To my family, friends and therapist (Eiman Hussein): thank you for helping me build space to live.
Until (at least) the end of May 2021, I will be taking time off to focus on my own care. I will not reply to messages (via email, WhatsApp, text or any other social media platform): my closest friends and family will be responding to the most urgent messages (at a much slower pace). I will also be declining all speaking and writing engagements where I cannot deliver a pre-recorded talk/presentation.
This is part of testing out boundaries as crisis after crisis has left me feeling more and more depleted. Even as I’m sure of my decision to step back, I’m also processing waves of grief that it has come to this. I’ve been feeling myself crumble while sitting with my ever-present fear of death, and the heavy weight of seeing so many people disappear from a world built on brutal layers of non-care towards bodies that are minoritised.
I also hold on to a recent conversation with my therapist where she asked me what I wanted in light of particularly harrowing hospital news. My instinctive response was that I didn’t want to be sick, yet that’s not fully true. I still want to be me, with all the lessons that this illness has taught me. The truest thing I could say is that I know I want to live. The heart-breaking simplicity of this fact binds together so much of the liberation work done by Black, Indigenous and brown people; we spend so much time searching for spaces to heal from the constant (emotional, psychological and physical) cuts that we experience while navigating ableist, capitalist, colourist, white supremacist patriarchy.
In taking a step back from modes of communication that make me feel hyper-visible and vulnerable, I’m hoping to return to writing for myself with all of the bravery that I can muster right now. This type of writing requires me to make visible the chokehold of anxiety that grips me as I sit down to write. I am still hyperaware of how my body and writing can be belittled or misrecognised. Writing in the midst of non-stop crises has included reliving the many times I’ve left my own pain and trauma festering internally. As Audre Lorde already stated:
“Black women are expected to use our anger only in the service of other people’s salvation or learning. But that time is over. My anger has meant pain to me but it has also meant survival, and before I give it up I’m going to be sure that there is something at least as powerful to replace it on the road to clarity” (Lorde, 1984: 132; also see Cruel Ironies Collective, 2019).
So I need to turn towards the love I’ve been fortunate to give and receive from those who can see and hear me. I want to focus on nourishment with the people who I trust enough to ‘lay down my weapons and armour’ (Hodan Yusuf, personal communication with Wasi Daniju). I’m thinking urgently about how I might ‘stay rooted’ in my right to be (as Rooted Resistance constantly remind us to do). I’m choosing to stay surrounded by ‘people who are ready to face the harshness of life and to fight’ for a different reality (Lisette Lombé cited in Grégoire & Ntambwe, 2019: 64).
Over the next month, I’m going to be shoring up my personal boundaries in order to lay down the armour and weapons that keep chafing my hyper- tense and tender body. I’m focused on building nourishment with people who I trust to embrace the similarities and differences across our lives. I cannot afford to waste time with distractions; like having to explain why minoritized people’s pain and harm cannot be dismissed as acceptable collateral damage on someone else’s path to the ‘greater good’. We are seeing in real time that even when structures of ableism, colourism and racial capitalism can benefit some people temporarily, they are going to hurt and kill all people eventually. If you can’t see this, I can’t help you see my – or our- right to live.
So while I am witnessing how (implicit and explicit) cycles of violence inform the worlds we live in, I refuse to let it darken and contain the entirety of my existence. I’m ready to work on honouring the joy and light that I’ve been fortunate to experience within myself and with those that I love.
I end and begin again with a quote from Dr Watson (Twitter, 2019):
Do the work that sets your soul on fire.
Do the work your Mama and them can read.
Do the work that sets you free.
Do the work so that you may sleep at night.
Do the work so that your children may live.
Nothing else matters.”
Thank you to Francesca Sobande, Maryam Jameela and Rukayat Johnson for reading and listening to drafts of this piece.
Cruel Ironies Collective (2019). ‘Cruel Ironies: The Afterlife of Black Womxn’s Intervention.’ in: Akwugo Emejulu & Francesca Sobande (eds.) To Exist is to Resist. London, Pluto Press, 181-194.
Dr Watson (2019). ‘Dear Scholars, do the work that sets your soul on fire,’ by @terrinwatson. Twitter. Retrieved from: https://twitter.com/terrinwatson/status/1188925115666448390?s=20 [accessed 25 Jan. 21]
Grégoire, N. & Ntambwe, M. (2019). ‘Afro Women’s Activism in Belgium: Questioning Diversity and Solidarity’ in A. Emejulu & F. Sobande (eds) To Exist is To Resist: Black Feminism in Europe. London, Pluto Press: pp. 63-76.
Lorde, A. (1984). Sister Outsider: essays and speeches, California, The Crossing Press.