How are you breathing today?
How are you navigating the backlash, the unmasking, of white supremacy in our schools?
What does it mean that school districts are rolling back anti-racism resolutions? How can we hold the disappointment and rage at vile misogynoir forcing Dr. Claudine Gay to resign as Harvard’s shortest-tenured president?
We have experienced these cycles before, from Jim Crow as a response to Reconstruction to anti-feminist backlash. That doesn’t make them less painful, though. We see the pretext. We know the subtext. Nikole Hannah-Jones warned: “Academic freedom is under attack. Racial justice programs are under attack. Black women will be made to pay.”
In her own words, Dr. Gay said:
It is not lost on me that I make an ideal canvas for projecting every anxiety about the generational and demographic changes unfolding on American campuses: a Black woman selected to lead a storied institution. Someone who views diversity as a source of institutional strength and dynamism. Someone who has advocated a modern curriculum that spans from the frontier of quantum science to the long-neglected history of Asian Americans. Someone who believes that a daughter of Haitian immigrants has something to offer to the nation’s oldest university.
We want to amplify the reactions and reflections of Black women in this moment, echoing from the past and now. In 2012, Alexis Pauline Gumbs, author of Undrowned: Black Feminist Lessons from Marine Mammals, wrote in “The Shape of My Impact’: “The university does not intend to love me. The university does not know how to love me. The university, in fact, does not love me. But the universe does.” Editor-at-large for the 19th Errin Haines wrote: “Against Black women specifically, the conservative agenda is clear: minimize their excellence and exaggerate their mistakes. Their identities and leadership become weaponized and politicized. There is no room for error.”
As NYTimes Opinion writer Charles Blow reminded us, the targeting of Dr. Gay was neither about antisemitism nor plagiarism. It was about sending a message to schools and educators about any commitment, no matter how tepid, to anti-racism. Dr. Gay could have been groveling and it would not have been enough. Ratchetdemic and #HipHopEd creator Chris Emdin shared a story about a visit to Harvard two weeks ago: “Blackness and its forms of genius are under sanctioned assault….We require an audacious and unabashed defiance of the institutions, corporations, systems, and structures that expect us to continually acquiesce to their proclamations they they are at the center. They are not.”
Here is how we stay steady. We cannot brush off these incidents, as they do not happen only in far-away places to other people.
We must hold all of the truths at once. The Black Jewish Liberation collective reminds us: “we must not allow our trauma and fear to be used towards a destructive White Christian Supremacist agenda.”