By Nichole Guillory (WellAcademic Guest Blogger) - Mothering in Color
Note: I intend for Mothering in Color to not only address my role as a biological mom. In this two-part post, I consider how our classrooms might also be mothering spaces where we help students to think critically and challenge assumptions. In Part I, which follows, I pay tribute to five young women college students as intellectual daughters of so many women who refused silence and used public platforms to critique injustice. In Part II, I reflect on what classrooms as “mothering spaces” look like in the academy.
You don’t know me, but because of all the news coverage, I feel a connection to you. The five of you took a knee in a college football stadium during the pre-game national anthem on a warm September evening in the middle of Newt Gingrich’s old Congressional district. This is the same district that is home to Kennesaw Mountain, the site of the famous Civil War battle during the 1864 Atlanta Campaign, where Union forces waged a bloody attack on the Confederate Army of Tennessee. The Confederates won that battle, and they have been reminding us of that fact ever since. The football stadium where you took a knee sits in the shadow of this mountain and its historical legacy, literally and figuratively.
You have articulated a very clear rationale for taking a knee: to protest racial injustice and police brutality against Black people in this country. You have made it crystal clear that you are not protesting the flag or the military even though locals have accused you of being unpatriotic, ungrateful, and disrespectful.
Even when the local sheriff used the local newspaper to disparage your actions and call for your removal from the cheerleading squad—some have labeled his actions as intimidation—and said that he was doing so not as the sheriff but as a local citizen season ticket holder, you remained steadfast in your commitment.
Even when local news reports uncovered text messages that revealed the sheriff and the chair of the Georgia legislature’s house appropriations subcommittee on higher education may have pressured your university president to remove you from the football field during the pre-game national anthem, you called for a meeting with the president so he could explain the athletic department’s sudden change in pre-game activities.
Even from the stadium tunnel, the site of your banishment from the field, you continued to take a knee outside of the view of fans and cameras. You remained strong and determined, courageous and bold.
Your actions prompted other young people on campus to organize themselves and protest on behalf of your first amendment rights and against the athletic department’s decision to remove all cheerleaders from the field during the national anthem. Students protested during our new President’s formal investiture ceremony, a grand celebration attended by state and local leaders; community stakeholders; faculty, staff, and students. A band played on the campus green and people ate a catered lunch under a big tent while students chanted, “Land of the free, but we can’t take a knee.” I could not have imagined a more contradictory, meaningful, high stakes moment inspired by your actions.
I think about you often. How you are coping with the endless hate, a lot of it forever documented on social media, hate-driven posts that demanded you go back to Africa, suggested you go back to giving blow jobs to football players, and called for your scholarships to be revoked. How you are managing to get your assignments done with the non-stop media requests from around the world for interviews and comments on your stories, some of which have not been completely truthful. How you remain steadfast in your commitment to continue taking a knee when not doing so would be so much easier on you and your families. How your families must be so proud and yet so terrified for you.
I hope that faculty support for you and your first amendment rights continues to increase. In my own teaching, I always strive to help students develop good arguments with supporting evidence and analyze multiple perspectives so that they become stronger writers and critical consumers of content. You have had to defend your actions too many times to count, and every time, against a loud din of hatred, I heard a strong clear argument—to protest racial injustice in this country.
Having been through a few student protests now, I am in awe of former and current students thinking through contradictory perspectives, voicing their concerns through effective argumentation, organizing on social media, always ready to take risks. I realize that the success of these protests matters little. What matters most is that students are thinking through difficult issues and thinking of themselves in relation to others, as part of a collective—a characteristic the millennial generation is often accused of ignoring in favor of more individualistic paradigms—that they understand they deserve better.
All of you have disrupted the everyday-ness of oppression. Unless something big happens, something obviously unjust, too often we go about our day dealing with micro aggressive behaviors against us. We suffer in silence because to do otherwise takes just too much energy. Your bravery showed us that we can be more courageous and that naming injustice is a necessary first step in the fight to end it.
Standing on the shoulders of Sojourner Truth, Ida B. Wells, the Combahee River Collective, Audre Lorde, among many others, you are the daughters of a long line of women intellectual-activists who have refused silence, choosing instead to use the public sphere to critique injustice. Your example provides me with hope that movements—big and small—continue to be birthed in educational spaces.
Finally, you have reminded us that Black lives do matter and that Black women have always been and continue to be important players in the fight for our civil rights.
Nichole Guillory, PhD, is Professor of Curriculum and Instruction at Kennesaw State University. She publishes on the experiences of women of color in the academy. She is mom to Nicholas, the love of her life. We couldn't be happier that she has agreed to pen a new series for WellAcademic, Mothering in Color.