I don’t like being angry. To me, it feels unnatural. Something at odds with my personality.
I’m mostly extroverted, friendly, fun-loving, and kind. I don’t enjoy situations that cause stress. But I’m also opinionated, confident, and stubborn. If I believe I’m right about an issue, the least I can do is talk about it. Make other people notice there is something wrong that needs to be addressed. And this makes avoiding stress and anger difficult.
However, there is another, a more fundamental reason I don’t like being angry. Because I often find I’m not allowed to express it. I’m not talking about laws, but rather the threat of negative consequences.
Recently, my dad told me to shut up. We were in a cab, and the driver had pissed me off. He was commenting on the poor driving skills of a—gasp!—female student driver passing us by in her car. The cab driver said that women, as intelligent as they might be, made for horrible drivers. Yes, all women, according to him. You can bet I was angry.
Later, I told my dad off for warning me not to express my opinion. His defense, while infuriating, was realistic. He said we didn’t know that cab driver, and he could be a psycho.
While my dad wasn’t telling me to keep quiet because I am a woman, I was furious because this is not the first time I’ve had to, or been told to, not act or talk back in anger.
Growing up, I learned the value of diplomacy. If I got mad at my dad, I would share with my mom. If I got mad at my mom, I’d share with my dad. More often than not, what angered me also angered them about each other. So I had a shoulder to cry on and an ear to complain to.
Naturally, there were also times when I got mad at both of them, or they were both cross with me. Then my diary would come in handy. Because, let’s face it, you couldn’t yell at your parents for as long and as much as you wanted without consequences. No matter how right you thought you were, they controlled your social life, curfew, and allowance. They had the means and authority to make your life hell if they so chose. I carried these home-taught lessons of diplomacy to school with me.
I mentioned not being shy. However, I’m very rational. I weigh not only the pros and cons of my actions, but also potential consequences, negative and positive. That’s why I only argued with my teachers enough to make my opinion heard, but not to the extent that would warrant a visit to the principal’s office. I chose to rebel slightly with my uniform by making my skirt shorter or wearing shirts in colors not listed in the dress code. I talked in class when I could get away with it. I didn’t study only when I knew mediocre grades wouldn’t affect my future.
Yet, there was always a sense of uneasiness. After all, I couldn’t be fully myself without getting in trouble. My rebellions were safe. For instance, if my dad thought a skirt was too short, I’d wear it behind his back. I was thinking that once high school was over, I wouldn’t need to exercise so much diplomacy and self-control when it came to anger. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
College more or less operated on the same principles. Forget full-blown arguments: you couldn’t openly disagree with your teacher without ending up with a worse grade.
While I am aware this kind of struggle is not necessarily gender-related, it only adds up. Boys in school, for instance, didn’t have to deal with teachers (or parents) telling them their skirts were too short. Ironically, most of us wore them short because the school had granted its teachers the authority to comment on it. Had they been less involved with the length of our uniform, or how we did our hair, we wouldn’t have acted out so much. After all, a choice taken away from you, no matter how trivial, is one more thing outside of your control over your own life.
All that pent-up frustration accumulates through the years. “That lipstick is too dark.” According to what? “Those pants are too tight.” Why does the width of my pants matter to anyone but me? But society loves putting its nose where it doesn’t belong.
Since I’m a woman, I have to stay calm not to escalate things. I have to keep calm so I don’t anger a potential assaulter. I have to remain calm rejecting men or dealing with strangers. Just in case.
Growing up, I used to think that life in the U.S. would be easier. I naively based this perception on the movies I saw, which weren’t exactly unnerving true stories. They were romantic comedies and fun action films. To me, the U.S. represented more individual freedom and more options. A country where I’d feel more at home being myself. Moreover, I wanted to work as a screenwriter, and Hollywood was my dream destination.
Don’t get me wrong, I still want to live in the States. My screenwriting dreams persist. I’m just more informed than I used to be. More political. And I’m scared free speech is not as valued and sacred there as I was led to believe it was.
I often envy my American friends—men and women alike. They get to be critical of the government on their social media. My writer colleagues pen emotional and honest opinion pieces. But when it comes to pitching my own stories about the United States, I am scared. I have deleted several story pitches before they found their way into editor inboxes. Because what if they like it, the story gets published, and it is used as a way to reject a visa or other more permanent applications to live in the country?
