Najeem’s Interview with Dr. Marne Campbell

May 1, 2017

A Brief Introduction of Dr. Marne Campbell


Dr. Marne Campbell is currently an Assistant Professor in the African American Studies Department at Loyola Marymount University. Dr. Campbell graduated from UCLA for her undergraduate, graduate, her M.A., and her doctorate degrees in History with a focus on Afro-American Studies. She has published essays in the Journal of Urban History, the Journal of African American History, and the American Studies Journal discussing topics such as race, gender, and crime in early Los Angeles. Her book, Making Black Los Angeles: Gender, Class and Community 1850-1917, was published in 2016; emphasizing issues of politics, labor, and culture that intersect within Los Angeles diverse community. She teaches several courses at Loyola Marymount University that center on her African American history focus such as “Introduction to African American Studies”, “Race, Gender, and the Law”, “Black Women’s History”, and “Civil Rights in America.”

Family Life and Upbringing

Dr. Campbell was born in Palm Springs, California sometime in the 70s (I cannot reveal the actual date upon threat of death) to an African American father and Russian Jewish mother. Dr. Campbell’s mother was first generation American and her parents had emigrated from Russia to a Russian enclave in Chicago before moving to Los Angeles when she was older. Dr. Campbell’s mother would stay in Los Angeles and eventually met Dr. Campbell’s father who soon after, would start a family of their own with her in Palm Springs. Unfortunately, they did have to deal with familial hostility for being a biracial couple and Dr. Campbell’s grandparents disowned her mother. Dr. Campbell would go on to describe her mother as “very Russian and very Jewish”, clarifying that she had an Old-World view of parenting that often seemed old-fashioned to her “modernized” African American children.

Dr. Campbell described life in Palm Springs as great and said she felt very comfortable there, noting it was probably due to the diversity and progressive ideology of the community. She notes her elementary school experience was “amazing” because she attended one on the Agua Caliente Indian Reservation where she had access to computers, learned computer programming, and took foreign language classes. Dr. Campbell would go on to attend public school for middle and high school, where she found herself in a more diverse environment. Because most students in the area attend the same two middle schools and one high school, the school population was full of students from varying economic, ethnic, and religious backgrounds.  Looking back, Dr. Campbell was one of those people who was friendly to everyone and anyone, having no problem fitting into different social groups.


Awareness of Intersectionality

While Dr. Campbell and I discussed a lot of topics -some focused on her career experiences and others on her campus involvement- it was ultimately the topic of her experiences with her intersectionality that I was most curious about. I had known Dr. Campbell a little over a year before the interview and I would say we had a good relationship. I saw her regularly because she is a faculty in residence in my building and on my floor, so I’d often talk to her whenever she passed in hallway. We have discussed the current political climate, cooking recipes, and Love & Hip Hop, but I had never thought to ask her any deep, personal questions. Here was a mentor that I would go to whenever I wanted clarity on a race issue, and yet I hadn’t thought to ask her about her own personal experiences with race and identity. This project was my chance, and looking back, I am so happy that I choose Dr. Campbell to interview because her answers were packed with critical thought and powerful testimony.

Question:How would you say your intersectionality affected your interactions with different race and gender groups throughout your life?

Dr. Campbell’s response to this question started out simple but impactful:

I’ve always been aware of two things: I’m a girl and I’m Black.

She described how in early childhood her mother would cut her hair short because she didn’t want to put in the effort to do it up. Dr. Campbell laughed as she remembers the short hair coupled with her brother’s hand-me-downs had many of her neighbors mistaking her brother and her for twin boys. She didn’t blame her mother because she didn’t believe it to be oppressive but Dr. Campbell admitted it was frustrating not being able to show her femininity the way she wanted to. She remembers being picked on for look boyish when she was younger, but the bullying wasn’t only limited to her gender; she was also picked on for being Black by some kids.

The reality that gender and race-based oppression and discrimination can begin in the childhood years is not new to me, with regards to personal experience and the statement by the Combahee River Collective we read in the beginning of the semester. The related quote that stood out to me was: “There is also undeniably a personal genesis for Black Feminism, that is, the political realization that comes from the seemingly personal experiences of individual Black women’s lives…As children, we realized that we were different from boys and that we were treated differently” (2-3). To me the statement is arguing that the factors of difference we first experience as children through the lens of gender and race are as much systematic problems as they are personal, individual experiences.

Dr. Campbell would go on to provide other examples of discrimination from her childhood, such as when a boy called her “Oreo” for being of biracial descendant and she physically beat him up. Or when a fellow student, who was a White male, claimed Dr. Campbell would have no problem getting into college because she was a Black woman. Though affirmative action had not been implemented yet and Dr. Campbell was excelling academically in AP classes, this student simply reduced her to her race and gender.

