Authored by Phoebe Son Oh ’21 in “Investing in Radical Black Feminist Counterhistory“
last updated 02.09.2021
This next image is of my friend, DaShanae Hughes. DaShanae is a current Senior at Davidson from New Orleans, Louisiana. In this photograph, DaShanae stands on the steps in front of Chambers Building. We see that her hair is long, bright red, and curly. She wears a black headscarf, rectangular glasses, big gold hoops, and a black jumpsuit. This picture in conversation with the image of Denise Fanuiel draws many parallels, but also highlights several distinctions between the two pictures. For starters, both women stand in front of prominent locations on campus that are rooted in white supremacy and antiblackness. Both locations on campus serve as visual reminders of the inhumanity and violence Black people endured, and continue to endure. Chambers Building was named after Maxwell Chambers, one of the College’s first “benefactors” who “undoubtedly claimed ownership of enslaved people.” (Mellin & Yi, 2019) Chambers Building also serves as the main academic building on campus, which is just further proof of how Davidson normalizes this ever-present antiblack “climate” and “weather.” (Sharpe, 2016, 104) In analyzing the tension this image holds, I echo the afropessmistic understanding that “Blackness cannot be separated from slavery.” (Wilderson III, 2020, 217) The violence that Black women and femmes undergo today at Davidson stems from the College’s foundation that lies on top of their labour and bodies. To separate Blackness, in this picture, from slavery would be an ahistorical analysis that invalidates not only DaShanae’s lived experiences as a Black femme at Davidson, but all the femmes who came before her as well.
When I interviewed DaShanae for this project, one of the questions I asked her was “What piece of advice would you tell younger Black femmes at Davidson College and even your freshman year self as you look back at your time here?” (D. Hughes, personal interview, November 28, 2020) DaShanae noted how she struggled to find genuine community her first and second year at Davidson, but that the incident of two Neo-Nazis students being exposed in 2018 “radicalized” her (D. Hughes, personal interview, November 28, 2020). She also reflected upon the white circles she used to associate with and how she experienced “no care in those communities,” and that she felt constant “exhaustion from trying to” explain racism, and all its complexities, to white folks (D. Hughes, personal interview, November 28, 2020). She warns younger Black femmes at Davidson about investing in whiteness and being in proximity to white communities: “They will not affirm you like you should be affirmed.” (D. Hughes, personal interview, November 28, 2020) For DaShanae, finding community amongst other Black femmes and people of color helped her realize that refusing to assimilate to a white Davidson created less “emotional labour” and energy for her to expend. She also mentioned that finding these different communities transformed the way she viewed herself, and allowed her to grow and become “more self-loving.” (D. Hughes, personal interview, November 28, 2020). For DaShanae, this picture of her standing in front of Chambers represents the “progress” she has made of learning to love and find herself during her time at Davidson. The self-love that DaShanae talks about, although she does not say it explicitly, is rooted in radical black feminist practices of “self-preservation” and embodied resistance against white patriarchy (Lorde, 1988, 229). To divest from Davidson does not mean to physically leave the place, because it is clear through annual alumni fundraising events that even after folks leave Davidson they are still invested in the institution and have faith in it. To truly divest from a place like Davidson is to realize that institutions should not play a role in defining who you are, especially for Black women and femmes, for whom the College never intended to include or make feel welcome and safe.