On a recent hike, I found myself complaining about the heat and mosquitoes. I was walking quickly, speeding up to get off the trail, and failing to notice my surroundings. It wasn’t until I took a break on the ground—literally sitting in the middle of the trail—that I noticed blooming mayapples underneath large leaves. All around me but out of sight when walking were flowers promising spring and the summer to come.
The more I slowed down and took breaks on the ground, the more I noticed the flowers and fungi there. The colorful, intricate, and delicate life seemed to be reminding me that there’s still beauty in the roughest of conditions, the hottest of days, and the most mosquito-y of times.
This hike happened when I’d been having conversations about the need to guard against resistance fatigue and to build resilience for the long road ahead. For me, time in the outdoors and along hiking trails offers new ways to understand the world and my role within it.
What I learned from these blooming mayapples (and the many plants I observed) is the importance of slowing down and noticing the fullness of life: the joy alongside the pain, the beauty alongside the ugliness, the visions for alongside the critiques against. In other words, I was reminded again of the need for a both/and approach to everyday living for justice.
When I’m hurting (or hot or being bitten), my tendency is to rush to get out of there: out of that place of discomfort or pain. Slowing down and noticing, however, allows me to tap into the generative and healing potential that comes with curiosity, meditation, and divination.
In the past few days, I’ve seen countless posts detailing “the horrors of this administration,” the latest of which include separating families and imprisoning immigrants. I’ve seen friends describing their embodied physical and emotional pain, including pain from complicity and always too-small actions. I’ve seen friends accounting their own family stories of separation, as the history of state-sponsored violence against Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) is long and unrelenting. I’ve seen trauma and responses via trauma-informed care. I’ve also seen requests for folks to share how they’re showing up, standing TALL, and caring for themselves and their communities at this time.
As I engage in interactions around these posts and similarly experience rage and heartache, I find grounding, inspiration, and re-orientation in what I’ve learned from feminists and womanists of color: that we need not only active resistance but also sustained investment in envisioning and building more just communities. We need both critique againstinjusticeand critique forjustice. We need a both/and approach to thinking, organizing, and relating with each other.
At this time, I feel it’s important to emphasize that both/and matters because it’s too easy to fall into the trap of either/or. It’s too easy to focus on a single action or single problem and let it consume all of our energy. It’s too easy to prioritize self-care over other responsibilities or, alternatively, to prioritize others at one’s own expense.
Let me explain further through two examples.
Example #1: Toward Dismantling Dehumanizing Systems
Questions such as these call our attention to the need for both small, immediate actions and large-scale, long-term change. We need both direct, imperfect responseand expansive, imaginative visioning. Let us not settle for the first without commitment to the second. We must not ignore the immediate nor the long-term.
Example #2: Toward Recognizing Relational Responsibilities
Yes, it’s important to empathize with families torn apart by naming this wrong as wrong. And it’s not enough to see only the most explicit manifestations of violence.
One of the many lies of living in oppression (white supremacy, patriarchy, colonialism) is that our imagined families include only those who share blood or those within close physical proximity. This lie allows for separation and division of people. It plays into scarcity logic, which goes like this: there are a limited number of resources, so I better get mine and make sure my people have all they need. So long as my people are protected and provided for, I am safe and good.
This lie undercuts our humanity, and it also mobilizes the conditions that allow for people to be separated and imprisoned.
To repair the larger damage of separation (related to individualism and social stratification), we need to learn again from feminists and womanists of color who study, name, and teach relational literacies. To see ourselves as truly in relation with—as family to all humans—we need to expand our circle of relations. Such work can begin by studying “abuelit@ wisdoms” (Licona and Chávez), “kinship” (e.g., Collins; Richardson), and the Indigenous values of relationality and “all my relations” (e.g., Powell; Riley-Mukavetz). Such work involves seeing one’s “family” (or familial circles) as expanding outward to include more and more relatives.
What work is needed to shift worldviews toward communal kinship and relational responsibilities? What needs to change in order to see ourselves as responsible not just to immediate family groups but to all humans and beings? Are we ready to let go of national and other dividing lines?
Again, these questions call our attention to the both/and. We need both inward-oriented healingand outward-oriented building. We need both self-careand community care. We need to engage in the work of looking bothbackward (reckoning with the colonial past and present) andforward (imaginatively creating a relational future).
My hope in sharing these examples is that we might use this moment of mobilized political engagement to engage in bigger dreaming and scheming. To move beyond resistance fatigue, we’ll need to leverage both this moment and all the moments to come.
Recently, I shared with my Reiki teacher that I’ve been “burning up” with anger, and we reflected on the contrast of fire as warming versus fire as all-consuming. Instead of allowing the fire to rage out of control (and to burn down the house), how could I tend to my anger (my fire) as I would tend to a fireplace that provides light and warmth?
At least in part, the answer involves ongoing attention. Whereas an either/or approach alternates between a raging fire and burned-out embers, a both/and approach invites continued maintenance and planning: from preparing materials and adding wood to fanning the flame and keeping it alight. May we embrace the both/and approach and keep the fire burning—to brighten our path into the darkness that surrounds us and is still to come.
