When I was much younger, one of my favorite things to do was to sit down and lose myself in a good historical documentary. I loved how these shows made history come alive, how the facts seem to be filled with vibrant color and texture. I soaked up every minute of these talking documents. However, the best part of these films were the academic experts. The fact people. They seemed larger than life, they seemed to know so much about the topic, they were brilliant. It was what I wanted to be when I grew up. This was because I had to drastically alter my original “when I grow up” aspirations. Primarily, I wanted to be a Black female Quincy M.E. (a show about a Medical Examiner, starring Jack Klugman – just in case anyone reading this has no idea what I am talking about). I realized that this career path was not going to work because my lack of tolerance for blood and guts on a daily basis was going to stand in the way. The back up plan was to be a police detective, which could be a slight problem with my growing up in an age of New York City style police brutality and having complete mistrust of “New York’s finest.” And I wanted to go straight to detective, not walking the streets in a uniform that I did not find the least bit attractive. Plus, I just wanted to go straight to solving intense mysteries, doing research on the crimes, a Black female Sherlock Holmes (USA style). That also seemed a dead end, and I realized I might have to see bodies, bones, blood and other such things that were not going to work for me in the long term. So, the alternative was to not be a detective of crime, but a detective of history. I remembered back to sitting for all those hours watching the experts on those historical documentaries, that was my calling. So, I became a history major and after a long story about the ups and downs of my love and hate relationship with the archive, the historical text, the inherent racism, sexism, classism, etc. I was introduced to the world of historical archaeology. Wow, the best of both worlds. I had the document, I had the material, and I had the ability to be a real time detective! But now what? I am an Assistant professor on the cusp of getting tenure, I teach from the huge class to the intimate seminar, I have a lot of community connections that I have to keep fresh, I am conducting research at at least 3 sites, I am an Undergraduate Program Director invested in making sure our program is tight, and I am a wife and mother of three. So, as I get caught up in the every day, the inability to find a moment to finish that article that I have been working on for a year and making sure I know what I am talking about in those lectures I do multiple times a week, I realize that I have not been on one of those historical documentaries. And I can’t figure out why? Recently, I have watched so many friends appear on CNN, the Cobert Report, The Daily Show, Melissa Harris Perry, MSNBC, writing for the Huffington Post, Salon.com, Crunk Feminist, the Feminist Wire, Essence, and many other popular venues that I follow on Twitter or Facebook, etc. And each time I see them, I send congrats and I am so happy that it feels like I am on there with them. I watch every clip with pride, but to be honest, there is also some envy. I have come to wonder why not me? Do I have valuable things to say? Am I doing all this slightly in the wrong way? Do I need to step up my blog posts? Actually work at my Youtube page? Get a Public Persona Facebook page? Create a webisode series? Damn, what does a sister have to do to get “invited?” And then I take a break and a breath. And remember, that to appear on these shows is not the only reason I do what I do and that is okay. Maybe it is not in my immediate path and the only people who ask me why I have not been in or on these venues are my family, because they love me and I love them back for their love and confidence. I have a lot going on in my life with a bunch of stuff on many plates (while technically I only have two hands). I still hold hope for the call about that historical expert moment, for I know it will come, even if it is a short 5 minute Youtube video project. I want my identity as a Black Feminist Archaeologist to be taken seriously, not lightly. I do not want to be a novelty, I want to represent the real thing. I do not want to be trivialized and made into a sound bite, I want to add value to the conversation. That is my hope, but if I get that call, believe me I will be putting that right on Facebook and Twitter and letting the world know. But until then, I can keep my integrity and stay humble. However, if you want to book me, feel free to look up my blog and my email. I am more than willing to give it a try. Blog out…
On any given day there is a lot to do. A lot to manage and organize. Between meetings, obligations, teaching, preparing an exciting and engaging lecture, learning the magic of making a hot Prezi presentation, meetings, office hours, keeping up with the details of a new course, socializing with colleagues, reading emails, thinking about answering those emails, and more meetings, I am still trying to figure out how to make a moment in my daily schedule to write.
It took me so many years to call myself a writer. It took me even longer to consider the fact that I am an author. The ability to claim, comfortably the authenticity of my own writing voice was a long and hard struggle. However, now that I know that I am a writer, the issue is not what to write, the issue is that making the time and space for the writing process to happen seems to be harder and harder to come by.
I need to write, to live!
