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!
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…
From my friend David J. Leonard, thank you.
Ladies of the Jury
Imagine for a moment that you, your son or daughter, sister or brother, granddaughter or grandson, ventured to the corner store for some candy and something to drink but never returned? Can you imagine if you left the house and didn’t return to watch the second half of the NBA All-Star game? Can you imagine if you, your child, your loved one, your flesh and blood were presumed to be guilty as he walked home? Thought to be a suspect, a punk, a fucking asshole? Can you imagine if you, your child, your loved one, your flesh and blood was thought to be a criminal, thought to be on drugs, thought to be up to no good just because of how she looked, what clothes she was wearing, and because of the color of her skin? Can you imagine if your child was gunned down right…
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Ok, so the things that were supposed to come together for the infamous tenure journey have come together. Writing my tenure narrative felt like more work than my dissertation (I guess that being a better writer than I was 10 years ago could also be a factor). I worked and crafted and altered my CV like it was a masterpiece, a work of art (a work of art that will never end – I am sure). But those two pieces are me, they are all the time and effort, blood, sweat, tears, triumphs and mistakes that make me the scholar I am today. The reality is that at this very moment I feel like I am just spinning in place. This is not the out of control spinning or I can’t seem to get it together type, but I am spinning because despite all of my doubts, I was able to pull it all together, have something interesting to write about and look at it and say, “Wow, I did all that? Is that really me?”
I am not in the habit of bragging, but I am learning about the celebration of self. At a recent party, I met a man who had gone through the tenure process some years back. His advice is still resonating with me. He told me to celebrate each step, every accomplishment is worth taking a moment celebrating self. “Do not,” he said, “wait for the end, because if you do, you will be disappointed” (flashback to the anticlimactic defending of my dissertation). The advice makes so much sense. It also helps to put things into perspective.
Tenure is supposed to be stressful, it is how things move to the next level. I did not embrace this at first and was in complete denial that this process was going to stress me out. I learned the hard way (see previous posts). I fought it every step of the way and I feel that it significantly backfired on me. However, at this point I am not fighting any more. I am taking stock, I am beginning to feel as if this coming year will be different. I am beginning to feel different and at first I didn’t know what it was. My head is still a little cloudy and things seem a little all over the place, out of sync. But, I think I am coming to an understanding of what it is. Taking stock also means that I need to prepare for the things to come. I was unfamiliar with my identity when I first completed my dissertation. Could not (or did not even want to hear people calling me Doctor), I have since gotten over that, but this is very similar. The ability to process this is going to take time – maybe that is why the tenure process takes so many damn months! And I hope when I come out the other side of the promotion mountain, I will feel whole again and stock will be taken – hey, the children will also be a year older and one more will enter the ranks of the publicly schooled. lol.
Oh, and I do I feel different. My work seems to have a different texture to it. I am beginning the process of forming my second book, I am writing grants, I am still getting invited to talk at different universities about my first book. I can even choose where I do my next research project (peep the fact that my next site is a plantation site named Millars in Eleuthera, Bahamas). And I can form the ways that my research happens. No digging, no research without full community support and dialogue. I am getting calls and emails to be on this committee or to to attend this conference and…well…this is where the need to organize and calm down has to come into play. So, what I am beginning to understand about myself is that I have to now really be careful. I never thought that my voice would make it this far, I never imagined that my words could affect, count, or be the topic of a graduate seminar or larger conversations about the future of historical archaeology. So, I am learning to not be too humble, but to celebrate this moment, when it was still all very fresh and in its pregnancy. This career will continue to grow, I understand that all the stress is not gone, I have a long process ahead, but as a part of my taking stock and celebrating self is to remember to also be grateful for all I have right now. Because the other thing that I have just recently figured out is that there are no “breaks,” anymore. My summers will probably be filled with other obligations, grants to complete, articles to work on, books to compose, field schools to organize and run, and it is good to be busy, it is good to be a part of change, but whew, the intensity keeps things in perspective…and if not careful, it can still burn you or move you closer to burn out.
