Happy International Women’s Day! Today, I wanted to write a really quick entry, because I had a few women on my mind heavy. Today was a day when those of us who could, were encouraged to stay home – a way to reflect on the economic and labor power of women across our planet. This day, March 8th, is also about c celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women and marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity.
However, today, I came to work. I checked emails. I filled out paperwork, followed up on setting meetings, prepping for class, attended meetings, and continued to make sure that nothing was “falling apart” in my absence for the past three days. Today, I engaged with my children, whom I had not seen because of my recent trip, and I showed up as a wife and partner for my husband, who was preparing for some important meetings himself. But, with all of that background noise, my mind was heavy with thoughts and memories of the women in my family. These heavy memories became louder and louder as my day unfolded, and even more louder still, as I was deep in the midst of reading and reflecting on an upcoming talk about W. E. B. Du Bois and Black Feminism. My relationship with my Nana, my Gram, and my Mami were my way of celebrating today. I was beginning to develop my very own mother story. And then I thought about two very distinct pictures that I keep around me.
The first picture is of my grandmother, H. Lawrencie Jones (Goodwyn). Born in 1920 in Ebony, Virginia. My “Nana,” one of the many women who served as those foundation stones for my life. But this picture has always been so intriguing to me. I remembered how I felt when I first saw this picture, I was amazed at her surroundings, her facial expression, and as I learned about how much work and money went into maintaining and running a corner store in the Bronx, the picture became more powerful for me. That labor, her work, her inability to “take a day off,” made me think about this particular image and I have been staring at it a lot today. My grandfather’s corner store on Tinton Avenue in the South Bronx, was where my mother was born, where countless Goodwyns leaving the South took a rest and gathered their thoughts and money to move on and find that Great Migration success. The other labor, that of raising my mother and teaching her how to navigate those disappearing boundaries as a young Black girl coming of age in New York City. I am celebrating my Nana and her labor today.
My great-grandmother, “Gram,” was my grandmother’s mother. Hattie Elizabeth Shaw (Goodwyn). She was born in 1889 in North Carolina to Ransom and Elizabeth Shaw, members of the Eastern Band Cherokee nation, those folks who stayed behind and hid in plain sight. Her history was a secret to many of us, she never talked about her family or her life as a young Native woman, but I know her labor was real. She would bear many children and loose her husband early in my grandmother’s life, but she continued to raise her children to learn, go to High School, and then head up north, where they perhaps would find a way and a better life. I remember her as gentle and stern, and appreciated all the stories from her and my grandmother about making fires and washing and raising children and tending to crops and sweeping yards. That labor, that invisible labor, helped to shape my family mother story, and made me think warmly of another one of my foundation rocks. I am celebrating the labor of my Gram today.My mother or “Mami,” Andrea Battle, is the rock that continues to help me grow and learn and understand that my power is real, my labor is a part of my own story. Labor should never define who I am, but come from a space of love and purpose, a way to change the world in a way that is real and even tangible. This is why I am an archaeologist, this is why I took a chance to find what I wanted to do and then decide how to do it according to my own terms. My family mother story is strong, not because I come from generations of StrongBlackWomen, I gave that up right around the time I read my godsis (another rock) Joan Morgan’s When the Chickenheads Come Home to Roost, none of my family mother story is about celebrating that. The story of then women in my family is about recognizing the collective power of our work, our love, and our joy. Having women like these in my life so early on, helped me to recognize and reach out to countless women who have continued to shape the love I have for my work and my teaching. Thank you, Oseye Mchawi, Isoke Nia, Gail Bell-Baptiste, Michele Wallace, Hortense Spillers, Maria Franklin, Theresa Singleton, Sheila Walker, Omi Oni Jones, Irma McClaurin, Johnetta B. Cole, Paula Giddings,
A. Lynn Bolles, Irene Diggs, Ida B. Well, Anna Julia Cooper, Maria Stewart, Shirley Graham Du Bois, Mary Mcleod Bethune, Ella Baker, Beyonce’, and Remy Ma. These along with countless women who I know I am forgetting to name, are all a part of my mother story, those sistahs who always seem to have my back, my front, and even my side.
Here’s to you…Let’s make this celebratin’ a habit #IWD2017
“I have loved my work, I have loved people and my play, but always I have been uplifted by the thought that what I have done well will live long and justify my life; that what I have done ill or never finished can now be handed on to others for endless days to be finished, perhaps better than I could have done.
And peace will be my applause.”
-W. E. B. Du Bois, written June 26, 1957 with instructions to be opened after his death, which occurred August 27, 1963.
