Feminist Solidarity with Women of Color Feminists and Native Feminists: The Tenure Case of Professor Andrea Smith

Posted on May 12, 2008


The Color of Violence- Trask’s concept of “peaceful violence” and the tenure case of Prof. Andrea Smith

I really want to address Prof. Andrea Smith’s (author of Conquest: Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide) tenure case at the University of Michigan because this is a prime example of contemporary institutional racism, a kind of racism that Haunani-Kay Trask discusses as “peaceful violence”(82). Described by Frantz Fannon in his 1968 book The Wretched of the Earth, “peaceful violence” is the way in which racism and racial inequality persists on a macro-institutional scale, as implicit rather than always explicit and overt, and despite many claims by “progressives” as well as neo-conservatives that racism is a thing of the past, demands to “just get over it” or accusations of “playing the race card”, a very hostile environment is created where if you’re a person of color it is increasingly stigmatizing and silencing to decry racism despite overwhelming evidence of racial inequality (see Eduardo Bonilla-Silva’s concept of “colorblind racism in Racism Without Racists: Color-Blind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in the United States).

In this hostile environment, Prof. Andrea Smith’s tenure case cannot be directly discussed by the University of Michigan as an issue of race, as the result of the contemporary environment of what Bonilla-Silva describes as color-blind racism, evidenced in the dismantlement of affirmative action policies (which is increasing across the United States despite racial disparities in academia and other governing institutional structures which still haven’t been solved which was the reason for affirmative action policies in the first place). It is even more telling that U. of Michigan won’t release a public statement as to why they denied Prof. Smith’s tenure case. It is certainly not for lack of credentials, for she has more than earned scholarly respect as one of the greatest indigenous feminists intellectuals of our time. As 1 of 4 Native women professors at the University as well as located as a political and numeric minority as a woman of color in the Women’s Studies Department, her work is ever-important as a voice that needs to be heard.

Trask describes Native women’s leadership as always being formative in resistance to the institutional manifestations of “peaceful violence” despite the odds: “These women leaders [Andrea Smith], and many more unknown, continue to carry the burden of indigenous resistance against imperialism” (87). In addition, Prof. Smith’s rigorous scholarly standards as well as her impressive list of publications and activism should make her claim for tenure even stronger, yet they are “letting her go”? If she is not only qualified, but one of the most qualified tenure cases, why is the Women’s Studies Department bowing to the whims of the University of Michigan, a school predominated by white male professors, when the Women’s Studies Department should be a sanctuary for historically excluded voices, for feminists, and particularly for women of color feminists, and Native American feminists?

What hope can we have for preserving, supporting and fore-fronting the work of women of color feminists and Native feminists when even Women’s Studies departments aren’t working as allies and are allowing the silencing and disinvestment of the work of women of color and Native feminists from academia and from feminist discourse overall? Unless we look at Prof. Smith’s tenure case within the lens of race and inequality in America, seeing the academic institution as one of the institutional structures of “peaceful violence” which perpetuate white supremacy, we will not be able to adequately address the complexity nor implications of this political struggle for Prof. Smith’s earned and well-deserved place at the fore-front of feminist struggle, for if feminism excludes anyone, it cannot liberate us all.

***For more info, check out Campus Lockdown: Women of Color Negotiating the Academic Industrial Complex-