So, here is to celebrating self. Here is to taking it all in. Heres to growing up in this academic game. So, in this vein, I had to end this entry with a shameless selfie from last year, way before I thought I could pull this tenure thing off… Through it all, my ‘fro continues to be one of the core aspects of my strength, and to be honest, even that feels different these days…
So, as usual, blog out…
White People Are Not Victims
Originally posted at Washington Spectator
Narratives of white victimhood are the rage these days.
From Abigail Fisher v. the University of Texas to the gutting of the Voting Rights Act, from Paula Deen’s claim of being a victim of the “PC police” to a material witness’s use of the phrase “creepy-ass cracker” in the criminal trial of George Zimmerman—there has been ample effort to imagine white people as the real victims in contemporary America.
David Sirota says, “hysterical white people are all over the media screaming to whomever is listening that white people are under attack.”
Tim Wise notes this is in keeping with history. “The cult of white victimhood has long had its charter members,” he says. “Nowadays the cult has the attention of the media and a white public already anxious about changing demographics, the presence of a black president and economic…
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Well, for months now I had been using the hashtag #tenuregrind to explain how my life, my brain and my spirit was feeling. I felt as if my life was becoming (for the first time) focused on those things I was supposed to be doing in the way I was supposed to be doing it to make it this academic game. But, something else happened along the way. I realized a little too late that I went about it all wrong, because, I became extremely stressed out. My digestion was off, every time I ate my stomach reacted violently, I was in pain, I was angry and disorganized, I felt swollen all over, my sleep was erratic, my frustration with my children escalated, and my quality time with my husband suffered. It was all natural – right? A part of the #tenuregrind. This is the culture of “not taking care of yourself in the pursuit of taking your career to the next level.” However, if you are not healthy, how can you enjoy the fruits of your labor?
So, I have jotted down 5 of my first few lessons learned and I want to share them.
Lesson #1: Look inward, figure out what is going on and what it is that you do. This lesson has helped me in trying to craft my narrative and to pull together the resources that exemplify my career. It has made me reflect on my work and the contributions I am making to the discipline. And in the process, helped me to begin to figure out why food was hurting me.
Lesson #2: Go to the doctor! I have seen my GP, my OB/GYN, and a few specialists along the way. I have been to more doctors in the last 6 months than I have for the past 3 years (other than doctors related to my having 2 children recently). This was an important lesson, you body tells you things you try to ignore and one of those things for me was that I need to pay attention to what I put in my body, but also how I react to the pressures of life.
Lesson #3: Drink more chamomile tea. Yes, this seems simple. But it is also a metaphor for take it all in with a bit more calm, worry won’t change things. Think about how it feels to sit down and do nothing. Speak with kindness to everyone (well most) folks you encounter, it works to not walk with anger as well, even when some folks make you mad. It makes you process the distractors with a little more ease. One of the most important things I have started to do is to just listen to my children’s laughter and laugh with them. Its ok to smile, laugh and be silly, being serious about tenure is not going to make it go faster.
Lesson #4: Find something that makes you happy, makes you think about good and peaceful thoughts. I found gardening. I discovered that as an archaeologist, its really a natural thing to want to play in the dirt on another level. It brings me peace, it provides some much needed vitamin D, and I always get a sense of accomplishment when I have done my therapeutic session outside. Recently, for Mother’s Day, my husband replanted our vegetable garden from a few years back and it brought such joy to my soul – especially the fact that there was something so simple that could bring me joy – I had rediscovered what a hobby is (and I didn’t even have to include it in my CV).
Trevor and Ololara planting our new veggie garden.