This is Black History/Heritage Month. This is usually my busiest time of year, or that has become the recent trend. You see, I started out contemplating the ins and outs of contemporary Africa as a history major at Virginia State University, in Petersburg, Virginia. Then I decided to take my talents to the College of William & Mary, in Williamsburg, Virginia. It was there where I discovered historical archaeology. It was there where I discovered a practice that would change my direction, help me to focus on the history of African American people under captivity and would forever propel my toward a career where teaching, community-based research, and political and social activism would blend together. Very recently I have heard a few colleagues, friends, other folks I interact with, tell me about why they do not celebrate or promote the idea of a “Black History Month.” That the time has passed. No offense to Dr. Carter G. Woodson, but well, do we still need this short month to celebrate a history that should be a part of our lives 365 days a year? I have heard tales of these mythical Black scholars who do not give talks or participate in the “magical” month. And I hear them, I hear them loud and clear, but most years, my outreach falls into this month for a number of reasons. But, that is not what this post is about, this post is about how intense this year has been during the magical month of February. I have been seeing the results of young people who want to talk, elders who what to engage, and still other folks who want to listen, learn and laugh – in other words, this is what the movement for Black lives would see as Black Futures Month. This labor is real. The visits and talk are real. The requests for participation are real. Because, by the 2nd or 3rd of February, I was already spent.
The intensity used to begin on February 1st and remain a fun-filled, jam-packed three + weeks of Blackness…and then I became Director, of the W. E. B. Du Bois Center @ UMass Amherst. I say this because now, the work starts in mid-January for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. The ability to avoid this month is also complicated by the reality that Dr. Du Bois’ birthday has fallen on February 23rd for the last 149 years, so Black History Month and W. E. B. go hand in hand. All of this in important context, because, although its always been relatively busy for me, this year has been different. The intensity of this moment is reflected in the invitations, the questions of young folk, elders and all in between. There is a thirst for conversation, discussion, and knowledge that has left me a bit exhausted.
When I visited my daughter’s 2nd grade class, led by Mrs. Katie Thurston, in January at Pelham Elementary School to talk to them about W. E. B. Du Bois, I was met with excitement, interesting questions, and the faces of children excited to learn about the past, but invested in learning about the life of W. E. B. Du Bois. It felt good, yet I was generally surprised. Later at the beginning of February, that same 2nd grade class celebrated a unit on Civil Rights and Social Justice and invited parents and friends to come and hear groups of students present posters of six important African Americans. I was proud to hear each of the children and the groups.
A few days later, I went to my son’s Kindergarten class for the Pelham Elementary’s Black Heritage Month Read-In. Where parents, grandparents, cousins, siblings, and members of the community came in to read different books about African, Caribbean, and African American history and culture. I was able to read to my son’s class and again, surprised at the interaction and dialogue of small 5 and 6 year olds. I could see the connections that were being fostered by their teacher, Mrs. Nettie Harrington Pangallo, it was amazing. However, this was the second time I was able to visit. The first time was to share artifacts from the W. E. B. Du Bois Homesite and talk to the children about the life of Dr. Du Bois and a little bit about historical archaeology. Talking about what I do to such a young group of students interested in the very idea of an artifact, helped me to remember why Black History Month and my work are related. Yet, I also realized, quickly that I was a Black archaeologist exposing them to my craft at early enough, so maybe, just maybe, their first memories of what archaeology looks like will be W. E. B. Du Bois and me, Dr. BB, not Indiana Jones.
Next stop, my oldest son’s 5th grade class at Wildwood Elementary, for their Black History Month Read-In. My husband, Dr. Trevor Baptiste and myself where there to read the words of Dr. Du Bois to the students. Yet, what was more powerful happened in the moment when these two Black folks with PhD’s behind their names were sitting in front of the class and sharing and talking and laughing with the students – during, yes, Black History Month. My husband a PhD in Research Science/Biochemistry, me in Anthropology/Archaeology ended up staying for another 3o minutes talking to the students about archaeology and artifacts and a lot of other topics related to digging stuff out of the ground. This Black History Month thing has taken on a different meaning when it was directly related to my children and their relationship with the past through the eyes of their parents.
But, I am the Director of the W. E. B. Du Bois Center and I am on a college campus, so I had to bring some labor to my own work home. I had been hearing about some of the discord/disconnection among students of African descent and their relationship to Black History Month. I was and was not surprised. There is a delicate balance between our expectations as professors, how we help our students to understand the historical past in general, and the way we connect on the everyday level with students that look like us. When you write your scholarship and read books and try to work through theories and concepts, you often lose site that much of your work is for folks with the same degrees and qualifications as you. Yet my students have no connection to the history of activism on their campus, the role that Black History Week played for folks living and breathing under the yoke of Jim Crow and racial and economic oppression. So, there was a need, a different sort of meaning for Black History Month at UMass Amherst in February of 2017. So, some amazing folks across campus, from CMASS, the Du Bois Center, and students activities organized a dinner or what came to be known as, “a seat at the table.” We wanted to sit students down with staff and faculty and connect as family does, in truth and with good food.