As we near the end of spring semester, students in both my “Contemplative Writing” and “Writing for Social Justice” courses are pulling together projects to make interventions in some way. Several students are addressing rape culture, and one student is compiling a book of letters by and for survivors of sexual violence. She hopes that others at our university will read the letters, write additional ones, and add threaded response—facilitating healing through storytelling and solidarity-building.
I agreed to write a letter for her book, and I share that letter here with the hope that it speaks to others engaged with similar healing, storytelling, and solidarity-building work:
Every semester I’ve taught, students have shared with me stories of sexual violence and survival.
Every semester I’ve taught, I’ve seen sexual violence create new wounds and rip open old ones.
Every semester I’ve taught, I’ve raged at limited and lacking response.
Every semester I’ve taught, I’ve been encouraged by incredible resilience and creative healing.
These words are too few and do too little, but with a commitment to justice, I say to readers and to your friends-colleagues-peers who have experienced sexual violence:
I hear you. I see you. I believe you.
I hurt with you. I learn alongside you. I speak and write UP for you. I advocate for change. I call violence violence. I build critical imagination to envision more equitable ways of being.
I write as a professor who carries with me story upon story of sexual violence that I’ve been called to witness. I carry my own #metoo stories alongside those of family, friends, colleagues, and students. I’m learning how to hold these stories as gifted memories rather than weight holding me down, and I’m learning to leverage these stories toward collective healing, truth-telling, reckoning, and liberation. These stories matter, and so do we.
Blogging is often always a process of countering perfectionism and sharing words that feel not-ready, not-right, and not-refined. Writing this letter, however, twisted me in knots, as there are never ready, right, or refined words to speak into the violence I know many students are experiencing and even perpetuating.
Today marks the final day of the 40-day practice I’ve been leading for a local, predominantly-white church on developing emotional literacies. We’ve been focused on building and strengthening emotional awarenesses, knowledges, intelligences, and response-abilities for racial justice. As part of this practice, I’ve been sharing resources, including TED talks that provide language for understanding emotional literacies.
In this post, I share five of these talks that are helpful for acknowledging a fuller emotional range, for building emotional courage, and for leveraging emotions to take action.
1. Jay Smooth’s “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Talking about Race”:
Hip-hop DJ, cultural commentator, and videoblogger at illdoctrine.com, Jay Smooth breaks things down in a really accessible, engaging way. In this talk, he offers a simple-yet-powerful framework for thinking about feedback on racist beliefs and actions as similar to having something stuck in your teeth. Lowering the emotional stakes can help with countering white fragility, resistance, or defensiveness that block this work.
2. Susan David’s “The Gift and Power of Emotional Courage”:
Psychologist Susan David defines emotional courage, rigidity, and agility in this talk, emphasizing the importance of acknowledging rather than denying tough emotions. She shows the individual and systemic harm that comes from denial, reflecting on experiences of processing her father’s death and growing up in white suburbs of Apartheid South Africa.
3. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s “The Danger of a Single Story”:
One way to notice more in everyday life is to ask the question: “What single story am I being told about _______?” Then fill in the blank with just about anything: from the story of normative skin color told by bandaids to the story of imagined business leadership (restricted by race, class, and gender) told by clipart. Author Chimamanda Adichie’s talk is especially helpful for thinking about the narratives we’ve inherited and hold within ourselves. To rewrite narratives, we need to make them visible and to see the danger of continuing to tell them.
4. Valarie Kaur’s “3 Lessons of Revolutionary Love in a Time of Rage”:
How does rage impact the capacity to love? Civil rights attorney, activist, and filmmaker Valerie Kaur describes fierce, revolutionary love as an “antidote to nationalism, polarization, and hate.” She describes revolutionary love as the “call of our times” and as the work of “birthing a new future.” Kaur attends to the connections of anger and joy, rage and love—asking us to understand emotions as action-oriented and actionable.
5. Luvvie Ajayi’s “Get Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable”:
Writer, activist, and “professional troublemaker” Luvvie Ajayi (of Awesomely Luvvie) explains how she’s learned to push through discomfort and still to speak out, arguing that “silence serves no one.” She describes the work of “getting comfortable with being uncomfortable,” underlining the importance of speaking even/especially when there is risk and consequence. In this way, emotional courage is not about leaving behind fear, but still acting when scared.
Together, these TED talks call us into self-inquiry alongside continued, committed action. As I close the 40-day practice, I commit to flexing my emotional muscles, to sitting with discomfort, and to speaking/writing up, especially when shaking. May these TED talks give fuel and inspiration for the continued work of developing emotional literacies for racial justice.
This week I’ve felt stretched thin—waking up earlier and heading to bed later than I’d like. One moment, I’m reviewing students’ midterm portfolios. The next, I’m scripting a hard conversation. While attending to microaggressions and facilitating tricky online and in-person conversations, I’m also sharing hopeful-yet-emotional announcements with family, friends, colleagues, and students.
