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.”
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.