Happy Earthstrong to our resident Gemini, Brendane!
This week we’re bringing you the mental health and self-care episode. We open up with chatting about what we’re doing to take care of ourselves. In our What’s the Word? segment, we discuss Dr. Arline Geronimus’ concept of weathering and how chronic racial stress impacts our physical and mental health. This week, we’re reading Dr. Koritha Mitchell’s essay “Identifying White Mediocrity and Know-Your-Place Aggression: A Form of Self-Care” to unpack strategies of self-care that go beyond bubble baths and facials. Mitchell’s work helps us understand why we all need to have the confidence of a mediocre white man, strategies for mitigating know-your-place aggression (spoiler: it’s white people holding themselves to the standards they hold others), and why Black capitalism really isn’t going to save us. In our What in the World?! segment, we discuss Naomi Osaka saying “Nah” to the French Open, the way Nikole Hannah-Jones’ denial of tenure is a form of know-your-place aggression, and finally the co-opting and commodification of self-care. On the latter topic, Alyssa catches the spirit and leaves us with a WORD, hunny!
CW: rape culture, child sexual abuse in Hollywood (00:36:30-00:39:00)
Zora’s Daughters Podcast: Episode Nineteen
Co-hosts: Alyssa A.L. James and Brendane Tynes
Title: Keep Nope Alive
Total Length: 01:13:44
Alyssa A.L. James 00:15
What’s up, what’s up! Hi everyone! Welcome back to Zora’s Daughters, the podcast where we discuss popular culture with a Black feminist anthropological lens. I’m Alyssa, a third-year sociocultural anthropology PhD candidate and my pronouns are she/her/hers.
Brendane Tynes 00:30
Whoop whoop whoop! Candidate. Heard it’s slick slidin’ in here. [Laughter]
Alyssa A.L. James 00:37
Brendane Tynes 00:38
Finally, right. Hey y’all, I’m Brendane. I’m a fourth-year sociocultural anthropology PhD candidate and I also use she/her pronouns. On today’s episode, we will discuss Black woman’s mental health by way of Naomi Osaka of boldness, weathering, and the commercialization of self-care.
Alyssa A.L. James 00:57
And before we get into it, we want to give a huge thank you to everyone who has donated to the podcast or engaged with us on Instagram and Twitter. We wouldn’t be doing this without y’all. Also, if you’re listening to this on the day it’s released, then get ready for some big Gemini energy. It’s the day before Brendane’s birthday. She’s turning the big two-eight  [imitates dancehall airhorn].
Brendane Tynes 01:23
Two-eight, wow. How did—you know—
Alyssa A.L. James 01:26
How’s it feel? How’s it feel? What are your plans for your second birthday in a pon de replay [pandemic]?
Brendane Tynes 01:32
Well—ha!—last time, I tried to have a birthday party and it ended in a fight. So, this year, I’m going to have a Zoom birthday party. Gonna keep things safe, physically, you know. You’re invited, of course you are—
Alyssa A.L. James 01:49
Brendane Tynes 01:50
Alyssa A.L. James 01:51
Brendane Tynes 01:52
We’re gonna do karaoke, actually!
Alyssa A.L. James 01:54
Oh, nooo [laughs].
Brendane Tynes 01:55
I figured it out. I figured out how to do Zoom karaoke, so that’s what we’re gonna do. And next—
Alyssa A.L. James 02:01
I can’t sing [laughs].
Brendane Tynes 02:02
Oh, you don’t have to do—it’s karaoke, nobody really sings. Like, if you take karaoke too seriously, you don’t need to be doing it. You need to be on American Idol.
Alyssa A.L. James 02:12
That’s true, that’s true.
Brendane Tynes 02:14
And then next week, I’m gonna go to Miami.
Alyssa A.L. James 02:18
Brendane Tynes 02:19
Alyssa A.L. James 02:21
Brendane Tynes 02:22
So, we’ll see. You know and if you wanna roast me about going to Miami, feel free to do it. But also send me some money, too. So, roast me, but send a few dollars. Like, I look forward to it. It’s with two of my friends. We’re gonna wear wigs and change our names. And that’s how we’re going to be in Miami.
