"On Becoming Educated"
(page 3 of 6)
In a different class, a graduate seminar on multicultural literature,
our professor assigns Gloria Anzaldúa's Borderlands/La Frontera: The
I enter the seminar room that day with excitement.
For the first time in my graduate career, I've encountered a text that
speaks passionately to me, a text radical and thrilling, an author whose
feminist, ethnic, sexual, and working-class concerns correspond to my own, a
book that acknowledges real-world prejudice, poverty, and sexual
violation, that mixes poetry and history, memoir and argument. I have
fallen in love. In cursive, I've gushed onto the title page of the
black paperback: The most incredible book I've ever read. It speaks
straight to me.
At last. I can't wait to talk about it.
But the professor, whom I've always admired, opens class by
apologizing for having assigned the book at all. He'd included it, he
explains, only because he'd heard it was important. But if he'd read it
first, he would never have put it on the syllabus: it was too
disjointed, too polemical. Students quickly chime in with their
discomfort over the book's "angry" content.
I'm confused. My professor and classmates hadn't stumbled over
W.E.B. DuBois, Zora Neale Hurston, or Maxine Hong Kingston, but Gloria
Anzaldúa is somehow too different, too much.
It's the anger in the text, I learn, that bothers them. "She's so
angry," they keep saying. For the whole session, I find myself
arguing in defense of the book's worth, trying to articulate the
difference between being angry by temperament and expressing justified
anger in response to violation.
The experience is both alienating and illuminating. Did you think
we weren't angry?
Maybe if you're a distinguished professor of law, the notion of your
name next to a piece in Cosmo makes you cringe. Maybe if your
educational pedigree is immaculate, the remedial intellectual needs of
people who grew up with food stamps aren't your problem. Maybe if
you're a well-meaning professor teaching ethnic literature, Anzaldúa's
anger is the only thing visible. Maybe you can't feel the burn
of every injustice she inherited and lived, much less appreciate the
elegance of her complex aesthetic.
At the time, I didn't realize that these small incidents were
negotiations of power, contests over whose perspectives mattered and
whose voices would be permitted and welcomed at the table. At the
institution where I did my graduate work in the 1990s, Third World
feminism, women-of-color feminism, and transnational feminism hadn't yet
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