Experience, Voice, Authority

Who has the necessary authority to speak about a given topic or identity? What do we miss when trying to learn about Otherness (see “Can the Subaltern Speak?”)? Given thousands of years of history, history dominated by an elite often consisting of normative White men and now History dominated by “professionals,” such questions will always be important, especially when a person of privilege is doing the “speaking.”

Frequently, our culture and its institutions say that if you’re not a Black person, you cannot study or talk about Black history, period. People who typically avoid essentialist philosophies might add that only a Black person can understand Black history and the Black experience. That is only one example. And this is something I have run into as a White person with expertise in Black history. 

Certainly, personally knowing the experience of being Black would add to, or change, aspects of the possible analysis.

However, cancer patients never tell their doctor, “you haven’t had cancer so you can talk to me about cancer.”

Everyone has identities that are privileged and others that are oppressed. Each person’s intersectionality creates unique views of the world. 

As I have written about before, we have a cultural tendency to emphasis certain identities and certain experiences and ignore others. And, given history and oppression/privilege, this makes sense. At the same time, we need to allow all those legitimately working toward freedom and opportunity to contribute to the conversation. 

Dr. Andrew Joseph Pegoda