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Vol. 19 (2005 Fall)

Black Women Teacher Educators, Race Uplift, and the Academic Other-Mother Identity

  • Djanna Hill-Brisbane
June 19, 2017


This paper examines the intersections of teacher educators' identities and the notion of race uplift. It is based on a larger study that explores the experiences and practices of Black women professors at three different higher education institutions. The author maintains that as a result of their outsider-within position and race uplift stance, Black women teacher educators may produce an academic other-mother identity. While considering the concepts of womanist theory, this paper attempts to offer a thick description of the kind of race uplift practiced by teacher educators of color. The author defines the outsider-within position and the historical relationship between the race uplift theme and womanism, reviews current literature about teacher educators of color - highlighting their experiences and how they view their work in the academy, and examines the outsider-within position in Black women teacher educators. The author concludes with a discussion of the other-mother identity and Black women teacher educators.

Research indicates that the experiences of Black women faculty involve racist and sexist practices by colleagues and students. Additionally, these women experience feelings of isolation, discrimination, and tokenism. Collins (1998) cautions that being marginalized in intersections of race, class, gender, sexuality, and/or citizenship places a variety of well-meaning intellectuals engaged in higher education in common border zones, and these same systems of power reproduce hierarchies in "outsider-within locations." Middle class African Americans in the United States, for example, are aggressively recruited to join elite institutions of higher education and other sites of institutional power, only to find themselves, upon arrival, confined to a new designated "place", or "outsider-within location" (Collins, 1998). Professor Annette Henry, also a teacher educator, describes the outsider-within location clearly from personal experience:

Standing like an oak by the photocopier, a White male graduate student utters the only words he has ever said to me during his years in the college of education: "You're lucky you got this job;" he mutters, assuredly, un-stapling a document. "They don't usually hire, well;" he leans toward me and whispers, “outsiders," as if telling me a deep dark secret. (Henry, 1998, p. 5)

That is, they appear to belong, because they possess both the credentials for admittance and the rights of formal citizenship, "but that does not automatically translate into substantive citizenship rights" (Collins, 1998, p. 5). Several Black women scholars have termed the race-, sex-, and class-based oppression they experienced in institutions of higher learning as "double", "triple", or "multiple oppressions" (Anzaldúa, 1998; Guy-Sheftall, 1995; James, 1999; James & Farmer, 1993; King, D., 1993). These terms are meant to suggest the cumulative effect of experiencing, gender, race, and class exploitation (Knight, 1998).

These new spaces that marginalized Black women occupy in the academy, coupled with the possible erosion of activism within teaching due to a growing Black middle class (Collins, 1990), led me to ask questions such as: what is the current relationship between agency and teacher preparation?; in what ways are teaching practices influenced by these new "outsider-within" locations?; and, how do contemporary Black women teacher educators utilize notions of "race uplift" to shape their work?

This paper examines the intersections of teacher educators' outsider within identity and the notion of race uplift. While considering the concepts of womanist theory, it attempts to offer a thick description of race uplift as practiced by Black women teacher educators. It is based on a qualitative investigation of three Black women teacher educators that sought to answer two questions: In what ways do their experiences inform their teaching practice, and how does the notion of race uplift inform their work? The sample was clearly purposive because the goals were to deepen society's understandings of the significant experiences and practices of Black women who prepare teachers for K-12 classrooms.