I am unchoosing the academy because I no longer want to play monkey for white validation

By Amber Butts No one talked to me about college, really, except my uncle who believes going was the best thing that ever happened to him. It saved him, he said, and it meant he could leave poverty. Meant he could access another life. But it also meant he could blame his mother for being both poor and “too young.” It meant he could romanticize picking himself up by his bootstraps and judge everyone who didn’t. It meant I never felt safe asking him for answers to questions I didn’t know. It meant pretending to know both the question and the answer, it meant over-talking, it meant smiling, pulling down my sweater, making sure my tattoo wasn’t visible.

I’ve almost had a BA in English and Women’s studies for 5 years. My partner says they will put money towards my student loans if I graduate. I was at a junior college when I first considered attending Saint Mary’s College. I was told and promised plenty of things. One was that the High Potential Program would be piloted and opened up to transfer students, so I transferred to the school instead of UC Berkeley thinking I’d get more financial aid. They never piloted the program.
I took a Children’s Literature course class called “Classic Fairytales” during my first semester. It explored the history of fairytales and their formats, including the gruesomeness in lullabies and other children’s stories. On the first day of class, the professor asked us what fairytales we remembered hearing during our childhoods. After we shared, she told us about a prevalent nursery rhyme she heard (and more than likely said) growing up in the South. It went like, “Eeny, Meeny, Miney, Moe, Catch a nigger by the toe. If he hollers, make him pay 50 dollars.” Several scholarly articles claim this was a controversial alternative version of the song, but in reality it was the original and inspired other, equally racist variations.
I was the only Black person in the classroom and the professor asked the class how they felt knowing this information. She never took her eyes off of me. I later brought up to her how unprofessional and culturally insensitive it was for her to reference this during the first day, with only one Black student in the class. She apologized. I was hurt, but I did what most of us do when encountered with this type of glossy racism, I shrugged and said it was okay. During my time at Saint Mary’s, I had one class with another Black person. In several of my classes, I was the only person of color. I smiled and flinched whenever someone asked me what I thought about The Canterbury Tales or Uncle Tom’s Cabin. What they were really asking me underneath all of that was, “Amber, look how far we’ve come. You’re lucky to be in this class. You do know we’re the good white people right?” The academy was an extension of the feelings I used to have being at my uncle’s house. The feeling of needing to be covered/ cover up the ghetto, the unsmooth parts. The southern drawl that pulls out when I say words like, “on,” “ten,” and “shadow.” I never went to campus parties. They made me uncomfortable. Being in small dormitories with enclaves of drunk white people is a nightmare I never ever want to be in again. I was always asked to speak on panels about Blackness, diversity and art. These panels centered trauma, pain and resilience. In the time I attended, I was never on a panel with non-Black folks. I’m still on pamphlets. Still get called for donations and events. Two weeks before my second semester started, I visited the financial aid office with my partner at the time to get everything in order. I found out that the money I had been “rewarded” was supposed to cover two semesters, not one. None of my financial advisors prepared me for this. My mama, ex and I scrambled to get money together in order for me to continue attending. Each day that I went to class, I expected a dean or provost to come in and let me know that I was not properly registered and would have to leave. I wrote papers that I thought wouldn’t get accepted because of my financial standing in the school. Though the registrar and financial aid offices concluded that my estimated family contribution (the amount they thought we could give) was zero, I was still responsible for paying $2,000/ month. Knots would turn in my stomach as I waited for the day I’d get embarrassed in front of everyone. I did this for a full year. During this time, I was diagnosed with chronic migraines. I asked if I could take 3 classes per semester instead of 4 to decrease the financial and emotional stress, but I was advised that I couldn’t. It was against the contract. Eventually, I had to take a semester off to focus on my health. I was also diagnosed with IBS and an anxiety disorder. All of these were exacerbated by the stress that I was under to academically perform at a high standard while literally not knowing if I would be kicked out of school. When I came back, my academic advisor (the one I’d seen once) took a sabbatical. I tried to find a new academic advisor, one that I could talk to about how scared I was, about how I didn’t know what I thought I should know. I needed help picking classes, I needed help finding people who looked like me that would accept me into their classes. I emailed, but I always represented the ask as something insubstantial. I worried every day. Every day I was on high alert. Everyday I tried to fit in with peers whose family members owned half a dozen ranches, white girls who threatened to not visit their grandmothers if they didn’t send their thousand dollar a month allowances. Black peers who stayed away because they didn’t want too many of us huddling together. Black kids who thought I was “too hood.” Some of you will read this and say this is my fault because I wasn’t resourceful. Because I didn’t try hard enough. Because I never really committed to asking for help. This isn’t for you. Or maybe, this is especially for you. My sister got her report card yesterday and my heart sank. She’ll be 14 on Wednesday. I sent her several texts in my head, most of them a version of, “If you continue these grades, you won’t be anything.” How terrible a thing to say to a Black child who is already told in so many ways that they won’t be anything? How evil is that to say to your sister? And what does that say about how I/ we measure success and worth? I didn’t say those things, but I almost did. Almost took my anger and disappointment with this world out on her. Almost crushed her already crushing spirit. Instead I said, “Aim for an A. I believe in you. I love you. If you need help, reach out. You are not a failure, no matter what these grades say. You are brilliant, capable and amazing.” Before I texted her this though, I spoke to my mama. I said, “At the rate Amira is going, she won’t graduate high school. Has she been doing her homework? What are her progress reports like?” What I was really asking my mama was, “What are you doing? Because the way I’m measuring how well you take care of the kids/ how good of a caretaker you are is based on how ‘well’ they do in school.” And I can do that, this judging, because I am no longer in the house. Because I don’t see everything. And even though I know the majority of what my mama is holding, the judgment still seeps out. This is the academy. Whiteness. This idea that we are a culmination of our successes and failures. That we are nothing beyond that. There is a relationship between what my uncle was doing to his mama and what I am doing, or thinking, of mine. I was noting place, and punishment, and disappointment too. At first, I do not ask if my sister feels good about herself. Or if there’s anything I can do to boost up her confidence. Or what her experience of school, her classroom, the place is. That only comes after.
Everyone keeps asking me, “So when do you graduate?” I would tell them I already did. I didn’t. When I changed high schools 5 months before graduating, a Black classmate made fun of the way I said “Hamlet.” The teacher was asking me to highlight Hamlet’s relationships in the play and point out the hidden meanings. I love Shakespeare, always have. But when the only other Black girl in this majority white class decided to make fun of me in front of everyone, I bared my teeth. I imagined crushing her. For both of us. She made both of us into spectacle. With choice words, I let her know not to ever, ever do that again. There was an invisible, imaginary and real distinction she made in the classroom that day. One that encouraged competition, strategy and undermining. One that said what she was and what I could not be. I refused to engage in any of that. Not because I was above it but because I knew I could whip her ass, knew I knew Shakespeare more, and no matter how beautiful her white teeth, I could devour her if I wanted to.

