Amani Carter, Meron Fessehaye, and Gladys McLean at MLK Day, 2017
Authored by Ramona M. Davis ’21 in “Black Student Activism at Davidson College“
last updated 02.09.2021
This image depicts Amani Carter (left), Meron Fessehaye (Africana major), and Gladys Mclean – all prominent members of the Black Student Coalition and leaders on campus. Mclean organized the Die In 2014 and Amani Carter was pictured as part of a Mizzou Protest in 2014. In this image, three black women are participating on a panel as part of a series of Martin Luther King Jr. day events in 2017. All of them are wearing professional clothes, indicating the importance of good appearance and representation at the event. The most powerful aspect of the photos is the women’s gaze outwards, presumably towards the audience. There is very little information on the content of the event or panel, so we as viewers are left to wonder what are they responding to. Amani Carter’s face captures a multitude of emotions. Like the others, she is engaged, but she is leaning somewhat on her hands and her facial expression seems to veil exhaustion and reflect mild disinterest. This experience of exhaustion makes sense when you consider the burden that is placed on black women activists to fix Davidson and educate their peers through workshops like these.
Although the college rarely acknowledges this, black students are often responsible for educating the broader (white) Davidson Community. Even while the Africana Studies department exists, students are still educating their peers. When Davidson and other liberal institutions support black student activism, activism can become a codeword for unpaid labor. Students continue doing this educational work not because they have a strong innate desire, but because they are committed to making change and cultivating community space for those who come after them.
I make no claims to understand the specific experiences of these women, but Amani’s facial expression is indicative of Davidson’s broader tendency to place the labor of “diversity and inclusion” onto marginalized students, without clear benefit to them. In these kinds of contexts, black students may bring in radical politics but have it reduced or dismissed to diversity and inclusion work for the betterment and longevity of white institutions. ,