If you are wondering why I’m trying to come to a country I no longer believe to be perfect, it is because I’m in my thirties. I am painfully aware that no country is. And I love many things about the U.S., the entertainment industry topping that list.
Of course, I’m angry about the state of the entertainment industry too. I’m angry Harvey Weinstein got away with all his crimes for as long as he did. And he is not exactly suffering for it either. I’m angry Louis C. K. got a comeback so soon after what he did, and it was deemed no biggie by many of his fans and friends.
I’m angry about the latest Supreme Court Justice. I’m angry people thought it was okay to give a guy with his temperament, and his obvious Republican partisanship, a permanent seat with such power. Even without the accusations against him, how he handled the entire ordeal should have been a gigantic warning sign. It wasn’t.
I’m angry writing this might prevent me from getting into the country, since many Republicans see immigrants as a nuisance at best and criminals at worst, unless we are from Northern Europe. I’m angry on behalf of my women friends living in the U.S. because the current two-party system puts their bodily autonomy up for debate. I’m angry that a writer wanting to help other women by making a list of potentially dangerous men in media gets sued for it.
So what can I do about this anger? I can no longer keep it in check. Instead, I can write about it. I can, and I will, talk about it. I can share stories with others who are afraid but expressing themselves anyway. Maybe slowly, we will all be less afraid of our own anger. And when we stand our ground, the consequences won’t be negative. We will finally see permanent, positive change.
1. When your co-worker sees a book on your desk she:
A. acknowledges that you readB. tells you she doesn’t read books about oppressionC. exclaims that she is reading a book about a black man who was wrongly accused of capital murder in the 80s and 90s.
2. When said co-worker tells you about the plot she:
A. tells you that a white man accused him of murder due to childhood rivalry and wants you to be shockedB. is astounded that the character in the book maintains his already positive outlook while in jail and makes his environment work for himC. is upset that none of the white people stood up for the black “criminal” even when he gave an award-winning speech.
3. When waiting for you to reply to this one-sided conversation do you:
A. suggest your co-worker pick up a history book and find a part in history where the minority actually wins (it’s never)B. roll your eyes when she asks you if you know about the book and the person it is aboutC. agree that everyone should read this book (because said co-worker is now culturally woke to the struggle)
Answered Mostly A’s
Colonization has made them supreme.
Answered Mostly B’s
Jail cell occupancy is based on the amount of minority student who fail state testing in the 3rd grade.
Answered Mostly C’s
Once a month, white supremacists gather in the middle of the country to plot their next move.
I.Normally I sit up frontBut for this classI sit all the way in the back,In the corner.It’s hard for me to see the screenBut it keeps me out of sight& I have a good pulse of the roomIn case the spirit catches meAnd I decide to participate
This happens oftenAnd lately, I notice my professorMisunderstanding my answers,Avoiding eye contact with me,Praying someone else’s hand goes upBut no one’s hand is upAnd no one can see my hand up in the cornerShe sighs, “fine, Valencia”
All eyes turn to me,& I thought I deserved a seat in the classroombut the Brown decision is still a myth.I’m not a threatI’m a studentwho just wanted to take a shot.Statistics don’t intimidate me,I’ve been fighting not to be onemy whole life…But I guess she’s fighting harderjust to stand teaching meI hear her sigh againAnd wonder why she’s so tired of me
II.I’m getting more and moreTired of this womanSlide after slideShe guides membersOf the cohort through statisticsAs painlessly as possible
But after hearing it for the third timeIt’s finally starting to make senseThe gears are turningAnd I power through the exerciseWith my peers
The class reviews,We get to a question and the classIs quite stumpedAfter a few minutes of no responseMy hand slowly creeps into the air“Jasmine,” she says.While looking right at meAlthough Jasmine is also black,She’s on the other side of the roomAnd her hand isn’t raised.