Alyssa A.L. James 02:43
Okay, it’s gonna be one of those weekends. I already know. I already know.
Brendane Tynes 02:50
The idea is, like, I’m not tryna spend my own money on nothin’. But before I really tell on myself, I wanted to bring it back to the episode topic today, right? Like, I am thinking about taking care of myself, celebrating all month long. So I got my lil’ trip, I’m gon’ have my Zoom birthday party, and then the rest of June, I’m just gon’ be, like, chillin’.
Alyssa A.L. James 03:15
Alright, June is for Brendane. Love to see it, love to see it.
Brendane Tynes 03:18
I love to be it. Love to see it, I love to be it. How about you? How are you taking care of yourself?
Alyssa A.L. James 03:27
Yes, well, Brendane, I am glad you asked. [Laughter] That’s my reporter voice. I’ve actually started journaling, you know, last week. It’s something that I haven’t done since I was a child, you know. So I’m just tryna write my thoughts out, do a little bit of reflecting. Although now I’m like, “I really missed an opportunity by not doing a daily diary,” you know? I could’ve been the next Samuel Pepys or something.
Brendane Tynes 03:56
Like, I don’t know who that is. Who is Samuel Pepys? [Laughter] Who is that!?
Alyssa A.L. James 04:02
Samuel Pepys was this British guy. He kept a private diary for, like, 10 years in, like, the 17th-18th century. So he documented the plague and the Great Fire of London. You know, it turned out to be a really important historical record. So unfortunately, I won’t be, like, the next plague diarist [laughs]. But the future will have all of our tweets and our memes to look at when we wanna learn about the great pandemic of 2020.
Brendane Tynes 04:29
Oh my goodness. And I’m sure they’ll be, like, horrified at some of the things that have been said and done for sure.
Alyssa A.L. James 04:36
Brendane Tynes 04:37
Yeah, about the journaling thing, I also journal when I feel moved to. I used to be a compulsive diary person until multiple people in my life started reading it when I was a child, so I stopped really doing it.
Alyssa A.L. James 04:51
Okay, that’s why I stopped, too!
Brendane Tynes 04:53
So, you know, if you are a parent or a sibling of someone who journals, please leave their shit alone. Thank you. But yeah, like, now I journal when I’m really feeling it and, like, it helps me process, but it also feels weird narrating my life. So I hope that it is a fruitful practice for you. I know you’re just getting back into it. Really hope it’s fruitful and, like, you’re able to really process. Cuz writing—I feel like, as scholars, we do a lot of writing to process what’s going on in the world, but, like, we need to do writing to process what’s going on inside of ourselves, too.
Alyssa A.L. James 05:30
You know, it’s just a good way to release, really, stress and, you know, get your ideas out there, so you’re not internalizing all of the shit that Black women have to experience, which I think is a nice transition to our next segment—
Brendane Tynes 05:48
Alyssa A.L. James 05:48
—where we’re gonna talk about the way that racial stress is internalized and embodied, unfortunately—
Brendane Tynes 05:56
Alyssa A.L. James 05:57
—for Black women. So, Brendane, what’s the word?
Brendane Tynes 05:59
So the word for today, theydies and gentlethems is—[laughter] I just wanted to say that, just one time—is “weathering.” And again, we’re not returning to Christina Sharpe’s version, even though I’m sure she’s also talking about this tangentially. This version that we’re talking about or introducing today certainly shows that Sharpe’s formation of it is more than just conceptual. It’s an actual physical effect of the weather, the climate that is anti-Blackness. So in 1992, Dr. Arline Geronimus published a scientific study that concluded that Black children born to Black teenage mothers fared better than those to older mothers, even those who were in kinda prime child-birthing age, which, according to this study, was the 20s to early 30s. And this trend was not reflected in the data collected from white mothers so. So from these data, she devised the “weathering hypothesis,” which stated that the health of African American women might begin to deteriorate in early adulthood as a physical consequence of cumulative socioeconomic disadvantage.
