The turning of autumn is one of my favorite times of year. Having been on an academic calendar my entire life, fall is the season of new beginnings, a time to turn up the intensity of scholarly production, teaching, meetings, school. But that intensity is also greeted with the changing of fall leaves and hopefully a cool respite to a swiftly passing hot summer.
While this summer was unusually cool in terms of the weather, it was inordinately hot in terms of the toll that the machinations of summer have taken on the lives of people of color. We start our fall in mourning of Eric Garner, and John Crawford, and Michael Brown. We start our fall in mourning of the two teen girls, TJhisha Ball and Angelia Magnum, whose murdered bodies were dumped unceremoniously by the side of a Florida road.
We begin the fall bracing ourselves for a long season of waiting and hoping that the grand jury in Ferguson decides to bring charges against Darren Wilson, the police officer who murdered Michael Brown. We are hopeful that the cold season does not cool our rage.
We start the fall – football season—giving a side eye to the NFL, that can’t seem to recognize the connection between violent cultures of sport and violence enacted against female partners and children in the home. We sigh at the brothers and sisters who spent the last couple of weeks defending Ray Rice for putting his hands on his wife, and Adrian Peterson for beating the ish out of his four year old.
We start the fall having run up against the limits of our cultural fascination with violence against black bodies, both the kind that the state takes the prerogative to enact and the kinds that we justify and use against each other.
All of this is to say, that we start the fall tired. Tired of the physical and emotional assault on our humanity and personhood. Tired that a “turn down for what” approach in the hands of state actors means assured Black death. Tired that the violence that is sometimes closest to us comes from the hands of those who look like us.
Yesterday in my graduate feminist theory course, I taught Sara Ahmed’s great book “The Cultural Politics of Emotion” in a two week unit on affect theory. I’m glad that this book and Melissa Harris-Perry’s book Sister Citizen open up space to think through how we use emotions in politics. Ahmed, for instance, uses Lorde to think about how anger can energize social movements.
“Crucially, anger is not simply defined in relationship to a past, but as opening up the future. In other words, being against something does not end with ‘that which one is against.’ Anger does not necessarily become ‘stuck’ on its object, although that object may remain sticky and compelling. Being against something is also being for something, something that has yet to be articulated or is not yet. As Lorde reminds us, anger is visionary…” (175)
I find it necessary to reclaim anger as visionary in a moment in which the trope of the angry black woman is deployed by a writer at the NYT as evidence of the truncated nature of Black female vision, such that Shonda Rhimes would or could be visionary if only she could more deftly navigate Black female anger.
As so many folks have masterfully demonstrated, that’s bullshit. But one of my issues with Ahmed, and one of my sometimes issues with the community of online feminists of which we are a part, is the way that the Black feminist project gets constructed at the site of anger. Ahmed challenges the idea that feminist movements, beholden as they argue to anger over patriarchy, are necessarily reactionary, by suggesting that everything is a reaction to something. Still angry things, valid as they are, are not the only things we have to say.
And what happens in a world where having been in a continual rotation of anger, you wake up tired.
Cuz I know I woke up like dis. Tired that is.
Tired of having to be angry. Angry nonetheless, but tired of trying to muster energy to write from the place of anger.
So I think that if we are going to talk about emotions and affects and the ways they inform movements, let us think about what Fannie Lou Hamer’s famous quote, “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired,” invites us to think about in terms of our politics.
Tiredness might not be an emotion, but it is affect. I feel it, I sense it, it exists on the surfaces of my skin and underneath, it contours my relationships, political, professional, and personal.
Usually tiredness is debilitating in the sense that it makes you want to sleep or rest or simply stop and call time out. But tiredness can also energize in the same way that the elder lady during the Montgomery Bus Boycott said to Dr. King, “I don’t feel no ways tired.”
So I want to say simply today, I write this from the space of feeling tired and feeling at some level “no ways tired” all at the same time.
In the midst of anger and helping those in Ferguson and us who stand with them cast a fully articulable vision of Black freedom, I write this as an invitation to care for yourself and those you love.
As I write I am aware of –
my house which looks askew,
the to do list that won’t quit,
the homecooked meals that I don’t even have time to prepare,
the sex I need to have,
the hugs which I would refuse but probably need,
the book that’s giving me fits,
the bills I need to pay,
the loneliness that sometimes tugs insistently around the edges of an outwardly appearing orderly overachiever’s life –
the limits of self-care.
I am thoughtful about what it means to build communities in which others have the capacity and opportunity and means to show up for us when we have reached the limits of ourselves.
But we are loved. We are angry. We are tired. We are sick of it. And we are cared for. In the midst of this, we find purpose. That purpose is to fight for the world we want to see. To teach others to see it, too. To commit to learning until we know how to cast a better vision.
I write this from the space of tiredness. I write it from the space of subdued anger. I write hoping that as we move from the green hues of summer into the golden hues of fall, we meet it with ripening political consciousness and possibilities for a robust Black Autumn.