When Racism Makes You Tired…
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,