III.I sit quietly waiting for herTo realizeShe’s confused the twoBlack women in the classAnd sit puzzled,Wondering if this is reality
After an awkward silenceShe is corrected byAnother student…The tension in the airMakes it hard to breatheshedoesn’t apologize.I guess she didn’t mean tohurt mebut her intent doesn’tinvalidate her ignorance
She asks me to speak,& like clockworkthe answers flow out of methese words are the thoughts in my head,the air in my lungs
Although it’s a guess,I think I’m on the right trackBut when I speakYou don’t hear me,You don’t even know my name
IV.After calling on otherStudents,She finds herself repeatingMy syntaxI’ve zoned out of this sessionBut I hear“Valencia was actually right”
and it snaps me out of my hazeand into a rage becauseShe doesn’t speak my language,She doesn’t understand my mind
She turned my academic sanctuaryInto a torture chamberJust by simply being in it
“I’ve never understood the anger and exclusivity of many people of color like this one,” a comment reads.
“They hang out with people of color and sit at the colored table making no efforts to get to know me, then blame me and say they don’t feel welcome.”
The commenter was, supposedly, one of my white classmates at Harvard. The article was an opinion piece I published in my college newspaper, The Crimson, about how the experience of Latinx students at Harvard has for decades been one of marginalization. As an opinion writer, my writing has always been open to scrutiny. There’s no feigning, in editorial writing, that your article’s perspective is absolute or conclusive. It’s open to counter-points, to being pulled apart by readers willing to engage with it. You publish pieces to further conversation on a particular issue, offering the articles as punching bags in the arena of public discourse.
Yet when I write about issues pertaining to my identity—my race, ethnicity, my experiences as someone marked Other at Harvard, in the United States, in a world built on social stratification—I am reduced to being a kettle of emotions. Like the commenter suggests, I’m nothing more than my supposed anger. It bleeds into every sentence I string together, every piece of punctuation used to convey my sense of rage.
Except that my pieces are not very angry. Their tone, though it does vary, is generally balanced and straightforward, especially on pieces that have required archival research or other forms of in-depth reporting. I care about the issues I write about, and I hope that the significance of talking about race, ethnicity, and marginalization shines through in my writing.
But often, because of who I am, I’m reduced to an angry journalist, an angry Latino writer. The amount of research I’ve put into the piece, the sources I’ve cited, the logical argument I’ve constructed—it all falls to the wayside. I am simply angry, whiny, bitter, or, as an email informed me, an “asinine snowflake.”
If these assumptions came simply from the outside—from these nameless, faceless voices on the Internet—they’d be easy to shrug off. Their assumptions of my anger would translate into nothing more than a race-tinged misreading of my articles. The label of angry Latino journalist, though, has seeped into perceptions of my capacity as a journalist.
This, of course, is not a phenomenon exclusive to my experiences at a college paper. April Ryan, a black journalist who covers the White House, has been targeted by the Trump administration. After asking Press Secretary Sanders if the president had ever considered stepping down, Ryan received a number of death threats. “I’m angry about the fact that people are ginning people up to come after me for that,” she responded. “I’m viewing the attacks as partisan. But that question had nothing to do with politics.”
Ryan, like many female journalists of color, has had her work as a journalist scrutinized through the lens of her race, gender, and identity more broadly. For decades, the newspaper industry has been staffed, led, and run primarily by white men. The demographics of newsrooms have slowly shifted, but reporters from underrepresented backgrounds still find their assignments and articles scrutinized through the lens of their identity.
Being perceived as “angry” (or a number of related emotions) can be a detriment to a journalist’s career, because it seems to undercut their objectivity. In a political moment when the role and importance of journalism are up for debate, such accusations cut deeply; objectivity is held up as a standard all journalists ought to aspire to.
Yet this is perhaps the grandest lie of journalism: that there is such a thing as pure objectivity.
There is, of course, true and false information. Journalists go to incredible lengths to correlate accounts and shape stories before they are published. But the way stories are framed, the words chosen to couch the facts, and the narratives that are put forward are all shaped by the writing and editorial teams. Perspective matters. Subjectivity is both inescapable and essential to good journalism.
“Objectivity,” in this context, has simply meant “the status quo”—an objective journalist perpetuates certain narratives, covers certain communities, deems certain stories worthy of coverage. The status quo has long been dictated by newsrooms much less diverse than cities in which they are based.
