As I was pondering the purpose of this blog, an email popped into my inbox. I was moved to respond immediately. The email is not here but below is what I wrote.
Maybe it answers the question.
I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your note. I’ve been struggling this summer–and now this fall–to find my place in the “A”cademy. In an academy that denies amazing women of color tenure, that abuses them in their classrooms, denigrates their research, and then writes them back out of the narrative. I’ve gone back and forth with myself about what it means to be a part of such a violent structure, about what activism means in such a context, and what social justice can be done when sometimes I feel more like an oppressor than a liberator. More oppressed than liberated.
Your note is an example of everything I hate about this business.
But it is also reaffirms everything I love about the work we do. Who will write our stories if we don’t, whether that is in the form of a monograph, a film, a song or a dance? As teachers and professors, who will make those demands in the classroom if we don’t–even if all it means sometimes is that we are the embodied, physical, radical force of change because we are brown, female bodies in front of the chalkboard? Just that, to me, is so much. It means so much to those black women in your classroom. It means so much to that black male professor who has to justify his own sexism–who will have to consider these questions, even if he does not realize it, every time he writes a new syllabus or answers a question on women of color radicalism. Who will have to deny his own knowledge because your presence has played a part in changing the script. Who otherwise would never be asked because certainly white men and white women (true allies excluded) are not asking him these questions.
Just that…is a lot.
Of course, it is not everything. I know that. But I find hope, faith and love in the little things. I like to think Ella, Fannie and Zora did too. That Alice, Toni, Tera, Kim, Elsa, Sharon, Mary Helen, Stephanie M. H., Jennifer Morgan, Jennifer Spear and countless others do too. That at this moment, they are pondering the same questions, and feeling the same pain, that you do. That we do.
This work is so important. We need to know our mother’s names. We need to be our own griots. Because who else is going to speak our fears, dreams, and struggles into existence? We must be our mothers’ daughters. I am my mothers’ daughter. Her name is Sandra Nuñez. My grandmother’s names are Mary Nuñez and Mae Johnson. These are important names, not because they wrote books, marched, taught, picketed, or worked. But because they lived. My sisters are Kristin Iris Johnson and Christina Aquino. We call Christina by “Tina.” Kristin writes under the pen name “K. Iris Nuñez.” Even as we battle against racist, heterosexist power structures of research, writing and publishing, she is resurrecting my mother’s name, making it even more holy by making it art.
I love your subject line. Take Over.
We deserve the same 500 books written about us as Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, or George Washington.
Isn’t there a book lust section on the Firewalker’s blog? If not, I’d like to add that as a widget (if I have the admin privileges to do so). Let’s use this radical media that is the internet to do the work that it can do. I know countless radical women of color are hard at work doing that. The Cyber-Quilt is growing (www.cyberquilt.wordpress.com). Let’s add to it. And not just on the revolutions of the 50s and 60s because that is just the culmination of work women of African descent have been doing for centuries, and it is just one part of the work black women have done for their communities. That work included making breakfast in the morning, working two jobs to send the kids to school, taking in that random cousin that popped up with a mysteriously bruised cheek, the fear and pain out and praying on the church bench or at the altar in the evening. The Combahee Survival Project is in action (combaheesurvival.wordpress.com). Let’s workshop. Let’s teach and inspire. Those young women in your class–bring them aside if you must. Let’s mentor. Let’s inspire. And let’s dance–because working hard is no good without playing hard. Let’s make art (www.saartjeproject.org).
These are some of the women, sisters and mothers who inspire me, in addition to ones mentioned already. Yes, they are all historians or do historical work, although they don’t all do the 20th century or 20th century U.S.. Or even live in the 20th century. Still, let your professor put that in his pipe and smoke it. Black women’s histories by black women from all across time. Probably as you wrote that email I was rehearsing black women naming in my office here in D.C.; writing names in colored marker on index cards and taping them around my room. So I would never forget:
Chana Kai Lee
Darlene Clark Hine
Deborah Gray White
Stephanie M. H. Camp
Elsa Barkley Brown
Francille Rusan Wilson
Anna Julia Cooper
Alice Ruth Moore Dunbar Nelson
Ida B. Wells
Aisha Kamaria Finch
Jessica Marie Johnson
Treva B. Lindsey
Nell Irvin Painter
And that is just off the top of my head. As I write this email. I just kept adding to it as I edited the content. And look how long already.
Has a history of black female historians been written yet, a la Wilson’s work on black female social scientists?
If not…this is work…WE should do…
And the archive…can begin…HERE.
Keep on fighting, sis. We have your back. Remember to rest, do some self-care this weekend. Chocolate is good. Brown and sweet like us :) Play some Erykah. Some JM. Some Santogold. Some J*Davey.
And imagine warm hugs from me, across the country though I am, because I am sending some to you with love.
Peace. En lucha. En paz.
ps. Consider this my love letter to you :) And to all of us. Myself included.