Joycelyn Moody - JMoody's Musings
My December column about planning physical and mental rest included this sentence: “Folks, I am finally what not saying ‘No’ often enough, what being one soldier in a tiny army waging war against anti-Blackness, looks like.”
This month, I want to reflect on some of the ideas I crammed into that packed sentence. I’ve felt vulnerable since publishing it. The sentence has stayed with me; it’s crept into my driving quiet, and eased into my meditation. I feel like the image of “not saying no often enough” has me looking rough. My partner says I still look all right. But since Thanksgiving, I’ve had one respiratory illness after another, so I look and feel tired.
Treating my chronic fatigue ironically adds three 2-hour training appointments to my week: I’m working out like a dynamo to increase my energy level. If I want to be a soldier in anybody’s army, I need more strength. Anyone who plans to fight against xenophobia and inequality needs a hella lot of strength. And a lotta big sticks.
Thankfully, I’m not alone in this army, outnumbered though we ultimately are. Other minoritized faculty women—and our shrewd allies—are also fighting against race-based hatred. Sistah-soldiers share their stories of struggle and grief with me all the time. Most are overcommitted in the ways that led to my own need for deliberate rest. which is to say, they need rest, too.
An insight I’ve had recently—and I realize I’m late recognizing this point—is that I keep forgetting that our army is tiny. I probably forget it because we are so mighty. We are powerful. But for all my own literal and figurative strength-training—physical therapy, home, meditation, massage, sister-friendships, and so on—I wore myself out trying to multiply myself on the job, trying to do the work of five faculty sistahs when I am only one person.
There aren’t enough of us minoritized feminist academics. There are not enough faculty women of color to represent us in all the classrooms and boardrooms, on all the committees and platforms where we want our collective perspectives and issues to be raised.
A friend reached out to me the other day. I’ll call her Sheila, though that’s not her real name. Sheila is a Black woman professor who desperately wanted to assist another mutual sistah-colleague of ours.
Aside: Our numbers are so small that it’s actually hard to narrate this experience without worrying that I’ll inadvertently include some details that will reveal the identity of one or the other of these dear friends. In fact, that’s a worry Roxanne and I experience each time we publish a WellAcademic™ newsletter: will our anecdotes unwittingly disclose the identities of the professionals who trust us, given that our focused readerships are so small?
I first became aware of progressive feminist research into this area circa 1995, and I’m discouraged that the demographics of educational institutions remain pretty much the same. It’s a shame that the minoritized women in the academy I know are separated by maybe four, hardly six, degrees. Many of us know each other by name and lineage. We are each other’s teachers, students, mentors, coaches, coauthors, and kin. Systemic poverty and racialized evil keep our numbers low. (One way of generating more of us would be the development of more pipeline programs like the African American Literature & Culture Institute. Call that self-promotion if you want, but I call it begging you to do what you can to replicate yourself, too.)
Back to Sheila. She is a proud person who rarely speaks her stress levels, but in a recent phone call, her voice was strained and tight. Even more oddly, she actually ticked off out loud some of the faculty tasks almost overwhelming her. The year is young—it’s still January as I write this post—so I’m worried about Sheila, concerned she could be following me down the road to chronic fatigue.
And now Sheila was calling on me to bless the fact that she’d agreed to support another sistah-colleague. Been there, bloody heart in both hands extended and determined to help.
I both wanted to encourage Sheila for her willingness to help our sister and to throw up the STOP sign. How to move forward in moments like this is always complicated. Do we take care of ourselves? Do we care for our sistahs? No easy answers--only hard questions and harder answers.
So, I offered Sheila a few suggestions for ways she might assist our other friend, a sister who—needless to say—genuinely deserves the support she was seeking. Sheila responded with gratitude but also with dismay. It was her groan that prompted me to reassure her she could relieve herself of the commitment; she could, in fact, she should, say no to our girlfriend this time because there aren’t enough of us.
“You don’t have to do that for her now.”
Saying no would be more than all right; it would be best. It would save Sheila to fight in our stalwart army another day. And saying no would help keep our numbers rested and ready.
There simply aren’t enough of us yet, no matter how much we want to support each other’s projects, to assist each other in the work we do for the ultimate goal of exposing injustice and righting the immoralities of the institutions where we work. We educate our hearts out to produce an intelligent, informed, and righteous citizenry, but our numbers remain low anyway. We are not to blame for our small populations.
A surge of relief surprised me head-to-toe when Sheila readily embraced this last suggestion. She’d already intuited we minoritized women faculty owe it to ourselves to say no even to each other from time to time.
Such a choice is rarely simple in the injurious academy. Our socialization teaches it’s “selfish,” maybe “unsisterly.” Yet I don’t want another woman faculty of color ever to feel herself a doleful image of “not saying ‘No’ often enough.” Careful self-preservation will remain essential as long as there simply aren’t enough of us.
Until next time,