Elaine Patricia Walker, Ed.D is the Assistant Dean at Loyola Marymount University in the College of CFA. In that role, her goal is to reach success. Her role is structured so that is mostly student centered and her job is to ensure that students who are a part of the college of CFA, whether a majors or minors, are successful. She helps students to prepare for undergraduate research and scholarship applications, approves study abroad plans and transfer courses for currently enrolled students, helps students to understand Degree Progress Reports, and represents the Dean and the College of CFA at meetings and events. But this role as Assistant Dean is not the defining factor to who she is. She’s an inspiring, and strong African American woman who is dedicated to not only her students, but her family, and higher education.
From her humble beginnings, she forged her own pathway for her future, honing all her energy into securing whatever money she could by working, and acquiring as many scholarships as possible. She broke down every wall that was in her way, and proudly attended University of Southern California pursuing and completing an undergraduate degree in Communication Arts and Sciences. Her work didn’t stop there, she went on to complete an executive MBA program, with a focus on managing large organizations at the graduate level at USC. Following this, she powered on to attain a Master’s in Education and Doctorate in Educational Leadership at Loyola Marymount University.
Dr. Walker was taught from a very young age to be proud of who you are and stand firm in that. She comes from a very diverse cultural reality in her upbringing. Her mother was born and raised in Guatemala, while her father was raised in Louisiana. An area that was mainly White, French and Blacks living together, making children together, and speaking French. Yet in America. After getting married, her parents moved to California, where Dr. Walker and her siblings were raised. There, she caught a sense of cultural identity, and awareness as her father helped organize black panthers when they were feeding children and had school programs and getting gang members out of gangs; serving their communities. Her father was very political in his fuse, and very aware, and she gives all credit to her father for teaching her about personal, racial, and cultural pride. Even though she grew up with these different versions of shared experience in one household, it transformed her into the woman she is now and pivoted her to ascertaining a more global and inclusive perspective.
FAMILY LIFE AND UPBRINGING
Navigating life as a woman of color through a patriarchal system has its challenges, and oftentimes, your upbringing impacts the way you view the world, and its underlying systems. Dr. Walker grew up in a time where many of the women in her life were homemakers; they worked in the home and raised the kids. In terms of patriarchy, the man in every situation she knew was the breadwinner and head of the home. She speaks upon how during the 60’s there was a whole shift in ideology about men and standing up for women’s empowerment. When asked:
So, how has your upbringing impacted your viewpoints or perceptions of patriarchy?
Dr. Walker continues by saying,
“That whole shift and change that happened in the 60’s where women were burning their bras. Well, that was white women burning their bras. In my community the women were still very much… ‘We are really going to celebrate our men being men, because they are so ostracized in society. So, they are going to be kings, and beacons, call-serve, the man in the house is very respected.’ So, I grew up under that umbrella.”
Her experience growing up differs greatly from mine. Roles were often flipped back and forth in my household. My mother worked for about 10 years before she was given the gracious opportunity to work from home full time. It wasn’t until then, that my mom played into the more Matriarchal role. Cooking and cleaning were generally always done by my mother, and she was very involved in PTA, and homecoming dress shopping, and a lot of the things Dr. Walker touched upon in our interview. However, the man of the house being respected and influential in decision making was very much prevalent within my household, and my extended family’s values as well. So, in that sense, even though we had different intersectionality’s and upbringing, we still share some of the same core values of family first and respecting our men. As she continues speaking, I start to have a better understanding of her background and a sense to how the women in her life took on the more traditional family dynamic and were less involved in the workforce. She goes on to say, “The negative part was that the women were second, or were important but the two expected roles, one was more respected by the other, by the world, and by the culture I grew up in. The man was more respected in terms of his word, because he controlled the money. Our women were not necessarily out picking the word, we were more concerned with survival and those type of priorities instead of those women movement kinds of things. I noticed that our women, were not involved as a priority, they had comment, and they had opinion, but they weren’t out there picketing. They were picking the kids up from school. Doing the traditional matriarchal work and making sure their husbands were straight.”