So many of my posts have been about how tired I am of racism, sexism, racism again, etc. But this one, this blog right here, is about forcing myself to write again. Damn, who knew that as soon as I began to regulate my inner stress, find ways to love and take care of self, enjoy the down time and talk to my children every once in a while, be downright happy in my relationship (read marriage here) I would loose the ability to write. The one thing that has always given me a boost.
I think at this point the challenge is not about publications, and meeting scholarly deadlines (which for some reason is no longer possible for me), but now because I am caught up in the every day, my mind is bursting with material, shit I need to get rid of and out of my head. In other words, I am backed up in a way that only a writer can understand. Then, if I am not careful, the thoughts and threads of my ideas begin to get garbled, confused and crossed and then it seems like it is too late to sort things out.
I need to write, already!
Words are starting to blend and morph into other things that make no sense, because the thought process is becoming inconsistent. Take for example this blog entry. It has taken me at least 5 sit downs, working on a paragraph here and a paragraph there to get to a point where I have something that I feel I can post. This is my current reality. I have found the methods to write in the past, but something has got to give. The writer in me is dying and I am performing triage right now. It took me way too long to get here and I refuse to go back, to go back to a moment when my voice was so low that I could not hear, recognize her strength, the beauty of her prose, the power of when her words came together and fit just so. I miss the rush of just writing and writing so hard at moments, that I get lost and then sit up, look back and read a bit and become amazed at myself and reminded just how good the rush of a good writing session is, have I really lost that?
I need to write, again!
Then I wonder, I wonder if the writing has stopped because I have changed. I am a different person now, I am a writer and an author. I have bigger things to consider, more expected of me and bigger expectations for myself. Maybe writing was my means of survival, now it is a part of life, entwined in who I am and how I move through the world. I need to write again, just after I cook dinner…
This has been an incredible year. I have been working very hard this year and through all of this work, productivity, and accomplishment, the main thing that 2013 has taught me are basic (and really crucial) life lessons. They became so crucial, that I am not sure how to even capture the extent to my personal growth in a short blog post. But, its worth a try.
I have learned patience. I think I have said this in a couple of entries recently, however, this patience I now speak of, is a patience with myself. A patience that is not easy in a world of overproductive women and men, who never stop, never look up and almost never venture to look inward to see the damage that is possible from all of this “success.” With this new found patience I have found the ability to give myself permission, permission to find me and those things that give me pleasure and happiness. And 2013 has taught me to look for that happiness in the strangest of places, like my own home – wow! Imagine that!
One of the first things that have happened is that when I take those conference and lecture trips (that have started to slow down), I am beginning to remember how to enjoy myself, meet up with friends and get a few moments of sleep in a hotel room, something I used to be unable to do until very recently.
I got a massage in the month of December (the first one in 2 years), and it felt wonderful. The rest of the day and evening was also relaxing, so that I think the massage was able to settle in nicely into much much neglected mass of tight muscles.
I started to regularly go to hang out with my friends and fam at TRGGR Radio on Friday nights on 91.1 WMUA. We broadcast every week from 6-8. How do I find the time and energy? Well, for me, the music, the conversation and the company are energizing, they offer a life source that is soul satisfying. I love being a part of the TRGGR family! Much love to Chris and Rec.
I have learned to search through Netflix and find a show to cling on to and just watch. Watch until I am tired, caught up, or just forgetful of all those “pressing” things that just have to get done. In 2013, I have enjoyed, American Horror Story, Sons of Anarchy, The Walking Dead, The Killing…I think you see a pattern here. Ok, I might have a taste (no pun intended) for the macabre, the slightly scary and for some, downright depressing. However, these shows provided a space for me to explore my understanding of the spirits and reconnect with my spiritualist side; indulge the wanna be detective within; and prepare myself to survive anything (such as a zombie apocalypse or the tenure process – similar in many ways). These shows were a metaphor for so many things that have happened in my life lately and more importantly, I have enjoyed the escape.
I have learned to close the laptop and put together a Lego set with my 7 year old, color and decorate a card with my 5 year old with stickers and markers, or cuddle with my 2 year old while we read his favorite book for the hundredth time. I laugh more, I run around the house, I cook dinner earlier and we sit down and talk again as a family. I show up at 3:15 and see my children after school, mostly because I can and I know that it will not always be like this. They are growing with me, but now while they are small I get to watch and see and share, soul satisfied.
