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Week 8, or Conferences, Monologues, and Comicons, Oh My!

I’ve known for a while that this week’s blog post would be pretty packed because in the last four days, I went to Charlottesville for a conference on Slavery and Public Memory, saw the third annual Black Monologues, and attended my first Comicon in my first attempt at cosplaying, going as Ororo Monroe, better known as Storm.

I still don’t know which part to write about– it was all so incredible. However, it’s still worth the time to just reflect on each event, even if just for a little while.

The conference began with a keynote by Daina Ramey Berry on the Domestic Cadaver Trade and what she calls soul value. That talk was valuable for me because I have recently found myself exceedingly taken with Black studies and the lives of Black people, and while I felt I comfortable in my knowledge of the lives of the enslaved, Dr. Berry informed me that for a lot of Black people, the abuse didn’t end in death. Their bodies could potentially be snatched up and used as cadavers for medical school. It never occurred to me that abuse of Black bodies could extend beyond the grave, at least not in this form. It’s harrowing, but necessary, to think about.

Equally as important was the talk I attended after the keynote. I slipped away afterwards to find my former professor, Claudrena Harold, who was giving a talk in the Rotunda. A few mishaps and awkward conversations later, I found myself seated a dinner table surrounded by first year RAs, but listening to Professor Harold give a history of Black students at UVA. She is always so passionate about her work– the students she investigates, the stories she tells about them, the critical thought attached to the message– and the form her work inhabits (she’s been into film for the last 5 years.) It reminds me that I can do this grad school thing and be me. It reminds me that I can go to class, write those critical essays, because they matter, but I can also work with undergraduates and blog my thoughts and experiences and write fiction because all of these forms are a part of me. She reminded me that sometimes writing a critical essay isn’t going to adequately communicate a particular story, sentiment, or idea– and that it’s a blessing to be able to use different methods to work through various problems.

That is how you do intersectional work.

You allow yourself to tackle one problem, you allow yourself to see as many sides as you can, you evaluate it, and then you decide which of your tools is best suited to address this particular monster. Sometimes it’s an essay, sometimes a blog post, or a photoessay, or a film. Sometimes it’s talking through difficult feelings with undergraduates, sometimes it’s yelling yourself hoarse at a protest. Intersectional work is not limiting yourself based on the arbitrary parameters of the Academy.

I took this revelation with me as I moved through the rest of the conference– sitting in panels about confederate monuments and student activism, the lives of descendants of the enslaved and memory in the South; meeting everyone from undergraduates to professionals; reuniting with friends, professors, and loved ones. I made it my mission to do work for the Lemon Project while I was there. I wanted everyone to know who we were and what we stood for, because that was what felt right. So I chatted and gave out business cards, took extensive notes, and live tweeted almost the entire conference, which helped grow our small following on twitter from 180 to 230 followers just in the course of a few days.

When I wasn’t working, I was reuniting, slipping out to see everyone I had to leave when I graduated– my second mother, my dear budding academic friend, a former resident, and a couple of the best friends I’ve ever known. One such excursion involved me, my soul sister and her actual sister, and one stage that I’ve come to love with all of my heart.

Yup, I went to see Black Monologues.

I’m not sure how it happened, but the magic was back. I was enraptured. The show spoke to me again, held me comfortably in its arms, and I felt so loved once again, as if I had never left that stage, never left that theater at all. My heart ached so badly that tears started falling before I could stop them, I laughed so hard the tears started again and my stomach started to ache. The struggles were real– they responded to the August 11-12 demonstrations, they related the difficulty of choosing to be an activist or a scholar because it feels so often like you can’t be both, they spoke of Black love, trust and hope. They tapped in to the fear of losing a loved one to police brutality, the fear of admitting your mental health was declining, the fear of putting your trust in the wrong people. There was disappointment and guilt, but so much pride. As they performed Master Jefferson and For Your Entertainment, my heart swelled with pride because Ed had truly left his legacy at UVA with those pieces. When the cast told us where they had come from, it was all I could do not to break down sobbing.

The sobbing came later when two of the actresses from the first year of doing the show ran up to me afterwards, telling me how they’d seen me and tried not to make eye contact because they knew they’d laugh or smile, radiating happiness and love, and I fell into them, crying, because in that moment, I was home again.

I carried all of this love and hope with me as I moved through my last day at the conference, and finally home to Williamsburg, where I prepared myself for my next adventure, Comicon.

I had a whole adventure before we (my friend Adrienne and I) even left as I’d been so exhausted the last three days that I’d passed out before I remembered I had to go get spray on hair dye to turn myself into Storm for the convention. I ran around all morning, picking up a pair of black jeans here and dye there. By 10 AM, I was a dead ringer for Ororo Monroe, so we left, Storm and Ms. Marvel, for the festivities.

Admittedly, it wasn’t as fun as I had imagined. It was small and cramped with a lot of people. The panels weren’t particularly organized nor did I just decide chat with anyone. I did however get to look at a lot of cool stuff, including amazing, nerdy woodworkings, a lot of comics, and a ton of art. Most of my fun was looking through all of the artists’ portfolios and getting to chat with them about their work. I eventually picked up a Black Panther poster from an artist, along with an X-Men patch, then Adrienne (who had accumulated similar goodies) and I decided it was time to go. We took some really fun pictures outside of the convention center before we hit the road back to the Burg.