This situation made me really upset because I realized that the student that insulted her probably doesn’t realize how he made Dr. Campbell feel. The primary weight of his words rested on difference-that he would be able to go to college the “normal” route while Dr. Campbell had to be helped. Essentially, he was saying who she was as a Black woman made her different than him. Her experience made me think back to Audre Lorde’s idea of the mythical norm presented in her article “Age, Race, Class, and Sex.” The mythical norm is the American identity that fits the ideal American experience as a White, young, thin, heterosexual, Christian, financially secure male (2). This identity is in the subconscious of all Americans, and one that resounds in the minds of the gender, race, sex, and class subordinate groups as “Not Us.” As Dr. Campbell continued, she references this discomfort, as she recounts that she has continued to experience varying degrees of oppression concerning her gender and race all the way into her adult life and even the week prior to the interview.

If I were a man, and I were White, I wouldn’t be having these problems…I think before they were using the term “intersectionality”, I could point it out.


Race, Gender, and Class Interactions

Having described her experiences with realizing her intersectionality and dealing with oppressive behaviors, I thought it best to transition into asking Dr. Campbell about  how she interacted with other racial, gender, and class identities as a Black woman. Her response was:

How I interact with other people is to trust what I see and feel about them, and if they are good people with good intentions that’s fine…I give everybody a chance.

Here she references an experience she had with a White family where she was initially a friend of the family but then they had a falling out over the deployment of affirmative action in the 90s: Dr. Campbell was in support of it and the White family was not. After reconciling a few years later due to a death in the family, Dr. Campbell had to cut the family out of her life again when they were against her support of fighting police brutality in Ferguson. Her story made me think back to how intersectional interactions are a reality of everyday life in America, and so we deal with an individual dimension of oppression and expression due to our individual biographies (Collins, 80). This then politicizes our actions in life as part of the system of the white supremacist capitalist patriarchy (Collins, 80). Or in other words, the choices made by the individual feed into the system of oppression because they reinforce norms and limitations forced on marginalized communities. While I doubt Dr. Campbell expected the family to be invested in affirmative action when it was designed to provide more equitable opportunity to marginalized communities, a rejection of it means becoming part of the white supremacist capitalist patriarchy system of domination. This idea made me think of a quote from Ana Louise Keating’s Beyond Intersectionality: “…our many embodied and situational differences- differences based on sexuality, color, class, region, upbringing, education, and more- shape our experiences in diverse ways, impacting our knowledge systems and worldviews. Yet…resists the over-generalizations or stereotypes that would lead [one] to assume that a person’s politics automatically follows their embodied identity” (41).


Pursuing a Career as a Woman of Color

When I asked Dr. Campbell about why she choose to pursue a career in African American History, I expected her to say it had been a subject she was interested in since childhood or something along those lines. Her response ended up being a surprise for me when she admitted it was not her first choice. Dr. Campbell had started out pursuing Psychology, but then switched to an interest in Sociology because rather than focusing on the individual it looked at populations. But as she started studying sociology, she realized that most sociologists focused on social deviance, and, more often than not, the populations they attributed as socially deviant were people of color. Eventually, she found herself in taking some Ethnic Studies course recommended to her by friends and fell in love with the field. Combined with her abundance of history credits, Dr. Campbell soon found herself headed for the path of a double major in History and African American Studies.

Even more interesting was her experience pursuing a career in African American History, especially her story of how she came to publish her book, Making Black Los Angeles: Gender, Class and Community 1850-1917:

My publication experience has been a blessing, like I’ve been really lucky.

Dr. Campbell was very genuine in her acknowledgement of the opportunities and partnerships offered to her when she began publishing. Before publishing, she was called to review an article in the Journal of Urban History, a notable journal for urban historians, which she considered a door opener. Then she was requested to write for the Journal of African American History, which has a hundred year tradition in the United States. It was founded by Carter G. Woodson, who also started Black History Month in America. One of the current editors of this prestigious journal would later become a mentor of hers after she received her PhD. While receiving his mentorship and complete her post-doctoral fellowship, Dr. Campbell finished her book and was lucky enough to have a friend give her a contact with University of North Carolina Press, one of the best publishers for work related to African American History.

What I enjoyed about Dr. Campbell’s publishing story is that she is very humble and very frank in admitting a lot of her chances came to her as blessings, opportunities that she acted on. Patricia Hill Collins said, ““Since there is no compelling reason to examine the source and meaning of one’s privilege, I know that those who do so have freely chosen this stance…To me, they are entitled to the support of people of color in their efforts” (83). While I noted the opportunities she was presented, I could not help but also feel inspired. Some people after hearing a story of success in which someone gets that one shot to push ahead and does so, lose motivation with the thought that they would not be as successful or presented the same chances. But that view denies the hard work and talent Dr. Campbell exerted at the time and now.