The energy in the room was electric, its the kind of energy you want from your students as you impart knowledge of all things they have never hear, but better. The conversations at each table were genuine. Each event I have participated in, I have given my all, because I wanted to. That thirst and intensity I spoke of earlier was contagious. I am grateful that I chose not to take a pessimistic view of the magical, mythical month of February, and took the time and effort to infuse my hopes and dreams into those 28 days. It was worth it. I remembered the relationship between education, Black History, and the power of being present in the moment and seeing Black love and Black people as a revolutionary act. And most of all, I valued the time away from reading book after book, checking the next citation or source, or the daily grind of research and course preparation. It was honest. It was encouraging. It was truly a labor of love.
Can the Valley Survive Trump? — Had a great interview with some local leaders and appreciated the moment to connect!
In episode 5 of Let’s Be Reasonable, a veteran political strategist, a black feminist archaeologist, and a rabbi discuss the implications of the Trump ascendency for Amherst and the Valley. Local issues matter. Community matters. Now more than ever. Subscribe to Let’s Be Reasonable for in-depth interviews, rigorous debates, and roundtable discussions of the issues that […]
Historians of Atlantic slavery: African Diaspora, Ph.D. is at your service. Which primary sources can you share that are helping you move through these times? What moments in history do we need to be reminded up that remind you of now? How does our subject inform our present? If you are writing essays on Facebook–may […]
When I first heard about the safety pin initiative, I was at a conference breaking bread with my favorite white woman in the world, telling her about my overall ambivalence and disillusionment with unknown white folk post-Trump election. Still in my feelings (and let’s be clear, I am and will be all up in my…
My house is a mess. There is laundry to tend to. There are things in my home space that need some organizing and physical attention. Simultaneously, there are three children to engage, feed, listen to and play with. And on a hot summer Saturday in July, I realize I wouldn’t have it any other way. I know I could take full advantage of having an understanding and supportive partner to “escape” the rigors of this summer weekend and find that space of solitude to “get my work done.” But, lately, I have come to value aspects of my research life that I once complained about. My attitude toward the reality of my working while at home have changed forever. It’s more than just experiencing another summer of unnecessary death, the continual devaluing of Black Lives, or trying to make sense of the current political climate, instead, for the first time, I feel all of my identities (wife, mother, scholar, daughter, sister, mentor, and friend) merging together. And it looks and feels different. Despite the need to complete tasks and move my writing forward, I feel like this is the time for me to be present, to experience all of the mess that is my home. I need to be right here.
I recognize there are plenty of ways I “escape” to get work done. My summer is filled with planning, meetings, emails, prepping for my course in the Fall, or finishing up edits for that latest article – no shortage of work. The imbalance that I used to feel about my life & work is what feels a bit different. For the past few weeks I have felt like I was hitting a brick wall when I sat down to write. A hopelessness that made motivation seem like a distant relative. I did not have the energy to writing or editing or find that perfect citation. I think I desperately needed some home time, some real home time with mess and clutter and frustration and all. The moments I feel my blood boil because the people I live with never use the same cup twice; or leave their random sandals, shoes, or Lego pieces in the middle of the kitchen floor for me to trip over; or my favorite, the waking up with a sore neck because my sleeping position has been compromised by that child that slithered into my bed in the wee hours of the morning. Those moments help me to remember I am alive, that I am human, that I am real.
My work life is also feeling different. I have made some decisions as of late that make sense for my immediate future. There is a lot on my plate, but I feel like it is finally coming together (at least for now), and it seems to make sense for the preservation of my Black Academic soul. I have Dr. Du Bois to thank for some of this revelation. My work as the Director of the the W. E. B. Du Bois Center has shifted my research life. And I use that term to mean just what it sounds like – my research life – does not have to be separate, its not the same, but it is related in that fictive kin sort of way. This summer has helped to put that imbalance and that domestic mess I speak of into proper perspective. The constant struggle to feel human and the confusion about why folks have to explain why #BlackLivesMatter (to anyone) has reminded me of the words of Dr. Du Bois some 103 years ago. His words are as relevant today as they were then and damn, that is a shame.
“Between me and the other world there is ever an unasked question: unasked by some through feelings of delicacy; by others through the difficulty of rightly framing it. All, nevertheless, flutter round it. They approach me in a half- hesitant sort of way, eye me curiously or compassionately, and then, instead of saying directly, How does it feel to be a problem? they say, I know an excellent colored man in my town; or, I fought at Mechanicsville; or, Do not these Southern outrages make your blood boil? At these I smile, or am interested, or reduce the boiling to a simmer, as the occasion may require. To the real question, How does it feel to be a problem? I answer seldom a word.”