It was the words “our women were more concerned with survival, than women’s movements”, that triggered a massive connection between the words of Dr. Walker, and the words of Author Bell Hooks. In Feminism is for Everybody, Hooks specifically says, “The worldview of black women has been shaped, in part, by a lack of societal privilege (hooks, 2000). Black women have possessed a unique place in society, positioned lower in terms of professional hierarchy and social status (hooks, 2000). Because black women did not have the same circumstances, or privileges as white women, it is likely they felt less inclined to take part in women’s movements at the time period that Dr. Walker grew up in. Although the women in Dr. Walker’s life played Matriarchal roles in society which ultimately reinforces hegemony by regarding black woman in accordance to the patriarchal hierarchy of black manhood. One can argue that these Matriarchal roles were the most important roles they had because they did not have access to societal privilege, or access to opportunities for positions in the traditional workforce. Black women already had the weight of the world coming onto them, so it was important for their families to stay tight, and to make sure their men were taken care of. Especially since black men were already ostracized and criminalized in society. Black women did not have the privilege to focus on anything else but making sure they survived in a world that did nothing but try to oppress them and take from them. Thus, ultimately shaping their worldview and core values to become more adjacent and aligned with what their man wanted since the man of the house usually did have the opportunity to work and provide for the family.
AWARENESS OF PATRIARCHY
White capitalist patriarchy has dominated our society for centuries. Author Hooks used the term “white supremacist capitalist patriarchy” to describe the interlocking systems of power in our society. (Hooks, 55) Using the term white supremacy rather than racism shifted the dialogue from one centered on whiteness and to one that spoke to political action and an individual’s firsthand relationship to that action. White supremacist capitalist patriarchy considered the participation of any person of any race, gender, sex, nationality, class, or sexual orientation in upholding the forces of racism and patriarchal collusion.
When asked: how being a black woman differs from being a black man?
The conversation shifted into really diving in and breaking down how white supremacist capitalist patriarchy is upheld in all aspects; whether it’s at the university level, the workforce, or entertainment. Dr. Walker hit to the point that it is also up to us as POC to recognize, the ways in which people try to oppress us, and figure out ways of our own to dismantle this existing system, and not contribute to it. She says,
“You have your workforce. Today’s black men, kind of the same problem. I’ll pay you; I’ll make you a millionaire if you entertain me. I’d rather my sons be white collar. So, I’ll be sure there’s less competition…Let them (as in blacks) sing about weed or gang culture, let them do that, because our men are trying to compete in the other area: white collar jobs. Entertain us, and that’s the only way you become a millionaire.”
These words were powerful. She continues by pointing to the harsh reality that yes producers will give us money, and owners of sports teams will hire you before you even graduate and make you a superstar on the football field or basketball and make millions of dollars. While this is all true, we must recognize why they are so quick to grant us these roles. Yet, also reflect on the dangers of taking on these roles. Sports where you can get brain concussions, or where your knees are going to go bad for basketball, or arms bad for baseball, and sometimes even permanent brain damage, or spinal injuries. All of these are very harsh, but sometimes very real realities that come along with the “privilege” of becoming so successful in the field of sports entertainment. Once any of these things become existent, and prevalent to an individual’s life, then what? They took you out of college early, to grant you this special “privilege”, but now you are injured, with no degree or education as a security blanket for the future. Dr. Walker says “…Okay. They make you a superstar on the football field or basketball, and you make millions of dollars. But then we need to start businesses.” These few words to me, were some of the most impactful. This statement brings back Hooks point of taking ownership in that sometimes people of color are just as capable of upholding the forces of patriarchy by not contributing anything greater than the status quo stories and refusing to change the outcome of cycling oppression. We must push ourselves to create new narratives for our entire community and empower other African Americans to do the same.
