Thank You Thursdays: The Kitchen Table

I’m moonlighting on the Thank You Thursday post today to take some time and give a shout out to a blog that Feministing just discovered our mutual love for: The Kitchen Table.
This blog is written in the style of letters/conversation between two African-American Princeton professors, Dr. Melissa Harris-Lacewell and Dr. Yolanda Pierce.
Today I want to say thank you to those two dynamic women for creating and maintaining a truly refreshing and cutting-edge blog. First off, I love the concept. Harris-Lacewell and Pierce utilize the importance of the kitchen table and its role in families to create this space for their dialogue. From their first post in July 2008, Yolanda explains:

I remember when I “graduated” from the kids’ table to the adult table during family holiday meals. I was truly a “woman grown” in the eyes of my family, but in my heart, I actually missed the kids’ table. Growing up, the kitchen, and particularly the kitchen table was a site of comfort, laughter, advice, gossip, and good food. Important family decisions were made at the kitchen table; elaborate Sunday dinners of candied yams, fried chicken, and collard greens were prepared. At the kitchen table, homework was done and bills were paid (and left unpaid). I grew up watching generations of Black women experience the sorrows and joys of life at the kitchen table.
I find myself dining at all types of tables now, but none of these tables elicit the acceptance I once experienced at the kitchen table. As a Black woman in the academy, I’ve been invited to sit and eat at the Ivory Tower table, but I have not felt welcomed as a full participant in the meal. It wasn’t so long ago that someone like me would have only been allowed to clean the table.
So, my hope is that this blog creates a “kitchen table” in cyberspace for those of us who struggle with being on the inside of an institution, but still feel like outsiders. I hope that we can model what has been glaringly absent in our own professional lives: a place of refuge and acceptance for all the roles we bring to the table. We are scholars, activists, mothers, and public intellectuals. And we need each other to survive and thrive. I hope there are other folks out there who’d like to join us on this journey.

Melissa’s response:

I have no doubt that I will learn a lot from you. We are both 30-something black women who are raising daughters while teaching, researching, and writing in the wilderness of Central New Jersey, and yet we are still very different from one another.
I hate how the media always trots out one sister to give “the black woman’s perspective” as though we there is a single experience of being a black woman. We can challenge that assumption here by giving ourselves and our readers a chance to share a place at the table even if we don’t always agree. I can’t wait to explore our political ideas, religious commitments, personal struggles, and pop culture tastes together in this little corner of cyberspace.

I really appreciate the perspective of this two women, particularly as academics, mothers and women of color in a white-dominated profession. I appreciate when academics reach outside of the academy and communicate their views and passions. Their perspective is always valuable and sheds light on important issues in new ways. The Obama campaign and election was particularly near and dear to both their hearts, and they were the first blog I went to on November 5th. I knew they would have something important to say about that monumental day. Definitely a must-read blog.
You might remember Melissa Harris-Lacewell from her many news appearances over the last year, particularly her debate with Gloria Steinem about gender and the election.

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2 Comments

  1. Okra
    Posted January 9, 2009 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

    Melissa Harris-Lacewell is an interesting figure. She caught some flack in multiethnic circles a while back for her writings “othering” Euro-American women (and herself from them), when in fact one of the parents who raised her (I think her mother) is Euro-American as well. Some multi-ethnic people I spoke with felt that her specific terminology went beyond the standard “well, I pick___ ethnic identity for myself because this country makes me pick only one” into polarizing territory along the lines of “Don’t you just hate it when White women ___? They just don’t get us sisters.” (It was presumed to be a bit harder to take this from Harris-Lacewell given her own European parentage and upbringing).
    I myself am not multi-ethnic (except in the same sense most ethnic groups are…with “mixture” occuring frequently throughout our long-term history as peoples), but I can understand their annoyance over the repeated marginalization in this country of multi-ethnic experiences.
    As a woman raised by a European-American woman, Harris-Lacewell has had a few different experiences than, say, native African-Americans with two Black parents, or, on the other hand, a West African daughter of two immigrants. (Indeed, the comments posted above by Miriam seem to indicate that she is fully aware of this dynamic). As she notes, we each have different experiences that enrich U.S. culture; it’s a crying shame that the one-drop rule continues to dominate U.S. ethnic discourse to the degree that a multi-ethnic woman is prodded since childhood into a singular, monolithic identity because society finds it more “understandable” or “comfortable.” (I have little doubt that it is social pressure that forces people into polarized ethnic role-playing; as I know from my own experiences, it is not always something organic and interally-driven).

  2. LalaReina
    Posted January 9, 2009 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

    The kitchen Table is part of my daily ritual, I love it. Melissa especially is my heroine. I can be a feminist if Melissa is one. I have the deepest admiration and respect for her.

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