Photo of a face within a face by Shanita Mitchell for The AutoEthnographer
Photo of a face within a face by Shanita Mitchell for The AutoEthnographer

Black Feminist Grit: “A Seat at the Table” with The Twerking Academic

Black Feminist Grit: “A Seat at the Table” with The Twerking Academic

Artist’s Memo for Black Feminist Grit: “A Seat at the Table”

black feminist

“A Seat at the Table” does not make explicit visual reference to my experience as a Black female academic. However, the underlying sentiment is very much driven by my experiences in higher education, academia, and the literary world. My perspective and presence have not always been met with enthusiasm. Sadly, this is not an experience that is exclusive to me. This piece is a nod to the feelings that my Black feminist community widely echoes.

Our appearance, competency, and intellect are often questioned and challenged. Our task is to overperform in order to just be included on the standard level. Never mind the idea of the effort being applauded or celebrated. We face microaggressions while fighting some of the most gratuitous battles imaginable. The academic world demands a price for occupying the space in this Black female body. And though I, and many others, have paid the price many times over, we still owe a debt. I am exhausted, but I am here.

A Seat at the Table

“A Seat at the Table” is the autoethnographic manifestation of my vulnerability, anger, and anguish, of my black feminist grit. It is also illustrates my mental evolution as I confronted the tension my presence triggered. Eventually, I grew more comfortable taking up space as my authentic self.

When reflecting on my experiences and how to express them, I struggled to find words that would encapsulate my experience. The words I typed never seem to be enough. Then I realized that I don’t need them. Since the world is so preoccupied with my Black body occupying space, I would just let it do the talking. I was happy to let my body quite literally be the cultural evidence. In “Seat”, I channel the evocative story of my struggle.

black feminist
Photo of a face within a face by Shanita Mitchell for The AutoEthnographer

The Twerking Academic: Visual Exploration of Black Womanhood

The Twerking Academic is dedicated to exploring the multilayered lived experience of Black womanhood using multimodal autoethnographic expression. Column installments explore, process, and communicate meaningful personal experiences. They also offer a voice to the experiences of the wider cultural community. Audiences can view each audiovisual piece independently. A written memo supplements each piece explaining context and speaking to significant themes within the work. Themes explored include bodily autonomy, stereotypes, mental health, and the experience of the Black female academic.

The Twerking Academic seeks to probe and question the established idea of what constitutes an academic. It examines the prescriptive, limiting rules that often dictate how one is recognized as an academic by the community. The column title itself is a nod to this goal. It prompts audiences to reexamine preconceived notions surrounding respectability politics and scholarship. In addition, engaging with topics in an inclusive manner that transcends past barriers that have separated the academic and general population is fundamental to the column’s working mission. I hope this column encourages members of the BIPOC community to build spaces that are authentically reflective of their personal style, culture, and preferred method of communication, and promote multimodal/audiovisual autoethnography as a viable investigative method.

Listen to more from The Color Purple by visiting Broadway Records. Learn more about the novel by Alice Walker here and the musical by Norman, Russell, Willis, and Bray here. And listen to additional music by singer Cynthia Erivo here.

  1. I loved this! So beautifully written, choreographed and produced! I had to watch in 2 stages because I was crying so much!

  2. Shanita: It was a pleasure to meet you as a mentor at SNHU, but even more of an honor to fall in love with your work. You are so beautiful and so talented, and I sincerely thank you for sharing your gifts with the world!!!

  3. This was a very touching piece, as I can relate as a black woman trying to make my way into society. I love the fact that this piece has a sense of relatability and acknowledge the effort that black feminist put into paving a way in life. Although your experiences were not prominently correlated to this piece I love the fact that it was still a sincere representation of the journey black women go on to make themselves seen and accepted for who they truly are. The visual aid was a powerful additive to this article as depicted in your personal reflection of this journey. I noticed how you have to constantly readjust yourself throughout your performance. Even though these adjustments were small they were impactful. I also loved the change of pace and scenery, which I believe further represents the journey to accepting yourself. The last moments of the video where you’re making your stand and stand firmly in your natural beauty were very empowering and I agree you are a beautiful individual. I’m hoping to see more collaborative pieces of visual art and text pieces in the upcoming years. This was enjoyable!

  4. Shanita, I automatically fell in love with your work, from the visual representation to the audio choice, it all resonated, I was instantly engaged. My key takeaway from this piece of art was when black women perform great achievements, they are met with challenges and scrutiny from their oppressors. BIPOC being overly criticized exposes my understanding of “The Seat At The Table,” It being that members of this community deserve more than a seat at the table, they deserve to not be scrutinized for succeeding, but to be celebrated and honored. Some specific points from the text, dance, and song all made the struggle that you face prevalent, but I do not believe you were stating these things to be met with empathy, it was meant to uplift and inspire people facing the same challenges as you, to stand as tall as the tallest tree. An idea that is crucial to this work to me was expanding the view of what and who can be an academic, showing members of the BIPOC communities that they too can achieve greatness despite how communities react. This work encourages people like Shanita to cultivate spaces that reflect who they are, to uplift their communities, to be here.

  5. As a black woman who has struggled going against the stereotypes of taking up space in a room and conversation by being quiet and hiding myself; but, also being judged for not abiding such stereotypes and being told that because of that I am not truly black, I relate hard with this place. I am still finding and discovering my own place in my body and in this world in the general, the journey has been uncomfortable and struggling, yet, has also give me so much hope. I have found comfort in expressing my own intellect instead of hiding it away in order to not be harassed, I do all this to prove to myself and others to defy the multitude of stereotypes. I am quiet, I am introverted, I do not make my presence known in an academic space with my words nor communicative presence, but with my intelligence. The imagery presented in “A Seat at the Table” speaks to my own experience of trying to find who I am, and maybe even a glance of what I could be at my journeys end.

  6. I deeply connect with your post, “A Seat at the Table,” as a fellow academic and a Latina. Your experiences of facing constant challenges, microaggressions, and the pressure to overperform resonate with me. It is disheartening to witness how marginalized individuals, especially Black women, are often subjected to questioning and undermining of their appearance, competence, and intellect in academic spaces.

    Your words shed light on the shared struggles of marginalized communities within academia, and I appreciate your acknowledgment that these experiences extend beyond your own. It is crucial to amplify and validate these collective voices, highlighting the need for change and creating a space where all individuals can be seen, acknowledged, and celebrated for their contributions.

    Your mention of the toll these experiences take on your well-being is something I can personally relate to. The exhaustion that arises from constantly having to prove ourselves and navigate oppressive structures can be overwhelming. However, your resilience and commitment to occupying these spaces authentically are inspiring. Your words remind me of the importance of standing firm in my identity and pushing for inclusivity in academic environments.

    The concept of letting your Black body be the cultural evidence is powerful and thought-provoking. It serves as a powerful reminder of the strength and significance of our physical presence, challenging the dominant narratives that seek to marginalize us. Your autoethnographic approach effectively captures the emotional journey and growth you have experienced, and it encourages me to explore my own voice and story within academia.

    Thank you for sharing your experiences and perspectives. Your post serves as a call to action for creating inclusive spaces and dismantling oppressive structures within academia. Together, we can continue the work of challenging systemic barriers and striving for true representation and equality.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.