It is also vital to be educated and aware of racist tactics in business practices for when we do decide to create wonderful, black owned businesses. Dr. Walker refers to the recently passed Nipsey Hussle, and his ownership of “The Marathon” clothing store on Slauson and Crenshaw. Dr. Walker speaks from a white man’s perspective, “We must understand, having a store, yeah that’s fine if it’s a clothing store in South Central in LA. Chances are your risks are higher for someone to shoot you. You’re not in Beverly hills. You’re not competing with my niece who wants to own a boutique in Beverly Hills. If I was a white powerful person, and I’m in charge of your bank loan for your business. I’m going to put it here instead of here. So, there’s less competition. You’re not competing with my kids.” In reflecting on this statement, I think of Author Peggy McIntosh, in White and Male Privilege. She speaks upon how the world “privilege” carries the connotation of being something everyone must want. Yet, privilege in many cases can systematically overpower certain groups. Such privilege confers dominance and gives permission to control because of one’s race or sex; specifically pertaining to white males. (McIntosh, 96) McIntosh goes on to elaborate how privileged white males often used this conferred dominance as permission to control lower classes. (McIntosh, 97) In Dr. Walker’s statement about white bank owners granting loans for new African American entrepreneurs, in hindsight, seems like they are trying to reverse a lifetime of oppression towards these groups. But when we dig below the surface level, and take a deeper analyzation of what exactly it is that they’re doing, and why they are doing this, one can argue that they are implicitly using their power to make purposeful moves of domination and control over these already oppressed groups in people of color. Peggy McIntosh would assess this as, yes, these elite white men are very aware that they are in control, and of their privilege, and are using gerrymandering business tactics to further oppress blacks by ensuring that they hit a glass ceiling somehow, and don’t interfere with white businesses or privilege.
THE MEDIA’S ROLE ON OPPRESSION
This led us into talking about how the media also plays its own role in ensuring glass ceilings are firmly placed in paths ahead for many African Americans.
When asked about how she thought about the way black women are portrayed in the media affects how black women are viewed in this day in age?
She answered: “It impacts our safety. It impacts how we find significant others. It impacts our young people, and what they think they have access to. It keeps people on the bottom of economic realms when they are the last hired, because maybe their name sounds a certain way, and all these assumptions are loaded into that. They could be the best and the brightest of the field, with the most promise that person can be the answer to your business problem, they could make you money, and expand your image, and help you in so many important and necessary ways, but they can’t even get the interview because their name sounds too “ethnic”. How sad! Media and how women are portrayed in the media, define to a great degree, not just perception, it defines imagined presence, it defines opportunity for where we live, where we work, where we are welcome as black women.”
Patricia Hill Collins warns us about the dangers of misrepresentations of groups of oppressed people, especially in the black culture. “Mass media’s tendency to blur the lines between fact and fiction has important consequences for perceptions of Black culture and Black people. Images matter, and just as those of Black femininity changed in tandem with societal changes, those of Black masculinity are undergoing a similar process.” (Collins, 151) Narrowly defined images of black women leaves little to no room for the authentic, attested realities that make up and form black womanhood. Dr. Walker goes on to say,
“That’s why so many people don’t understand, because these women were not shown on mass media. Instead it’s the same story in reality T.V, with black women as strippers, and women of color fighting each other on television. So, people don’t know that all those women in the white house in this photo I have were educated, qualified, and experienced women. They have the requisite, backgrounds, intellect, experience and knowledge, and that’s why they got hired. They weren’t hired because of their race, they were hired because they were qualified, and they also happen to be that.”
As I analyze Dr. Walker’s thoughts, the words “portray the same story” to me, mirrored the thoughts of scholar Keating in Beyond Intersectionality. Keating emphasizes on the dangers of status quo stories like these. She defines status quo stories as “world-views that normalize and naturalize the existing social system, values, and standards so entirely that they prevent us from imagining the possibility of change. And that continuing these status quo stories leaves groups of oppressed women ‘trapped’ under these labels, making us unable to fully engage with one another, or with the larger world” (Keating, 41) Negative portrayals of black women only further the notion that black women act exactly as how they are perceived to be on television which is usually erratic, emotional, and vengeful. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Even if the portrayals in media are fictional characters, they affect others’ opinions of black women because those opinions are reflected onto our real-life imagery and become a part of our core beliefs. When we see something so much, we start to believe that it is the reality. Sequentially, this causes a lack of access for many black women to ascertain the opportunities that they deserve because these single-story stereotypes reinforced in the media are labeled and placed upon them. They may be the smartest or most qualified for that amazing position that they applied for, but they can’t quite reach it because these underlying perceptions are stuck in the minds of many, and they just can’t see how phenomenal many black women are. We must take steps to consciously remove these stereotypical, hegemonic world-views of black women, and push towards creating and accurately representing black women without idealizing status quo stories and start dismantling the hegemonic representations of these oppressed groups.
