Canaries and Cages

I haven’t written anything in a long time. I’ve started and stopped blog posts, but only in my mind. I’ve been engaging with writings that others have written and readily shared strong voices of my dear writer friends. But my own thoughts have been stuck on the roof of  my mouth and the tops of my keyboard–relegated to snippets of thoughts in the form of Facebook posts and Twitter tweets.

But tonight I went to go see Michael Eric Dyson. I’ve been interested in his writing ever since he wrote his scathing piece on Cornel West. Interesting does not mean that he appeals to me, but rather than I am intrigued at his thought process. Tonight he spent most of the night condemning Obama for chiding black people throughout his presidency, and then ended by saying as black men and women write we should write what we know academia wants to see. Then, once we get to the next level of the job–that tenure, that special honorary seat–we can start to write the more radical pieces we longed to.

If my 27 years of life has taught me anything, it is that the pieces of ourselves we compromise, the ones we push down in favor of being lauded by a system not meant to recognize you, we seldom regain. I have sat by firesides listening to black academics who I count as voices willing to listen and share in the uplifting of others, say that if you allow the system to change you so you can get in, its work is done. That if you leave out of your writing the things that make it your writing to get to that next level, that those compromises do not end. And I have to be able to look at myself in mirrors, face the person that I am. If my 27 years of life has taught me anything, it is that when the system does not recognize you, it is in that moment, those spaces, that LIFE, that you find the pieces you did not know the world had tried to strip from you.

And while Michael Eric Dyson spoke of these things, I peeked at my phone as Bernie Sanders slowly crept to a victory in Michigan, after a projected loss by 20 points. I have lived in the heart of America. It is where I was raised. In the heart of America I have encountered some of the worst forms of human hatred in my hometown and around it, and I remember every single moment. However, it is often where we find one extreme that we find the next. In a similar fashion to how black people are the canary in the mine, it could be that in the middle of America that we so readily cast off, is the comeback kid we’ll analyze for generations. Because as often as I have encountered the racism that plagues middle America, I have also come face to face with it in the form of those who claim to be liberal, open-minded, ‘allies’, and justice warriors. Those who might teach a class on radical politics, where radical is just another word for some of you get a pretty short end of the stick. They are often the ones who ask black people to wait, don’t shout so loud, wait your turn, and, similar to Prof. Dyson, ask that we shed that which makes us the canary in the mine, for a cage in the open air. Polls are often wrong, in much the same way the systems of oppression that many of us navigate remain the same because too many are convinced that our greatest protest is to protest our way into it.

I’m not conservative and I’m not a liberal. I’m a deeply spiritual black woman who is willing to examine the truths I develop and the items that people around me say are the Truth with a capital ‘T.’ I so often revisit these truths. One truth I have revisited lately is the act of voting. I used to believe that to not vote was to spit in the face of democracy. That to not vote meant I did not care, and that I had no right to complain. But in my struggle to find the spaces of survival, I have grasped at a truth that not voting is indeed a form of voting. One need not choose a lesser evil over another. And while I will cast my primary vote in May, I have let go of the faulty moral ground that demonizes those who don’t.

I have to decide where I stand, and I am choosing to seek within the margins a source of power, the kind that bell hooks wrote about and the kind that I have seen in the research that I have conducted. It is a space that does not ignore the existence of the “dominant”, mainstream spaces, yet does not look for it to affirm that which it creates. It is a space that on the fringes, within the realms of deviance from the norms, creates anew.


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