This is what the academy wants us to do. Devour with words and hands and thought. Wants us to strip, pull away, entertain. Be monkey.

When I write, I know that I am not the first person to name what’s happening. But when I would write in the academy, it made me feel like the first. I was lonely, on edge, defensive, not safe. At some point, I was told that the brilliance of the hood is not enough. That my brain needed libraries and dark rooms and people who said big words to make small people feel smaller, to make themselves feel bigger. At some point, I was told that my grandmama’s kitchen wasn’t supposed to smell like grease and bleach. That she wasn’t supposed to twerk and curse. That I would need to create another story because the story I had about our aliveness, about resistance, about blood, was not enough. When I was ten, my mama stopped reading books. She taught me to read at 4 and that was enough for her. She became uninterested in it. One day, she realized I couldn’t read a map—didn’t know what direction to go in to and from school. She made me ride the bus alone at 7 years old to get an understanding of “the real world.” She said that books could not tell me how to live. That I needed to know how to get to places that my books could not. She said I could read all the books in the world and it wouldn’t mean anything if I didn’t know how to get home. I never want to get to a place where I forget what home is. Forget the people who make that place. Forget that “my work” is never my work. I have never owned it. If my mama never picks up another book, can she read this? Does this need to be written? What conversations will it support? What’s the goal? Is my grandmama proud? Can this story be read out loud? I’ve decided against the academy. It used to be because I was afraid and felt unworthy. Because each time I spoke to someone, the requirements on how to get my diploma in the mail changed. Added onto, tripled. Made me feel small. Because I worried about being revealed. Now, I unchoose it because the work I’m doing is not contingent on getting a degree or having “doctor” in front of my name. I unchoose it because I want to return to something much older and fulfilling. In my dreams, I am still plagued by screams of failure. Of bills and student loans. Of white students accessing me. If I go back to school, I go back knowing that the work/ my work is made possible by the lives, deaths and manipulations of poor Black folk. If I go back, I face this and I never forget that these lives and deaths make theory accessible. That the subjugation and subjection of poor Black pasts, presents and futures fuels the machine. That they are disembodied, destroyed, condensed so that we can study. So that we can get book deals and be on panels with Power Points as portals. So that we can shake hands with white men and women and smile and play speculator.

