Being a Diva is one thing but, according to Dvora Meyers, being called a Diva is quite something else, a bad something else. As I read her article, “Being a Confident Badass Does Not Make a Female Athlete a ‘Diva’”, I kept wondering what is so terrible about being called a Diva? And what is a Diva if not a confident badass? Divas trans spaces, reworking them such that  their desires are met and the paradigms within which they operate, shift.  It seems like many, Meyers fails to recognize the potential  in the strategy of  a Diva’s performance.

The Diva is a much maligned figure. Her first English language appearance in an 1883 issue of Harper’s Magazine, according to the OED, reveals her to be a pretty, talentless creature. Few realize that even as she was vilified, she effectively mimicked the behavior of the castrati she successfully supplanted.  

Her performance is a strategy that most fall for. You pay attention to the distraction of her antics while she gains access to spaces traditionally denied her. Delusions of grandeur do not suit the Diva’s needs and thus her performance is rooted in desire and fulfillment. Consider the likes of Naomi Campbell and Kathleen Battle.

Naomi Campbell is known as much for her temper as for her modeling. She is easily dismissed as a ridiculously demanding Diva. Consider, however, that despite her striking looks, she is hardly typical model fare and at 42, she is well passed the average model shelf life. Yet she remains relevant, a cover girl, still. Name another Black model, of any age, who can say that. Diva.

Kathleen Battle former teacher turned Diva Soprano of the Met. Not known for the strength of her voice, she made herself a star in secondary roles. Everyone was so enthralled with her Diva antics that she remained a star there for 17 years before she was dismissed.  How many more can you name? Diva.

Being a Diva, clearly, has its benefits despite the sometimes malicious intent of those who unknowingly attempt to box her in. Nine-time Olympic medalist Svetlana Khorkina says in the same Meyers’ article, “I love being a diva…being a diva is magical. You can’t catch her. She always comes out a winner”. So, the next time you hear someone being a called a Diva, look closely and you are likely to see someone transing the boundaries, spaces and imaginary lines others are too afraid to transgress.

I am currently an assistant professor at a PWI in Northwestern Pennsylvania. It is a job I will leave at the end of the month. There are lots of reasons why but, today I will focus on the serious lack of cultural competency that exists both at my current institution and in the area that surrounds it.

As the only African-American female professor on campus, everyone recognizes me. People I have met (and not) are pleased to call me by a carefully enunciated version of my name; a nod, they think, to their racially diverse sensitivity training. “Aisha. Now, how do you spell that?” I have become fond of calling myself a pioneer.

My popularity extends across the town in which I live. In spite of this, I have created ways to be known and not. I frequent a certain set of shops, let my Bronx girl persona fly: quick, sharp, funny and gone, neither giving nor inviting too much…or so I thought.

One evening, while waiting for a table at a chain restaurant, a local artist and business owner stopped to greet both my partner and I. Expecting a few unremarkable pleasantries, we were surprised instead to hear a question: “Do you know what I love about Black people?” My heart sank. If in no other moment, it became clear that my amused distance wasn’t distant enough.

He paid no attention to our apathetic demeanor and lurched onward into his soliloquy. He told us how much he appreciated Black people’s passion and then provided an example so disconnected from reality that I could only imagine he was an assistant producer from Love and Hip Hop Pennsyltucky. He claimed that from a distance, he just knew we were having a heated debate, one in which my partner was the verbal aggressor. He was so worried about the negative tenor of the conversation he did not hear, that he was hesitant to greet us at all.

Back in the real world, before this interruption, my partner and I were easily lounging in a double rocking chair idly discussing the recent Olympic victory of Gabby Douglass. We were only at this restaurant because cooking seemed too much of a commitment to make on such a hot day. After this particular intrusion we both wished we were home flipping a coin for the last good TV dinner.

Without a moment of actual engagement, this man, who knew us only from our infrequent visits to his shop, mapped onto our bodies an imagined drama in which he was now playing the role of savior.  Thankfully, our name was called and we skedaddled off to our table saying little else to this interloper. I was saved in that moment from having to do the work I get paid to do for free. Instead, I will tell you, free of charge, what I was thinking in that exact moment. I don’t care what you think you love about Black people. Now, let’s see if we can both have dinner in this restaurant without your privilege interfering with my meal.