Neither steel nor iron, but flesh and blood

As humans, our beautiful bodies are made up of 70% water. Prick us, and we bleed plasma and cells. And although a few of people hardly get sick (note: this is not me, but I’ve heard of you magical unicorns before), no one body is indestructible. We all need a break from time to time.

I say this to remind everyone: Black women’s bodies are not unbreakable.

Three weeks ago in North Carolina, a Black girl, a middle schooler, was caught fighting. Or she was caught trying to break up the fights. There are different accounts. What I do know, what we all know, after seeing footage, is that a school officer came over, lifted her off the table, and slammed her to the ground. That is not an exaggeration. He slammed her like she was a rag doll, an item in the war against middle school fights. She later suffered a concussion.

It’s been 24 whole days, but I haven’t been able to put that image out of my head. It plays in my brain–this grown man, slamming a child to the ground. It reminds me of the Black women who, a few years ago, was thrown to the floor from her desk by a cop. And it disgusts me to my core. Even if this girl was the most frustrating shit-talker, even if she was leading the modern-day French revolution at her middle school..for what? That man has a good 75 pounds on her at least. Picking her up alone was not okay, but he could have done only that. Why did he feel the need to slam her?

Unfortunately, this isn’t new, and we know this will continue not to be new.

We live in a world where our bodies are disposable, casual objects. When we face police brutality, we may not only be murdered, but others will forget to say our names. If we don’t die, we are chased at pool parties and sat on. If we are sexually assaulted or harassed, we are mere Jezebels, our bodies “asking for it,” especially if the perpetrators are White men. God forbid if the perpetrators are White men. We are kicked in grocery stores, ignored when we need help in public places but shoved when we are “a nuisance.” Our hairs are chia pets, yankable in the eyes of non-Black folk. We are spat on or spat near for wearing a hijab or a dashiki or for speaking our languages. We are grabbed and pushed and pulled up–and this starts in elementary school. Hands are laid on us, and not just in church. And if a woman is Black and trans, we know violence is more likely to happen- 17 reported times in 2016, to be exact.

Often, and always, the breaking moves past our physical bodies: We will speak up against injustice, online or in person, either in the most blunt or passive way, and people will find a way to invalidate our experiences, or call us “irrational” or explain “what is or isn’t a big deal” (in fact, if someone does this with this article, congratulations: you are the annoying prophecy I predicted). We will be told we are untrained, or thieves, or dumb, even if we’re actually doctors (no, really, yes, we are). Or just trying to shop peacefully in Victoria’s Secret. Or demanding to be seen for our brilliance. We will be told we can walk home alone because “Black women are un-rapeable,” we will be called everything but n****r in college (and I do mean everything), our names will be stripped away from its native tongue and butchered and we’ll be told our beautiful string of consonants and vowels are “hard to pronounce” or “too ghetto.” 

And yes, to anyone ready to question–some of this, from the physical threats to the emotional dismissal–includes me. Although I am “soft,” I, by virtue of being Black and being woman, I know what it’s like to be seen and treated as “unbreakable.”

At times, we may be loud, angry, tired, sleepy, strong, sassy, and/or upset, but that doesn’t give others licence to treat our bodies like trash. These are, in fact, human emotions and traits that everyone possesses, demonized in us because it is easy to demonize Black folks and it is easy to demonize women, so naturally, “the most disrespected person in America is the Black woman.”

We have got to do better. I think about the work I need to do, from making it a point to #SayHerName (and be active on Kimberle Crenshaw’s #SayHerName site), to constantly working against my cissexism and remembering trans and non-binary Black women in the fight for honoring our bodies. But I, and other Black women, are not the only ones who have to roll up their sleeves. Beyond recognizing this country is built on the backs of Black women, non-Black folks and Black men need to do the work with us, and give us space to tell our stories. And damn, we need justice for Black girls in schools, girls who are not only seen as problems but are manhandled instead of the humans they are.

Things that bring me joy: Gender Equity Book Group

One of the great things about where I work is that they take quality in-house professional development seriously. Case in point: in early October, Human Resources emailed everyone about starting a “book group that focused on gender equity and higher education.” The book in question? Disrupting the Culture of Silence: Confronting Gender Inequality and Making Change in Higher Education.

Um. YES YES YESSSSSSSS.

Me and bae, TOGETHER AT LAST

Me and bae, TOGETHER AT LAST

Believe me when I say I signed up for this so fast. To be placed into one of the five groups, the main organizer asked for an explanation on why we’re interested and how it would benefit us. I think she was looking for a blurb, but I busted out an essay about working in a male-dominated field and wanting to examine what gender equity looks like when you add in racial identity. I would have done tap dances and back flips (read: probably not, as I am as nimble as uncooked pasta) to get into that Book Group, because it has two of my favorite things: discussions about gender with other people, and reading. My inner nerd was all about this.

After I got in, I started to read the book and look at the book and hug the book. Because HOLY BATMAN, Disrupting the Culture of Silence is awesome. By no means does it tell the story of every identity within a gender lens (at least, I think. I am on page 65), but there is some variety. The selections on being a women of color in academia and student affairs are vast and plentiful. Do you want to talk about work-family politics, or queer facility experiences? Done. And there are CASE STUDIES, YA’LL.  Case. Studies. Case studies are personal narratives with a learning-centrist twist. I. Love them. Emmergawd. May my workload never keep me too busy to thoroughly read and process this book, please please please.

yes yesnerd yes

And I am so glad the university created this Book Group, because it is absolutely needed. My work community is great, but no school can escape the realities of gender inequality in higher education, and we need to talk about it. As you look up in the student affairs ladder, the number of women in leadership positions get smaller and smaller. According to 2014 data, only 26% of college and university presidents are women, which is interesting when you consider that 57% of college students are women. Female Chief Student Affairs Officers are less likely to aspire to university presidency than their male counterparts. And this is just looking at data that’s exclusive to VPSAs and presidents, not to even talk about the personal anecdotes I’ve heard from trusted mentors, or some of the (to be honest, horrific) experiences told by members of my book group last week.

I have been very lucky to work in environments that, for the most part, get it. And sometimes, people don’t get it. And I need this space because I want to both make sure I don’t perpetuate inequality through my actions, and because I want to fight for gender equality in higher education. What does that work look like when I have limited control over institutional oppression? Some days I don’t know, so I’m glad that for now, I have this Book Group, this space, to help me figure it out. Because I personally need a space to talk about gender inequality in student affairs as well.  Continue reading