Or maybe I’m trippin’ and speaking only for myself.
In a prolific and deeply unconventional graduate seminar this semester, in the company of all but one Black student, we are desperately learning the ways of Black Feminists. In this space, much like a few of my other graduate classes at my former institution, the Black students convene to fellowship by engaging with the texts and topics in a deeply spiritual and very Black way; I remember commenting last year that the experience often felt like a family reunion. Now, I feel very much the same, if not more strongly, because our conversations center the experiences of Black women, unmatched by anything I’ve ever experienced. These Black Feminists have plainly instructed all with the will to learn that writing is, in fact, a valuable and necessary part of the struggle—a valuable and necessary part of activism. This, for me, and so many others in class, represented the blessing of a lifetime in that it granted us permission to continue to pursue our academic aspirations without the heavy guilt we frequently associate with the ivory tower, provided they work toward justice and dismantling oppression.
Toni Cade Bambara and Barbara Christian, among numerous others, have left very clear instructions about how to do this work meaningfully, strategically, and mindfully toward our goals of liberation. This, for me, was everything. I knew I was seeking some sort of affirmation or validation that my journey into academia was not the ineffective endeavor I had been making it out to be.
So in these times of turmoil and unrest, I am encouraged in knowing that I am not selling out by taking to my keyboard in order to help liberate myself and push my own folks toward the resources they need to do the same. Black Feminists gave me permission to do so. Because I know that with writing for liberation comes living for liberation and thinking for liberation, I feel assured that my actions are not in vain. Beyond the narrow accessibility of academic scholarship is our personhood and how that intersects with all those we meet. Our writing ought to directly shape who and how we are, making how and who we are impactful by virtue of the ideals underpinning liberation we espouse.
As I continue to wrestle with how my writing can save, I am reminded of all the ways that Black folks have been writing and telling to save—even when it was illegal. We have a historical legacy replete with narrative in various forms. So again, I am encouraged.
One of the only ways I can make sense of this mess is through my keyboard. While I used to regret that, I now stand encouraged and avowed with the blessing of Black Feminists who left their words of instruction for me—forever changing me.
I don’t know all the answers, and I never will. However, I do know that being a Black woman is a blessing, and it positions me to do more radical work that I might not be able to otherwise. So as I work through my seemingly common guilt to be a scholar-activist, I remember that I can do both if I choose, or I can make sure whichever I choose informs both. Whatever choice I make- we make- it’s important to remember that our foremothers warned of us times like these when our joy and purpose would be challenged. So in that, we are charged with paying forward their encouragement and pressing on in our writing toward the freedom we know we need and deserve.