So that these Black studies programs and students have to jump through hoops with white donors to “survive.” 

I learned a lot about power, relationships, boundaries and lies trying to gain access to the academy. I learned more thoroughly how applications, accolades and scholarships measured how much money I should/ shouldn’t get based on how much I’d endured. How visible my trauma was. And by how many times I named race and racism as individual obstacles versus systemic, intentional and insidious realities.
But I knew this already. I felt it when I walked on campus for the first time. Each time I was asked to show my student I.D. I didn’t really learn anything new here. I think maybe, this is part of what my grandmama meant when she said, “Be careful at that school,” or, “Be safe, I’m praying for you.” Or, “You are heavy on my heart today.” I never thought or wanted to be treated the same as the white students in the classrooms. I just wanted to get away from places that simultaneously praised their mediocrity and punished me for knowing.
I want my sister to know that she is brilliant. I want a protection zone around her and all Black children, so that they can rest and imagine and live. I want them to be both affected and unaffected by the pressures around them. I want a world that does not pierce and pick at her confidence. I want classrooms and books to remind them that they are all worthy. A place where they don’t have to win or excel to get recognition. I’m still working on telling her all these things and listening to her answers and questions. Here’s a photo of me from three years ago celebrating an almost graduation that will never happen. On good days, I am okay with that. On harder days, I try to drown out “failure.” Suggested Readings:
Andrea J. Ritchie, “Dajerria Becton Survived a Violent Arrest at a Pool Party and Went Viral“, Teen Vogue, 2018 Gillian B. White, “The Data Are Damning: How Race Influences School Funding“, The Atlantic, 2015 Esther Canty-Barnes, “Racial inequity starts early — in preschool“, The Conversation, 2016
Amber Butts is a writer, educator and tenants rights organizer from Oakland, CA. Her work has appeared in Blaqueerflow, KPFA’s Women’s Magazine Radio and 6×8 Press. She is currently at work on an afro-futurist novel focused on themes of intergenerational trauma, imagination, Black survival and environmental racism. Amber’s writing challenges multiple systems of oppression through the use of queer and womanist frameworks. She works to amplify the stories of poor Black folks, with an emphasis on mamas, children and elders. She believes in asking big and small questions that lead to tangible expressions of freedom and liberation. Amber likes cheese and comic books and sings louder than she needs to. The post I am unchoosing the academy because I no longer want to play monkey for white validation appeared first on RaceBaitr.

Agenda for December 6th Support Meeting

  • General announcements
  • Checking in with international liaisons
  • Time permitting: Open floor
For any other items to discuss, please add them to the comments below, or bring them up in the meeting. The meeting will be held on Thursday, December 6, 2018, 17:00 UTC in #forums on Slack. (a Slack account is required)

That Was Scary: Postpartum Hemorrhage

Last month, we welcomed our sixth daughter, Ruth, to the world. The pregnancy and delivery were pretty unremarkable. Everything textbook and nothing really out of the ordinary. About four hours after she was born, we were in the postpartum ward of the hospital. Vanessa’s parents had just left after meeting Ruth and we were settling into the normal couple days of being in the hospital. Vanessa said she wasn’t feeling very well. Okay, no biggie. Let’s call the nurse. Vanessa called and asked for her nurse to come down. A few seconds later, “I really don’t feel good.” How so? Vanessa said she felt like she was going to faint. Again, “I don’t feel good”, she kept repeating. I offered her to take a sip of water because doctors always say drink plenty of fluids. I pressed the call button again. She coughed instead of swallowed and then she went unconscious. All of this was within 60-75 seconds of Vanessa saying she didn’t feel good the first time. This was a new one for me. For a split second, I was in denial. “Vanessa, come on.” and shook her a bit. “No really, come on, open your eyes.” Nope, nothing. It was a strange thing to see, never seeing someone go unconscious before my eyes before. Her eyes weren’t quite shut and her mouth weirdly skewed. Thankfully, when we were in labor & delivery, Ruth was coming relatively quickly but the team thought we probably had a half-hour to go. One of the L&D nurses told us to hang out, but said if Vanessa felt like the baby was absolutely coming and not slowing down, to pull the call button out of the wall to get people in the room right away. Nurses may have told us that trick before, but this time, it resonated and stuck with me for whatever reason. Back in postpartum, Vanessa is unconscious and that seemed like a pretty good time to test out pulling the call button out of the wall. Upon pulling it out of the wall, the chime ringing outside the room kicked up a rapid pace and a nurse we hadn’t met was in the room very soon after that— “Is everything okay?” “No, she’s unconscious!”
Good to Know!

