Academia cannot be the center of anti-oppression work! Academia cannot be the center of anti-oppression work! Academia cannot be the center of anti-oppression work!
-Ramiro aka Huitzilihuitl
Last night I stumbled upon the above exclamation as I scrolled through my tumblr dashboard. It struck me because it reminded me of another incident, with quite the opposite message, that had struck a chord with me a couple of weeks earlier in my international women’s course.
During a discussion about female genital mutilation, a woman in my course, a self-acknowledging as white, middle-class, educated and daughter of a second wave feminist, seemingly frustrated blurted out, “We can’t solve the problem if you don’t think about it in an academic way”. Her remarks made my stomach turn. This woman, who since birth has been educated on the issue of identity politics, oppression, and intersectionality was so frustrated at not having her voice heard (she’s one of those people that always has an opinion) that she decided in that only she, and other academic feminists, could be at the center of finding any possible solution to this particular problem.
This way of thinking, through only an academic lense, makes no sense to me at all. Academics have played a part in starting revolution, intellectuals are often pursued as a threat in times of political and ideological instability, but many anti-oppressive work has been started and completed by people considered uneducated.
For example, the United Farm Workers movement was started by two “uneducated” men: Cesar Chavez and Larry Itliong. Where were the academics? It was these men (along with the help of women like Dolores Huerta) who took action and did something to solve the problem. They weren’t sitting around a classroom discussing theory and the possibility of praxis. It is the people out in the real world, not in their ivory tower, educated or not who make a difference in this world.
Academia isn’t all bad though, those who work in our University’s ethnic studies and women’s studies departments serve a specific role – they give a voice to the those who aren’t being heard through research, seminars, and scholarly publications. But what they must remember, is that an education isn’t enough to solve a problem; real work and cooperation is needed by everyone.