Thus, as journalists of color make inroads in the industry, they are perceived to produce work that is less objective. As Latina journalist Maria Hinojosa puts it, “As journalists we never want to be part of the story… [Yet] as journalists of color, we are part of the story.” The sorts of stories journalists of color pursue are often deemed biased because of the communities they belong to or identify with. In turn, their writing is unjustly scrutinized as emotional, angry, or political—the furthest thing from objective.
This double standard is a national phenomenon. And yet it has also been an intimate part of my career as a college journalist, one that has taken a very real, bodily toll on me in the past year or so.
A year ago, I threw my name in for consideration for a high-level leadership position within The Crimson. I’d served as the editorial chair in 2017, and I was willing to devote another year’s worth of hours, stress, time, and energy to seeing through the initiatives I’d put begun. But I also knew that my involvement with on-campus activism and the body of work I’d produced—often critical, often read as angry—would hurt my chances.
So I played politics, marketed myself in a way that was palatable to the people deciding on my future at The Crimson. I tried to hide my emotions, placing a smiling face in front of the very human confusion inside. My work over the past year was the product of dedication and competence. And yet I worried that my peers, like some of my readers, would boil me down to my comportment—not necessarily as it was in reality, but as they perceived it.
Ultimately my bid was unsuccessful, and, in a decision that still feels unjust, I was left off the organization’s masthead entirely.
I’ll never know how perceptions of me outside of my credentials played into the process. But given the different standards journalists of color are held to when it comes to their emotions and presumed objectivity, odds are that perception played a role.
This could be just another story about the need to overcome failure, or another story about the way the newspaper industry is stacked against people of color. And perhaps it is both of these stories. But when you strip back the argument I’ve presented here, this is most of all a story about how being perceived as angry comes with visceral consequences.
The first time I went to therapy, I spent most of the time talking about The Crimson. I did not tell my counselor about how I so often felt I was walking within a shell of myself, as if my actual being had shrunk inside my own skin. The days I spent feeling grounded, present, and fully aware of the world around me were slipping away.
I still haven’t completely processed my stint at The Crimson. I so desperately wish that as I step through the door of our building, I could stop worrying that others see me dressed in anger, an shining red A on my chest. But misconstruing anger is not an act exclusive to virulent racists or raging conservatives. When your peers are those who assume that anger accompanies your skin, your politics, your entire being, the toll is disorienting.
My experiences have made me seriously question whether or not I can ever pursue a career in journalism. I worry that my anger, this mostly monstrous and imaginary friend on my shoulder, will stand in the way.
Above all, I hope the day will come when I’ll be allowed to be something more than an angry journalist of color. I hope I can shed this anger, an old layer of skin that has never felt fully mine, and experience my emotions without worrying about how it will affect perceptions of my work.
These dispatches are a plea. Allow me to feel the way my white peers can, freely and without inhibition.
I am a Black woman from a mixed-heritage background who has spent most of my life within an educational system, from nursery school to my current role as a postdoctoral researcher in the field of Respiratory Immunology.
My education and career have taken place across three countries and two continents. During this time, I have evolved into a critical thinker, independent researcher, teacher, peer mentor, and collaborator. I have had the privilege of seeing many students who were nervous first-years, when I was their laboratory demonstrator, themselves grow into independent researchers who now have postgraduate degrees. It has been a blessing to be able to present my work in conferences, peer-reviewed articles, essays, research group meetings, and informally. Over the past few months it has also been startling to discover a deep interest in remaining in academia, provided I can secure the necessary funding to carry out research that doubles up as a passion project. My years in the academy have equipped me with knowledge and skills that are transferrable in many sectors. From my perspective the future looks bright, and my dedication is paying off.
This testimony of mine is the cherry-picked truth. It is the stripped-back version of the journey that has made me the academic I am today: fully aware of my privileges, grateful for my experiences, unwilling to close my eyes to the problems within academia, and unapologetic about using routes of the least palatability to tackle these problems.
Most academics of colour I have encountered have similar stories to mine. However, depending on the generation they are part of and other factors, their outspokenness differs. Certain themes among all our experiences are overlapping and recurrent regardless of the country we currently work in, academic system, and age.
