I recently went on a job interview for a faculty position at a local university, and the interview involved a teaching demonstration. The audience included a mix of faculty members and students, almost all of whom were white.
After the demonstration, I had the opportunity to field questions and receive feedback from students. I was prepared for softball questions about my experience and why I wanted the job; I wasn’t prepared for the comment I received from one of the only two black students in the room.
With hesitation, and perhaps with a bit of fear at voicing her opinion in front of a predominantly white audience, the young black woman raised her hand.
“Can I just say that seeing you here was like a breath of fresh air. All of my professors are older white women. I have never had a black female professor ... or a black professor at all,” she said with some reservation.
She added, “Just seeing you here makes me feel so excited about what I can do. I hope you get the job.”
In an attempt to break the awkward silence that ensued, I shared some unfortunate yet compelling statistics about academic demographics.
“It was important for her to see me lead meetings where mine was the only brown face in the room.”
Black women make up a mere 3 percent of full-time faculty at degree-granting post-secondary institutions in the U.S., according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Black men make up another 3 percent. Hispanic males and females comprise a combined 4 percent; individuals who describe themselves as two or more races constitute 1 percent; and American Indian/Alaska Native men and women account for less than 1 percent.
Meanwhile, white men and women hold a whopping 77 percent of all full-time faculty positions.
If there is one thing I know for certain, it’s that representation matters.
It matters in the media, where faces of color are often the minority ― or are completely excluded.
It matters in academia, where the sight of just one black professor shapes the hopes and dreams of a young black student.
And it matters at home, where mothers of color have the opportunity to teach our daughters that their lives have limitless possibilities.
Tomorrow is Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day, a national event designed to encourage young children to dream big and explore what they can do and become when they grow up. As the mother of a 9-year-old black girl, I never pass up an opportunity to bring my daughter to work with me.
When we talk about representation, we often focus on how black men and women are depicted in mainstream media. We are certainly still fighting an uphill battle against tokenism, whitewashing and black erasure in media, but the much bigger conversation about representation begins right at home.
“Mothers of color have the opportunity to teach our daughters that their lives have limitless possibilities.”
I am my daughter’s closest example of representation. Yes, I make sure the media she consumes includes powerful images of women of color, but more importantly, I work hard to ensure she encounters greatness through me. She may admire Rihanna, Beyoncé and others in the spotlight, and she may see any number of celebrities on television or in movies, but she also looks to my life as an example of what a woman who looks like her is capable of achieving.
Throughout my career, I’ve made a point to bring my daughter to work with me at least once at every position I’ve held ― no matter how boring or glamorous the job.
I once brought my then 3-year-old daughter with me when I worked as a copy editor at a small black-owned print shop. The storefront operation was no bigger than my living room and I didn’t even have my own desk, but I wanted her to see what I did after I left her at daycare every day. At minimum, she learned that her mommy was a writer, and she got to see how much time and effort I put into making our publications look pretty.
Things were very different when I worked as a press assistant in federal government years later. I had my own office and I was the only black female press officer on my team. It was important for my daughter to see me in that role ― to witness how I had gone from sharing a desk in a small storefront to earning a big office in an even bigger federal building. It was important for her to see me lead meetings where mine was the only brown face in the room.
And nothing compared to the excitement we both felt when I got to escort her through the White House to the annual Easter Egg Roll. She witnessed both how far I’d come from that early print shop job and also saw a black first lady and a black president in action.
“If there is one thing I know for certain, it’s that representation matters.”
Currently, I serve as an adjunct English professor at a predominantly white institution (PWI). I’ve brought my daughter to observe me in this role as well, because I want her to believe that learning from a black professor can be the norm.
Mothers of color, our girls need to see us, whether we are teaching in classrooms, leading meetings in big offices or doing grunt work in small ones. Whatever it is that you do, bring your daughter to work with you, so you can show her what greatness looks like ― and so she can begin seeing herself in a broader range of roles as a probability, instead of an impossibility.
After each of my daughter’s visits to my various jobs over the years, I’ve also made a habit of asking her what she wants to be when she grows up. Despite her deep admiration of Beyoncé, when I last asked what she wanted to be, she said she wants to be a teacher.
Just like her mom.
Queen Muse is a freelance writer whose passion for journalism is inspired by the interesting lives of everyday people. Queen holds an M.A. in Strategic Communication from La Salle University. She currently serves as an adjunct professor of English at Saint Joseph’s University and a visiting assistant professor of communication at La Salle University.