Black Academics at UCT: Where are you?

UCT Black Academics: Where are you?

I have noticed. In the public forums that I frequent. That Black Academics at the University of Cape Town (UCT) have become increasingly vocal about the concerns that have undoubtedly shaped their careers. So much has been said. And shared. About the overwhelming Maleness and Whiteness that clings to our Walls much like the Ivy that creeps over the campus. It is bound with the very character of this Institution. And given its History, it would be unreasonable to expect otherwise.

But we’ve come a long way.

Every time I hear a story. About the First Female Graduate in a Faculty. Or about the plight of Black students in the early phases of the racial integration on the campus. I am reminded that we are so fortunate to have gotten to this point so quickly. And that – quite frankly – it’s a gift to be around this campus at a time where there are Black Academics, who’ve been through the sort of mental tensions that many persons of colour face in the present day.. As we, the new generation, now decorate the halls, and try to open doors. In the Ivory Tower.

But then. I think back more critically about my time at UCT. Especially during my Undergraduate. And I remember thinking quite often. Black Academics

Where are you?

And I mean this with the utmost respect.
But if I reflect.
At my participation in very many meetings at the University. On conversations related to Student participation in Development activities. Or participation in more general conversations on the University’s Responsibility for Social Responsiveness. I’ve been alongside many students. White and non-white. Male and Female. Who have been in the uncomfortable position of being in spaces that prioritize thought that rarely challenges White-Male privilege and leave you going all kinds of shades of red as you bite your tongue. And when you’re finally granted an opportunity to speak. You best hope the room is in the mood. To listen to this year’s batch of “fiery students” who want to talk about the issues… so they can get on with their business. So many moments like those when I wonder..

Black Academics, where are you?

Where are your voices, and why are we consistently not meeting each other?
I reflect on countless public lectures.
You know a great privilege about being at this University. Is that so many influential people come to address the campus. Virtually every day. And whenever I look around the room. And I listen to the questions. It’s rare that I see a Black Academics standing with us. Challenging the ebb and flow of conversations that rarely do more than affirm the comfort and superiority that acts violently upon the consciousness of many a student. Black Academics..

Where are you?

I’m sure you are following the news. And the endless stream of public opinion pieces that are flooding South African online platforms. Can you see how so many of us are seeking solidarity in Baldwin, Bell-Hooks, Fanon and Lorde? Do you see how many times we reference them? Do you see the new revival of Marxist language on our campus? Can you hear the war chants of young bodies that are using increasingly militant language? Black Academics. When we students are talking in echoes. We could use your guidance. But when we are meeting, and chanting publicly. One can’t help but wonder.

Where are you?

But you know I can get carried away. I don’t mean this (at least wholly) to be a damning indictment upon you. In recent times there are two events that really speak to promise and hope for a more intergenerational movement for transformation on campus. The first being a Gender Dialogue with President Michelle Bachelet from Chile, and a Race Dialogue organised by the Student Representative council and facilitated by two Black Female Academics. Those two events stand out very clearly in my mind. And that has a lot to do with the flow, the sheer mindfulness and attentiveness to the complexity of emotions hanging in the air of both delicate discussions. It also stands out as one of the first times since I arrived here in 2009. That I’ve been to a discussion chaired and guided by someone who wasn’t white. And addressed by a panel that was largely – if not wholly non-white, and female.

And for so many reasons. I appreciated these spaces deeply, I hope to see many more of these avenues for engagement opening up to the broader University community in future.

Now.. further on this point, I think it’s relevant to assert that I am from the Engineering faculty. And I know that these conversations happen and are curated very differently from Department to department. I hear wonderful stories of work being done by the Gender and African Studies Departments in particular. Many students coming out of those spaces have connected me – and many others – to information, events and ideas that have helped grow a language to explain and subsequently change our experiences.

And yet.
I’m left wondering. Why is it that I keep finding myself speaking out to the overwhelmingness of what the University space represents?.. In the absence of the Black Academics. The ones that are already here. Somewhere?

It has been a long time since Steve Biko wrote those famous words.. “Black child you are on your own”.. Surely since then we have moved forward. UCT Black Academics. I’m appealing to you specifically. To pay attention and participate with the students of a campus that is burning to explore What it is to be black. Full of young people ready to challenge “What is African?”.. And many of us are moving along and tackling these questions whether or not you are present.. But please UCT Black Academics. Step up to the plate. Support the young voices eager to transform this institution – by bringing your presence to our conversations..

I hope that with every day that passes. One less person will think about you.. in a committee room.. in a lecture hall.. in a public debate.. and wonder..

Where are you?


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