– Du Bois 1903
I feel that the work I do is not just within the bounds of the classroom anymore. I no longer feel that the work I publish is enough to change the world. I now understand that some of the work I do, begins at home, begins when my husband and I are there to explain and speak to our children about an uncertain world. The work I do at the Du Bois Center is directly linked to my life’s work. This synergy is not by accident. When I see the way the lessons are translated by young people in my life, by young folks I engage and mentor, I can remember how that was done for me when I was young and searching. I never immediately conveyed to my mother or my elders that I heard their lessons, but I used them on a daily basis when I was out in the world – even when I could not admit I was following their advice because I was stubborn, to put in mildly. That internal struggle that helped me (or fooled me) into pursuing a career in the academy, is the same struggle that I could not understand when I first entered the quest for the “tenure fleece.” I don’t have all of the answers, I feel like I am just at the crossroads, starting to see an alternative path, one that will not chew me up and spit me out, but listen to my own terms – now imagine that?
My house is a mess. It is a mess because people that matter live here. That disorder is a direct reflection of the internal struggles of our current moment. And that mess is okay, it is okay because it is proof that there is beautiful struggle forming in the next generation attached to Trevor and I. We are preparing them with these same life lessons that were offered to us, because through the physical, spiritual, and mental interactions we can be content (somewhat) in the belief that our children, and the young folks we kick it with on a regular basis, are going to be as prepared as we can get them to enter a world that we may never understand.
Last month the New York Knicks’ Carmelo Anthony joined 50 Cent to launch the rapper’s fashion line at Bloomingdale’s in New York City. Observers attempting to fathom consumption are routinely befuddled by the apparently irrational expense consumers will devote to style, and 50 Cent’s endorsement will leave many of those observers once more scratching their […]
There is a collecting feeling of blah, anger, depression, and exhaustion in the air. The people I interact with on a daily basis are beyond survival mode. Each day seems to bring a new array of feelings and emotions. My children can feel the thickness in the air and we have talked to them about the climate of this place they call home, America. We have been talking about the upcoming election, the intense times upon us before the morning of July 6th, when a video out of Baton Rouge, LA showing a man named Alton Sterling under the hail of bullets from a police officer’s gun. My husband and I woke up and like most people in our demographic – you check for texts, work emails, Twitter before we pop up and get with our day. There is was. There it was again. Damn. Again. What cuts the deepest is that within my children’s short lifetimes, two things will seem quite normal – having a Black President and knowing that each summer brings death and protests and videos they cannot watch and summer is in full swing.
Every summer, this keeps happening. This keeps repeating. And yet, I am still not numb, I am not used to it. I continue to feel the impact of each blow, each bullet, each one taken from us, and each time justice becomes a fleeting fantasy. We go back to the norm, we all have to go to work and school and in this area, there are usually only a few folks that even know I might be having some emotionally trying times. The fact that it is summer and life is a step behind, means that I can avoid the intense interactions with folks that cannot see what is happening and the ones that don’t know what to say to me, but it also adds to the sedentary nature of how I am processing this pain.
In another part of my life, I just received a hefty grant to do the work that I have been dreaming to do at the W. E. B. Du Bois Center. And I am finding it difficult to celebrate. I appreciate the exciting news and realize that we all needed some light in this moment of darkness. Yet, I am finding it hard to wrap my head around the next step, the meetings I have tomorrow. As Dr. Du Bois said so long ago, it’s that two-ness that has to kick into full gear and soon.
I have a deadline coming up very soon and a lot of work to get this next article to the point of publication. And I am finding it difficult to write. I thought that maybe it is because I write about race and slavery or the larger implications of Caribbean tourism on local communities or race and gender and class and all those junctures of intersecting and overlapping, but no, its just that writing is hard. And when I frequent my regular writing spots, it is blaringly obvious that I am living in a mostly white place. No one around me seems to be phased, I don’t feel the thickness in the air of my coffeeshop, I can’t see the pain across the brows of strangers I come into contact with in the market or store. When I see other global majority folks around town, I can feel it, I can see it, because we all know its summer again and this is what happens between those summer vacations and the pressing home improvement projects.
Bullets on a summer’s night used to mean something different when I was growing up. The heat, the city, the inevitable (and occasional) clash of one kind or another could sometimes lead to moments of extreme exchanges where things got out of control, but it was different. This is different. I had to include a pic of protesters in Atlanta, the power of people is what we need.
Another summer of this means it’s time to put our pens a laptops aside for a moment and get out of our houses and our comfort zones and take a stand, lift a voice, teach each person you come into contact with that the time has come to call out bad people – in and out of uniform. Tomorrow is a new day, let’s see what the dawn brings.