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

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 and channel the evocative story of my struggle.

Choreographed, performed, recorded, and edited by Shanita Mitchell
Music performed by Cynthia Erivo and The Color Purple orchestra

ARTIST’S MEMO

Though “A Seat at the Table” does not make explicit visual reference to my experience as a Black female academic, the underlying sentiment of the piece 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 which, sadly, is not an experience that is exclusive to me. This piece is a nod to the feelings that are echoed widely within my Black feminine community. 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, it is communicated that we still owe a debt. I am exhausted, but I am here. “A Seat at the Table” is the autoethnographic manifestation of my vulnerability, anger, anguish, and grit. It is also an illustration of the mental evolution I underwent as I confronted the tension my presence triggered and as 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 and channel the evocative story of my struggle.

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.

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About Author

Shanita Mitchell currently serves as the Assistant Director for the Rappahannock Scholars Program at the University of Mary Washington. Since graduating from UMW with her B.A. in 2012, she has continued to pursue her passion for providing underserved and underrepresented student populations with college access opportunities and scholarships by working in and with the Office of Admissions, Financial Aid, and serving as the advisor for various multicultural and performance organizations on campus. That same passion recently led Shanita to acquire her M.A. in English from Southern New Hampshire University with the intent to expand beyond the administrative side of higher ed and into the classroom. Shanita also works as a dance instructor at The Courthouse School of Ballet and Umbiance Dance Studio. In her spare time, Shanita enjoys portrait painting, amateur photography, costuming, video editing, and advancing her study of Black feminist thought, Critical Race Theory, and autoethnography as a meaningful expression of self.

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2 Comments

  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!!!

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