A Black Feminist Vegan Perspective on ‘Women, stop complaining and either raise a family or don’t have a family and just pursue your career’

Here are some updated thoughts to what I posted a few days ago about challenges to finding an opportunity in academe…

In terms of my previous post, I need to mention that one of my biggest challenges is that as the primary caretaker of 3 kids under the age of 6, most of the teaching opportunities I see do not pay enough for me to have someone take care of children and for me to work. Recently, I ended up losing a contract with an organization because I didn’t have enough income to hire someone to take care of my kids (1, 3 and kindergartner) when I needed to work. I rarely see this as an impediment for cisgender men. It is also challenging for me to ‘build’ a traditional teaching record when positions offered have a salary so low that it literally cannot cover child care (as a man in the previous post had mentioned that they were able to build their traditional teaching record in order to position themselves for a TT position).

I have heard the above challenges time and time again from women in heterosexual relationships and have children (Well, single women with children too, as I rarely meet a single father who also is the primary care-taker of his children; it’s usually women in heterosexual relationships that end up being the single mom and primary care provider if they separate from their boyfriend or husband). Anyway, the women I meet who are in heterosexual relationships with a man and have kids, their man partner, rarely if ever, are impeded by having kids. In contrast, many women who are ‘highly educated’ (in the Western educational sense) end up giving up their dreams of being in academe (or other fields) because for their family it is ‘cheaper’ if they stay home and take care of the children.

In this day and age of Academic Industrial Complex USA, a significant number of the teaching opportunities are low paying and not higher paying TT jobs (especially in the fields of women and gender studies, ethnic and racial studies); they are low paying with lots of hours as adjuncts and instructors for a 1 year or less time period. I have never heard of a cisgender man telling me that he no longer pursued his academic dreams because he had to stay home and take care of his children to save the family money– which usually makes sense because men are paid much more than women so it wouldn’t make economic sense for that primary income earner to leave that high paying position if his woman partner cannot make enough. These are the thoughts I have had and I don’t see it being talked about enough in mainstream talk about challenges to getting a position in academe–

Oh, I was just reminded via a social media ‘friend’ that I should not be posting about how my childcare issues ‘impede’ my ability to have a successful professional life; that I shouldn’t be speaking about these impediments ‘publicly’ because then potential hiring organizations may read it and simply read my children as an impediment to me being a successful employee. Well, thanks for your concern social media ‘friend’, but why keep this silent? It’s a real problem and to ask us to be ‘silent’ about it because we do not look ‘professional’ is just making these problems worse.

I have a lot of ‘well-intentioned’ people who don’t have kids– or they do have kids and they usually are cisgender men who don’t have to take care of their kids (Because they usually have a women partner who does). They tell me with a lot of confidence that I just need to keep on working harder and do this or that but their strategies don’t include that whole children bit. The strategy/advice come from a perspective of someone who basically just has to take care of themselves during the day, if that makes sense. I appreciate the advice but am also unsettled by the constant lack of awareness around the fact that still, most women with very young kids are doing the 48 hour work day, not getting sleep at night because they must take care of kids who don’t often sleep at night, as well as needing to care of the kids and/or work at the same time. When I am sick with the flu or what not, the kids are too and I can’t nap or sleep at night for a long time because I need to take care of them so I am sick forever (because the body can’t heal if it doesn’t sleep).

I also am intrigued by the mostly [white] men who advise me and kind of miss talking about the childcare part as well when they speak to me; I am spoken too as if I have white and male privilege and am not engaged in ‘inflammatory’ work/discipline (i.e. critical race feminism, anti-speciesism, and critical white studies) that makes it harder for me to secure financially stable employment. Yes, thank you for your advice, but at the same time, I just need to understand why these very obvious differences are not being recognized in who has more of a chance of securing a financially secure position and who doesn’t.

Just the other month, I met a woman who said she lost her job at a medical institution. She has 3 kids and had just had a baby but went back to work ASAP. She wasn’t sleeping at night (which most of us don’t do if we have a new baby) . The constant sleep deprivation meant she couldn’t do well at her job. What did the employer do? Told her she had to leave her job because her performance was being compromised by she needing to take care of her newborn as well as other 2 kids. Don’t we love living in a country in which we don’t have the structural support we need so we can just have the basics while taking care of dependents? But, oh well, we’re just women and we need to select one or the other: Either raise kids or pursue your career. You cannot do both. In addition, let’s make life even more difficult if you want to start a family and not have state supported maternity and paternity leave if you adopt or give birth to a baby.