Alyssa A.L. James 07:10
Yes. So this is a medical term. And it’s one that posits that Black people experience early health deterioration as a consequence of the cumulative impact of repeated experience with social or economic adversity and political marginalization. So since that intervention almost 30 years ago, researchers, they’ve tracked the effects of racial and socioeconomic stress on multiple areas of Black life. So you might have read about “erosion” or the idea of “chronic racial stress.” In a pretty recent essay, the McGill University philosopher Alia Al-Saji, she evokes weathering through her concept of weariness, and she examines the COVID-19 pandemic to demonstrate “the eroding, grating, and crumbling of racialized flesh” that occurs over the longue duree and not just over this year of the pandemic.
Brendane Tynes 08:04
And you might’ve heard that the pandemic took away, what, 2-3 years off of Black people’s life is the epidemiologists or—oh, let me not say names. I don’t know, the people who do health stuff [laughs]. Like, let me not name them—I don’t know.
Alyssa A.L. James 08:21
Two to three years, like—
Brendane Tynes 08:22
Two to three years.
Alyssa A.L. James 08:22
—as if our life expectancy isn’t already lower on average than other people’s.
Brendane Tynes 08:29
And it’s like, yeah, this chronic racial stress takes a toll on many aspects of Black life, right? Ranging from increased incidences of maternal mortality to racially differentiated diagnoses of obesity.
Alyssa A.L. James 08:43
Yeah, yeah, I actually recently learned that there was a study that showed that even when Black women are following the exact same diet as white women, we lose less weight. So there’s this, like, chronic stress, alongside a lot of other things like lower access to medical care and fresh fruit, which, you know, wouldn’t have really played into the—to this, like, diet study necessarily. But, like, the chronic stress actually influences obesity rates. And yet people want to be like, “Oh, Black people are just lazy,” or, you know, “They’re this and they’re that. It’s their fault that there’s obesity.” But nope.
Brendane Tynes 09:23
You know, obesity was invented, but—
Alyssa A.L. James 09:26
That’s true, that’s true.
Brendane Tynes 09:27
We have to—we will have to do an episode on fatphobia soon.
Alyssa A.L. James 09:32
It’s on our list!
Brendane Tynes 09:33
We’ll have to do it—
Alyssa A.L. James 09:34
It’s on our list!
Brendane Tynes 09:35
It’s on our list. So, you know, differentiated diagnoses un obesity. So it’s more likely for you—if you are Black, you’re more likely to be diagnosed as obese. Mental illnesses, like depression and schizophrenia, we know there’s an overrepresentation of—or a perceived overrepresentation of Black men who are diagnosed with schizophrenia, right? Chronic diseases like diabetes and stroke, right? And aging illnesses like dementia and Alzheimer’s. So contrary to what you might expect, social class actually has little to no effect on the impact of chronic racial stress. So Black people from all walks of life experience the harmful effects of weathering and erosion, though those from middle to upper class backgrounds may have more access to adequate health care treatments. But—and this is a big but—this has not been proven the case for Black expecting mothers. Poor, middle class, and rich Black women report experiencing racial discrimination before, during, and after childbirth, which is something that we witnessed with Serena Williams coming forward. Beyoncé even described experiences of racial discrimination when she was pregnant. And if you’re interested in reading more about Black women’s experiences with maternal health care, Dana-Ain Davis’s book, Reproductive Injustice: Racism, Pregnancy, and Premature Birth, discusses this in-depth. It’s one of my favorite ethnographies that came out in 2019. And we’re just gonna say this, y’all. Like, Black capitalism is not going to save us, as evidenced by Black maternal mortality rates. Like, it’s not going to save us.
Alyssa A.L. James 11:13
Exactly, exactly. I think we’re gonna get into that a little bit in the next segment. But just to round this out, the cumulative effects of racism—particularly anti-Black, economic, medical, educational, and housing policies, just to name, you know, a few.
Brendane Tynes 11:30
A lil’ bit, a lil’ bit [laughs].
