Without realizing it at the time, a lot of my life decisions have been about resisting privilege and refusing to be a part of broken, racialized structures. I found them deeply engraved within the academic cultures of the US, Asia and Europe. (Merit-based scholarship holder here, not born with a silver spoon)
And it wasn’t just ‘white people’ – but also others who internalized the same norms and values in order to be seen as part of the status quo, and therefore more likely to be rewarded as such.
I’ve seen terrible abuses of power within the system and – as an individual – have always rallied against it.
Eventually, when it came time to figure out what to do after my PhD – leaving academia was all too simple.
I vividly remember being at an European conference on Feminism and just having to leave the room. No one was actually saying anything of substance that the others had not read. It was all about the posturing, the peacocking, the complete erasure of non-mainstream voices.
Or when a supervisor thought that she could tell me that I wasn’t ‘serious about the PhD’ whilst I was dealing with chronic fatigue (there was a phase I couldn’t even lift a spoon). I made sure she wasn’t my supervisor afterwards.
Or when the people on my research team could not be bothered to get my name right on their final publication (it was unrecognizable – literally like someone had typed a bunch of random letters). Or if they just pretended I did not exist and had conversations that should have involved me but did not – I was the only non-white scholar.
And certainly how they included me back when they wanted a person of colour there.
The kinds of things I’ve given up on on my journey have been tangibles, rather than hypothetical. Fully funded scholarships, access to a sweet post-doctoral research fund, life in Europe, working my way up to professorship, etc.
But it was a good call.
Academia didn’t and still hasn’t gotten it’s head out of its butt and still retains its toxic, increasingly managerial culture.
It isn’t what’s informing social change.
And it isn’t reaching people.
Conversations do. Articles do.
Even as a spiritualist, I brought the same set of values (and expanded upon them) when travelling around for work.
I could not get into the tropical spiritual retreat culture (after seeing how it impacted local economies and culture).
I do not share information that is specific and unique to certain cultures as I feel it should come from an actual elder.
I did not feel comfortable working with land that was traditionally owned by Indigenous peoples (who have struggled to retain that control since colonial times).
And anyone who has seen me work with land knows the effects are instant. Rains come, animals pop up. Land is happy.
I chose not to go down that path despite how much money it could have made me. Because it’s all too easy to skin indigenous culture from its roots and wear it like a grotesque bodysuit and get people to pay for the privilege of seeing you wear it.
The same Journey of saying ‘ No’ is mirrored in my relationship with Spirit. If it supports toxic structures, it goes. Simple as.
And now I keep refining my platform and making sure it’s not an echo chamber for the privileged – which does lose potential clients and reach.
Looking back, still happy with those choices.
I made a mistake believing that writing about liberal academic concepts meant that people were actually going to implement them.
I made a mistake believing that talking about spirituality meant that someone was willing to go in and do the work for reals.
What I did learn is that performative wokeness, performative allyship is pervasive.
People like to be seen signalling their beliefs and adherence to things that sound good.
But the willingness to do the work?
Disrupt a flawed status quo?
Say no to added income and status?
(Again, no silver spoon – i have no property to my name and zero savings)
That’s rare. And I appreciate everyone who has walked their talk.
And not just talked it.
Dr. Bairavee Balasubramaniam PhD
The Sky Priestess