By: Jordannah Elizabeth
Shirley Graham Du Bois
Last time I wrote about denial, I wrote a piece here on Publik / Private entitled, “When Justice is Denied” because of a fateful meeting with Baltimore community organizer, Sheila Gaskins. She gave me a quote by Frederick Douglass, which I hand wrote in my notebook and expanded upon it in my post.
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about being smart, and a lot about being poor. The moment I set out on my own when I was a teenager, I never had much. I am by nature a pretty simple person. One thing I’ve always managed to have was a guitar and a small collection of clothing, but not much more. These days, I’ve settled in a bit more, signing a lease and I’ve begun to build a nice collection of books which live under the moniker, “Publik / Private Library” where I allow friends to borrow or keep books for free. I have some vinyl records, some simple but aesthetically pleasing furniture and a very small collection of vegetables and organic oatmeal to eat.
That sounds nice right? It is. But it’s hard to maintain while I work as a freelance teacher and writer. My checks are often late and very small. I’m asked to travel often and am lucky if my travel is covered, but room and board many times is up to me. I keep a hairstyle that is low maintenance and inexpensive to thanks to my generous and understanding hair stylist, who struggles and works hard herself as a single mother of four.
I’ve been thinking about success, but I’ve also been thinking about denial.
The word, “no” is a part of life. But as an intellectual Black woman who often teaches for free, offers courses that are free to the public and has lived minimally for many years, the word “no” is more complicated. We get into realms of access, equality, of kindness and respect towards Black women who work closely with their communities. We have to consider what is appropriate in regards to giving back to us for our free literal and emotional labor.
I find telling a young Black cis or LGTBQ graduate student who works in a research department that they can’t have something for free because they are truly in need occurs because of a level of fragility towards Blacks in education. I feel when people assume that I have everything I need, and don’t need assistance, could use a free meal, pay for my work and contributions and free access to life resources and travel, I experience hurt and confusion, and of course am put into survival mode. I’m a young woman who has been loyal to the underground and fights for the cause.
I and many others try to serve my community and family with consistency and work very hard to be reliable. I want to pay my bills on time, I respect that I am a citizen and want to pay taxes and student loans. I want to own a home, but we must understand that Black women who walk with an air of even the slightest amount competence and confidence are often denied help as we are considered the polar opposite of what what White America feels a Black woman who needs and receives assistants looks and act like.
Being smart should be enough right? Not with unequal pay, micro aggression towards our honest opinions, confident presence and unapologetic intellect. Even reading the words “honest opinions” together can immediately be assumed to mean unkindness and aggressive communication. But a Black woman being honest can be expressed in infinitely unique tones behaviors, and body language.
A smart Black intellectual woman or scholar is considered threatening and at the very least pressured to be armed with the means to pay for healthy foods, soaring rents, student loans, travel and family.
I don’t have much, and at times am shamed, alienated and devalued when I ask for help…or even a favor after I’ve labored, taught and provided profits to organizations and cultural collectives. I don’t find this to be fair. I give all I can, and am not ashamed to receive. I should not be made to feel ashamed to ask when I need something.
Black Girls and Race Women are very smart. But we are human and still experience systemic setbacks like all Black women in America and all over the world do.