And her experience reaching the heights of her career now were not without struggles. One of the more shocking moments of the interview was when Dr. Campbell described her first interview at LMU for a position teaching Los Angeles History, and a professor said to her, “You don’t do LA History, you do Black History.” A moment she described as such:

This isn’t normal for an interview but it’s a normal experience for me as a Black woman.

In this situation I saw a clear example of the “systematic relationships of domination and subordination structured through social institutions such as schools, business, hospitals, the workplace, and government agencies represent the institutional dimension of oppression” (Collins, 78). Here we have a white, male professor questioning not only the qualifications of Dr. Campbell but also her racial ideology. One hand he was trying to undermine her area of study, and on the other he was judging her for her it. And though his vote obviously didn’t pan out and he no longer works at this school, what matters is that the perception of a university’s hiring committee significantly affects who gets hired, which in turn impacts what teachers interact with students. The progressive movements for racial diversity, representation of women, exposure to various religions: these need to be supported not only in the students we admit, but also in the professors we hire. Thankfully, Dr. Campbell received the position, recently made tenure, and continues to teach LA History here on campus.


Teaching Strategies of Resistance

To start off my closing section, I’m going to share some of Dr. Campbell’s most impactful words, at least in my opinion, during the interview:

For the work that I do, the research that I do- cause that’s what dictates your career- it’s all intersectional. So, I write about race, class, gender, and community formation, specifically in the African American community. So it’s really kind of guided everything I do. It determines what I teach and how I teach, the subject matter, what books I choose, what articles I pick. And it was also important for me to come into teaching higher ed. while keeping in that when I was in college we weren’t talking about women, we weren’t talking about Black people outside of deviance, we weren’t talking about Latinos outside of deviance. I have to keep in mind that all of these people with intersectional- and one could argue everyone is intersectional- but all of these people who were more clearly intersectional were left out of the history. We were left out of a lot of things. And so my intention is always to  make sure I can teach keeping that in mind.

I felt like I was attending a rally when I was only sitting in a living room. The words she said were powerful and a lot of that power came from honesty. The truth is, our history and our perception of society is one reinforced and championed by the privileged, the dominant, and those in power. This holds especially true for the younger generations, the generations that Dr. Campbell targets and attempts to educate. This brought to mind a point made by Audre Lorde in “Age, Race, Class, and Sex”: “the ‘generation gap’ is an important tool for any repressive society,” (2). What Lorde meant by that is if younger generations view their elders as contemptible and/or older generations view younger generations as lazy and irresponsible, the living memories of the community will not be passed down. The fact that certain states outlaw some ethnic studies subjects or historical textbooks that state the Civil War was fought over slavery, and not states’ rights, shows that the system will not be the ones to pass on our history: it lies in the hands of our communities.

Dr. Campbell went into some of the specifics about strategies of resistance she has taught her students over the years. She says it’s really important for students to be able to articulate what they want to do and then begin considering how feasible their goal is. She advises Black Student Services and has proposed a Black Out event, in which Black students on LMU’s campus come hang out with no program or plan. Her reasoning behind it was that she felt Black people are too invisible on LMU’s campus, and that they are too willing to be invisible. This made me think back to Audre Lorde’s “The Transformation of Silence into Action,” in which she says, “it is not difference that symbolizes us, but silence,” (44). This is a silence I was all too guilty of my freshman year, in which I was content just floating in the background through campus, going from class to work to my friends. But now I’m involved with student organizations such as Praxis for Black Male Achievement and LEAF for urban education, and I’m trying to step up and address the issues. I still have to be more active in other issues, especially concerning treatment of Black women, as Dr. Campbell pointed out. I think she is trying to say it is not enough to fight for the community you identify with, you must also fight for the community you live in, and for us that is LMU. Ultimately, Dr. Campbell wants to educate her students, but also push them to action on issues that impact their communities.


Works Cited:

Collins, Patricia Hill. “Towards a New Vision” Race, Sex & Class, 1(1), 1993

Combahee River Collective. Combabee River Collective Statement: Black Feminist Organizations in the 70s and 80s. Kitchen Table/Women of Color, 1986

Keating, Ana Louise. “Chapter One” Beyond Intersectionality

Lorde, Audre. “Age, Race, Class and Sex: Redefining Difference” Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches, Crossing Press, 1984

Lorde, Audre. “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action” Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches, Crossing Press, 2007