Category Archives: Ravynn: Year 1, Semester 1

Week 14, or A Little Quiet

I’ve been a little…quiet.

For those who know me (well, let’s say, have been around me), the silence can be misconstrued. Contrary to popular belief, I can shut up, I can sit down, and I can dial my energy down to ‘dim.’

Usually if I’m quiet, it probably means either 1. I don’t care/just existing, 2. I’m mad, or 3. I’m thinking and absorbing…and observing.

I’d say a good 70% of the time, it’s that third type of quiet and that’s where I’ve been existing the last few days.

You see, I’ve gotten curious to know what I can discover if I just…hush. Like, when I went to UVA this past weekend and I sat at a table next to these two boys discussing Trump Victorious. I pretended not to hear, and they only held their voices down for a moment, before they realized I wasn’t going to intervene, then they got louder.

I’ve been a little…quiet. And a little less present. And I’m just taking note of who has remarked on my absence and why…particularly, why. There’s good intentions, and then there’s good intentions that quickly veer into ‘let’s make her into our representative Black voice.’

I belong to no one but myself and God; so instead, I’ve just existed…quietly, and observed.

I’ve been present and yet invisible, with less commentary than usual, but with more vigilance at the same time.

So I’ve just been soaking in the stances, observing how the fear of uncertainty manifests itself. How quickly it turns to a dismissal of white people all together. I understand the position, but I’m not willing to let righteous anger drive me to say things I may not mean. Or let it drive me to say things I do.

I’ve just been a little…quiet. Haven’t even leaned on my usual support system. The unfortunate truth of the matter is, I’m learning, at the most inconvenient time, who I can rely on.

So I’ve been quiet and reconsidering.

I’m not willing to sound afraid, or anxious, or angry, so instead my body absorbs those feelings. I haven’t slept or eaten well in a while. My shoulders ache, my head throbs. While my mouth is shut, my body is screaming.

My nervous energy always turns itself into productivity. Pages write themselves. Pages are read. It’s almost like I had nothing to do with it at all.

Finding sanctuary among the people who speak my language, who turn rage into art and that ache in your chest into words, and the family who has always loved me calms my body. But even with them, I’m quiet. I’m thinking. I’m processing.

I’m listening.

I’ve found myself listening to the pulse of a country screaming because the wrong person has touched the right, raw, unhealed wound.

So, I’ve just been a little quiet.

And if you’ve heard America recently, you would be, too.

Week 13.5, or Soldiers Forged In Fire

The white cloaked figures stood a half dozen deep in front of the red brick church I was attempting to enter. One stepped forward and grabbed my wrist with a pinkish pale hand sprinkled with prickly blond hair. The hand jerked my arm and I gasped in shock and panic, but before I could blink, I was in front of Trump Tower. Screens surrounded me on the sides and tops of sky scrapers, and I watched with disbelief as the bodies of Black men hung by ropes, rotating ever so slightly, bodies alight with the flash of phone cameras as white Trump supporters celebrated the President Elect with human sacrifice. Just as someone approached the bodies with a Bic lighter pulled from a pocket filled with unmarked ballots, I decided to look down and noticed on my wrist a smudge of black that was not my skin. Seven numbers followed by the letter B were stamped across my wrist, the wrist I had once considered marking myself with the words of Audre Lorde, “I am deliberate and afraid of nothing.”

I jerked awake and realized that I had dreamt this on the night before the election, the night before Decision 2016.

I was jumpy and nervous all day. I was registered to vote in my hometown, which despite the inconvenience of having to drive an hour to perform my civic duty, reassured me. My father, a big man who stood 6’3 and drove a Range Rover, would accompany me to the polls in the afternoon.

My entire family went together to the polls, which for us was housed in a Baptist Church which stood at the corner of one of the entrances to our neighborhood. It was manned by severe, but kind, old ladies who had likely spent their youth in churches just like that one fighting so that I might pass easily through, cast my vote, and leave unharmed.

In spite of that, I still shook as I waited to hand the pollster my identification, afraid that some unknown thing would swoop down and bar me from my right.

Pennsylvania began to turn red and my mind began to go blank.

I only spoke to one friend as the results began to come in. I sat in my parents’ living room with the news muted, my computer screen split as I typed out the beginnings of an essay– the other half displaying the election results which were refreshed every thirty seconds. Every now and then, I would pick up my phone, give my friend an update. She wouldn’t watch. She couldn’t watch. I couldn’t stop. She believed that denial would stop her chest from caving in; I believed that the truth would douse the pain in mine.

When Pennsylvania began to turn red, I shut down my laptop, put away my phone and went to bed.

At six AM, my father’s alarm went off. I was already awake, staring at my ceiling. I slid out of the bed and crept into my parents’ room, like I used as a child when I had been awoken by a bad dream. My father woke so quickly at the sound of my unusually small, broken voice, that I knew he had not been asleep.

“Daddy. Trump won.”

“I know.”

We talked all morning. My eyes were raw, my faith shaken, my humanity invalidated.

Yet,  at quarter to 8 found me in my car, dressed, my books packed, and my obliviously happy dog riding shot gun into the sunrise. Despite my initial decision to “Call in Black,” I found my spine to be made of steel, and my head unbowed. I would go and learn today, because my ancestors did not fight for me to hide.