Um, is this 2015 or 1915?  Even more frustrating is that unless you’ve actually taken care of very little kids and have not slept in months, most cannot comprehend what this means. Even when folk have never experienced it and READ the social science research that shows the consequences of not giving women (or most primary caretakers of young children) the support they need, there isn’t a lot of compassion, understanding, or move to make some systemic changes. Also, let’s revisit the very real fact that for many who are in Academe, it’s “killing us”. And add on being a woman of color doing social science work and activism that center dismantling systems of racism and white supremacy and I’m in the zone of academia’s racial battle fatigue. I would like to have a real and upfront conversation with the many white cisgender men who sincerely try to advise me yet don’t even know what the hell racial battle fatigue is (because that is what racial and cisgender privilege means– you don’t need to know!). But, when I try to be real and upfront about it, it is dismissed. And beyond the childcare issues, there is the very real fact that Black [Women’s] Lives [Don’t] Matter in academe (well in the USA) in general, as Tamura A. Lomax brilliantly writes.

Oh, and we can’t forget the time when I shared these impediments, that a ‘compassionate’ vegan responded with much snark, “Have some more kids why don’t you?” (see snapshot below and click on it to go to URL of blog post). And I confronted them and asked if it was easier to say this to me on the internet and because I am a woman and Black, it’s easy to invoke that stereotype that white America has about Black women having too many children and not knowing how to take care of them. Of course they didn’t respond. As I struggle with the challenges of choosing to both raise several young children AND have a professional career, all I keep hearing from the mainstream is, “Women, stop complaining and either raise a family or don’t have a family and just pursue your career.” Um yea, because a cisgender man thinking about starting a family and still having a career is told that all the time—NOT!

soybean

Anyway…..off my soap box

Original post:

Hello my supporters. I have a birthday wish (My birthday is May 30).

Many of you know how I have struggled, like so many social justice oriented PhDs in the USA, to find employment in academe. I need your help. I admit it: Looking through job boards has been overwhelming. I have tried alternative paths since I received my PhD in 2013, but my heart is simply being pulled back to academe. I am revisiting my deep desire to be a professor– a desire I have had since I was 12 years old when I said I’d get a PhD and be the first in my family to do so.

It has been awhile, but I am ready to try again because it is challenging trying to write an academic book and do other scholarship without having full time paid employment and a university type community. I have published 2 books, put on 2 conferences, given numerous keynote addresses, and published 7 articles and chapters. Hence, I can’t say that I don’t have the skills or the drive to do this work. I am not tooting my own horn, however, I have been told by many people who have attended my keynote talks or read my publications that my work is groundbreaking, thought-provoking, and a game changer. When I put on the Vegan Praxis of Black Lives Matter online conference, the response was amazingly positive. People wrote me that the conference had shifted their way of thinking in a way that they never could imagine. 

I refuse to believe that there is no place for me in academe.I just came back from giving several talks in Oregon the other week and several people who enjoyed my work said they were surprised and confused that I had never been offered a post-doc or tenure track professor position. Yes, perhaps it doesn’t make sense– especially since after I give my talks or people have read my books,  I’m  generally told that my scholarship is ‘one of a kind.’ (But, who knows. I applied to over 100 academic positions and got one phone interview for a 1 year lecture position that didn’t pay enough for me to put my kids in daycare so perhaps there are just more PhDs in social science than there are positions? ) (

Here are my simple birthday requests:

  1. Do you know of any postdocs or assistant professor job openings at your institution (online universities are great for me to consider too)?
  2. Can you connect me with non-profits or universities that would benefit from the work I am doing and have done?
  3. Would you like to invite me to give a talk at your institution (my idea is that hearing me speak and me interacting with faculty, students, and staff are good ways to get to know my scholarship beyond a CV)?
  4. Do you know any people who could benefit from hiring who can do consulting around diversity and inclusion issues in an academic setting?

I am searching for critical food studies, black studies, women and genders studies, or critical race studies opportunities but am also open to other possibilities. Here is a taste of my latest work (see video below) which is a talk I gave. I did a critical race materialist reading of the food objects in my latest book Scars: A Black Lesbian Experience in Rural White New England.

And my books:

SOCI Harper-PB_Finals

51jAH5T-7hL

11 thoughts on “A Black Feminist Vegan Perspective on ‘Women, stop complaining and either raise a family or don’t have a family and just pursue your career’

  1. Breeze, I briefly read thus post. Have you thought about getting a life in care provider for you and your children. Along the lines of a ampere or a sister-mother. I remember you mentioning that you have a German husband. Can he help?
    With all the work you have done, teaching is obviously within reason. Widen your circle of sister/friends and work out an exchange where the cost balances.

    1. Atma, do you mean a live-in? I have tried sharing childcare but so far, i seem to be doing it wrong. I need 24 hours a week to work but can’t work it out in terms of exchange. Especially since it would mean me needing to take care of my 3 plus friends kids. Thanks for the suggestion, however, I am re-revisiting the idea that maybe academe just isn’t profitable enough and ‘let go’ before my obsessive dream becomes a nightmare.

