I am not here for The Border. Because all Borders are imagined, and though they exist in ubiquity, the reality they create is gilded falsehood – a lie covered up in human-made, but powerful pretensions, justifications, and other kinds of rhetorical and discursive dressings. An illustrative example is the changing physical borders of the United States throughout its history. How can we be the same country who historically championed the permeability of physical borders (i.e. Manifest Destiny) and who currently insists on their permanence? The Border is a lie.
Regardless of the inherent veracity of The Border, Border-ed thinking is a source of real pain, suffering, and oppression. The Hyphen in African-American, Black-American, Latinx-American, Asian-American, Native-American, etc. as a border, can serve a purpose as an Other-izing function. Racial oppression subjects us to struggle with the opposite poles of identity of how we see ourselves versus the racialized identity, tropes, and stereotypes that are projected onto us. However, the Hyphen need not be constructed as a dividing line, because it is, in fact, a bridge. As much as majoritarian narratives might have us think otherwise, we contribute to and shape the America we inhabit. As much as we are shaped by forces perhaps out of our control, we have the collective and individual power to shape those forces. Our existence and our work are consequential, for it is those from the margins of society who have the clearest picture of it and are therefore best positioned to change it for the better. The Border is a lie.
In academia, we confront debates of the experiential vs. the theoretical, the personal vs. the intellectual. In both instances, as graduate students, we are socialized to favor the latter. But again, these false dichotomies create the illusion that we need to be distanced from our work and that we need a self-protective split of personhood from practice. These are ludicrous suggestions. Any person with a marginalized identity, be it race, gender, class, sexual orientation, ability status, working and fighting for the greater recognition of the humanity of others who are similarly oppressed cannot distance themselves from their work. This work is proximal. It is painful. It hits home often, and it hits home hard. But out of the pain and anger that finds us in the moments when we are the lone voice in class, in the moments when our research topics are dismissed for being too personal, or in the moments of sleepless nights of rumination, there is strength, beauty, and incredible power. To divorce the personal from the professional would only weaken this power. The Border is a lie.
And finally, as this is Blackademia, I turn to a personal dilemma about the role of education as a social institution. As another author on this blog so eloquently stated – in a wonderful, powerful piece, I might add – “Education is power, but oppression is real.” This past semester I have been struggling with the bombardment of socio-historical evidence that American education has functioned as a means of social control, of imperialism, of reproducing socio-economic stratification, of subjugation and dehumanization, and of rhetorical justification of accountability-politics nonsense. Oftentimes, I questioned whether given these functions, education can really do anything to effect significant societal change. Is education the master’s tool? Can it even do anything to dismantle to dismantle the master’s house?
However, a conversation with a professor about the power of co-optation helped me to understand, that I had been trapped in Border-ed thinking. “The problem is,” she said, “not with the power and purpose that education can serve, but with the fact that education has been co-opted and distorted by White men. And if they can co-opt it, we can co-opt it right back. Think of all we can accomplish if we are just as relentless about it as they are!” She was right. Even if education has been the master’s tool, maybe the question isn’t about whether or not the tools can or should be used – perhaps it is a question of whose hands the tools are in. Are we not all evidence of the potential to co-opt education back? Have we not all infiltrated the realms of academia that were never meant for us? Education is not either oppression or liberation – it is both. The Border is a lie.