It’s never just about the “microaggressions.” Daily aggressions derive their political and emotional meanings and are legitimized inside of the larger contexts of dehumanization. When the white male professor down the hall accused me of stealing his little measly stuff, that happened at the same time that I watched, over and over again, Eric Garner tell NYPD that he couldn’t breathe. They killed Garner anyway, for standing on the corner with some loosies. Though the inability to even walk down the hall at the college where you work without being perceived as a thief is not the same as Garner’s murder, a singular social system justifies both. When I was questioned by a hyper-privileged white administrator about my academic credentials, as if I didn’t have them, that happened at the same time that the initial jury wouldn’t convict Michael Dunn of first-degree murder of Jordan Davis. It took TWO TRIALS to rule against Dunn, a white man shooting at a vehicle with 17-year old Black boys in it. Again, my experience is not similar to Davis’s murder but the trial made the aggressions I faced all the more unbearable. The microaggressions that are sure to come as soon as school starts will be happening alongside countless other incidents: like white people, mostly white women, calling the cops when they see a Black child mowing someone’s lawn or selling bottled water . . . when they see Black folks having a BBQ in the park . . . when they see Black folk _____. When school starts, we will be fighting today’s current fascist regime to get Brown children out of cages at detention camps. When school starts, we will still be marching against more theft of Indigenous land and more police shootings of unarmed Black men and women. There’s only one thing you can do in the midst of all of this when you are a college professor and work in the academy. GET. OUT.
You’ve got to take your mind back. The microaggressions that you face everyday on campus and living your life in light of what is going on in the world will mess with your mind. And that’s what Fridays are for in a week in the life of a black feminist pedagogy. Honestly, you gotta take your mind back everyday, but by Friday, it gets real official for me.
Though we don’t always talk this way: as academics, we are also fundamentally scholars … writers … and researchers. You need inspiration to maintain that. I am talking about something different from self-care. I mean something IN ADDITION to self-care. Yes, you will need to know how to protect yourself from endless requests on your time and energy, long lines of folk who need something from you yet again and give nothing back, and just the general, never-ending drains on your time and energy. You have to learn how to replenish, rejuvenate, meditate, and calm your spirit for the work that you do. But you also need some intellectual inspiration and when it comes to radical theory and praxis where it relates to race, gender, etc, I have never found that at any university where I have worked. Like I said, you have to GET OUT or your ideas will be as compromised as the folk who tout justice and perpetrate microaggressions like in the campus examples that I opened with. While my students certainly inspire me, I still need to get away from the classroom at times. When the weekend comes, I’m out. It’s a struggle with errands and family but it’s hard to come back to work on Monday to more meaningless, inane, or violent situations unless you refilled your mind with something worthy of your people and your history beforehand.
You need intellectual inspiration in droves if you want to think new things, write in new ways, and research unexplored corners about anti-Blackness and radical futures. And so when T.G.I.F. comes, I hit the road and get far, far away from my college. I have even arranged my teaching schedule to accommodate my T.G.I. Intellectual Fridays and weekends.
Many colleges are lenient when faculty cancel classes, especially for professional travel. Unlike every other college where I have worked, my current institution does not play when it comes to canceling classes though. You better have that cancelled day of class on your syllabus with a detailed assignment that students can do and understand on their own. All kinds of other mess slides for college-level expectation at my college, but cancelling class does not, at least not in my department. I appreciate this vigilance on the part of my unit. My students are not busting their behinds for a college degree to have professors who do not bother to show up or just let TAs do the job. This means that I only teach on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays and get the service work done by Thursday. I front-load the week so that come Friday, I can be out. This way I don’t have to cancel classes and disrupt the flow of my teaching. Allowing Thursday-Friday-Saturday for travel and other intellectual excursions is a lifesaver for my thinking. Even when I don’t travel, I try to attend some kind of event in New York City to get my mind out of the mess my institution makes of it during the week. It seems simple but I need to be vigilant with my time and energy too ….otherwise, I will hand over entire weekends to meetings, emails, or phone conversations coddling grown folks who dominate your time because they refuse to figure out meaningful lives for themselves. You have to fight for the time and space to think and be.
Faculty colleagues of color are not something you can count on either. There are either too few of them or the ones who are there are too busy soothing white egos and catering to white comfort. I have no patience for them and am REAL CLEAR that this does not belong to the Black Intellectual Traditions of our ancestors . One of my colleagues of color told me that they were warned not to fraternize too closely with other Brown and Black faculty (i.e., sitting next to one another in a department meeting). I’m not shocked that senior white faculty and administrators would articulate and execute these kinds of slave codes to Brown and Black professors (reminder: slave codes prohibited the enslaved from assembling without a white person present). However, I AM surprised by how many faculty of color comply so willingly with these campus-plantation rules. You won’t miss out on any real conversation or interaction of political depth with these Sambo types though. This is why you need to always fellowship with the radical Brown and Black academics across the country and form a circle that extends well beyond your campus. Like I already said, I front-load the week so that come Friday, I can be out.
I attend many conferences, but only those that theoretically and politically inspire me and that have folk of color in large attendance. I refuse to be mesmerized by attending an intellectually-mediocre conference because, like so many academics that I see, it is the only place that makes me feel famous and important. I also give many talks where I get to meet graduate students and faculty and hear more intimately about their work. This also lets me see what other universities are doing and keeps me from the provincialism that would suggest that the way my university does something is the only or most contemporary way. Other times, I am just reading a set of articles or a book that pushes me to see, think, or write something in a different way. I resist the academic rule that you need to read solely or mainly in your discipline. You won’t grow intellectually that way— you just join the old boys’ club. And if you are of color, you don’t have the luxury to be so closely wedded to any one field or discipline anyway since none have your people in mind (even ethnic studies often looks for its legitimation today from neoliberalism). So on T.G.I. Intellectual Fridays, I am reading and learning. It seems like working at a college, learning would automatically fill my days. Strangely, it’s not that way. You have to plan your week around thinking/ learning in order to take your mind back.
Your description of the upside-down “reality” of the world of academia is not only refreshing, but reinforcing.