In the midst of such frenzied and frenetic activity, I’ve been finding support through everyday practices and joyful reminders that past-me put in place for present-me. To give a sense of what I mean, here are some views into what’s keeping me grounded in gratitude this week:
Certainly, there are other snapshots I might take, but these are a few for which I feel particular gratitude. And slowing down enough to recognize and experience gratitude is its own sort of healing, energizing practice.
I’m curious: How do you create support for those times when stretched thin? Perhaps this post gives some ideas, and I hope you’ll share additional suggestions through comments.
What does it mean to strive for justice in everyday life? This question is front and center for me most days, but especially now, as I’m teaching two undergraduate courses focused on justice and as I’m offering a 40-day practice for a local church on “Building Resilience for Racial Justice.” These teaching spaces—the university and the church—are predominantly white and marked by whiteness that obscures understandings of race, racism, white supremacy, and systemic oppression. To uncover what’s hidden, there’s a need to slow down and examine every assumption, including what we’ve learned (or haven’t learned) about justice.
I start my course, “Writing for Social Justice,” by asking students to define “social justice”—a term we’ve heard and often use without really understanding or unpacking. Together, we cover the board with words and concepts, asking questions like:
What’s impactful for local and global communities?
Who do we imagine as community members?
Who’s centered/normalized, and who’s marginalized? And why?
Who’s considered human, and whose humanity is undermined?
These questions become more than intellectual inquiry. They help us with processing interactions, course readings, and other texts. They help us with re-telling stories and guiding actions and everyday living.
Bell defines “social justice” as a process and a goal: both the means and the ends of achieving equitable relations. Justice includes the right to self-determination for all people and the ability for individuals to direct their lives as agents and actors. It also includes social responsibilities and interconnectedness, underscoring the importance of an equitable distribution of resources and shared participation in decision-making. Social justice, therefore, must ensure the rights of individuals, while also positioning individuals to act within larger social networks and communities. Social justice invites thinking about how we—as humans—relate with each other, with non-human animals, and with the earth, as all are interconnected and impactful.
To envision living for justice (equity, liberation, peace, full humanity), we need to understand and spend time tracking the contours of injustice (inequity, oppression, violence, dehumanization). As I’ve learned through research with co-authors (thanks especially to Rasha Diab), we must engage in BOTH the critique against injustice (problem-posing) and the critique for justice (vision-setting). Engaging in either without the other can leave us feeling frustrated or at a loss for how to respond, what to do next.
This spring I’m reminded again that it’s important to move beyond purely conceptual understandings of justice (head) and into emotional and embodied understandings (heart and hands). Using the heart-head-hands reflection prompt, I’ve been thinking with students, colleagues, and community members about how we experience systemic oppression, white supremacy, and other injustices in our everyday lives. To enact justice, we must feel into its definition, considering what opens space in our bodies and, alternatively, when our bodies intuitively constrict or send signals through pain.
There’s always more to learn, and so pursuing justice involves humility, resilience, and other emotional literacies needed for learning and un-learning. With the recognitions of (1) knowing only a little and (2) always needing to learn more, here are three of my guiding principles for pursuing justice in everyday life:
So, what is justice? And what does it mean to strive for justice in everyday life?
Like the passing of days, answers to these questions accumulate and deepen over time. Still, it helps me to remember these guiding principles—and the teaching conversations, conceptual knowledge, and emotions that underlie them.
One of the meals I’ve been making for myself is quinoa cranberry breakfast cereal. I simply combine the following ingredients, press the “porridge” setting in my “fuzzy logic” rice maker, and wake up to warm cereal and sweet smells:
Quinoa — ¾ cup
Frozen cranberries — 1 cup
Pumpkin seeds — ¼ cup
Almond milk — 3-4 cups (2 cups at the beginning of cooking and more at the end)
Vanilla — 1 teaspoon
Stevia — 1 teaspoon
This warm cereal has been helping me feel well cared for despite being worn thin. I have been feeling incensed (burning up) and fatigued (burning out) by a constant barrage of sexual assault, institutional racism, ableist policies, gender policing, xenophobic rhetoric, and other bullshit. Not to mention the violence and open wounds on display vividly in headlines and news feeds.
Toward attending to anger and showing up with resilience, I recognize the need to care for myself especially well. I feel grateful for a programmable rice maker that allows me to press a few buttons and have warm cereals, rice and beans, and other grain-legume combos ready to eat a few hours later.
I mention the rice maker because I’m often asked about how I prepare home-cooked meals when juggling a LOT, including a lot of emotions. This device, along with my Vitamix and electric tea kettle, save time and mental labor. While these appliances are a true privilege, on the one hand, they are also a true investment in self-care, on the other. They are hands-down my favorite kitchen items and have replaced a lot of pots, pans, and other gadgets, simplifying the cooking experience.
So, with deep gratitude, I share this simple and sweet vegan + gluten-free breakfast that is supporting me right now—with the hope that it may support you, too. Whatever self-care may be calling to you, may the care involve attention to emotional intake, emotional readiness, and emotional resilience for the long haul toward justice.