I have reconnected with my partner in crime, Trevor Baptiste, my husband. We have been together for 12 years and married for almost 9 years and we found that spark again and it is amazing. We talk and share and laugh and spend alone time together. We play again (and I mean that on many levels *smile*). We see our home as our sanctuary and prepare for the bigger things in life that will allow us the space and wherewithal to travel as a family, travel as a couple, to make memories everywhere. But this year, this tenure year, I value my little brown house with my husband, three children and cat. Soul satisfying.
The time I spend close to home, has helped during this hellish year, career-wise. The transition of tenure and promotion is brutal on the mind, body and spirit. Everyone told me this was the case, but it is true. It was my home life that kept me sane through the process of almost loosing myself (that and watching the Walking Dead with Trevor). I was on the edge, but I was able to get back, when I almost thought I wasn’t going to make it. My home, my faith, my spiritualist side kept me grounded and able to keep things in perspective and to see the value of living in the moment, to get to the next one.
I have cut back some of the background noise in my life. I have given myself permission to let go of guilt. I will never change what folks think about me, people will always be there to critique, love or judge – it is no longer my concern. Ah, now that one feels especially liberating and soul satisfying! I think I have held on to things that should have been recycled many years ago, as I clear out my shelves, I have found a little more room for myself (I love when thoughts rhyme). So, I have given no highlights to my accomplishments or my speaking engagements or my conference papers or other things that have become synonymous with all things Whitney Battle-Baptiste, I have simply listed a series of indulgences, and given myself permission to make a completely selfish blog entry (but wait, aren’t most blogs about self in a world of selfies, Facebook, Instagram, etc?). So no need for a disclaimer, just more about me on my blog.
I may still do a little “year in review,” but right now, I have to get back to making rubber band bracelets on my daughters new loom and play catch with my sons, so I’ve got to go.
–a satisfied soul
Many of my posts lately have been about exhaustion, the pressures of life pulling my body in multiple directions, the crazy expectations I place on myself, my inability to say NO effectively, and well, just being plain tired. Well, this post is no different, except it includes some thoughts on a rainy, cloudy and cold Thursday afternoon, sitting in my dining room among the trees of Pelham.
I have come to realize that I do not value my own time. I have come to realize that I often put the needs of others before my own. I have come to realize that despite my appearance of strength, I am tired, in pain, and struggling physically, mentally and spiritually inside. I know this as plain as the nose of my face. I get wake up calls every now and again by way of getting sick so I have no choice but to slow down; pushed to the point where I have to ask other people in my life for help, because I physically cannot be at multiple sites at the same time; allow myself to trust that the people around me can handle anything with the same force and passion that I think I possess (because they can – especially my partner for life – Trevor!). However, my ability to show up is becoming harder and harder to do. And it is translating into just being there is not enough, I have to be able to function while there.
A moment: I was in class the other day, going over our reading assignment to my Intro to Anthropology course. I was breaking down the main themes of the chapter; plugging through key concepts that I wanted them to take away from the reading; impressed that they were actually responding and had done the reading and I realized that nearly every word I tried to write on the board was not coming together correctly. I could not spell a single word correctly (plus my eyes were a little blurred). This is in part because I am overtired, but also because I have not had the time that to follow up on my recent eye exam and get real glasses (damn, that is bad). It has also become obvious to me that running around doing things and showing up to do other things has become more important than going to the doctor, the dentist, the therapist, the gym? Well, I am partially in denial, but the evidence is clear. I have not figured out when to do these things. When in my 24 hour day are these things supposed to happen? How? How in that 24 hour day do I make it happen?
Let someone else do it: Well, the issue with that is that there are not many of me. There are not many in my field that look and write and create the projects that I have started, so, I get asked to show up to many places and speak for the invisible people (that aren’t really invisible, just not at the meeting) – and I guess that is what diversity often looks like. But, what is the toll on the physical and mental well-being of the Black academic? Who at times needs (or feels the need) to point out what should be obvious, but is never talked about; bring attention to the gaps in institutional structures, department policies; or issues of hiring, retention and support for the future of a University, program or department. And then there are those phone calls and follow ups that I have not made to community groups and stakeholders, which is usually a bad thing.
Another moment: I had to write an email last night to my graduate students, telling them that I could not come in today. My children have a half day; I have a conference paper to write like yesterday; an NSF draft due date at month’s end; a book review for a major journal due next month; corrections to my Annual Faculty Report, also due yesterday; advising undergraduates for registration next week – which is now; prepping for a brand new large lecture class next semester; and oh, yeah, I have no idea what I am making for dinner.
I think I will start the search for who I really am, or who I thought I was before becoming this person I am. I think I lost her somewhere between cooking dinner, putting the laundry away and spending time getting to know all the complexities that are my children and how they are growing and changing and learning.
