Alison Mckee is the Director of Advancement at a private institution, with a passion for cycling and a soft spot for chocolate chip cookies. Alison, now an accomplished 42-year-old, grew up in the Los Angeles area at the height of racial tension in that area. Throughout her life, she has used both her race and her femininity to push her to thrive throughout her education, in her career, and even on stage, as singing and music have been a passion of hers since college. I was interested in interviewing Alison for this assignment as she has continued to inspire me as a strong, dedicated Black woman. Below are a few of her responses that I felt were worth highlighting.
QUOTATIONS AND ANALYSIS
[00:00:07 – 00:01:33]
“I grew up in Los Angeles, California, more specifically in Carson, California… I would say I grew up in a very religious household, very conservative, the type of home where you go to church every Sunday… it certainly has given me a base in terms of my values and my morals. And it has given me some sort of… direction.”
A significant aspect of many individuals’ intersectionality rests in their religious values. The values that are often forged in our childhood stick with us throughout our adult life. Many times this applies to religion, politics, and other practices our parents pass down to us. In Alison’s case, though she grew up in a house and community that strictly followed Christian practices, she explained that she had pulled away from such rigorous practices in her adult years. However, the lessons she endured as a child and from her parents do serve as a foundation for her moral compass. Therefore, amidst every other overlapping social identity that makes up Alison’s intersectionality, therein lies a foundation based on religious tradition. With this understanding, we ventured into more profound aspects of her social intersectionality.
“I, I went umm… went to a school… being one of very few [people] of color. And that is certainly, for me I would say, a difficult experience. But I also saw education as me being on the same playing field…”
Like many of the questions I asked over the course of our interview, Alison noted the bright side, or rather the silver lining to what could easily be regarded as a hardship. I inquired about her educational experience and how her racial identity, in particular, played into it. More often than not, racial minorities in higher educational institutions are mistreated by their peers and underacknowledged by faculty and staff. In a study conducted by James M. Ellis and his associates, he found that these students are more likely to receive “racial micro-aggressions in the form of written or verbal racial jokes and racial slurs, excessive surveillance based on racial stereotypes, minimization of ethnic identity” (266). While this was often the case for Alison, she chose to push past these hardships and focus on what education did for her as an individual. Regardless of race, social class, or gender, she felt that education put her at equal bay with every other student.
“I work primarily in nonprofit and education, which has been dominated by women. So, so I would say that I may be in a field that is more conducive and more … shaped by the opinions of women or guided by women. I would say me being a woman in, in the field that I’m in has been an advantage because I’m not considered a minority in that area.”
In too many situations and for far too long, women have been institutionally silenced by patriarchal norms. Such discrimination is further worsened towards people with intersecting disadvantaged social identities and can take many forms, especially in the workplace. As Audre Lorde put it, her multiple oppressions often label her as “…deviant, inferior, or just plain wrong…” in the eyes of her White co-workers (1). While Alison still feels this sort of racialized intolerance, her womanhood is rarely the source. She explains that her field of work is upheld primarily by women, a rarity that, in this case, gives her the upper hand.
“…my advice would be to trust your gut.”
I have always looked up to Alison and how she has shaped her lifestyle, whether that be her career choices or her educational journey. At such a formative point in my life and college experience, I asked Alison if she had any advice to pass down to young Black women we could hold onto throughout our individual struggles. The most important guidance that Alison maintains is trusting your intuition when making major decisions during your college experience. Often students get caught up in checking off boxes of what they think they should be doing, rather than taking the time to consider what they want to do or how they want to live the rest of their lives. Conversely, students appeal to the wishes of their parents or guardians when managing their academic affairs. Thus, Alison affirms that the best recommendation for young Black college students is to ride the path they see fit, without the influence of others.
“I would say most recently that the Black Lives Matter protests that happened summer of 2020 has certainly made me… feel if I’m more of a target…” “But in the same way, I have also felt even stronger in myself and who I am to make me even more proud of myself for being a Black woman.”
In light of the Black Lives Matter movement’s attention within the last year, I questioned how events centered around Black injustice, police brutality towards the Black community, and African American racial uplift have affected Alison. Since she is a woman of color living in a predominantly White area, coupled with the fact that she works in a primarily White environment, I was interested in how these factors would play into her response. Alison expressed that increased tension between the Black community and those that subscribe to “All Lives Matter” and “Blue Lives Matter” organizations has made her feel more subject to attention or attack. Amidst this discomfort, however, Alison remains proud of her racial identity, knowing that the trials and tribulations that come her way will only make her stronger. Attaining pride in one’s ethnicity or culture despite the social difficulties that come with it was an aspiration communicated by Bhoomi K. Takore in her chapter, “Hopes for My Daughter.” This conversation led me to question some of the specific ways Alison observes menacing actions due to her race. She responded:
[00:15:26- 00:15:49]“I think the idea of the angry Black woman is certainly something that is always a part of the back of my mind in that I don’t want to come off as that person. Whereas I think a White woman just comes off as being passionate. I don’t feel that I have that luxury.”
While the message presented here resonated with me and my experiences profoundly, it also reminded me of the internal struggle held by the main character of the novel Such a Fun Age, written by Kiley Reid. Both Alison and Emira battle to find balance when standing up for themselves or becoming impassioned in the workplace or around their White counterparts for fear of being perceived in an ill-fitting light. Patriarchal pejorative stereotypes, much like the aforementioned “angry Black woman” trope, place people of intersecting identities in situations where they must withhold or restrain their true state of emotion. This effort, however, has not hindered the pride Alison has for her intersecting identities, no matter how tiresome workplace bigotry can become. She states…
“I always feel proud of myself. There’s never a moment where I feel ashamed to be the Black woman in the room… And I feel that… it’s a blessing. But I, but I wear that burden.”
In answering the question of what makes Alison proud of her identity, she expressed that despite the hardships that come with being a Black woman in her field and at her workplace, there is not a moment where she is not proud to be where she is. She stands firm in her place, knowing that her work ethic, her education, and her benevolence are a testament to her position at work. Her life journey and academic accomplishments have given her the strength to push past micro and macroaggressive gestures in the workplace. In our discussion of how each stage of her life has prepared her for the hardships that come with her intersectionality, specifically at work, I was reminded of our in-class conversation about intersectionality. One of the articles we examined investigated race through the “Culture Cycle.” This concept explains how race is factored into ideological, institutional, interactional, and individual levels (Markus). In this case, Alison’s individual and institutional racial dynamic play into each other and influence how she is often regarded in her career.
Getting to know Alison through an examination of her life journey was truly an incredible experience. Taking a trip through how she has used her intersectionality and lessons from her formative years to impact her life today made me think about the similar experiences I have gone through and how my race and gender have affected those situations. Furthermore, hearing her raw and insightful answers in real time allowed me to think back and connect her narrative to previously studied course material. All in all, this was such an incredible and enlightening experience, and I can’t thank Alison enough for partaking in this interview with me.
Lorde, Audre. “Age, Race, Class, and Sex: Women Redefining Difference .” Sister Outsider, 1984.
Markus, Hazel. “RaceWorks Toolkit – Culture Cycle Concept Guide.” SPARQtools, 2010, sparqtools.org/raceworks-toolkit-culture-cycle-concept-guide/.
Reid, Kiley. Such a Fun Age. Putnam, 2019.
Takore, Bhoomi K. “Hopes for My Daughter.” Whiter: Asian American Women on Skin Color and Colorism, 2020, pp. 43–47. Lorde, Audre. “Age, Race, Class, and Sex: Women Redefining Difference .” Sister Outsider, 1984.