Many of us have first-hand experiences of misogynoir (racialised sexism), racism (from the subtle to the outright), tone policing, elitism, and classism—all within academia, a global body that is meant to further the development of mankind. Indeed, many of these encounters I and others have had, whether online or in person, have been with people who have also had the privilege of education and the added responsibility from exposure to know and do better. Students, researchers, and professors! The young and the old.
During my undergraduate career, trying to stay functional while suffering silently for years with debilitating anxiety meant that I was constantly shying away from any extra emotional work. Unfortunately, this also meant that issues of justice and equity were things that I did not feel bold enough to speak about all the time. Being within a system designed to make People of Colour feel like second-class citizens in itself is already hard.
It took me years of honest self-reflection to admit my own complicity, then throw off the shroud of palatability I had worn for years. I own my past mistakes and can readily admit that well-being has been a major confounding factor in my ability to challenge injustice. It is now my commitment to fully inhabit the responsibility of promoting equity within any academic system I find myself in.
However, over the years, there has also been an anger that I live with. Some of it is directed at my past self, but most of it is directed at the system that seeks to uphold injustice or at the very least wilfully ignore it.
Ijeoma Oluo recently asked a pertinent question: “What are we going to do with our rage?” I have asked myself this same question time and again over the years, with many different words, particularly: “How do I stop being afraid of my anger and harness that powerful energy and drive into something useful?” Immediately, I always remember Joyce Meyer’s advice for when your fears try to stop you from doing anything: just “Do it afraid!” There will never be a perfect time or a perfect plan or implementation strategy. So once I was able to identify what I wanted to achieve, I made an action plan that wasn’t too stringent but if done properly could hopefully have a positive impact within my academic community—particularly on Black people and People of Colour, and other women who don’t fall into these identification groups.
There are different levels in academia which I aim for.
The first is my immediate surroundings: from everyday conversations about equality, equity, diversity, and inclusion, to being open and honest about my mental illness, appropriately signposting colleagues who come to me with a range of confidential issues (and being vocal about being accessible as a point of help), planning and organising workshops that seek to explain the benefit of inclusion in academia, and being respectful and inclusive to all levels of staff I work with.
Students I work with: reminding students that as paying customers in Higher Education Institutions (HEIs), they have the right to just treatment, vocalising that they deserve my respect as much as I deserve theirs, encouraging them to question the system and question me—not just take my word as the final say—telling them there is absolutely nothing wrong with being an “average” student—because society wrongfully conflates intelligence with competence—and still encouraging them to do their best and reach out for help when needed. In spaces with Black students discussing issues that affect them specifically, I am always open about my experiences and remind them they have every right to an equal say in academia.
Black colleagues: a major part of the remit of my activism in academia involves amplifying voices and standing beside those who have something to say and need encouragement. This has been a beneficial two-way street, as in the process I have found Black women academics who have supported, encouraged, and rooted for me, as well as given me career opportunities that otherwise I would not have come across on my own.
The system itself: I proactively sought out equality fora within my surroundings where I could voice concerns, challenge problems, and, arguably most important, suggest reparative action points that should hopefully contribute to top-to-bottom change. I cannot overemphasize the need for more marginalised voices and allies/accomplices to be proactively recruited onto HEI action groups. Even the most well-intentioned systems that lack equal or proportional representation will have certain issues slip through the cracks.
The anger I have still simmers under the surface, and for the time being I am content with this. As long as I have life, I will continue to use my anger as fuel to call out injustices and call on those who are perfectly positioned to dismantle these systemic inequities. Since it is my intention to remain in academia for a while, this is where I will continue my quest.
Scarlet is marked as lustful, indicative of adultery, if we were to listen to Hawthorne.
JudeoChristian hegemony marks it as corporeal, sinful, lustful, degraded.
I reject that.
Red is the color of blood, pumping in our veins. It is the hue of love at first bloom, of hot pink cheeks, sweaty palms, lips swollen and chapped after hours of kissing.
It is the color of fresh neck contusions.
Blush, indeed, the portmanteau of blood + rush, the flushing of one’s cheeks after thinking of one’s lover.
