Few things annoy me more than people who claim to be impartial and apolitical (according to Professor Haley, a certain white male professor at Hamilton feels that his classroom is an “apolitical” space). Whenever I hear people say that they are apolitical I want say (and I often do say) “nope, that’s not possible.” We are all products of how we grow up, where we come from, the media we consume, the friends we make and, of course, all of the beautiful and intersecting aspects of our identity. To claim to be apolitical is not to be apolitical but it is to be ignorant of how every aspect of your life frames the way you see the world.
Seeing oneself as apolitical is a luxury most people cannot afford because they live the political implications of their identity everyday. In some spaces (e.g., the classroom), as Deborah Post points out in “The Politics of Pedagogy” merely existing is a political statement. The only people who claim to be apolitical are the ones who experience unearned and unrecognized power from privileged identities (e.g., whiteness, maleness). These people are not forced to confront the politics of their identity because society mirrors the life they are living and the values they hold. In general, their perspectives are accepted as the standards. That is privilege.
I am extremely disturbed by the idea of an apolitical classroom because no space is apolitical, especially not the classroom, is apolitical. As, Post reminds us “power and politics are not separate and different from teaching. They are at the heart of it.” For a white male professor to refuse to talk about politics is for him to allow his own biases to permeate the knowledge produced in the classroom in an insidious way.
Even worse, a professor declaring that a space is apolitical makes it difficult, if not impossible, for students to bring their own politics into class discussions. For example, if I as a female student was in a biology class and felt like stereotypes of gender roles were influences descriptions of the egg and the sperm in a professor’s lecture, I would not be able to speak up in an “apolitical” classroom because the professor would regard the knowledge being produced as unbiased and my rejection of his ideas as not fact-based. Not only would the knowledge shared with the class then be incorrect, but also I would feel like my experience as a white woman was being silenced and even shamed. This feeling could have a concrete impact on factors like my likelihood of participating in class, my confidence during class discussion and even my class attendance. Professors having an “apolitical” agenda can negatively impact the leaning experience of students who possess one or multiple marginalized identities.
For these reasons I much prefer feminist methods of research and teaching in which acknowledging one’s own positionality and privilege is essential. When the identity of the writer or professor is brought to the attention of the learner, they can make more informed decisions about the information that is being presented to them. No knowledge is apolitical and unbiased. Believing that the classroom is apolitical breeds complacency and a painful lack of accountability in academia.