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Professor Nicole Stamant Discusses Identity and Family

As an English professor at Agnes Scott College, Professor Nicole Stamant is working her dream job in a city that she loves. She feels lucky to work with supportive faculty and dedicated students, and gets to discuss minority literature every day from a biracial perspective. At first glance, many may say that Professor Stamant would have nothing to say about biracial experience. Her blue eyes, brunette hair, and light skin immediately label her as Caucasian. Often, people are shocked to find out that she is, in fact, biracial.

Stamant and her mother, circa 1992

“Most of the time, people just say, ‘no you’re not’, or ‘you identify this way for some reason, when you’re not really an African American person.’”

 

Growing up, her family lived in the wealthy suburbs of Austin, TX, although they, themselves were not wealthy. Her mother, Patricia McDaniel, a military police officer during Stamant’s childhood, was part of the first groups of women to integrate the army in terms of both gender and race.

 

As a young girl, Stamant was not exposed to the gender binary or female stereotypes that other little girls become familiar with through books or television. Having McDaniel as a role model, they avoided these stigmas for the most part. Her mother wielded weapons, wore combat boots, and preferred playing with her five daughters to cooking or cleaning: “We knew there was nothing she couldn’t do.” She changed the words of storybooks from “fireman” to “firefighter” and “policeman” to “police officer,” leading her daughters to think that they, too, could do anything. It was not until she began to read more widely that Stamant realized how special her childhood was.

 

So, of course, feminist criticism came naturally to her. When reading books, she noticed very quickly that women were not depicted in ways that fit into her image of a woman’s character. Most of these literary women were foreign to her: incapable, oppressed, dependent.

 

These early encounters with misrepresented minority groups have shaped her career considerably, allowing her to think of marginalized groups more widely. Her current scholarly interests include gender and queer studies, ethnic American literature and culture, African American literature and culture, 20th and 21st century American literature, and studies in life writing.

 

Stamant finds herself drawn to life writing, a marginalized genre itself in academia, because  “it gives us the opportunity to see the absolute uniqueness of everyone’s life and experience.” Guided by her family’s own experiences with racial identity, Stamant’s most recent work explores memoirs written by light-skinned and biracial African Americans and how they “simultaneously inhabit and challenge the proscribed and fraught positions of tragic, passing, or racially inauthentic in their memoir.”

 

She feels lucky to have the inclusive term ‘biracial’ to describe her whole identity. Her ancestors did not have such an easily accessible expression. Stamant’s biracial grandfather felt that he had to choose to identify with his African American father, leaving behind his Polish heritage and feeling as if he was abandoning his mother. By having to choose to identify with only one side of his family, he had to relatively erase half of his ancestry. For Stamant, the rise of the term ‘biracial’ allowed people like her grandfather to embrace their entire identity.

Patricia McDaniel with her father

The weight of her history bears down on her work. Her mother reminds her that the longer it takes her, the less chance she will have to share it with the people who it matters to the most: the people of her grandfather’s generation who deserve recognition and identity. Stamant agrees: “These stories are stories that have to be told now. My grandfather passed away a year and a half ago, the day after my son’s first birthday. So, the longer it takes me to do some of this work, the less chance I’ll have to share it with some a lot of the people who have made it really important for me.”

 

In addition to opening up the conversation of biracial identity through memoir, Stamant finds this work a good opportunity to reflect on the legacy of Barack Obama, whose memoir Dreams from My Father focuses on his own bicultural experience. She observes that Obama’s presidency has changed the way race is talked about in the United States, and feels a sense of urgency to advance the conversation with her work.

 

“Critically, I love to think about how different people present themselves: their stories, their families, their histories, their memories….”

 

 

Elizabeth Wolfe

Agnes Scott '18

Elizabeth is the Co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of Her Campus Agnes Scott. As a Junior at Agnes Scott, she is majoring in English-Literature and Political Science with a focus on human rights. Currently, she is an intern for Atlanta's premier alt-weekly magazine Creative Loafing.
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