  2. Breeze, I enjoyed your blog entry and as a black woman, mother and grandmother, I identify with the difficulties you have experienced concerning employment and childcare. I would have thought by now this problem would have gotten better, instead it’s gotten worse. When a highly qualified black woman with a well earned Phd can’t get ahead, what chance do lesser educated black women have in providing for their children adequately? I had a husband and chose to stay home because my whole paycheck for the month would have gone to the sitter. I should mention I had a high paying position in D.C. where childcare pretty much matches any take home pay. I would come home worn out, tired, and unable to appropriately interact with my children, which was not fair to them and their growth. I chose, because I had the option at the time, to stay home and raise them.

    Fast forward 32 years, my daughter is experiencing the same discriminatory problem in 2015, but she does not have that option as a single parent of 3 small children in today’s economy. The other day we were out and a white woman was passing by. She stopped us and commented, ‘Wow! That’s a lot of children you have there!’. We both stopped in our tracks dazed and confused as to why she felt it was appropriate to say that to a total stranger. We asked her why would she say something like that? She couldn’t answer, so I answered for her. ‘It’s because she’s a black woman isn’t it? Do you stop other people of other non black races and say that?’ She again had no answer for her actions. We walked away hopefully leaving her with that thought for the day. Hopefully that brief yet informative interaction impressed upon her to be careful with her words because they hurt good people in her insensitivity and racial ignorance.

    Was I playing the race card? No. If it’s put in the public it can be addressed in the public. I don’t mince words but I respond respectfully with hopes of educating, not demeaning, such people. There is no subject on this earth that can’t be discussed as adults, at least not with me.

    My brother and his wife are PhD’s, his is black and she is Italian yet she had the same difficulties in procuring affordable child care at first also. So she worked from home, he didn’t, she did. Sexism at it’s finest in 1982 hasn’t changed a bit in 2015 and neither have the mindsets of such bigots and sexist clinging to such stone age thoughts. What chance do our daughters and granddaughters have if this mindset is ignored, swept under the rug and not spoken on?

    THANK YOU for speaking out so eloquently and with such boldness! When people such as The Shenandoah Vegan make off the cuff remarks such as she did, it not only hurts the person she insulted (yes it was an ignorant racist insult, believe me!. I’m not sensitive just paying attention to what people are NOT saying) it hurts our whole culture and women in general.

    Of course, if they are not of a minority culture, their lack of experience of such oppression leaves them clueless to the hurt such ignorance perpetuates for generations to come. Yet, in this day and age of cultural sensitivity and information, being clueless and putting the blame on the person saying they have attitude or whatever, is no longer accepted as a viable reason to perpetuate such mind numbing ignorance. Just because it’s always been said and done, doesn’t make it right to do. A intelligent person would purposely inform themselves and evolve into a better human than we’ve been in the past.

    If this feels like an insult to the perpetrators, so be it. It hurts doesn’t it to be called out on b.s. you said behind your monitor that you hoped would have been kept secret? I encourage people who think this way to search the internet, speak with women of all cultures to find out how much easier they have it because they are not brown. I have a white mother so I know the differences in perception and I’ve had enough insults hurled at me in my lifetime because of my color. My parents taught me ignorant people enjoy their ignorance because they are afraid of what’s different. Pray they understand some day. I don’t believe praying is enough. We must speak up because they will think it’s ok to treat other people that way.

    We non white cultures must educate the world and let them know we bleed red just like them, we are no different. Fear is the culprit and it rules many lives and cultures around the world. It’s time we stood up, raised our voices and confronted all disrespect and fear of difference in order to educate, inform and change the world for the better. Thank you for doing that and keep on doing it. I appreciate you and have no doubt you will create success for you and your children’s future because you are bold and working towards change. Any employer who doesn’t see your strength and what you bring to the table is walking in past cultural fear and doesn’t deserve what you offer.

    Keep on keeping on it MUST get better so we can evolve.

  3. Being this is ino of a personal nature, it’s just for your eyes: I have a suggestion: This is my brother Dr. James Jackson http://home.isr.umich.edu/research/researcher-profiles/james-jackson/ I am proud of the work he’s done in the social research field for black Americans. If you are so inclined, look to see if there may be something there that interests you in academia. His wife also Dr. Toni Antonucci works there http://www.isr.umich.edu/src/lcd/antonucci.html. Maybe they can offer some encouragement in this field.

  4. “Oh, I was just reminded via a social media ‘friend’ that I should not be posting about how my childcare issues ‘impede’ my ability to have a successful professional life; that I shouldn’t be speaking about these impediments ‘publicly’ because then potential hiring organizations may read it and simply read my children as an impediment to me being a successful employee. Well, thanks for your concern social media ‘friend’, but why keep this silent? It’s a real problem and to ask us to be ‘silent’ about it because we do not look ‘professional’ is just making these problems worse.”