PERSONAL EXPERIENCES WITH INTERNAL DISCRIMINATION
Speaking about how black women were portrayed in the media, lead to discussing her own personal experiences within her intersectionality, and some struggles within being a black woman. Being black has played a factor in not only her relationships and reputation in her esteemed career, but also within the black community itself. Colorism has played a huge role in dividing the black community. Though the media does play a role to some extent in perpetuating and reinforcing the hegemonic system of colorism, behavior of people in our own black community contribute to this system as well. Hooks defines colorism as a concern with actual skin tone, as opposed to racial or ethnic identity. The hegemonic internalized system of colorism is where lighter-skinned African Americans are given preference because of their physical features (Hooks, 99), and has been an unspoken truth within indigenous and African American culture dated back since slave times. Lighter skinned slaves were often in the house, and darker skin slaves worked the field. In the black community, dark-skinned women are more susceptible to experiencing the negative impacts of colorism on their self-esteem.
When I asked Dr. Walker about having a sense of internal racial discrimination in the black community or colorism, and what her opinion/experience was in this?
She says: “You can’t just steal people, and beat them up, and bring them over, you’d end up killing them all because they are all going to fight you initially. You have to find some way to have that group fight themselves or see themselves as competing for some kind of prize. Which is acceptance by the captors by the colonials. So that’s where it comes from, a survival, ploy by the captors that stole the people. So, you sleep with the person you stole, you have babies that are no longer dark skinned or white. Oh, let’s make them better to the darker people. That’s where the skin thing comes in. Because I am more like my captor. So now if you have longer hair, you have good hair, and lighter skin. Whatever, all those isms presumed to be correct.”
She explains how when she was young, she had experiences of colorism, and discrimination within her own black community. “I had long hair. I got the comments: ‘Oh you think you’re cute!’ No, I don’t think that! You think I’m cute! What does that have to do with anything?” Again, here is a demonstration of those survivalist tactics. Somehow, they think someone else is going to get some sort of advantage, which is acceptance by white people for having these traits or features that are seen as “better”. Whether it’s acceptance into their universities, into their neighborhoods, and it’s not better, it’s just different. I, myself have dealt with this type of internal discrimination my entire life. Having naturally long curly hair down my back, and being brown skin, and not having what is considered the “darkest skin-tone”, made me a target to internal discrimination. I was not necessarily accepted by certain people in the black community, because they thought that I thought “I was better than them”. Although I gave them no reason to think this, this was a way for them to speak down upon me without having concrete facts about who I am as a person. I now recognize that this is a survival tactic; perceiving me to have some sort of advantage by having features that are disproportionate to the majority black community was prevalent throughout my entire childhood, and has poured in to my life today. Black men and women have reverted to having this sort of mindset of the lighter skin toned women as being more desirable, which is troubling and extremely problematic. This is yet another example of upholding author Bell Hooks notion of a “white capitalist patriarchy”. We must acknowledge any influences reiterating negative, hegemonic stereotypes on what is seen as beautiful, especially when it comes to an aspect of a person that they cannot control. We must oblige to stop further exploiting our own oppressed groups of women because it negatively impacts the African American community, extraneously.
Dr. Elaine is truly the definition of an inspiring, wonderfully spoken, empowering, and phenomenal black women. I could not have been in the presence of a more perfect person to share this interview with. I left with an immense amount of knowledge, and dense analyzations of the patriarchal hierarchy we are all a part of. The most powerful advice I took from her interview, that I think everyone needs to hear is: “Still give good, even when you don’t get it. Still look for it and I believe you’ll find it. And if you don’t find it create it.” We oversee our own destiny, and we can control the outlook we have on the world. We must create good and surround ourselves with people who bring knowledge to the table. It is up to us as a generation to assume responsibility for our own lives, and we must use our education, and pull from pools of intelligence and strength in which we were taught, to critically think in all situations so that we can recognize oppression in all forms. This will lead us one step closer to dismantling the hegemonic systems that lay before us.