Lady in the Ivory Tower: If You Pack Only One Book, Make it a 570 Page Hardcover on Race and Class

I brought just one book to India: It was a 570 pages hardcover on race and class. It is true, I did consider that it could be used as a weapon or a seat if needed. Still, it got me through a 30-hour train ride. I call it my “survival book”—without it, the long, hot days of travel would have been unbearable. What would your survival reading be?

Before embarking on a trip of any extended length, many of us privileged enough to read this screen have an important choice to make—what book to bring? Yes, of course, those who have a kindle or tablet can essentially pack an endless number of books in their bag. But for those of us who prefer print or can’t afford the alternative, choosing the one or two books to haul along with us is a crucial decision. What did I choose on my most recent trip? Presumed Incompetent: The Intersections of Race and Class for Women in Academia (2012, Ohio University Press) was the book whose 570 pages would keep me company throughout my trip to India, and help me sort out my thoughts as I delved further into academia by drafting a Ph.D application.

It’s rare to find a book worth hauling across a foreign country. Though I was a bit embarassed at the weight of my bag, Presumed Incompetent deepened my understanding of the challenges women in academia face.

Presumed Incompetent has been four years in the making and maps a history that mirrors the history of higher education in the United States. The book’s more than 40 essays examine the working lives of women faculty of color. Using personal narratives, qualitative empirical studies, and scholarly essays, the authors discuss challenges that stretch beyond pay equity and overt sexual harassment. The book focuses on resilience in the face of adversity and developing supportive networks, as well as what academic institutions need to know to improve the tenure process. As Kimberlé Crenshaw, a prominent figure in Critical Race Theory and current professor at UCLA School of Law and Columbia Law School said, “It reminds us that the mere passage of time is not enough to create equitable workplaces for anyone facing institutional subordination.”

You can preview the book here, I suggest picking up an actual copy. I do not necessarily recommend picking up an actual copy and hauling it around India, but in my experience, it makes not only a good seat but also an excellent mental support.

If you were to pack only one book for a long trip, what would it be?

Lady in the Ivory Tower: This Bridge Called My Back and the Backs We All Stand on

Bridge Called My Back

The new year brings with it new resolutions, fresh thoughts and affirmations, new ways of thinking of ourselves and the world around us, and a general feeling of possibility in the air. In all the newness that surrounds inaugurations and New Year’s parties and trips to the gym to stay true to that one resolution (at least for the first month), sometimes we forget where we have been. We forget whose backs we are standing on and how we came to be where we are now.

On the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech and the 1963 March on Washington, it is a good time to reflect on that iconic oration, but it is also a good time to remember the lesser-known prompt delivered by gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, who stood on stage with King. As the story goes, she urged from behind the podium, “Tell them about the dream, Martin. Tell them about the dream,” prompting the from-the-heart part of King’s speech. So, sure we all remember and were taught about many of the men at the forefront of the civil-rights battle. But what about the the ladies who also came before us?

There were women we seldom hear about, walking through university quadrangles and classrooms in an attempt to blaze their way beyond the ivory phalluses of the university (those white heteronormative spaces that they still are). Though women have achieved so-called parity under law, there are many spaces in which equality is yet to be seen, and academia is one of them.

The purpose of this blog series is to offer a feminist response to the culture of academia, including the experience of working, teaching, and researching within academic institutions, with a particular focus on women of color. Women’s rights, racial justice, and institutional sexism are tightly interwoven, and Lady in the Ivory Tower will examine those intersections with an eye toward making them clear to everyone. When you walk into a conference space, for instance, or an academic space, do you count the people who look even remotely like yourself? Do you think about the structure of the space and whether or not it includes those who identify as queer or women with children who might not be able to afford a conference-weekend’s worth of childcare? Do you consider whether or not the space is accessible for those with disabilities? If you don’t, you may be part of a privileged majority. No shame, no guilt, just an awareness of your positionality is all I would ask for.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott were both refused seats at the World Anti-Slavery Convention in London in 1840 because of their sex. In the 1920s, Barbara McClintock was prevented from majoring in genetics at Cornell University because she was female, so she majored in botany instead. No big deal: McClintock went on to be a founder of the field of cytogenetics and was awarded the 1983 Nobel prize in Physiology or Medicine.Anna Julia Cooper became one of the first three African-American women to complete a PhD in 1925. Since she couldn’t enroll in a doctorate program the United States, she graduated from the Sorbonne in Paris.