It is the hue of my wedding dress, seven steps circled around a fire.
Those vows changed everything.
It is sindoor in my Thakurma’s hair part, on her beautiful forehad, on ma and jethi and kaki’s too, signifying their shaadi bonds.
It is my red wedding bangle, nestled between two reed ones.
It is the deep burnt hue of my shaadi ki mehndi, lacy adornments on my hands and feet.
They held secrets, you see, his name was on both hands.
It is the sign of life, flowing out of my body, shedding possibility of life, with the lunar cycle.
It is the color of menses, sad cephalopodesque clumps flushed away.
It is our eyes, sore and tired after comprehending rejection.
(I should have gotten that tenure track job. I wish we had been pregnant. I lost both.)
It is the color of my Kali Ma’s tongue, signifying victory in battle, ruby droplets on the edge of her trishule.
Jai Mata Di.
It is the deep ruby hue of the root chakra. Muladhara signifies safety, grounding, rootedness, survival.
And inflammation that needs healing.
It is the lucky hue of wedding dresses, globally.
These predate Victoria’s bossy, boring, basic British Becky taste.
Dirty, colonizing beast. Who was “unsivilized” again? At least we bathe, bitch. Lotas and bidets and amla and shikakai and nariyal 4ever.
Red lights signify “halt” or danger ahead. Coupled with blue and white, they signify nationalism and bacon.
Reclaim the laal, crimson, rojo, maroon, scarlet, ruby, sanguine.
For the gore gwei lo gueras pakehas it means ruskies or gorbachev or yellow peril.
For us it signifies revolucion.
It is Fenty Stunna lip paint.
It is M.A.C.’s Ruby Woo and Russian Red and Viva Glam IV and Urban Decay’s shame.
It is life, love, heat, breath.
Do you like being scared by books, films, and surprises? Describe the sensation of being scared, and why you love it — or don’t.
Fear is profitable. Fear operates on the assumption of power inequity. For some, fear is thrilling. To most, fear is undesirable. To walk into a movie theater, to watch a film about fear, without fear of being murdered, is a privilege. To make films or write about fictional narratives centering fear is a privilege. Since we have an orange, egomaniacal narcissist as our current POTUS, I am in a constant state of fear.
We celebrate Stephen King’s oeuvre of fear. We revel in the discourses of Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer. We hunger for the phantastic Dementors, revolted by Voldemort but also fascinated by the Death Eaters. Jordan Peele recently penned and debuted the brilliant Get Out, an astute commentary on the cultural hegemony of whiteness, of the traumas of colonization and infections that whiteness and conspicuous consumption and the quite literal “eating the Other” has on marginalized communities.
I hate being scared by real life, actual, worldly surprises. I know some people revel in the sensations of fear and relish spine tingling and gut wrenching, but I am not one of them. When I get scared, I go into shock. I retch. I shit enormous amounts of fecal matter, several healthy, runny bowls worth. I dry heave. And worst of all, I get cold. My body shuts down. No matter the time of day or temperature, I need to crawl into bed, covered by multiple blankets. Ideally, my husband is nearby to tuck me in. Ideally, my cats are nearby, burrowing under the duvets with me, purring on me for comfort. They know. Animals always know.
My latest brush with gut-wrenching fear took place on October 7, 2017. I received an email that was time stamped 7:55 AM, PST. It was supposedly from one Cheryl Merryfield. The email was poorly written. Cheryl claimed to be formerly known as Brian, formerly a cishet white dude bro working at a construction company. Cheryl supposedly had a cousin named Heidi who took a gender studies course at an unnamed University. Cheryl was writing to thank me for teaching about toxic masculinity and white male privilege, as they had seen the light and were changing from Brian to Cheryl and wearing wigs, fake eyelashes, taking hormones, and attending protests. Cheryl wanted to know my thoughts on all of this. The tone walked the fine line between mockery and contempt.
A less astute person or intellectual might read it as complimentary, an invitation to self-congratulate. Alarm bells rang for me, though. There was nothing specific about the email or my courses, which do address white privilege, toxic masculinity, and gender politics. I surmised, correctly as it turned out, that this kind of email is usually part of a wider phishing or scam net. I suspected it was the kind of drivel produced by the scum-sucking rodents at 4chan and Reddit, perpetuated by the far right, the alt-right, Men’s Rights’ Activists, and Pick Up Artists. My husband, a straight cishet white computer scientist, looked at the headers and told me the message was from a Russian (!!!) server.