I managed to uncover a truth in the restless hours since I dreamt of an America I didn’t know, since I have lived in an America I haven’t yet truly met. Like a person, you may live in a country and never truly know its heart, its inner most thoughts, and fears. You may walk its streets every day and turn your head at the atrocities. You may never truly know what a country is capable of.

But more importantly, I discovered something about me. Ever since I discovered Angela Davis as an 8 year old, I had always wondered what I would be capable of in the face of adversity, but those questions were hypothetical. This morning, I had to ask myself the same question I had often asked myself in the moments before sleep, “Who am I going to be?”

My parents instilled in me a belief that God would not hand me anything I could not handle. God would not create a circumstance that we could not overcome. Though I may not have asked to be a soldier, though I may not have wanted to be a soldier, God chose me. God chose us. God chose this generation. He chose those who walk this Earth today. He believes that this collection of people will find a way to come together and overcome. They will be soldiers of good will, courage and hope.

These circumstances will make Martins, Malcolms, Stokelys, Angelas, and Johns out of my generation.

We will be soldiers forged in fire.

I will be a soldier forged in fire.

Week 12, or Deadlines and the Digital Humanities

With November just around the corner, I can’t believe the semester is almost over. It seems like yesterday I was walking aimlessly around the basement of Swem library trying to find the Omohundro Institute on the first day of training. It seems like I just handed in my first assignment with trepidation and tried desperately to manage my work. Now, with barely a month left in the semester, I’m finally reaching a point where I believe I’m working efficiently, but I am also now mildly panicking because I have only about five weeks to write 3 papers which are all in the 20-25 page range.

Well, at least, I am, if nothing else, a very gifted organizer and time manager.

I spent the last few days hiding at my parents’ house, where, when I wasn’t hanging out with them and indulging their love of having yard sales, I managed to get all of my week done for the entire week. Mostly, I attribute this surge of energy to the fact that my cousin is coming to town this weekend to spend time with me, and I really didn’t want to be thinking about all the work I had to do while she’s visiting. Functionally, however, it’s time to get to cracking on my papers.

The more reading I get done now, the more time I have to write. My thought is that if I then start reading for the next week this week, I’ll have Thursday and the day Friday to write. Fortunately, my reading load has lightened, as my popular culture and power professor isn’t holding class any more this semester, after this Tuesday, so as to free up his students to do research and write. If that isn’t kindness, I don’t know what is.

The goal is to have something written by the next time I check in, but, you know, we’ll see how that goes.

Despite finally feeling like I have a firm handle on my work, I’m still doubting myself. These feelings of doubt only doubled on Tuesday, when the apprentices sat through a talk with an editor at OI who made it plain what his feelings were on blogging and digital publications. Essentially, he said don’t waste your time writing for publications like the Junto or other blogs– spend your time working on getting your writing in peer review publications.

Now, I knew that there were people in academia who don’t care for digital scholarship. But in the same way I knew there were Trump supporters, I suppose I had just never encountered one. I typically only spend time with people who are like-minded. (Read: my friends think blogging and digital humanities are really cool.) Really, it’s like any other kind of bias– you’d almost never tell someone who’s into digital scholarship that they shouldn’t publish on webmags, web journals, or other blogs, on the grounds that it’s pretty disrespectful. It’s dismissive of their academic interest.

I had to remember that history as a academic discipline operates under a lot more constraints than does an interdisciplinary field like American Studies. All of my professors are encouraging of the pursuit of blogging and writing for webmagazines, first, because they know it brings me joy, and second, because they can see value in alternative forms of scholarship.

In a logocentric world, I understand why academia values print publications. There’s something inherent in us as a Western, literate society that can only conceive of true knowledge as printed. And even while disciplines like American Studies deeply value other forms of knowledge, there is still a need to try to articulate the knowledge of forms such as music, theater, visual art in words, on a sheet of paper– when in my opinion, if the artist wanted to articulate their knowledge as such, they would have just written a novel or an essay to start with.

Vehicles of expression are nothing to me but different languages. If you want to find knowledge in art, study the visual. If you want to find knowledge in music, listen to music. And, if you want to have a conversation about art, there’s nothing wrong with writing it, but I also think there is something even more valuable about inserting yourself in the conversation in the “language” of choice. I engage with my favorite artists by learning their style, their signatures, and then  making it my own, fusing our knowledge to create something new. That’s why sampling in African-American music is why of the most fascinating phenomena I’ve ever encountered. It’s why the Black Monologues, a theater production University of Virginia students have recently begun producing into an annual event, can speak to a truly diverse audience populace, though written solely by university students between the ages of 18-22. They incorporate all types of knowledge, from literary giants, to musical greats, to inspiration from television shows, to poetry, to dance, to create something visual that expresses the kind of scholarly knowledge about the African-American experience that most people assume can only be adequately  articulated in a monograph.

Sometimes, it’s bigger than a page.

Sometimes, the written word is not adequate.

Expression and “true knowledge” should not be limited by what has conventionally deemed acceptable.

My expression of my knowledge on a blog, or in art, or in a comic, is absolutely no less valuable than when I articulate that same knowledge in a scholarly article.

It is honestly such a shame, that in light of everything this country has been going through with the acceptance of difference, diversity, even in terms of something like scholarship, is not accepted.

I guess it’s a blessing then, that I’ve learned that I don’t need acceptance from others to validate my knowledge. I am proud to be both a scholar and an artist, wreaking havoc and subverting expectations ’til the end of time.