Fast-forward to 1981, when the anthology This Bridge Called My Back offered up an the work of a handful of women of color in academia, providing stepping stones to understand intersectional feminism. At the time it was written it was, as Nisha Agarwal put it in a Huffington Post remembrance, “a vermilion ink bloom on the crisp white wedding dress of the U.S. feminist movement.” In an effort to blur demarcations between intellectual and disciplinary spheres, and expose “the un/speakables,” as coeditor Gloria Anzaldua would say, for this new year and this new inauguration let’s not feel uncomfortable being women in the academy. Let’s live in borderlands and in acknowledging the backs we are standing on, resolve to help those around us be the bridge to their own power.

Mindy Kaling is a Role Model For Everyone, Not Just Women Of Color

This article originally appeared in PolicyMic.

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Mindy Kaling might just be the new role model for all of us. Notice, I do not say; Mindy Kaling is the new role model for Indian women. If we are going to say she is good, let’s give her credit for being more than just “good for a woman” or “good for an Indian” or “good for a woman of color.” The truth is Mindy Kaling is both witty and smart.

Mindy Kaling (whose name at birth was Vera Chokalingam) stars in The Mindy Project which premiered on FOX in September.The Mindy Project tells the story of the eternal search for career balance and a love life. While the show plays into some of the stereotypes of Indians in America (of course she is a doctor), it also expands on the Indian playing the token Indian. She is not a token at all. Let us rejoice, we have a women of color as the lead character! When was the last time we had that? Margaret Cho andUgly Betty’s America Ferrera are the only two names that come to mind.

Though success cannot be measured by Facebook likes, and Twitter followers alone, Kaling has accrued 111 thousand facebook likes, over 2 million twitter followers and has written her ownbook. She is both writer and star of The Mindy Project. As New York Magazine describes, “every detail of the set, has had to pass through Kaling’s brain and reflect her unique worldview as a self-described ‘chubby’ 33-year-old Indian-American female comic by way of Cambridge, Massachusetts; Dartmouth College; and eight years as both a writer and a cast member on NBC’s The Office.”

Kaling’s inspiration for her character comes in part from her mother, who was an OB/GYN. Though Kaling may seem like she is new in the TV scene, she has been a writer with The Office, since 2004. Over the course of her time at The Office, she wrote 24 episodes, directed two episodes, three webisodes and received an Emmy nomination for “Niagara,” which was co-written with The Office creator Greg Daniels.

What about the fact that she is Indian? Does her country of ancestry support or detract from her character? She managed to get through the first episode of The Mindy Project without any overt Indian references, which can be seen as a positive or as a negative depending on your perspective.

Kaling does add a dash of race humor, but not in a way that excludes her myriad of fans. When a car nearly runs her over as she is drunkenly riding a bike, she screams “Racist!” But, beyond that one line there is no mention of race. According to Kaling, she isn’t interested in having her skin color, or her gender define her. “I never want to be called the funniest Indian female comedian that exists,” she tells New York Magazine. “I feel like I can go head-to-head with the best white, male comedy writers that are out there. Why would I want to self-categorize myself into a smaller group than I’m able to compete in?”

So how is Kaling’s character portrayed beyond a woman who struggles with balancing love and life? New York Magazine describes Kaling as “disastrous but still hopeful at love.” In the show, she plays into the age-old metanarrative of a woman searching for a man. But at least she has a job (more than we can say for Hannah on Girls). Kaling goes beyond the preteen-esque youngster as portrayed by Zooey Deschanel’s Jess on New Girl. She’s found her life path, she has had sex with more than a couple of people, and she is confident.

The Mindy Project feels like a more honest version of Sex and the City. As New York Magazinewrites, “Both the mainstream and the marginalized can identify with her; by defying easy categorization, she’s become the contemporary Every-woman, both a Mary and a Rhoda.” A perpetual rom-com in sitcom form that provides the audience with something we can all almost relate to and a lead character we can all respect both on and off screen.

Kaling should perhaps be everyone’s role model. A successful person realizing her dreams. I look forward to seeing how the real Kaling, as well as her character in the Mindy Project end up.