The first in our series titled A Day in the Life where we take a look at everyday icons; phenomenal women living boldly and purposefully among us, is Dr. Tami Navarro (pictured above farthest left, in white). We are so excited to introduce her to you not only as our friend and our sister but also as a regular guest blogger here on The Lens.
A quick look at her bio details that she holds a Ph.D. in anthropology from Duke University. Her research interests include Caribbean Studies, Gender and Labor, Development, Identity Formation, Globalization/Transnationalism, Capital, Neoliberalism, Race/Racialization and Ethnicity. She is the recipient of funding from the Mellon Foundation, the Wenner-Gren Foundation, the Social Science Research Council, the American Anthropological Association, and the Ford Foundation. She is currently a Visiting Scholar at the Institute for Research on Women and Gender at Columbia University.
Baaaaad Chick. Uh huh. Keep reading for our very enlightening, very encouraging conversation.
-Dr. Tami, can you tell us a little about yourself, i.e. where you’re from, what’s your background?
I’m from St. Croix. I grew up there. It’s important to who I am personally and professionally. I have a PhD in cultural anthropology, and most of my work centers around cultural and economic issues that are happening in St. Croix. My mom is white, she’s German actually, so I’m a mixed race girl. Since I grew up in the Caribbean, there was a spectrum of Brown and Blackness, it was amazing. I didn’t feel unattractive or not beautiful. I didn’t get the messages that Black girls in America often get. Now, I have a husband who is Indian, mom, white, so when I look at my daughter she looks Indian and I wonder how she will choose to identify herself . . . how will those messages affect her? She may say, “I don’t look Black. I don’t have to claim all the things that come with being black . . . and then again I don’t get to claim those things.” Not concerned but curious, can’t control it but I am interested to see how she identifies.
-What does a typical day in your life look like (your routine for the day)?
LOL my life is crazy! Right now I am between academic appointments but I am a visiting scholar at Columbia this year, so often I get up, drop off my daughter and, if I’m lucky, I go to the gym. Mostly I go to the house to work on some things there, then work on papers, reading, and then it’s afternoon and time to get the little one. Then I’m home with her, making dinner, waiting on hubby.
When I am teaching, I drop her off, race to campus, race to get her, then back home. I love the balance of being able to work on campus, sharing with my students, and also still have time to enjoy my family. My students are great. I love being a younger professor. Some of the courses I teach are Caribbean Societies, a Methodology course, Methods in Cultural Anthropology, Globilization and Race.
What is your favorite course to teach?
My favorite course to teach? Hmmm . . . I love my Caribbean Societies course because it is tailored to junior students, that is freshmen and sophomores, so they are really excited about the information as it is new to them. We watch many films, I have friends and colleagues come and give talks. We’ve also experienced a drumming performance, It’s just a really great class and gives me an opportunity to be open in my instruction.
Is there anything, anyone or any part of your day that dictates how you look, i.e. how you wear your hair, your style of dress, make-up or fresh face, etc?
Mmmm, absolutely. You know, I’ve been thinking on this a great deal lately. I started a blog for women in the academy, who are professors, about their clothes, because its such a weighted thing. I have big hair and on a regular day, in the classroom, I tend to wear it up or back. I dress incredibly conservatively when I’m in the classroom. In general I’m not flashy but I have a little personal style, however in the classroom I am pretty straight laced, to get the respect and authority that, unfortunately, I don’t get automatically due to my age and race. I put on what they expect the professor to look like. I tone it down especially in the beginning. That’s the last post I wrote actually because I think I’m still grappling with what that means. I don’t think its turning off a part of myself or selling out. I think that in order to have the classroom go the way I want it to go, I have to do that. Its a choice. As the year progresses, it changes. I consciously have to be more neutral because my body and its package is not neutral so I have to counter that. And I’ve come to this from my experiences because at first I was like, “This is who I am and I am going to go as I am” but for me, this is who I am, this is another part of myself, and I want you to see that clearly before I show you the other part of myself. I felt that for me to try to force that point right from the beginning was counterproductive.
-How would you define beauty?
Confidence. And capability. To see a woman who is capable, who knows that she knows what she’s doing. You can have make-up and clothes, but if you don’t have that sense that says, “I know my place in the world, I know what I’m doing” it doesn’t matter.
-Would you say that there is relationship between beauty and power?
Oh yeah! Absolutely. I think that being powerful is being beautiful. There’s something very attractive about this. Even from hip hop we it portrayed that you can be physically unattractive but there’s something about that swaager, there’s something really attractive about that. There’s something about being competent and having a confidence about who you are.
-Do you think you’re beautiful?
Sure!!! My husband makes me feel beautiful, but especially as a mom, I have a level of human beauty, but its important for a woman who has a lot of responsibility in her life, when I get those few moments to myself, and can take the time to look how I want, then I really feel like I show it, I manifest the beauty that’s always been there, embodying what’s already true.
-What makes you beautiful?
Oh wow! That’s a tough one! I don’t know!
-Do you think your beauty empowers you?
I do. I think when I do take that time to show the beauty that’s always there, I do feel more powerful. I feel more confident, a more brightly shining version of myself, and people treat you differently too; more respect.
-Has your beauty ever been challenged? If so, how did you overcome those challenges?
I have lighter skin and curly hair and in this country to be that is to be attractive. I don’t know if the word for what I’ve experienced is “challenge.” My package is stereotypically good, attractive but my group of friends and I try to challenge that. We are supportive of each other, some of them are fly and they don’t look like what you’re “supposed” to look like. But being who we are and true to ourselves, that opens up a whole new set of options for what it means to be beautiful.
I love that. Do you have an example of this?
In December Jamaica, me and friend were in NY and it was amazing to be around them and we are already a spectrum of skin tones. So we were going to hear bell hooks at the New School. We got there about 45 minutes before it was time for the event to begin, but as we approached the line we were greeted by ten city blocks and an overwhelming amount of beautiful Black and Brown people. It was so stunning. We just kind of stopped and were just in awe of the scene. We were so blessed to see it, it was ten city blocks, it was humbling. So we sat down and for about 20 minutes just took it in. It was amazing to see this broad spectrum of Black beauty. We didn’t get in to hear the talk but I felt like I got something because I saw that.
-What would say to your younger self to encourage her to embrace herself most fully and walk confidently in the world?
I would tell her, (it’s funny I’m thinking of my daughter when I think of my younger self) don’t worry so much because you already are and you already have everything you’re gonna need. So your whole job is to share that with the world. You already have it. So your job is to let it out.
Boom. Let it out. The world is waiting.
Give Dr. Tami a shout out @thebeautifulprj and let her know what you liked about her interview! Look for her post this Thursday!