And a few last things: Those three journal articles that I cannot seem to finish…I am not doing them today or tomorrow. I still need to go to the doctor, the therapist, the dentist and the gym. And the funny thing is that on my way to this week, my phone hit the concrete hard and broke, completely dysfunctional. I have not been swamped with all that is my mobile-centered life for a few days. I wonder, if the phone hitting the floor and breaking was the beginning of my becoming whole?
For the past few weeks I have been waking up exhausted. I am physically, mentally and some days spiritually tired. I am tired of the work it takes to walk through a world so dedicated on eradicating racism, when the reality is racism is alive and well within and outside of our borders. The language of racism gets altered, but it is still racism. It comes in the form of a mild comment by a colleague or an innocent gaze in a supermarket, but it remains a part of my everyday life. I see it in the media, I see it on television, I see it all around me, and quite frankly, it is making me tired.
At times, standing in front of my undergraduate classes (who are mostly White) and teaching about race and racism, sex and sexism, class and classism, and so many other forms of exclusion is wearing on my ability to be perky and excited about each lesson. As I am speaking at times I look in front of me and see the faces staring back with looks of amazement and shock. This is not racism in itself, but this is what racism can do, it can make the work of anti-racism that much harder. There has been a lapse in the reality of race in this country. We are not all good, we have never experienced even a moment of post-racial anything, that is hard, but honest. Political apathy is one thing, but cultural and racial apathy takes the task of teaching young people about reality to another level and that work is starting to make me tired.
Then their is my professional life. I am starting to notice, I guess after I have turned in my tenure narrative and case material, that I work hard as hell. I meet constantly with my graduate students, I am obligated by a sense of “doing service” to a fault, because I see the need for mentoring younger people an integral part of the education process. But, I am working hard at home, at work and in personal matters and when I look up, I continue to see that the level I bring to work seems to be “expected” in many ways. My standards for myself are way too high and why is that – because the reality of institutional racism has taught me (despite my resistance to believing the hype), that I have to be brighter, better, sharper – just in case race and/or gender come into play when my tenure case is sitting on someone’s desk. I am in the academy, I am at a point where my worth is being tested – was it enough? Did I do enough? Did I publish enough? Did I make enough important political connections? Was I entertaining enough in my classes so that my students would write nice things about me in their evaluations of my performance? Was my book good enough? Why didn’t I finish that one journal article? Oh, I forgot I have a book review due next week (oops, I digress). Did I do enough service? To the University, to the discipline, the the communities I work with….race or the reality that I am raced at my job is making me tired (not paranoid, but tired).
And then there is raising non-White children in the land of the Pioneer Valley, where all is right in the world, where race is not a factor here, but the content of one’s character – ah, tired. To be present, hands on, not get mad and slap people for innocent – well meaning misstatements as I help my children navigate through the early years of school and grow into their own personalities, is some hard work. Not only are we non-White, but we are also African Traditionalists, so we don’t even fit into the trope of happy African American Christian folk. We are a different kind of normal – we are global-thinking, African-centered, not afraid of Revolution, Yankee and Knicks-loving New Yorker types, that at moments lean toward Black Nationalist approaches to everyday situations kind of Black people – and I am not sure exactly how that fits into the Pioneer Valley rhetoric. I see the environment presently around me as different than the one Trevor and I grew up in. We never questioned that a majority of the world (or at least our small corners of the Northeast Bronx and Central Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn) was Black and Brown and where White was not the majority. And to pile on to the craziness, we both went to Historically Black Colleges – shout out to Virginia State University and Morehouse College! My children at this point have never felt that feeling of Black normal in a school setting. Their environs are steeped in New England Whiteness and this is not easy to plan for, because it is new for Trevor and I as well. I wonder at times, what they will come home with, what they internalize within that school building, and how will Trevor and I counter those elements. My children’s school experience is making me tired.
And then there is life…oh, life within the throws of capitalism…
So, here is a photo from an American Apparel Store where it is clear that this is a play on culture. My culture, which, clearly is not important or sacred in any way. How and why is it okay to trivialize aspects of my person, traditions that should be valued and not disrespected. This display has been taken down – shout out to all of us who called the store, to my sister Karla Moore for making sure this particular display was dismantled, but the fact remains that some of us (tired or not) expended the energy to raise our voices. Because racism is racism and it is ever-present and a part of our daily lives. When it is a part of your everyday, then maybe, just maybe it will make you just as tired…and that can only bring about change.
in hope and exhaustion,
On the eve of the Zimmerman verdict, we had an incredible discussion about many things. So glad to have these folks in my life and my circle. Much love to Rec and Chris and the whole TRGGR fam!