Lesson #5: Tenure is a process, let it happen and be patient. It takes time to build a career, it takes time to write a book or an article or dig a site, so therefore it takes time to craft a narrative that not only talks about the great scholar you are, but gives the right people the roadmap to making sure that promotion is yours. Don’t take things for granted, but learn that self-praise is ok. Learn to write about yourself and learn to do it well, so that there is no question just how fly you really are. Find a mantra to get you through it and just keep at it and then let other people read your stuff – it is worth it! It took effort to do all of those things, it will take effort to wait and let the tenure process unfold naturally.
So, those are my first in a series of lessons learned entries. I plan on making this blog work for me through this upcoming year. I am looking forward to the challenges, because as my godsister Yaba Blay reminded me, we have to calm down and find healthy ways to do this job. We need to check in with each other, make sure we do not loose our souls in the process, (shout out to Kerry Ann Rockquemore and the National Center for Faculty Development & Diversity!) and remember that we are human beings.
So, my new routine is to write everyday, but I also garden, I garden often, especially before I settle down to write. I get out of the house most days and change my writing venue, because as a productive academic, I’ve got a lot more going on then just tenure right now. My new hashtag these days is #healthtenurepraxis. I breathe more, I eat less, but with quality in mind and I understand that this is only the beginning!
Me after brief remarks to then Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and audience at the “Telling the Whole Story: Women & the Making of the US,” National Park Service and the National Collaborative for Women’s History Sites, State Capital, Washington, DC.
I did not know how it would happen. I could not foresee the moment when it all became too much. My shoulders feel curved forward with the weight of all the obligations in my life. I wake up and hit the floor at full speed. There are things that have to be done, there are things that need to be done, and things that should be done. My life is a series of meetings, obligations, laundry, reading, writing, cooking, interpreting, meeting some more, washing dishes, changing diapers, spending quality time with my partner for life, and figuring out how to get that last small person to the potty for real. This is my life. This is that tenure grind I have been talking about for months.
I knew it was coming, I had a plan. I knew how I was going to handle it. I also knew that I wasn’t going to be stressed out about it – no, not me, that was just a false culture that they (whoever they are) create in the academy to provide the proper level of hazing for junior, up and coming tenure-track faculty. Oh, yes, and then there is the fact that I am of African descent (and lately find myself identifying as Afro-Native – a whole different blog entry) and I am a woman. I am on way too many committees, fielding way too many issues of diversity, race and gender, and now, I remember the advice all of my academic elder sista doctas warned me about…I am recreating the very identity I was trying to avoid.
Superwoman alert! I am not a Superwoman, I gave in my resignation years ago, but somehow, I thought I had put her to rest, but it turns out that I just put all her stuff in my closet and forgot to throw all the superwoman accessories away and she snuck back up on me. I didn’t even see her move back in.
How could I, I was either busy or way too tired to notice her sneaking up from the rear. Damn, it happened. I really was under the impression that I could stop myself from getting to this point. But, truth be told, I have not done a good job. I am stressed out. I know that I will post this blog and people will give me advice and they will tell me to take care of myself, but to be honest, I probably would not have it any other way. This is what it is and I am who I am. This is the revolution that was put in me from an early age. I see the academy as a means to make change for those who will come behind me.
Then there is reality. So, despite all my well laid plans, I think my ability to say NO has failed me. I seem to think the more I do the more I can change the world. But, what if I am too tired to enjoy all the changes I have made. This is a dilemma, but it has larger implications. Black female academics with health issues, with exhaustion issues, with issues at home (let’s not even talk about how messy my house is right about now) should not be the norm. I haven’t seen the inside of a gym since it was warm a year ago and I know that this cannot be my life much longer, I am at the saturation point, so understand when I don’t call, when I forget to respond to your text or did not come to that next committee meeting, it is not that I don’t care or that I am blowing you off, I am at a place of rediscovering self-preservation at the moment. I need some time to find that superwoman again, so I can wrestle her to the ground, take out some of my aggression and throw her in the garbage can for real this time. So, reordering my priorities has got to happen, before I fall asleep.
And to be honest, I just hope I don’t oversleep and miss the revolution that I started.