Alyssa A.L. James 11:33
That’s, like, we end up with shortened life expectancies, as I was just saying. So, in 2011, the average life expectancy for a white woman was 81.1 years, whereas for Black women, it was 78.2. Black men also have a lower life expectancy. It’s 72.2 years compared to the 76.6 for white men. So life expectancies for Black trans people now, those are significantly lower than cis Black people due to lack of access to proper medical care, increased rates of incarceration, and extreme poverty, and the lack of community support and care. So the impact of chronic racial stress on Black trans people results in higher rates of depression than their white counterparts. So while class may have little effects on the experiences of chronic racial stress, gender has been shown to compound its effects. And so as more data emerges around Black, queer, and trans experiences, we’re able to bear witness to a particular form of precarity that may limit their ability to participate in, say, marches and uprisings. So, for example, Black trans women may choose not to participate in protests or uprisings because an arrest could be in a stay at a men’s prison where they could be killed or subjected to sexual violence, or both. And so Black weathering and erosion are phenomena that occur as a result of chronic racial stress. And at the same time, we are being tasked with solving the dilemma of these shortened life expectancies and decreased life chances.
Brendane Tynes 13:06
Yeah. Why can’t you increase your own life, you know? That’s the question.
Alyssa A.L. James 13:12
Why can’t you extend your life? Why can’t you lose weight? Why can’t you—
Brendane Tynes 13:15
Do all of these—
Alyssa A.L. James 13:16
—not get diabetes?
Brendane Tynes 13:16
[Laughs] Woo! This world! I think one of the things that—as I—like, we were doing the research for this episode and I was thinking about weathering was, like—the landmark study for understanding Black weathering was conducted through an examination of Black maternal and infant outcomes. So in a sense, right, Black mothers birthed a new way of understanding the cumulative effects of anti-Black racism, that was then taken up to explore the ways that racism harmfully impacts Black men, right? So we kind of see these, like—you know, you talked about uprisings and things like that. But this kind of—the ways—I don’t know. The microcosm or the macrocosm of society where Black women are at the front lines and doing all these things. And they seem to then turn around and benefit Black men almost exclusively. And here, I think, is another example of that. When we think about weathering, a lot of the scientific studies focused on the effects of, like, on Black men’s bodies, but it was actually grounded in Black maternal health. And so in many ways, right, Black women’s bodies and experiences make the experiences of Black people and Blackness legible. Yet violence against Black women and girls continues to be underrecognized. So I just think about, like, the question then, moving from this, right, it’s like how can we provide appropriate care for them, for the Black women and girls in our lives, but also for ourselves during this time? And for every Black non-man out there who feels pressure to perform, or to be a super-person, or to pretend like weathering is not affecting you, right—to conform to the expectations of a white supremacist culture, say it with me: We are not gon’ let these people kill us.
Alyssa A.L. James 15:02
We are not gon’ let these people kill us.
Brendane Tynes 15:03
Like, period. Right? And what we’re talking about today, right, is some of these strategies for self-care in a white supremacist world. And we’re not gon’ talk about no bubble bath and facials, y’all. Even though, you know, your girl does believe in both of those. My Taurus Venus—I love me a good bubble bath, alright? We’re actually gonna talk about some concrete strategies that won’t cost you nothing in our next segment, “What We’re Reading.” So, what are we reading today, Alyssa?
Alyssa A.L. James 15:35
What we’re reading today is Koritha Mitchell’s 2018 article “Identifying White Mediocrity and Know-Your-Place Aggression: A Form of Self-Care,” which was published in the African American Review. So Dr. Koritha Mitchell is an award-winning author, cultural critic, and professional development expert. She is also a professor of English at [The] Ohio State University, a literary historian, and a runner. She specializes in African American literature, racial violence throughout U.S. literature and contemporary culture, and Black drama and performance. Her research examines how texts, both written and performed, have helped terrorized families and communities survive and thrive. She has published two books, Living with Lynching: African American Lynching Plays, Performance, and Citizenship, 1890 to 1930, published in 2011 with the University of Illinois Press, and From Slave Cabins to the White House: Homemade Citizenship in African American Culture, which was published in 2020, also with the University of Illinois Press.
