From One Never Meant to Survive

Antonia Darder.Antonia Darder. (Image: Jared Rodriguez / Truthout)

Author’s note: The Rains Award for Excellence in Research, Scholarship or Creative Work is given yearly to recognize a tenured member of the Loyola Marymount University faculty, whose research, scholarship or creative activity is considered both outstanding and meaningful. The award is one of the most prestigious a faculty member can receive. The following is the recipient statement delivered at the awards ceremony on April 29, 2015. Four other faculty members also received distinguished awards for Excellence in Service and Excellence in Teaching. The recipients of those awards were all white men, which unintentionally added to both the poignancy and power of the message.

In the 1970s, when I first read Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, one of the elements of his writing that most struck me and that would become a cornerstone of my own scholarship was an unabashed focus on love as key to our vocation as human beings. I note this because for Freire, all forms of oppression constituted acts of lovelessness.

In 1992, I wrote what was to become one of the seminal pieces of my 30 years of work in the field, entitled, “Teaching as an Act of Love” – which is incidentally my most read and cited article. I believe this was the case because it struck a chord within critical educators of color at a deep fundamental level, in that (drawing on Freire’s work) the underlying message proposed that we engage love as a powerful dialogical force for political transformation and as a decolonizing epistemology – a dialectical framework from which we could break through the oppressive structures and practices of hegemonic schooling and society. As such, my theory and practice has consistently embraced Freire’s (1998) assertion: “I have a right to love and to express my love to the world and to use it as a motivational foundation for struggle.”

In 2002, I again returned to this theme in Reinventing Paulo Freire: A Pedagogy of Love and most recently in Freire and Education. Each time, my theorizing on the question of love as a political force for transformation has continued to deepen and challenge the lovelessness that we as working-class educators of color in schools, universities and communities must face daily – particularly as a woman of color who has had to battle with colonizing patriarchy, racism and class privilege that has persisted within these institutions and in every aspect of our lives, despite all the diversity rhetoric and multicultural promises.

This of course has challenged us in fierce and unpredictable ways to contend with the hidden structures that perpetuate inequality in our lives and our communities through our research, scholarship and teaching. And by so doing, continue to move and to deepen pedagogical visions of social justice, human rights and economic democracy, within schools and the larger society in which we reside.

As some of you may know, mine has been a long and arduous journey. Yet, what has allowed me to survive and thrive has always been a deep sense of justice that has prevailed in my life and continues to inspire my research, scholarship, teaching, and my everyday relationships.

Moreover, through every experience and expression of my life, a deep spiritual process has connected my being and my knowing with the suffering and struggle of others, as I have attempted in community to make sense of a world that was not constructed for our survival, in that it was not meant for the survival of subaltern populations.

As a working-class woman of color, my 30 years in the academy have been, at times, a nightmare in that I have often been forced to contend with deeply embedded notions and practices of deficit that have demanded of me, and others like me, far more than from our more privileged colleagues, yet measured us with the same yardstick. Seldom was there the recognition that the achievements of working-class women of color required from us two or three or four times the amount of work to receive the same respect and recognition.

In the process, I came to realize that working to practice and produce scholarship in the name of justice was not a vocation for the faint of heart. It has required commitment, courage and coherence, despite moments of utter exhaustion, in order to push against those barriers of civilized oppression, entrenched in a university culture of denial – that wittingly or unwittingly has functioned to stubbornly conserve structures and relationships of inequality, particularly within the arena of research and creative work. As such, very good people could be so ensconced in commonsensical privilege that they could not help but respond in ways that either demanded our sameness or pushed for our rejection.

Hence, paradoxically, it has been through persistently challenging those ideologies and social and material conditions of inequality that we have found the strength to persevere. By embracing a loving spirit of transgression, in defiance of those artificial boundaries erected by racism, patriarchy and class privilege, many of us found our voice, energy, coherence and integrity with which to launch a body of scholarship by the oppressed that could speak to our lives, without negating the brutal impact that legacies of slavery, colonization and genocide – seen today in the guise of poverty, miseducation and incarceration – have had and continue to have on communities of color in this country and around the world.

I recognize that, for some, my words may not be considered suitable or proper to a moment of celebration. However, I speak them to illustrate that it is precisely because of the power of our research, scholarship and practice as social justice educators that I can speak these words here, with both love and hope that in the very near future, all educational institutions and societies will genuinely embrace the multidimensionality of our humanity, so that our everyday survival will no longer be tenuous or uncertain and our children can truly become equal and respected stewards of the world.

So it is in the spirit of knowing that I was never meant to survive, and yet survived, and that our peoples of all the South Centrals, East Los Angeleses, Comptons, Fergusons, Detroits, Harlems and Baltimores of the world were not meant to survive, but yet persist. For all of my sisters and brothers for whom I do my work and all that this entails, I say thank you for this recognition, dear colleagues, and leave you with A Litany for Survival by Audre Lorde, which best expresses that soulfulness that has fueled my research, for more than three decades.

For those of us who live at the shoreline
standing upon the constant edges of decision
crucial and alone
for those of us who cannot indulge
the passing dreams of choice
who love in doorways coming and going
in the hours between dawns
looking inward and outward
at once, before and after
seeking a now that can breed futures
like bread in our children’s mouths
so their dreams will not reflect
the death of ours:

For those of us
who were imprinted with fear
like a faint line in the center of our foreheads
learning to be afraid with our mother’s milk
for by this weapon,
this illusion of some safety to be found
the heavy-footed hoped, to silence us
For all of us
this instant and this triumph,
We were never meant to survive.

And when the sun rises we are afraid
it might not remain
and when the sun sets we are afraid
it might not rise in the morning
when our stomachs are full we are afraid of indigestion
when our stomachs are empty we are afraid
we may never eat again
when we are loved we are afraid
love will vanish
when we are alone we are afraid
love will never return
and when we speak we are afraid
our words will not be heard
nor welcomed
but when we are silent
we are still afraid
So it is better to speak,
we were never meant to survive.

Thank you.