Originally posted on TRGGR MEDIA COLLECTIVE:
Peace! Welcome to another edition of what you’ve been missin: TRGGR Radio. We kick off this episode with a powerhouse panel featuring four feminist warriors: Dr. Tanisha Ford, Assistant Professor of Women, Gender & Sexuality Studies at UMass, Amherst, Dr. Sonya Donaldson, Assistant Professor of World Literature at New Jersey City University, and Dr. Whitney Battle-Baptiste, Assistant Professor of Anthropology at UMass, Amherst, moderated by Rosa Clemente.
The second hour features a convo on Rap Therapy with Beats Rhymes and Life co-founder and CEO, Tomas Alvarez. Enjoy.
This one is for Trayvon Martin and his family.
I am not a political writer, I have never professed to be. The work I do is inherently political, but I am not one to grace my blog with witty prose and in-depth/critical analysis of current events and issues. My activism usually happens in the classroom, a historic site or a lecture hall. I do not have cable, so I turned off CNN and MSNBC a long time ago and network news doesn’t seem to hold my interest for very long. However, today, I feel as if the cloud that has surrounded me since the moment I heard the Zimmerman verdict is starting to clear and I wanted to write something down, while the pain is still raw and my eyes are still swollen.
The truth is, I have no words. Or at least, I don’t think I have enough words to express my pain and anger in this cloudy moment. I have been following social media a lot in the past two days. I have read some powerful words written by others who can turn their pain and anger into dialogue to keep the momentum alive. I thank them for that! However, it has been through the words of others that I have been able to push this cloud away and wake up. Yet, behind it all, the pain has translated to a new type of fear, or at least a fear that I think I had forgotten in my comfortable, suburban surroundings. The fear is that of a mother of African descent raising two sons and a daughter in country and world that does not value their lives…
“We who believe in freedom cannot rest
We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes
Until the killing of black men, black mothers’ sons
Is as important as the killing of white men, white mothers’ sons” – Ella’s Song
I have been singing the beginning of Ella’s Song for the past two days, with a heavy heart and watery eyes. Remembering all of the brothers I have lost since childhood and in the process realizing that the mythical place that I have called home for the past 10 years or so is just that, a myth. The academy, the university, the secure tenure-track job that has been my focus for the past 5 years had me caught up in my career, my work, my mentoring others striving for their own academic dream. Let me say, Trevor and I have not neglected our children – we are teaching them daily about who they are or where they are from, but things have been slowly changing. In this past year, as our son navigated a challenging First grade experience, we were reminded that we have to have a collective strategy to raise a young, Black boy within the Massachusetts (specifically Western Massachusetts) public school system. This is not the Bronx or Brooklyn, New York. Neither Trevor or I were ever the only non-white child in our classroom. As we visit the school and interact with other parents and teachers, etc. we visibly notice that most people do not look like him, his classmates will not associate the terror of living while Black in their everyday lives. They will not learn about Emmett Till in the same way that we will talk about him in our home. His classmates may not learn about the courage of Mamie Till-Mobley in the same way we will talk about her. At every turn, and random moments, there is a Black history lesson to be learned, to help our children gain insight.
The words of Mamie Till-Mobley, mother of Emmett Till, brings home that we cannot live in a mythical place and forget the power of white supremacy that shapes the world around us. What happens in Florida or Detroit or New York or Chicago affects us all.
“Two months ago I had a nice apartment in Chicago. I had a good job. I had a son. When something happened to the Negroes in the South I said, ‘That’s their business, not mine.’ Now I know how wrong I was. The murder of my son has shown me that what happens to any of us, anywhere in the world, had better be the business of us all!!!” -Mamie Till-Mobley
The recent words of Tim Wise have helped me,
“But in calmer moments these parents of color will also tell their children the truth. That in fact everything is not going to be OK, unless we make it so. That justice is not an act of wish fulfillment but the product of resistance. Because black parents know these things like they know their names, and as a matter of survival they make sure their children know them too.”
Where are the words?
So, I feel empowered by all of the gatherings happening around the country. There are movements, not just protests. Yet, I can’t be there just yet. I offer my support, but I cannot face the crowds right now. I don’t have the words…
And yes, I teach for a living, so explaining and talking is what I do, but right now, the only words I have are for my children…
blog out as the work begins…