Black Feminist Archaeology Tour 2017 (Installment 1): the danger of forgetting your power while being Black in the academy
As I sit in my kitchen on a sunny summer afternoon, I reflect on the ups and downs of this past academic year. I have learned a lot over the past few months, but I am grateful that I am here, still standing, and settling into a renewed sense of purpose and hope. I say this, because I almost lost myself. I almost lost the very reason why I became an archaeologist – and that was scary. There are times when we get caught in the mayhem of personal politics, overt disrespect, and unnecessary battles that take your focus away from the work that gives us academics life. In these past few months, I can clearly see that it’s not me. The discovery was that my swag, my MO had not changed, it was the academic landscape that had shifted and settled so that my feet were feeling a bit unstable. Imagine my confusion as I realized that I had been quite consistent. I do not hold my tongue. I advocate for my children and family, my students, my colleagues, my peers, and my community. Then the fog began to dissipate as I realized that our campuses are direct reflections of our nation, and at the moment, we are not okay.
I also noticed in casual conversations with friends and colleagues from multiple universities and we are starting to tell the same stories. When you keep things to yourself, you believe you are alone – fighting for self-preservation. Survival mode. One cannot be productive in survival mode. I know that there are more and more faculty of color who are experiencing a level of disrespect and dismissal that is no longer veiled, no longer micro (as in the myth of micro-aggression). It is now blatant. It is now psychologically and spiritually damaging without apology or consequence. And how do you continue to be a participant in the very thing that is causing stress and anxiety. Who has the time and energy to engage in this. This cannot be my new normal, I thought to myself.
And then I kept witnessing recent events on social media unfold and become normalized in an everyday kind of way. I was disappointed in myself because, my initial reaction to some of these events were neutral, because I was not surprised. I had to check myself, because it was not okay that the treatment of Black women were often either peppered (and sometimes filled) with hate and disrespect or completely ignored and invisible, which is yet another form of disrespect. From the heated exchange between Fox anchor, Tucker Carlson and former Essex County College professor, Lisa Durden; to comments by tennis start John McEnroe about Serena Williams’ Vanity Fair cover; to the virtual silence about the police shooting of Charleena Lyles in Seattle, this is the reality of a nation I call home. Then I reflected on my recent trip to University of São Paulo, Brazil for their annual Archaeology Week and then I knew I had to sit down and share my thoughts, because my voice matters.
This trip was life changing. I felt the love, strength and hope of African women from across an ocean. The thoughts and words I shared with the audience that day was about the beauty of this thing I call Black Feminist Archaeology. The practice of Black Feminist Archaeology is to not just discuss a theory, it is also about incorporating the experiences and traumas of African descendant folk and how those experiences enhance how we ALL see our collective past. I have never experienced a lecture where I felt that level of emotion and spirit. As I spoke, the air in the space was thick with pain, I could feel the weight of my words and it initially gave me pause, but then as I continued, the feeling weightiness lifted, but it was not exactly happy, either. At three different moments, I had to hold back my tear. My words and my pain was reflecting the pain of the audience and at the same time we were all gaining strength in how the words and thoughts came together.
The question and answer period was no easier. Everything seemed to be moving in slow motion as I listened to each question and thought deeply about how to answer. Partially because my lecture was in English and there was a slight delay because of the simultaneous translation, but my sentiments were never lost. And I had to think about each question with care as if each answer had to be perfect. But it did not have to be perfect, I did not have to be perfect, I just had to be the Black Feminist activist scholar that had recently almost lost her way. And that vulnerability mattered in that space at that moment. I did not have to hold my tongue, for the first time in a long while, I did not have to hold my tongue. It was about healing and the tears many of us shared that evening were of pain, trauma, and hope.
The entire trip to southern Brazil was about reflection, about healing, about seeing that Black women are powerful and it is okay for us to speak our truth and be committed to our core convictions. With my whole heart, I thank the women scholars I spent so little time with (it was hard to leave), and I thank them for their friendship and love, their honest belief in me and my work, our shared pain, struggle, and hope. Meeting these women and men, meant more to me than they will ever understand. Muito obrigada minhas irmãs e irmãos! Nunca te esquecerei (Thank you so much, my sisters and brothers! I will never forget you).
So, as I sat reflecting in the summer sun, I know that I am back. I am back and determined to find my balance. A balance that allows me to remember my power and doing the work it takes to make as many spaces safe for people that look like me in the academy. I know it will not be easy, however, the time and energy that I have used to fight the systemic marginalizing practices of the academy, can be spent to give new life to my voice and use it in the way I have for my entire career. What my reflection also revealed is that although the campus has changed, I stand transformed in how I navigate the landscape. For the very revolutionary act of being Black in the academy dictates this reality, no matter what the state of our nation. The very nation built by the hands of my ancestors right here within these borders, and across the Diaspora. For I am the present, but I recognize that the real work is for the future. Forward.
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