By Darlene L. Williams, Contributing Writer
Bakersfield, Calif. – Since the landing of the first slave ship on American soil in 1619, African American men and women continue to change narratives, shatter glass ceilings, and land wherever they choose too.
Dr. Elizabeth K. Jackson is no exception. She is a woman who has landed in places that many can only dream of.
Jackson’s expansive educational background and history in the field of education is so extensive that it’s only possible to scratch the surface.
So, here’s the surface we’ll scratch.
Dr. Jackson is a full tenured professor of Communications at California State Bakersfield University (CSUB).
She holds several degrees including: PhD and MA, Communications, Northwestern University; MA Clinical Psychology, Fisk University; BA Psychology, University of California; Certificate-The Practice of Mediation in Italy, University of Bologna, Italy and the list goes on and on of the various colleges and universities where she has taught.
Dr. Jackson facilitated many communication projects including KUZZ-TV, Bakersfield— where she was producer, host, and writer from 1989-1991. She the creator of several documentaries and has won several awards in film, radio, journalism, and television.
Dr. Jackson, was awarded the Fulbright Scholarship, twice, which afforded her the opportunity to teach internationally as a visiting Professor at Ural Federal University, Ekaterinburg, Russia. She was invited back to Russia as a Fulbright Senior Specialist and taught there three times totally.
Jackson taught at the University of Virginia’s Semester at Sea University Floating University which extended her travels and teaching ability to Central and South America including: Costa Rica, Ecuador, Peru, Panama and Belize as well a University of Malawi, Chancellor College, and Zomba, a city in Malawi, Africa.
Jackson’s academic background, achievements, experiences and proven ability to teach– could easily fill the pages of a bestselling memoir and inspire dreamers to stop at nothing less than extraordinary.
The Bakersfield News Observer (BNO) celebrates Black History Month and shines a well-deserved spotlight on Dr. Elizabeth Jackson.
Due to social-distancing restrictions, BNO had the pleasure of a Q &A interview with Jackson via- telephone and email.
“God has been good to me,” said Dr. Jackson.” I’ve had the most blessed life anybody could ever have.”
Q: What is your greatest accomplishment?
A: I’ve yet to realize my greatest triumph, and I suspect that cannot be measured until I draw my last breath on the last day of my life. There are so many things I wish to do still in my lifetime despite the fact that I am now into my 70’s. I suppose if I had to articulate what my greatest accomplishment would be as of today, that answer would be bundled: It would be standing up as a Black woman, as a global citizen, as a standpoint theorist, as an elder, as both a learner and a teacher, as somebody who is informed by my years, my experience, my spiritual practice and my education, with some modicum of certitude and pride in having survived and helped others survive on this planet.
Q. What is a Standpoint Theorist; and what does it mean to you?
A: Standpoint Theory is credited to Sandra Harding, a white feminist theorist who along with other’s posited the theory in the late 1960’s that “objective” research should be first studied from the viewpoint of marginalized groups (women, minorities, LGBTQ and the like) because they occupy a unique position in society to be able to recognize patterns of behavior that dominant groups cannot see. For example, prior to the world viewing on television the murder of George Floyd—if a Black person mentioned “racism” or bias treatment from police—the response from some whites might have been that you were “playing the race card,” because they either had no experience or could not believe the claims of Blacks.
Standpoint theory looks first to examine those claims because those are the persons who live the experience and may carry the wounds to prove it. Standpoint theorists are least excited about researching the white male status quo—as they recognize that most documented accounts from time immemorial focus on that privileged group while having mostly rendered other groups invisible.
Because our textbooks are not very inclusive of the voice of the “other,” I make certain that my lectures are richly endowed with a Standpoint Theory orientation. And while I have respect for all persons, as a global citizen who has lived and traveled in many developing regions of the world, and, as a colored girl from Compton—let me start from the realities of my own Black neighborhood.
Q: What is your greatest challenge?
A: Always having to defend and validate my personhood in the world. This becomes so boring, expends so much unnecessary energy, and requires so much additional time in the world when one could be otherwise working on winning the Nobel Prize for Peace.