    Staying silent about problems sure won’t make them go away, yet when someone mentions a real problem, then they are told to shut up. You really can’t win no matter what you do these days.

  5. Dear Dr Harper
    My name is Fabian Egbesu Ohore and i have read your blogs and posts here and there because my wife who is a feminist and big fan of yours sends me some of your excellent writieups from time to time. I will be honest i am no feminist nor black feminist, my wife is, she is a bell hooks inspired woman i say that to make it be known that i dont hate women nor am i a woman basher. More importantly i have learned that its much better to state these things upfront because as a man i have always noticed that merely disagreeing with women, a man is labelled a chauvinist patriarchal mad man who must be shot dead and fed to the dogs.
    That aside from what you have posted i see that the “exorbitant singularity” that foucault talked about is rearing its head in your post( forgive me though im quite the baudrillardian lol simulations simulations simulations) im sure you know by now Foucault blah blah blah…but his observations are telling never before in the history of the world have we been atomized yet put together in a collective at the same time. My mentor calls it newtonian bifurcations of modernity, as a fan of baudrillard however i look to robert hooke and his discovery of cells ( some recent scholarship actually accuses newton of stealing from hooke his arch rival…well some say the royal society stole indian texts with the help of jesuit missionaries to bring calculus to that so called royal society…but i digress forgive me) to point to how the system uses us as a units for the body politick( that monster indeed known as the leviathn curse you hobbes) its no coincidence that the linguistic reminder of a cell being the single unit of life but more importantly a prison or perhaps more telling a battery or energy source, clearly lets us know exactly what we are. Simply batteries used to give life to the body politick, now this was an effort years in the making biopolitics, the nuclear family, buggery acts and enclosure acts ala polanyi( the great transformation ironically these assualt on peasants is still linguistically present check the etymology of the word villian/villein)

    Ive said all of that to say this the modern day west continues to assualt communal networks and kinship villages by presenting the state as the alterntive to communal blood lines. In a precolonial african setting ( of course no utopia so dont bash me lol) you would be afforded many abilities to thrive and develop as a person( that is if the cartesin modality of self existed in pre modern non european societies, my opinion is of course they were absent of the apron stage of self….see goffmans presentations of self in every day life ironically my mentor proved that judith butler used his logic to write her gender as performance narrative imagine conservative chicago school eugenics inspiring left wing liberal writings…but that is the strangeness of modernity I guess…forgive me i digress)

    So i ask would you ever consider polygamy as an alternative? In my culture many women were known to marry a second wife for their husbands to allow themselves freedom in the market place( again im of the opinion that this was as a result of the Portuguese expansion into west africa which led to the mass importation of cowry shells and subsequently the monetization of the west african economy so im by no means a fan of such…but again guys such as victor manfredi and my mentor dr ikeotuonye disagree with me on that lol…i digress again no more i promise)

    My wife is of the position that this is fool hardy yet i remind her that again marx failed simply because he tried to bring about hebrew communalism yet it was infused with western positivism…all in all socialism and communism failed because they forgot the ancient maxim “blood is thicker than water” so states can try and replace communal blood ties but they cant create mutual debt obligations that arise out of such( greabers book debt the first 5000years is an excellent source )

    So i end here with a suggestion ( please its just a suggestion, dont attack me with the typical feminist “oh your just a scheming chauvinist patriarch looking to exploit women…die! Kill him! Lol” ) we need to reorient or circumnavigate state forced parameters of community polygamy is no pancea nor the only way but in an effort to build families and create avenues for women to raise children and create 3 sources of income, perhaps you might marry a second wife for your husband. Mary french sheldon (an early feminist ancestor ) travelled to africa and commented on how polygamy fostered womens development( a phrase paraded about by many governments and academia but as your experience has shown is merely empty talk)

    I look forward to your reply

    As always i learn

    Egbesu

    1. Thanks for the post. I personally don’t think polygamy is the answer, just structural support for the primary caretakers (mostly women) of young children. But, that is just my opinion. My husband is from Germany where working women get 1 year off maternity leave, paid and with other support and they don’t have the same types of problems that I am speaking about; it’s not perfect, but far better than the USA.

      I don’t like relying heterosexual relationships in which polygamous marriage is the only way to guarantee support for a woman rearing children very unbalanced. Plus, not all women with children are heterosexual and this leaves out the plethora of women who chose to be single or have children with a partner who is not a cisgender man (i.e, partnered with a woman for example).

      I like the concept of cooperative family housing in which several families live together (if they don’t have extended family around, which I don’t) and they all help each other.

      best
      Breeze

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