Pulling the call button out of the wall will bring medical staff quickly.

At that point, the nurse called out to another who had come into the room to “get people” and put some smelling salts under Vanessa’s nose. She jolted awake and then looked to immediately pass out again. I took Ruth, who was hanging out in her little bed, to the far side of the room and the room filled with people quickly. Something newish I think to the hospital we were in, they called a “Code Rover” after the first folks started working on Vanessa. It wasn’t a thing when the twins were born and in the NICU, but from reading a bit online, it is like a Code Blue (for when someone has stopped breathing and heart has stopped), but not that severe. It alerts a team to help someone who is in a life-threatening state, but their heart and lungs are working still for the moment. At this point, the room filled very quickly! At one point, I counted 20 people in the room and I could see more people in the hallway. With me was a medical student explaining what was happening medically and the hospital’s chaplain to make sure I was doing okay. Vanessa had a nurse at her head administering oxygen, three or four on each side doing nurse-y things, and a doctor at her foot acting as the conductor. There were a couple of nurses taking everything Vanessa had bloodied, then weighing it against fresh versions to determine how much blood she had lost. Someone else was bringing in blood, someone else was running vials down for lab testing. They worked for awhile giving her various drugs, pushing fluids, and whatnot. I had a coworker lose their wife after childbirth—was this that happening? Both at the time and writing this weeks later, it was the scariest moment of my life. In our family, I’m the “emergency” captain. I own situations like Olivia’s various emergency room trips and hospitalizations. Every birth, I’ve owned that I need to manage the situation since Vanessa has more important things to do. The twins were a high-risk delivery that put them in the NICU for almost two weeks and then re-admitted when they were a month old. I’ve handled all of these situations without letting emotion in, beyond a bit of dejected frustration at 4:30 a.m. of Olivia’s first asthmatic ER trip. Except for when my dad died, this was the first unexpected immediately life-threatening situation I’ve handled. I worry and play random worst case scenarios through my head literally all the time, but losing Vanessa while holding our newborn wasn’t one that I had prepared myself for. Not wanting to be the guy flipping out on the other side of the room, I was able to hold it together enough to tell myself Ruth needed me to keep her calm and to text Erin, a dear friend of ours who had been a L&D nurse. At first, I expected her—or at least wanted her—to tell me something about how this was all really normal and not to worry. Her first response was to sit down if I needed to, which validated that I was legitimately in a situation where it was okay to be flipping out a little. I suppose the hospital’s chaplain being paged to stand with me was validation enough, but I digress. It was about 30 minutes before I could see Vanessa moving and she finally was able to open her eyes and look at me. In her telling of the story, she was awake ever since the smelling salts, albeit too weak to even open her eyes, but to me, she looked limp and unconscious for a long time. The worst I heard them announce her vitals, she had a blood pressure of 60/30. She lost enough blood where they gave her a transfusion and, all said and done, took about an hour before most everyone besides a couple nurses left the room. In the end, we were pretty lucky. Lucky that she started bleeding when she was awake, so it was obvious something was wrong. Lucky that I was in the room. I could have easily been taking something to her parents’ car with them or checking out the gift shop. Pulling the cord may have been enough to get her attention fast enough to ensure we had a happy ending.


It wasn’t until we were home for almost a week before Vanessa and I processed it together. She agreed not to scare me like that again.

The post <span class='p-name'>That Was Scary: Postpartum Hemorrhage</span> appeared first on Brandon Kraft.