All in all, it was an enormously fun four days. It just speaks to the fact that I refuse to be stuffed in a box that I attended a slavery conference, a show on Black experiences and a Comicon in less than a week. This has been me living my best life. I want to continue to be moved in all kinds of directions, and find somewhere to land no matter which path I take. I want to continue to believe in my ability to decide which form speaks to my thought the best. I want to continue to be unapologetically me as I move through grad school and into a career– and to do that, I have to accept my complexity.
I’m never going to be just one thing and I take pleasure in knowing my future will be very complex, very multi-dimensional, and thus very, very rich.

Week 7, or Ravynn’s mid-Semester Check In, ft. Pieces that Stuck With Me

“Definition of womanism: ‘…committed to the survival and wholeness of entire people, male and female. Not a separatist, except occasionally, for health.’ 

Alice Walker from “U.S. Third World Feminism”

I’ve gotten into the habit of doing mid-semester check-ins here on BGDGS. My first semester I reflected on the goals I set for myself before I started this whole crazy journey, my second semester I listed the books and essays that had the greatest impact on me as a person, and now as I’m looking at my third mid-semester check point, I’ve decided to do a riff on my books and essays list.

I think it’s a good exercise for myself to keep track of the things I read that truly move me– and why. It’s also potentially important to think about when I encounter certain things along my journey, as it impacts how I move through the world. So, for my third mid-semester check-in, I’ve decided to do a list of texts that I mulled over this semester, even after the class I read them for was over.

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  1. Kimberle Crenshaw’s “Mapping the Margins”

I will never forget when my friend asked a class of predominately white women whether they thought “intersectionality” as Crenshaw imagined it had been appropriated by white women. Until she said it, I had never thought about it. After she said it, I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

As I’ve moved through various spaces this semester, I’m feeling the liminal space that Crenshaw wrote about every day. She gave a words to the void I feel myself slipping into as I try to maneuver in this world without falling to the wayside, but it also gives me hope that if someone can give this feeling a name, then something can be done about it.

chela_sandoval_md2. Chela Sandoval’s “U.S. Third World Feminism”

I didn’t know how much I liked it until I got into class and had to give my presentation on it. I could vibe with the basic premise that Third World Feminism (a broad category that essentially doesn’t include hegemonic [white Western] feminism) as a methodology was a combination of a ton of different tactics. It was both invested in equal rights but also revolutionary, sometimes supremacist, sometimes separatist, but always “differential,” as Sandoval puts it. The difference is that this Feminism can be and is everything, sometimes all at once, sometimes one a time, and sometimes nothing. I liked the idea that you have a tool kit to pull from, and you use different tactics dependent on each unique situation.

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3. Audre Lorde’s “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House”

I’m suddenly of the camp that believes with all my heart in new strategies. I think I found myself at the end of my rope these semester, tired of doing things the “right way” and still not quite moving forward. Now that I believe in it, I need to live it.

Still working on how to live my pedagogy.

41hghhlf5ol-_ac_ul320_sr214320_4. Stuart Hall’s “New Ethnicities”

Stuart Hall is always a good read, especially for someone who will probably be classified in some capacity as a cultural historian. He’s difficult, but worth reading, primarily because you’ll definitely have to read his work at least twice. I like the way he works through monolithic identities, deconstructing and reconstructing as he goes.

 

 

 

9780060838676_p0_v6_s192x3005. Zora Neale Hurston’s, Their Eyes Were Watching God

I honestly think that every time I read this book, I fall in love with it even more. I get something new from it. I never get tired of reading it. This time around I was particularly taken with Zora herself. I read an article about her for my Reflections of the African Diaspora class and I couldn’t help but notice her ample descriptions– fun, controversial, outrageous, aggressive, a loner, and impatient, for a short list– and I was astounded. I was astounded that she was described as though it were incredible that she dared be anything short of herself. She was remarkable– truly one of a kind. I love her for daring to be unapologetically herself because it helps me feel brave, and embrace myself for who I am. I want to be Zora Neale Hurston fearless some day.

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6. Antenor Firmin’s The Equality of the Human Races

This was an incredible work of anthropology and I was astounded by its rigor, the francophile in me proud of the Haitian revolutionary, intellectual spirit, and impressed that someone so angry about have to explain common sense could write so eloquently. However, it was also a prime example of how something can be both passionately anti-racist and also supremely sexist. I’m pretty sure this would be my favorite book if I were a Black man.

 

 

narrative-of-the-life-of-frederick-douglass7. The Narrative Life of Frederick Douglass

Although my Dad loves to hold up pictures of Frederick Douglass to his face when he hasn’t shaved in a while and say that they’re twins, I never felt moved to read any Douglass. After I did, I found a way to mention Douglass I think once a class. His ingenuity was inspiring to me and I now love reciting stories from the book. Douglass was WILD, honest and fearless.

 

 


So there you have it, a short list of my favorite texts I’ve read this semester so far. Relatedly, I felt inspired to mention that my favorite assignment from the semester was my blog post on Black hair as a medium that I did for my New Media, Old Media class.

I’m going to spend the next few days trying to rest up, then I have a big week ahead of me. Instead of heading back to class on Wednesday, I will be on my way back to my alma mater for a conference on slavery as a representative for the Lemon Project. In between being a professional conference-r, I’ll be running around with my friends and I’ve even got tickets to see this year’s Black Monologues. Then, once I’m back on Saturday, I’ll be off to my very first ComicCon with my friend.  I will be cosplaying as Ororo Monroe, a.k.a Storm, X-Man and former Queen of Wakanda. With so many incredible things to write about, who knows what you’ll get next week.

Stay tuned to find out.

Week 6, or “Change Is Gonna Come”

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.

 

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My parents, Eric and Faye, at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, October 7, 2017. Photo by me