The pursuit of a ‘better’ inequality?

I can no longer commit to “better inequality” as a goal or victory. I long for the collective commitment to move from espoused to lived.

My body is on vacation though my mind decidedly is not.

Annually I seek out a new place, or revisit on “old favorite”, for my end-of-year vacation. New locations distract my mind with explorations of places, foods, and often people unknown—or at the very least not commonly familiar—to me.

I’ve been a long-time adventurer according to my mother who describes how nearly from the time I could talk I’d ask to tag-along on an adventure with friends or family who stopped by to visit en route elsewhere.

The challenges of the global pandemic of 2020 left me making a decision to have a “stay-cation” this year in hopes of doing my small part in curbing the spread of coronavirus. That said, getting the mental break that often comes with new adventures in new places, or revisited adventures in favorite places, wasn’t an option for me this year. So, I “sit” in vacation mode at home.

This has left me much time to read, as well as to think—and many of my thoughts have centered on my concerns about so much that has happened in 2020. While I have continued concerns about the spread of coronavirus and the disease COVID-19 that it causes, as well as the continued grave loss of so many lives that we’ve not fully reckoned with or grieved collectively, I’ve also continued to reflect deeply on 2020 as the purported year of “racial reckoning”.

I guess I err on the side of caution—the caution of having lived multiple decades as a Black woman in America and the generations of caution imbued in me from the experiences of my Black ancestors—and think of 2020 more in line with Wikipedia as the year of “racial unrest”.

I certainly felt even more strongly than ever that we have heightened attention to racial unrest, rather than a deep-rooted racial reckoning, given the upwards of 75M who voted for a leader who is decidedly racist. This reality indeed stopped me literally for some days post-election.

If this country is indeed ever to have a true racial reckoning we will need more truth-tellers like writer and critic Kiese Laymon who declares the following in his recent, re-released essay collection How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America:

“Anti-Blackness [is]…an addiction broken only by honest reckoning, consistent practice, and welcoming of radical spirits.”

Kiese Laymon, How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America, p. 12

Being in a state of “racial reckoning” in America was declared after the national attention on anti-Blackness and anti-racism in the summer of 2020 following the latest killings of Black Americans at the hands of police, including George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, among so many others.

Many picked up books and shared public reflections on the change that needed to come. Many declared that the focus on this topic was happening in a way that they had not seen before. These declarants included wise public elders such as Angela Davis and my personal ones including my mother, who grew up in the segregated South. My mother, who but for being pulled from school many days to “pick cotton” might have been the first professor in our family, rather than me a generation later.

I believed them in the moment when they stated that this time was different–I still endeavor to believe them. But 75+ million….

Also, if I am completely transparent with you…and after having written and published some of the pieces I’ve written this year including declaring that “I am not Your Savioress” (in the anthology edited by Nicole Joseph titled Understanding the Intersections of Race, Gender, and Gifted Education), why stop now?!

Truth is I don’t [hopefully not yet, rather than not never] have the trust I should in my colleagues and community members that they will commit to the long-term, difficult, and uncomfortable collective work that will be required to move from an understanding of 2020 as the year of “racial unrest” to 2020 as the START of true “racial reckoning”. I genuinely don’t trust—just yet—that the current structure of academia will follow through on all of the Black solidarity or anti-Black racism statements. I don’t trust the current structure of academia to do much consistently other than pursue the scarcity of hierarchy, the continued delusion of meritocracy, and ongoing rat race of quantitative metrics, as well as to persist in fear of the “radical” and indeed to disavow, rather than welcoming, “radical spirits”.

Kiese has told us that the path requires reckoning and the radical. We have an “espoused reckoning” that must mature, indeed must aspire, to be a “lived” one.

All I have control over is me. So, as I try to vacation, rest and restore, I commit to move ahead into 2021 continuing to cultivate and guard my radical spirit, my truth-telling soul so that I can stand ready to be a part of breaking our collective addiction to inequality.

But as 2020 ends, I must admit that I fear that our incomplete commitment—indeed our inability and perhaps abject failure—to understand that our espoused “reckoning” is truly just recognition of “unrest” rather than a reckoning in the sense of acknowledging and settling.

Recognition is simply awareness. And in terms of awareness of racial unrest, I think of what Imani Perry says about awareness in her book Breathe. She states:

“Awareness is not a virtue in and of itself, not without a moral imperative.”

Imani Perry, Breathe, pp. 18-19

Our [false] need to believe that we are reckoning with the “thing” rather than [re-]recognizing or simply having heightened awareness of it will only lead us to “better inequality” rather than the raw and real pursuit of equity as a “moral imperative” that we truly need.

I can no longer commit to “better inequality” as a goal or victory. I long for the collective commitment to move from espoused commitment to pursue equity to lived and essential commitment to do so.

In 2021, you’ll continue to find me in all of my radical and truth-telling fullness on Twitter—@BerondaM.

The Power and Peril of Being Deemed “Essential”

In the wake of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 (i.e., severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2), we’ve learned new meanings associated with being deemed “essential.”

From the very start of the global pandemic, “essential workers” necessarily included first responders such as healthcare workers needed to diagnosis and treat COVID-19 patients. Additionally, however, other workers were deemed “essential” and expected to continue to work, despite the fact that doing so exposed them to risks. These personnel included those working at grocery stores, farm workers, delivery workers, transit personnel, as well as custodial workers in hospitals, shops, and other essential businesses.

