‘Privileged Marginalisation’: A Reflection by a Female Academic of Colour

This blog is by Dr Reshmi-Roy, who theorises the concept of ‘Privileged Marginalisation’ through her lived experience as an upper-class migrant female academic of colour.

Discussion on DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) is a part of the everyday experience of academia. Endless policy and institutional directives appear in university mailboxes reminding everyone to be mindful of issues relating to race, gender and other forms of diversity. However, Critical Race Scholars have questioned the performative aspects of such DEI practices as emblematic of tokenistic inclusion practices. As a female academic of colour, it is evident to those such as me, who occupy a “privileged-marginalised” social location, that “the dynamics of social class are often missing from university diversity regimes.” Social class is a grey and sometimes murky area, especially in the so-referred to as egalitarian Australian universities. Combined with racial dynamics, this grey area transforms into a real elephant in the room during discussions about equality and equity.

Using personalised recounts, a co-author and, while writing on the concept of privileged marginalisation, we noticed that academic literature did not account for complex identities and dynamics of female academics of colour whose settlement and relationality experiences in academia and the host nation are not driven by “economic betterment, grasp of the dominant language, or acquisition of education”. To put it simply, within Australian universities, there exist many such as us who did not migrate for financial gain, do not struggle with the English language, have relevant tertiary qualifications and are members of a comfortable and, at times, privileged social class in their home countries. While I am not delving into the contextual social in/justices of other factors here, I make the argument that our ‘newly found’ marginalised identities in Australia (e.g. race, gender, migranthood) do not take away from our capacity, willingness, and desire to speak for ourselves nor is it an invitation to have our identities interpreted for us by others.

I agree with Nziba Pindi, who, in this article, encapsulates the failure of Western lenses to capture the inherent complexities of racialised identities, which are impacted by experiences of oppression while also being laced as well as privilege. Within Western socio-cultural discourses, the dominant understandings of privilege appear to be ‘white privilege’ and ‘male privilege’, which are racialised and gendered, subsequently diminishing all other intersectional vectors along the way, that may be embodied by people who are not white or male. I wonder whether that stems from the Australian working-class discourses, which are intrinsically uncomfortable with the notion of class privilege, despite its undoubted juxtaposition within the nation’s sociocultural, economic, and political fabrics.

As an Indian woman in Australia, I am aware of the popular hybrid cultural lens labels that follow women like me from my culture; hardworking, academically smart, tradition-bound, shackled by patriarchy, and enamoured by Bollywood weddings (an anathema to a Bengali—yet another layer to my complex identity). While migration to Australia and New Zealand has afforded me the opportunity for independent decision-making and freedom from tradition-bound performance of gender roles, as a racially diverse academic, I often experience efforts from white and male colleagues “to constantly relegate me to a corner; to mute me through race, gender and professional devaluation” within the university space.

Despite existing in this complexity, I have refused to be “the crawling migrant academic of colour” in metaphorical shadowlands, and unwillingness to let upper-middle-class white women speak for me within academia or elsewhere. My subjectivity is mine alone, and as an ethnic woman residing in Australia, I am fully aware of the social cleavages which I exist within. However, I remain ever mindful of the contextuality and impact of these cleavages encompassing race, gender, culture, class, education, and memories.

I firmly state that moving away from one’s place of origin does not always equate to the dislocation of gender and social class. While not denigrating the empowerment and opportunities offered by migration, it is essential to note that what I perceive as empowering may not be considered as such by white feminists. As such, my autonomy and self-determined agency allow me to choose what aspects of my cultural heritage are mine to preserve.

Donning the mantle of an intersectional feminist and taking courage from strident voices in the field, I stress the need to structure a nuanced discussion space within Australian universities for those like me who designate ourselves as the ‘privileged marginalised’. This discussion will help us “dismantle the dissonances between popular cultural perceptions of ‘us’ in the hostland and the reality of ‘us’ in the diaspora space that we occupy“. Working with like-minded academics located at intersectional crossroads “can help track the multidirectional impacts of institutional diversity and inclusion discourses within Australian universities”. Despite the tokenism of DEI practices within Australian institutions, some form of action is better than nothing, and the emphasis, especially for us as female academics of colour, remains on demonstrating “how intersectional subjects dialoguing in academe is a form of quiet resistance, offering hope for creating new becomings“.

Contributor Details:

Dr Reshmi Roy (Lahiri-Roy) is a Scholarly Teaching Fellow at Federation University. Herteaching and research are focused on a range of issues in Education and Sociology, with a special focus on Inclusive Education, Race, Gender, and Social Class, along with Autoethnography and Reflective Practice.