*Note: This is an edit of something I wrote nearly two years ago. Amazing how some of my concerns have not changed. I’m also trying to work my way into writing about something more difficult to discuss but getting there.*
I was watching Democracy Now in October of 2011, I got the chance to get acquainted with Nobel Peace Prize winner Tawakkul Karman. I realized that she was 32 and I would be 33 that next month. At that moment, it occurred to me that my life is and has been quite rather useless.
I’m not self-loathing or self-deprecating. I am a realist. I don’t know if I was ever really an optimist. I was involved to some extent with many things in my 20s. Now I feel like an old woman playing a young person’s game when it comes to activism, which is strange because I feel like I’ve been in my 30s since I was in my mid-teens. If I may use the term loosely, I am also aware that I have become a bit more conservative about a few things than I was a few years ago. But mostly, I sometimes just don’t think there is anything much I can do that will bring about real, tangible difference to anyone.
My feelings actually began while I was still in graduate school. I still felt some commitment to activism but it was definitely dwindling as I focused on my work. However, it pretty much disappeared when the bottom fell out of my life. I discovered blogging, which helped me vent as well as stay connected to what I believed in, but there was still no tangible results. I set goals for myself and so far I had only been able to achieve one in 2011: I moved out of TN. I began to reevaluate my life and why I continue to withdraw from taking up a cause. I came up with three possible explanations.
Like most people who grew up poor, I have a deep fear of poverty. I was fortunate enough to find work last year, which was why I could finally move out of TN. I wanted to have the opportunity to enjoy my adult life. However, I also wanted to be in a position in which I could help my family members should the need arise. I like having money in the bank “just in case” and I feel good being able to be there when my loved ones need it.
However, I have to convince myself that it is okay that I do not spend every possible second working. I am a workaholic by nature, so I have to tell myself that it’s okay that I spend an hour or two reading for pleasure. I have done a few things here just to enjoy myself and I try not to feel guilty about it. I have also resumed my place as great aunt since I love buying my nieces and nephews things for their birthdays just to show them that I’m thinking of them. (At this point in time, finances have gotten tighter and I’ve even had to stop getting gifts for my niblings, which also feels bad because I can’t even send them something tangible to show them I’m still thinking about them.)
What does this have to do with my lack of involvement in the world around me? Not only do I just not devote the time to get behind something, but I am also sure that I am violating my own code of ethics when I buy things that just may have been made under the worst working conditions for some poor worker. Even though I’ve made one of my loved ones happy, I know it has come at a cost to someone else. I remember reading something Lauryn Hill said about a subject I had often giving some thought to. She said she wondered what happened to the people who were so active back in the day. She had the same answer I had: they had children. It’s amazing what we are willing to compromise for those we love and who love us most.
Lack of Connections
I began to fall away from the people who shared my ideas while I was still in graduate school. It became worse once I left and the only contacts I have with people who are likeminded are on the Internet in social networks. I don’t get involved with organizations. I grew (and still am) disillusioned with the academy after my dealings with white women privilege and women of color with skin color privilege who claimed to be liberal and/or progressive but don’t like to deal with black women on black women’s terms. [I’m still struggling about writing about this.] After a few of the things I’ve seen with movements such as Occupy Wall Street and Slutwalk and now #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen and #BlackPowerIsForBlackMen, I know I did not imagine their privilege.
I even tried to start my own safe space/community, the Black Swan Collective, with mixed results. Not too many people want to take a chance on you if you do not already know the right people, so this venture was a learning experience. It makes me wonder how comfortable we really are with spaces created by black women for any purpose.
I know I would have an easier time if I aligned myself with a larger organization, but even within communities of like minds, I find that my voice is often disregarded. For instance, when I kept the blog, I found that most replies when they came were more directed at schooling me rather than dialogue. If I my voice and opinions are not valued in my own community, what good would it do in larger movements? This leads me to my third point.
Activism Is Effing Hard
I totally admire those who are willing to devote their lives to their passions and their beliefs. I know many of them will spend their entire lives being activists and will be remembered for it until the day they die. However, I realized something when it comes to anything: no matter what you do it takes money. You can talk about resources all you like, but the real issue is money. Job hunting takes a lot out of the spirit just as not making enough to make ends meet. I get some satisfaction seeing current movements led by black women and other women of color and it does give me some hope that there is space for those who are not content to sit around waiting for opportunities to come to them.
I am an indie scholar and all funds and resources are allocated to the academy. Any work I do has to come out of my own pocket and I actually intend to get back to my scholarship as soon as I am able. However, I also have to look at the area in which I work: representations of black women in the media. I think I have difficulty finding an audience for two primary reasons: 1) everyone feels s/he already knows about this since we all watch TV, films, music, etc. and 2) I am keeping them from enjoying something they would rather not think about.
It’s hard to stay devoted to something when you feel your voice is not heard. When you feel no one listens and no one wants to, can you really keep up all your efforts? Can you keep your sanity? I will see how it goes when I start my new projects, so hopefully I will have gotten better at this indie scholar thing and do something.
I don’t expect to ever win a Nobel Peace Prize or any other kind of accolades for anything I do. I did expect that my voice would be taken seriously and I would be allowed to find an audience who feel as I do about things and needed a place to feel safe with our beliefs. I don’t know if my writing will ever take off, but I do know I must do it. I have surrendered to my fate because I was always meant to be a writer. If it helps me find an avenue to the social change I would like to see, that would be the ultimate reward. But for now, it is completely selfish. I have to do it for my own survival. I have to do it for my sanity. This is where I am with my life and I have to go where it takes me.