Though deemed essential, these workers were often underpaid, even as they assumed heightened coronavirus exposure risks. Their temporal “essentiality” undoubtedly put them peril at of a greater risk of contracting COVID-19. Again, many of these workers are generally among the lowest paid; yet, “stay at home” orders made the work that they carry out critical in ways that we’d overlooked or actively failed to acknowledge (and reward) before the onset of pandemic. Indeed, despite years of lobbying and activism, minimum wage in the U.S. has been stagnant for decades.

At the same time that society-at-large was dealing with the pandemic, schools, colleges and universities were also pivoting to new means of engagement and education. Increasingly tuition-driven, colleges, and universities immediately began strategizing about how to keep classes going, and tuition money flowing.

Essential to the work of colleges and universities at this moment, personnel versed in “virtual” or on-line learning, and central to digital platforms, contributed to rapid pivots of instruction on-line. Many of the changes and innovations—and certainly not the speed at which they occurred—likely would not have been deemed possible prior to COVID-19—certainly not without protracted debate and planning. Yet, the recognition that failure to maintain access to classes would halt tuition income led to rapid action, and relaxed barriers about who could and should lead change in these spaces.

As access to class was deemed “essential” for the survival of institutions, rapid pivots and digital innovations ensued. Thus, while peril and risk came to those deemed “essential workers” in society-at-large due to exposure risks and job insecurity, “essential service” in colleges and universities that was tied to financial survival could be seen as leading to promise in regards to opportunities for digital innovations and stimulating the pace of change.

In the midst of responses to coronavirus pandemic, racial unrest resurged in the U.S. [although for many Black Americans it was already a present & persistent daily reality] due to events including those with Black birder Christian Cooper and involving the murder of George Floyd at the hands of police.

Universities responded, as did a great number of business entities, with statements professing solidarity with Black Americans and public written and verbal declarations that “Black Lives Matter.” Yet, despite these statements, real actions and strategies to mitigate or eliminate anti-Black racism have been much slower to emerge and less definitive in nature, despite the long-known racial disparities in academia.

These changes promised in the wake of responding to anti-Black racism have limped along or failed to materialize altogether—as if they are not essential!

Because I’ve seen what can happen when an issue or challenge is seen as essential, indeed is seen as critical to the very survival of academic institutions due to the tragic reality of COVID-19, I wonder what would happen if ensuring justice and equity in terms of access and success were truly seen in a similar light.

What rapidity and lengths of change would we see, if the leaders of our institutions saw equity and justice for students, staff, faculty—indeed all in these spaces—as essential to their very existence and ongoing survival.

No matter how many statements are made to communicate that equity is essential in these spaces, true promise in transforming institutions into spaces that prioritize, actively pursue, and hold themselves accountable for pursuing and maintaining equity and justice will only come when we deem it ESSENTIAL!

If you have comments on this post, as always find me on Twitter—@BerondaM.

My optimism can’t absolve you

While I aspire to optimism, even if my aspirations come to fruition: My optimism cannot absolve you.

In the most recent moments of grappling with police brutality against Black Americans, I’ve been asked countless times, mostly by non-Black friends and colleagues, “Are you optimistic?”

Truth is, I aspire to optimism.

But in practice I am probably more of a pragmatic idealist. What’s completely indisputable, however, is that I’m a truth teller.

And the truth about what I’ve come to understand is that many of these inquiries about my state of “optimism” or lack thereof have so much more to do with the fact that the questioner needs me to be optimistic. This is particularly true in cases where they’ve shared their new awareness about the state of “race relations” in the U.S.; their commitment to learn, grow, and change; or, their plans and actions, e.g., those related to anti-racism.

I was initially perplexed by their need to know if I’m optimistic, and even occasionally befuddled by their disappointment with my inability to readily declare that I possess optimism. My frequent response about my aspirations for or journey towards optimism seemed to frequently disappoint or surprise—as did my declaration that I’m not an unbridled idealist.

I’ve even had well-meaning colleagues suggest that optimism would be good for my health and state of mind. And while several studies have apparently linked extreme or strong pessimism with health risks, I’ve not seen strong links of optimism with positive health outcomes. A recent study on perceptions of financial outcomes does suggest that realists report a strong sense of subjective well-being; so, maybe my pragmatic idealist roots may serve me well.

All that said, I’ve gotten a sense that my expressing optimism about where we are or where we may be headed in our communities, workplaces, or as a country as a whole would give some of these non-Black friends and work associates a sense of absolution.

The truth is we each need to sit with the raw reality of this moment—a reality that I and many of my Black and other minoritized friends, family, and colleagues have traversed and continue to navigate. While the issues at hand, the historical paths related to them, and the daunting work that we must do to “right the ship” seems at times completely overwhelming, exhausting, and uncomfortable, we cannot look to those among us most impacted by the systemic racism in this country to carry the optimism and absolution.

So please know that while I aspire to optimism, even if my aspirations come to fruition: My optimism cannot absolve you.

You must continue to reflect, learn, grow, and commit to the hard, long work ahead. Your absolution is in doing the work, and fully submitting to the process of learning and growth.

If you have comments on this post, as always find me on Twitter—@BerondaM.