My work email address may have been scraped at random from the web. I do not speak to newspapers about my political opinions; I am not safe. I do not have the privilege of safety. I did what any vulnerable nontenured person would have done: I sent it to my department chair. She then sent it up the chain. I could not wait for their responses. I sent the message to two deans, the associate VP of academic affairs, and re CC’d my chair. I made sure to tell them I was scared for my safety and well-being.
One must be careful when sending out emails like this, if one occupies a precarious position in the academic industrial complex’s unsteady food chain. One needs to tone police oneself. Be humble but deferential. Be firm but polite. And always, always make oneself invaluable to the space. I have been a lowly adjunct for over half a decade, my teaching labor overlapping with finishing my dissertation. My one attempt at a tenure-track position was self-sabotaged by my lack of a curated publishing archive. How can one publish when one is teaching ten classes a year simply to survive? Publish or perish, indeed. For a die-hard tenure advocate, I’ve died, lost in the mise en abyme of the academic industrial complex.
For the teaching purist, I have thrived, earning countless devotees who enroll in everything I teach, hundreds of accolades and glowing reviews, and winning every campus grant I’ve applied for with the hopes of increasing my department’s visibility. But I digress. After I sent the scary email up the chain, I got notification of a Facebook login attempt. I was on the phone with my husband while this happened. The fear elicited nasty physical reactions. The dry heaving, chills, rumbling bowels, liquid excrement. My poor bidet got a lot of action that day.
My dear husband stayed on the phone with me while I screenshot the login attempt, locked down social media accounts, changed passwords, set up two-step authentications, sent another panicked message up the food chain. He stayed on the phone with me while I crawled into bed and shut down. He stayed on the phone while I dozed in and out of consciousness. He booked a ticket from Maryland to California, coming in the next day. He has always claimed to find my snoring to be soothing, as he reads snoring as a sign of deep and full sleep. The last time I was in shock with him was when I destroyed my ankle. This was long before we were engaged or married. He took care of me for three days. (Take note: marry the person who loves it when you snore, who tucks you in bed when you are in shock, who helps you bathe and dress when you can’t walk, who cleans up your vomit, who takes on care work without comment.)
Campus police and IT determined the email was “not a threat” and came from a Russian email server, similar to Google. They advised us to not reply. I thought, no shit. There would never be any reason for me to respond to any sort of email like that. My fears were disturbingly assuaged when I was told that a colleague received the very same email. I phoned her when I found out. It was comforting to know we were not alone, but we were still uneasy. When news of the email spread to others in our department, one person replied that they get goading, inflammatory messages like that all the time, inviting response. That person keeps them in a file.
I read their response to the incident as contemptuous. I don’t know if they were minimizing my fear. It doesn’t matter anyway. The net result has been shutting down for several days. It is now October 10. I have not slept well since the incidents. I don’t know how I managed to lecture on Monday morning; the topic was Elaine Brown’s leadership in the Black Panther Party and narratives on internalized misogyny and patriarchy within social justice spaces. We were connecting Brown’s depictions of violence to what transpired with Angela Davis and the prison industrial complex, the American Indian Movement and the words of Wilma Mankiller, the life and death of Annie Mae Acquash, and the work of Asian American students at UCLA.
Patriarchy is rooted in violence. Internalized misogyny within communities of color is the worst of all. It is a death drive. I am well-aware of the times we live in. Since 9/11, those of us who live in the intersections of Islamophobia, anti-Blackness, xenophobia, anti-immigrant sentiment, we have to walk every day under surveillance. We are policed in a myriad of ways. We have to be mindful of everything we say. We do not have the luxury of boredom, relaxation, or free self-expression. If you are a woman of color, the surveillance is amplified time and time again. If you are an academic, it is unbearable. The temptation of celebrity feminism, the thirst for public recognition as the means to success within a capitalist narrative, is destructive. I do not tweet publicly. My Twitter account has always been private. I use it to practice brevity.
