Want to hear something funny? Growing up, I felt so much heat from a number of people because I was never ‘black enough’. Most of the Black girls and Black people at school (as well as some other folks) gave me crazy flack because I was too ‘white’ — with, according to them, the way I talked, acted, and the music I listened to. I grew up in Orange County, CA, as opposed to Los Angeles, or another place where I could have ‘honed’ my Black persona, I guess. Another example is that since I also was raised in a very strict religious household, dancing was expressly prohibited (unless it was a holy dance at church or during prayer, of course), and so I never learned and that made me quite less Black than I should have been, too, maybe. Trust me I could go on with examples from then. It’s kind of funny how things have changed. Now, it seems that I’m just a bit ‘too’ Black and so now I’m dealing with the other end of the spectrum.
I think I have been accused of being ‘too radical’ or ‘too political’ on so many occasions I lost count. But to be honest with you I never really thought of myself as a radical until more recently — or, I never wanted to truly admit that I was one. In fact, it wasn’t until the last person I was seeing is the one who really encouraged me to ‘accept the radical’ — of course that was coming from someone who was also a radical Black feminist. I’ve also had to defend myself for ‘always talking about Black people’. But when that happens I generally tend to think there’s just an underlying message of racism, internalized racism, or how my friend says ‘colonization is powerful’ — especially after BLACK people have argued with me about my attention to Black people. But when I fuse my radical Black feminist thoughts and ideas with my work in anthropology I can clearly see how it all makes sense but others seem to not think so, I guess. Even my oldest nephew, when he knows that I’m going to give talks, always tells me (as a joke, but I know there is a level of seriousness in there) to ‘don’t get too radical on those people’ implying that I’ll scare them off. Folks just don’t want to hear it. Folks want ‘feel good’ and ‘fluff’.
But I guess that’s a problem for me — because I’m just not a ‘feel good’ and ‘fluffy’ type of person. I’m not about glossing over things. I want to get to the bottom of them.
I’m been sitting here disappointed over the past day because I recently got invited to participate in thee most incredible speaking engagement (an engagement that, in this venue, has often taken people years to get to). These folks who wanted me to present information at a conference that was right up my alley. In what I believed was the ‘preliminary’ selection — when I told them I was interested. I told them that I would be discussing Black and African American women’s breastfeeding tradition and that since Black women statistically have the lowest rates of any group in the country and that to my knowledge a Black anthropologist focusing on Black breastfeeding has never happened. And I thought this was an incredible opportunity to start a new conversation and even hopefully inspire others to jump on board.
The folks knew that I am a first-year PhD student, and they acknowledged that they understood I was early in my ‘formal’ research and even offered to help me construct my abstract and support me in any way they could. And my experience as an anthropologist and how I can help move the conversation in breastfeeding forward, I told them, stemmed first and foremost from the fact that I have lived as a Black woman inside of my black body in America for nearly 38 years. I also explained that my ideas about breastfeeding have been shaped by Black feminist theory (I’ve told you all before that I can’t even understand some things without looking through this framework), anthropological theory (which is what I have concentrated on throughout my entire education), and African American history. And with the practical work I have been doing for the past years — fusing all of these in the way I promote Black breastfeeding I thought I had a pretty decent record down. There was a back and forth conversation between us and they really wanted to hear more and told me how they thought that concentrating on breastfeeding among Black women was super important and then invited me to participate — until I told them exactly how I would be speaking about it all.
I sent in my information and the abstract talking about Black history and how Black people have lived and died and resisted in American society, and that the breastfeeding rates are just a product of a highly racist and politicized past. I also discussed how I would talk about the climate of resistance and how throughout this history Black people have voluntarily and involuntarily given their lives in the ‘struggle for freedom’, and that there have been various ways — tacit and explicit, of course, on how this struggle has been waged — think Nat Turner, think Harriet Tubman, think Malcolm X, think Civil Rights, think feigned illness, think public marches, think sit-ins, think Angela Davis and imagine all of the other people and names who are just too numerous who have lived and died and who have participated in radical resistance and that breastfeeding, through my lens as a radical Black feminist anthropologist needs to be a part of this conversation to save our lives. I told them that I would discuss how anthropologists — who have concentrated on race relations and exploring the history of people that have been racialized and how Black people, who, as anthropologist Faye Harrison says, ‘has been depicted as the most radical form of racial otherness’ have looked past this biological site, in order to see a larger picture on how the critical tools (especially Black) anthropologists possess can offer new insight on how to increase their knowledge in order to work towards more collective and transgenerational justice.
And then they told me that I was ‘not selected’ — because they received an overwhelming response from their call for proposals, and wanted someone who was ‘further along in their research’. Interesting.
I was already in ‘disappointed’ mode because just one day prior to them telling me this I found out that I didn’t get a funding opportunity for school that I really wanted (it totally happens, I know, but for the past months it was just a beautiful daydream about me not having to worry about how I’m going to pay for school for the next three years + receive a hefty stipend to live off of for just as long). And then yesterday I opened my email and saw theirs telling me that I was a goner.
I know I have heard of folks talk about how people have ‘uninvited’ them or didn’t want them to speak, after all, because they would be speaking about racism and about other political issues and not just some warm and fuzzy ideas that make folk smile. But I want to know what you think. Do you think that my radical views is what subsequently determined this outcome? Or, do you think I am being overly sensitive? Now, to be fair I wasn’t there and so I do not know what the conversation was exactly between these two people who were selecting and why they subsequently decided to not choose me to speak — or, to ‘revoke’ their offer. But I’m quite in tune with my intuition, probably more discerning than I really give myself credit for, and just going off of what I have seen and heard of before like I said knowing of others who are ‘silenced’ — and the tone of the email, I thought, said a lot. Also, I’m not going to make any assumptions but I can only imagine how many other anthropologists who concentrate on breastfeeding submitted to their request… I have to tell you that I am not serious when I say this.