As an Iranian academic, I’m fed up of being asked to focus on poverty and oppression

Aug 22, 2019 by

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Sadaf Javdani

I’m expected to work on the ‘exotic’ themes that white professors want, but it’s making me feel intellectually crippled

“If you decide to stay in Europe and enjoy your freedom here instead of going back, nothing will change. So why don’t you consider going back to your country?”

These weren’t the racist remarks of a stranger or acquaintance, but an anthropology programme director at a German university whom I was meeting to discuss my postdoctoral proposal. I wanted to research material and sensory perceptions of home, in a way that was unrelated to immigration or asylum.

“Instead of working on your current topic,” the professor continued, “why don’t you base your research on why Iranians remain in Germany in search of freedom and safety? Some 50 years ago, our women fought for their rights – and if we had escaped our country then, like you did, we wouldn’t be here right now.”

I was bewildered. Why was I asked to justify my own presence in Germany? Who was this professor to judge the form of resistance that I and other Iranians had chosen? Even more alarming was the implication that there were specific expectations for the kinds of knowledge that I, as an Iranian woman, should produce.

I didn’t get the approval letter I needed from the professor that day. Instead I was given an “insider tip” that my research project would probably be evaluated by old-fashioned white men, who would likely be fascinated and impressed by cliches about a woman’s struggles in the Middle East. My research topic was deemed undesirable: how a kitchen shapes gender roles is not as sexy as a woman’s testament against her hijab. It lacked exotic charm, and as such was reserved for the white scholar – or, as my professor put it, for “all other students who could just as well work on such topics”.

Source: As an Iranian academic, I’m fed up of being asked to focus on poverty and oppression | Sadaf Javdani | Education | The Guardian

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