September 8, 2021
(Note: This message was intended for last week but Hurricane Ida had other plans. With that in mind we keep our many friends, family, and colleagues who in any way were affected by this massive storm in our thoughts and prayers.)
After a brief summer hiatus, welcome back to our bi-weekly “Wednesday Words”. It is our hope that these messages will continue to enlighten, challenge, bring a smile, and perhaps even move some to act. We also welcome everyone back to what is already shaping up to be another challenging academic year.
The previous year was fraught with unprecedented difficulties and challenges in terms of race, health, environmental, political, and social justice concerns. The navigation of the COVID pandemic continues to present evolving and ongoing challenges to our campuses and our personal lives. Yet I have been struck by another phenomenon these past few months. With the backdrop of 2020’s national reckoning with horrific racial events still fresh in our collective memories, it strikes me that a major segment of our society is continuing to experience less lethal but nonetheless debilitating assaults.
“The term “misogynoir” was coined by queer, black feminist Moya Bailey to describe the intersection between racism, sexism and colourism, where darker-skinned women are subjected to vitriol; especially when they are prominent social figures and in the media.”1 While the term is relatively new, this misogynoir is certainly not merely a recent phenomenon. In fact, it has plagued black women for centuries.
We see it in the workplace, at our colleges and universities, and in our communities. Verbal assaults, social media attacks, and criticism in mainstream media are all too commonplace for women of color, particularly Black women. This is not to say that we cannot be critical of Black women, it’s just that when we do, it must be justified and consistent. That is, if we took race and gender out of the equation, would the criticism be the same? Would it even exist? In cases of misogynoir, the answer for both is a painful, "No. Additionally, the expected behaviors usually expressed in" such criticisms often fails to consider the humanity involved. Instead of recognizing the personhood of the individual, perceived “sub-human” or even "superhuman" traits are rationalized as reasons to attack. There is a sense that these women should “behave” as their assailants believe that they should. Nothing more; nothing less.
The recently completed Tokyo Olympics saw the world’s most decorated gymnast, Simone Biles vilified for seeking to protect her own safety and mental health. Prior to those same Olympics, Shacari Richardson was “attacked” for being disqualified for a banned substance that many feel should not have been banned. And Allison Felix, the Olympics’ most decorated female track athlete of all-time showed Nike that they should not have dropped her sponsorship simply because she chose to have a baby and subsequently continue to compete. Naomi Osaka, Serena Williams, and others from the sport of tennis have also been victimized.
BLACK WOMEN MAYORS
High profile politicians, especially black women mayors and the nation’s first black Vice President have all come under intense criticism in unique fashions that are not often levied at white males in similar positions.
Tired tropes like “the angry black woman”, “she needs to know her place”, or even “shut up and dribble” are all parts of the mean-spirited messaging. It is tough to ascend to the pinnacle of sport, politics, and even education, but it is even tougher for women of color and certainly Black women. Having overcome tremendous odds and obstacles, these women have achieved a level of excellence and in some cases exceptional greatness, yet they are still subjected to this harmful and targeted bigotry.
All of this can negatively affect healthy psyche and good mental health. So, let’s not contribute to the misogynoir. Let’s instead continue to support and uphold our queens wherever they have found their successes. And let’s continue to speak out against such diatribes that are insensitive at best, and hateful at worst. We must continue to support and encourage Black excellence. We must build up and we must gird the many great sheroes among us. Show them the love and respect due them and correct others when they do not.
Stay well, stay safe, vaccinate, and continue to do good work,
1“America’s History of Medical Misogynoir”, Atinuke Falaiye May 6, 2021
"It’s all about the students",
Dereck J. Rovaris, Sr
Dr. Dereck J. Rovaris, Sr.
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