UKZN’s Centre for Critical Research on Race and Identity (CCRRI) within the School of Social Sciences recently hosted a lecture by Dr Zamambo Mkhize, where she discussed the intersection of race and gender for Black women in Higher Education and professional degrees through a comparative study of the experiences of African-American women in America and Black-African women at UKZN.
Mkhize noted that Black women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields continue to be grossly under-represented, causing these fields then to be male-dominated fields. Black women are viewed as living at a cultural crossroads by virtue of their coexisting membership to a marginal and an elite group, therefore forming an outlier group.
‘On one hand, lingering effects of apartheid policies have resulted in the continued marginalisation of Black women. On the other hand, globalisation and the transformation project for Higher Education in South Africa have simultaneously placed them in a unique position of power in society,’ she said.
Mkhize believes that African-American women as well as Black-African women continue to be subjected to overt and covert racism and even subject to sexism from their respective societies.
‘Black people, especially women, face hostility when entering traditional male and White-dominated domains, which discourages them from entering and developing in these organisations. Research has found in the United States, Black women were passed over for promotions because of their gender and in South Africa women are passed over for promotions because of their gender and race.’
‘Black-American women are an outlier group because they do not have race to uplift them nor do they have gender to empower them therefore they are doubly oppressed. Black-African women are triply oppressed facing sexism, racism and culturalism, so Black-African women are an outlier within an outlier, and highlighting this distinction and finding ways to address it would be progressive,’ said Mkhize.
She further offered possible solutions to counter these problems by highlighting the critical need to improve conditions of engineering learning environments and creating safe spaces for minorities to reflect on their negative experiences, practice self-care and develop scientific identity.
Mkhize believes that creating an environment that supports retention, mentoring for all faculties, programmes to promote retention and programmes specifically designed to facilitate PhD completion will prepare Black students for careers as professors or professionals in STEM fields/disciplines.
‘The creation of cohorts that focus on counselling Black students and especially Black women who face specific issues, which are different to Black men and White women is vital. Affirmative action is in place but it is not enough because the biggest beneficiaries of affirmative action have been White women not Black women. So that issue needs to be addressed and explored further. The reasons and adequate solutions should be sought,’ said Mkhize.
* Dr Zamambo Mkhize is a Post-Doctoral Fellow on the Education and Emancipation Project at the CCRRI. Her research focus has been on modern polygyny within the Zulu culture of South Africa.