Q: What is your fondest memory?
A: Too numerous to count, but some might include: Every conversation with my mom (my best friend) before she passed away. Every conversation with my sister—also my best friend (thank goodness she is still here). Dining with Nelson Mandela in his residence in South Africa, meeting Archbishop Demond Tutu—to name just a few.
Q: Do you have a favorite quote?
A: Actually—this one is personal. My mother was a generous soul, always in the spirit of giving—and if anyone tried to thank her for any act large or small, she would simply say quietly “Keep the change.” I always interpreted this as meaning ‘This is only a small thing and you need not thank me, this is the very least I can do for you.’ She was always somewhat embarrassed to be thanked for whatever she did, quite humble.
A: I am a jazz aficionado, have been since I started listening to music and probably since I’ve had ears. Back in the day, and before I ran out of living space I collected every album, went to every jazz concert I could fit in, tried to speak to every jazz musician about their life and experience in the world, ate, slept and breathed jazz.
I’m also a collector of African art, a fairly avid reader, and as of late I am cooking my butt off. That of course has to do with the lock down and well– a whole lot of time looking at the kitchen and trying to deviate from those same old boring menus.
Q: What can you share about the experience or places around the world where you have taught?
A: Well, I started off in 1996 as an International Foundation for Education and Self -Help (IFESH) visiting professor to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. I was charged by the Minister of Education there to create a television show for Ethiopians to help further their English language skills. I wrote, hosted and produced the program called “English for Us” from 1996-1998. It was in that capacity that we were invited to meet Nelson Mandela, as a reward for our volunteerism. Though on sabbatical from CSUB, I took an additional year off to complete my work there.
My second sabbatical was in 2003-2004, which felt like winning the lotto when I was invited as a visiting professor to Semester-at-Sea (SAS), and became a Fulbright Scholar to Zimbabwe, where I taught at Midlands State University in Gweru. I split the year, first to Zimbabwe from August 2003-December, then SAS from Jan-April 2004, then back to Zimbabwe until August of 2004. SAS is a floating university that circles the globe—and I taught through and visited the Bahamas, Cuba, Brazil, South Africa, Tanzania, India, Vietnam, China, South Korea, and Japan.
In 2010 I took a third sabbatical and taught Mediation/Conflict Resolution for a year at Chancellor College in Zomba, Malawi.
In 2012 I again hit the Fulbright Scholar lotto, and was invited to teach as a Fulbright Senior Specialist in Russia at Ural Federal University in Yekaterinburg. Russia invited me back on two occasions after that in 2013 and 2014.
Simply to serve our interest-and not as a busman’s holiday– in 2016 my sister and I spent time in Namibia visiting the Himba people, of which there are reported to be only about 50,000 members of that tribe left in the world.
My go-to place during and after living in Africa was always Cape Town, South Africa.
Q: What was being a student of Angela Davis like?
A: Nothing was more exciting than when Dr. Angela Davis came to UCLA in 1969. She was clearly one of the most eloquent, well-informed, and genuinely brilliant voices that we were privileged have been historically and serendipitously in the presence of and instructed by. She was like a flame for the miniscule number of Black students who were at UCLA, but her lectures were attended by thousands—and were held in halls that could accommodate 2,000 students. I remember the class I took from her, “Dialectics,” This was sadly short-lived, as she was terminated by Ronald Reagan because he cared not for her politics, then she was disappeared from the classroom based upon a bogus charge of abetting a murder, deemed the # 1 threat on the FBI’s most wanted list, incarcerated by the police, and after a harrowing one year of international publicity—was vindicated in court, found not guilty and released.
During the year she was snatched from us—I remember a horrible malaise that befell us all; we were devastated but not crippled—and demonstrations took place on campus and throughout the world for her liberation.
Was I influenced by her—absolutely. That very class I took from her emphasized the importance of real-world conditions relative to socioeconomic, class and labor conditions—i.e. Standpoint Theory.
Angela Davis stood up, she endured, she was victorious, and into her 70’s she is fiercely beautiful and equally as brilliant a Black woman who has influenced the universe in her concern for the marginalized other.