Medievalists of Color (MoC) is a professional organization of a diverse group of scholars working across the disciplines in Medieval Studies. We are graduate students, independent scholars, and tenure-track and non-tenure track faculty of all ranks from adjunct and lecturer to full professor. Among us are scholars based in the Americas, Africa, Asia, Oceania, and Europe. As people of color, we share a collective socio-political identity that draws its strength from the varied backgrounds and experiences of its members. We represent the power of difference.
Several members have answered the question,
What does being a medievalist of color mean to you?
Acknowledging that I can never escape my body or the places, communities, and forms of power that have made me who I am. Recognizing that the places and communities that are the most welcoming of me will be the ones that are the most disempowered. And understanding that now that I am a part of this field, the field also cannot escape my body, my past, and all that I stand for.
Always wondering how my race affects the way readers and listeners hear my ideas and voice.
Being questioned regularly, as a black woman, about why I study ‘white people,’ and knowing that medieval history (and specifically of Iberia and North Africa) is so much more than that; being aware that people always look at me when talking about ‘diversity’ and expecting me to provide the voice of the ‘Other’; being the check on white male medievalists’ prejudices; anticipating criticisms and resistance due to my appearance; being able to study the powerful women who subverted dominant discourses to which they were subjected.
Getting to work with the cultural products that first showed me the beauty of my multilingual, multicultural experience made art, architecture, poetry, performance, music, text.
Living across languages, nations, and homelands, and understanding medieval culture through this experience.
Always doubting and second-guessing myself because it is impossible to know if I’m a token “diverse” candidate (as a first-generation Indian woman) or included on my own merits; if my ideas are genuinely wrong or if I’m being dismissed because of my race and my gender.
Always considering my work’s impact on the world beyond academia, whether through my scholarship or my teaching.
Decentering the West in my pedagogy.
Having known, for more than two decades, that I would need to work harder, be more creative, and be smarter, while expecting to be rewarded less; and having known that each time I spoke, because I was the only medievalist of color in the room, I should expect to be doubted more, listened to less carefully, and be unsurprised to have my competence questioned, because I was not white, not born here, and not male: All this, until amazingly, a group of mostly younger medievalists of color came along, and declared with outrage and passion, that such outcomes were no longer acceptable. Being a medievalist of color also means you have life experiences so different from “the mainstream” that you are enabled to see the past and the world differently, and bring perspectives that are jarring, productive, and transformative for your fields and your disciplines.
Being mixed race, Southeast Asian, and first generation American.
Being conscious that I represent a mere handful of scholars within my particular area of expertise. The majority of other medievalists of color have left my field because it is notoriously difficult to work in the field unless you ‘read’ as white.
Rethinking the nationalist aims of the entire field of study.
Being a first generation Canadian/Brit with roots in the Caribbean.
Being first gen, Korean, a woman, decolonizing the entire field so medieval studies is not a white space that will be hostile to the BIPOC who want to be a part of it.
Knowing that I am here because of the work and the fellowship of other medievalists of color.
Taking the canon off of the shelf and putting my fingerprints all over it.
Always being conspicuous; never knowing if I am being included as a token to “diversity.”
Never fully belonging anywhere.
Being a Latina woman and knowing that I came to the field late in my undergraduate study and without much of the background that others had. My goal is therefore to create a space for students of color to take an interest in medieval culture, and encourage them where I can.
Telling the stories that others have decided not to (or are not deserving to) tell.
Always knowing that you’re a second class citizen, that others will see the worst of you first, and that your accent will be a factor in how smart you’re perceived. On the flip side, understanding your subject differently and asking the tough questions others can not even see.
Taking my time to bring a project to fruition so that it expresses other voices clearly because I know that my offhand comments that take up different perspectives will rarely be heard and even more rarely taken seriously.
Finding, exposing, and illuminating all the hidden figures who’ve made the canon possible.
Being a dark-skinned, young, Pakistani woman in a field where everything–past and present–is painted white.
Knowing that my expertise will always be questioned, on paper because my name does not read medievalist, in person because my face does not read medievalist. Understanding that my scholarship, my teaching, and my work will always be, regardless of its form and content, a political act.
Being the only Chicano in my area of specialty and knowing that at every conference people will express (to my face) their surprise that I study what I study (or assume that I study something else), and will want to hear “the story” of how I got into my field. Never having a single person of color as a professor in my field or on any hiring committee that has interviewed me; being very aware that I don’t fit the expectation of what a medievalist should look like.