I have complained about the same issues in just about every blog post this semester. Almost every single week, I’ve vented about not feeling safe in my Reflections of the African Diaspora Class, feeling ignored in my feminisms class, and generally not knowing about how to move forward knowing that I’m stuck in this awful crack, wedged between a rock and a hard place. I’m not sure if it’s just me or everything around me. I can’t tell if the discomfort is coming from professors or peers, if it’s William & Mary or just in my classrooms, if it’s the Academy here or the Academy everywhere, if it’s my current space or if this pressure is just America’s status quo.
It feels like something– probably the Devil– is trying to block me.
Fortunately, I’m prepared to force myself out of corners, to come out swinging. And the most important lesson I’ve ever learned about getting backed into corners is that you probably can’t come out the way you went in. You’re either going to have to go over, under, or better, yet bust through the wall entirely and keep moving forward.
It’s time for me to make some new solutions. As Audre Lorde said, “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house” and since I can’t seem to make any headway doing things the “right way,” I think it’s time for me to try things my way.
Instead of suffering through classes where I don’t feel like I’m getting enough out of them, I’m going to meet up with peers from class to discuss readings on our own, to supplement the discussion. Instead of feeling shut out of conversations, I started keeping track of all the times that it happened, and writing out my own intervention– what I would’ve said if I’d been able to. In spite of the fear that I was “doing it wrong,” I chose to use a class assignment to tell my truth, in the way the truth appeared to me. I am going to be present and armed with knowledge.
When explaining to my therapist what a battle my classes were, she asked me to think about what it would mean to just check out during class– to self-preserve, to make it out with the least amount of damage possible.
As the words were coming out of her mouth, I knew it was impossible. Once upon a time, a frustrated fourth year Ravynn sat in a room in Clemons library with her Black Monologues peers, waiting with bated breath as she awaited a reaction to a monologue she’d written. It was the story of a girl who kept getting punted out of the way as she tried to make her way up a sidewalk that was taken over by groups walking side by side, forming a barrier. The barrier is frustrating and impenetrable and the only options are to jump off the side walk to avoid a collision. They never make room for her to walk. They keep going as if she never existed.
Nearly two years later, I’m realizing what I was using a metaphor to describe how pervasive patterns of thought work, particularly ideas about race. They are omni-present, all-compassing, and exhausting. No matter how many people jump out of their way, or are inconvenienced by the barrier, nothing seems to stop them from continuing on in this destructive manner. Now, suppose I choose instead to not move when the barrier approaches, but carve out a space for myself to walk. It disrupts the barrier. I am noticed. They are inconvenienced, because I did not accommodate the usual behavior. Mind, this is also at my risk. I run the risk of being jostled out of the way, pushed and shoved. This requires some discomfort on the part of both parties.
There is also the potential to be rough– to stand my ground, assert my personhood and make the barrier acknowledge that I am not be ignored. Imagine I not only keep moving forward in my space as the barrier approaches, but shove my way through. I could demand that they make space for me, demand that the barrier be dismantled to make space for everyone, but the best those who make up the barrier will do, is to order their steps for the next five minutes until I’ve passed out of view and form the barrier again.
My speaking out in class is my way of disrupting the barrier. It’s frustrating and uncomfortable for everyone, but at least I am noticed. If I do it enough times, the barrier will falter. I speak out because if I don’t, I’m jostled out of the way.
I can’t back down.
I won’t back down.
Though I won’t back down, I will admit, carrying on like this is fatiguing, which is why I’m looking for new solutions now. I’m determined that this education won’t be for nothing. I’m going to make space for myself and everyone that comes after me, even if it means being jostled like this for the rest of my life.
Fortunately, I got just what I needed to lift me up yesterday and encourage me to move forward: a trip to the National African-American History and Culture Museum yesterday with my parents. Nothing like being able to explore Black heroism with my heroes.
They give me strength.