I do not feel safe being a public figure. My Instagram is a curated archive of food photos, sunsets, cat and dog pictures, and celebrations of friends’ joy. Mine is remarkably devoid of selfies, because I fear being in front of cameras, even my own. Privately, I take selfies to remind myself that I am not a monster, even though white beauty standards would have me believe otherwise.
It is the fear of the external gaze that I loathe most. Michel Foucault wrote of “le regard,” the penetrative lingering ocular moment of visuality, reserved for medical purposes and scientific, surveillance performed by guards and captains, nurses and jailers. bell hooks wrote of the “oppositional gaze” taken up by Black women spectators claiming their agency, those consumers of public and visual culture whose ancestors were denied the right to look back at their masters, in the context of the colonial slave plantation, of hegemonic whitewashed popular culture. Some get off on being watched, the narrative or fetish of voyeurism and exhibitionism that are so valued in what we deem as raunch culture.
Me? Let me be. Let me write. Let me do my work. Let me teach my classes. Let me be with my family and friends. Let me be free from unimportant and superficial interactions. Let me process my rage and pain and let me speak to it through the classroom. Let me survive in my cocoon of literacy and sleep and love.
Le Mepris (on contempt)
I find myself riddled with contempt.
I feel it seeping into my bones, soaking into all of my cells, and then leaking out into the world, through the snarky things I say or think or feel.
I am deeply contemptuous of things I deem inferior, or not worthy of my time. I am deeply contemptuous of white people who do not understand colonization.
I wonder, how could they, meaning the eurotrash mayonnaise populace of the globe, deem me and my ilk, as less than, simply because of our gorgeous black and brown skin?
I have contempt for the snaggletoothed fools who benefit from those legacies. I look at their pasty, dough-colored bloated bags of skin and bones and think, their mouths look like 17th century graveyards.
I feel contempt for X, a city rife with murder and violence, 3000 miles away from our beautiful Los Angeles, that has taken my beloved husband away from our bed and home and cats for 24 months.
I feel my lips curled in sneers around my own teeth, perfected after years of Amreeky orthodontia, and my body is flooded with heat and blood and rage.
Feeling contempt rush in is not always bad.
The worst is coming across people who attempt to tap into empathy, who want so desperately to help, who perform friendship or advocacy or allyship, but then who actually feel nothing, and then who feel guilt.
Your guilt is not my problem.
I am contemptuous of hyper-religious zealots, so encapsulated by their own myopia that they choose not to acknowledge the sheer, utter disbelief on my face when they tell me of their volontourism, of their journeys to the global South, to “sivilize” the “savages.”
I am contemptuous of entitled dude bro nontraditional undergrads who equate chattel slavery with indentured servitude. Not. The. Same. Thing. Bro.
Your history is taught as a requirement. Mine is taught as an elective. That is the height of hegemonic privilege.
Contempt is heady and addictive.
It is expressed asymmetrically, through the lifting of an eyebrow or the curl of a lip into a sneer. It makes my hands sweaty and my heart beat fast.
I have to reserve the full expression of my contempt for only one person, my best friend, who understands and does not judge, or if she does she doesn’t express it.
I cannot fully express my contempt to my husband, for he will be upset.
He, who is sweet and calm and so kind and loving, does not find value in expressing contempt.
But he is the beneficiary of white male science professor privilege.
He can be contemptuous and be rewarded.
I have to ask, why are we taught to disregard contempt? Why is the expression of it only reserved for those who hold hegemonic power?
In a capitalist system, the distribution of wealth is not equitable.
The owners of means of production are not given fair shares. The profits are always maximized.
I have earned the right to be contemptuous.
I have earned the right to bristle at injustice.
Generations of epigenetic trauma remain encoded inside me.
The expression of contempt must be cautious.
It must be kept under wraps, away from the prying eyes of panopticon guards.
Bentham and Foucault’s predictive models extend into the world of social media.
I fear the wrath and consequences of fully expressed contempt.
I fear the internalization of it, as it affects my health and well-being.
I am contemptuous of those who do not or cannot feel.
We are encouraged to not pay attention to our bodies, to heartbeats or sweat beads, or tears.