Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Overcoming Gender and Racial Resistance

BOND: As you’ve gone along in your academic work and your present position, there had to be resistance to things you wanted to do.

PINN: Oh, yes.

BOND: How do you deal with that?

PINN: Well, yes, there’s resistance and even today, I experience some degree of resistance. And I’ve never sure whether it’s because of me personally. Maybe my personality, it’s nothing to do with being a woman or being a minority. Or whether being minority or being a woman plays a role and I think it’s difficult and probably not worth the time trying to figure out why the resistance, that I really need to focus my efforts on how to overcome what the resistance is and thinking about if what I’m trying to do that’s creating this atmosphere of negativity towards what I want to do is based in fact, based on something that I can rectify, or if it’s just totally something ethereal, something not justified. But I think I’ve dealt with that over the years in so many different ways.

Being at the University of Virginia at a time when I learned after the first couple of weeks that I had — that there were places I still couldn’t go in Charlottesville, that they were just beginning to integrate some of the wards there. Looking when I went to Wellesley and then we’d go into the north end and we were told the N word — "Go home, we don’t want you here in this community." And that was in a place where supposedly we didn’t have segregation but that happened.

Then I really wanted to go into surgery because I loved using my hands and I’d done research during the time I was in medical school with a transplant surgeon and I loved surgery, but very few places were taking women in surgery, so I didn’t have the opportunity to go into surgery because I figured after four years as the only woman, only minority in medical school, I didn’t think I could fight that. You know, the few places that were taking women in surgery mostly were in the South and I wasn’t sure I’d get in anyway or that that was really going to be worth the mental anguish I’d have to go through while still trying to excel in surgery. Those opportunities are open now, and I tell young women, "You’ve got — you don’t necessarily have it made but you’ve got those opportunities we didn’t have." And there again, it was a matter of both being a woman and being a minority, looking where the opportunities existed. But it’s been a matter of often just sort of gritting my teeth and trying to maintain a good sense of decorum and not being beat down to go forward. And I guess I tell myself over and over that the battles I’m fighting are minor compared to the battles that those before me have fought and some that have really threatened —

I don’t think I’ve been in situations that have been life or death situations and so what I like to do is think about, you know, this is something I have to overcome, but it’s no way near as severe what other people have experienced, so, you know, "Get yourself up and keep going," and that’s what I have to do.