to be a Black woman warrior scholar activist (Modupe’s words). It will show her and other Black boys and girls that we can tell our own stories, strategize our own liberation, and execute our own freedom. It is important that we earn our degrees. But how we do it is also important. We cannot seek a degree for the degree’s sake, just like we cannot partake in theorizing for the sake of theory. We must know how to use the tool of the university to serve the purpose of our liberation. We must go in knowing that we will be silenced, overlooked, misguided, and thwarted. But there are sprinkles of black magic out there that will help guide you on your way. I hope to be one of them. I am working to be one of 2% of all people in the US who hold a doctorate. For my people, for my daughter and for myself.
The future Dr. Cami Jean Thomas