Brendane Tynes 16:35
Where do we begin? I feel like I ask this every time [laughs]. And it’s always for me because I’m always like, you know, “Where do I start?” as the Gemini.
Alyssa A.L. James 16:44
Cuz we just—we just choose such rich content, that’s what it is.
Brendane Tynes 16:47
Yeah! I feel like my Gemini-ness is like, “I just wanna talk about everything all at once.” And there were, like, so many nuggets of wisdom in this piece, like.
Alyssa A.L. James 16:56
Yeah, yeah. I—it was exactly the right essay at exactly the right time for me.
Brendane Tynes 17:02
I love it. I love it. When I encountered it the first time, I was like, “Yeah, I needed to see this” is, I think, towards the beginning of my journey at Columbia. And I was like, “Yes, I needed this.” I remember the first time I read it, I was just like, “Duh!” Like, everything she’s saying is like “Duh!” And not “duh” in the sense of, “Oh, this is obvious,” but “duh” as in “Why haven’t I seen this before? Of course, this is what’s happening to me.” And Mitchell starts out by setting the scene and she tells us plainly, right, how the election of 45 is yet another manifestation of what she calls know-your-place aggression. And so she defines no your place of aggression as the “flexible, dynamic array of forces that answer the achievements of marginalized groups such that their success brings aggression as often as praise. So any progress by those who are not straight, white, and male is answered by a backlash of violence— both literal and symbolic, both physical and discursive—that essentially says—know your place!” And I think one of the sentences in the opening that really struck me was just where she says quote, “For anyone other than a straight white man, success often inspires aggression and the accomplishment need not be monumental or spectacular to inspire large-scale and extremely hostile backlash.” When I read that, I was like, “Girl, forreal.” Like, getting the A in a class with somebody—and you know, imma be real—usually, when I experience know-your-place aggression, most of the time it’s from white women. And they’ll be like, “Oh,” like, “I—oh, how did you—how, what—how did you get that,” you know? Like, I’ve definitely experienced backlash for shit that people thought I didn’t deserve. And that I was out of place for having accomplished so much. Like, I remember in high school having to deal with racist guidance counselors and classmates. In college, I dealt with that, too. In graduate school, it’s like, oh, every step of the way. Each time in all these spaces, right, it’s like, my existence in these spaces, whether it be in an honors AP classroom, the physics lab, or in the anthropology department, right, was questioned.
Alyssa A.L. James 19:22
Yeah and I think what’s interesting about her work, actually, is that most people would label these as microaggressions. And she really shows us that these are not micro at all. Like, this is aggression, this is violence. And, you know, we’ve talked about some of our experiences, a little bit on the podcast. And for me, you know, growing up in Toronto, I think I just, like, blocked it out. I just ignored this shit—
Alyssa A.L. James 19:48
—to the point where I barely [crosstalk]—yeah! I just, I barely remember it. But I—one—you know, there are a couple things that I remember. I wrote a book report on The Color Purple. I was very ambitious [laughs]. I wrote a report on The Color Purple in grade seven. And the teacher assumed that I based it on watching the movie. And she was like, “Okay, you can’t just, like, write a book report on a movie.” And—
Brendane Tynes 20:13
Wait, wait. Oh, just because you were only aware of the movie, you assumed—
Alyssa A.L. James 20:18
[Laughs] Exactly! So my mom was like, “Mm-mm, mm-mm.” My mom had to come to school and let them—like, let this white woman know that I was an avid reader. Like, that I love to read, that’s all I pretty much did at that age. So this woman, she—well, she ended up—she stood down, but she was—my mom had to go in there and she wasn’t happy. So, you know, there was always that with—you know, if I had a new teacher in high school or something like that, they wouldn’t believe that I wrote my papers. And so I remember, like, other teachers being like, “Oh, you know, so and so came and asked me about your work. And I told him that you’re a great student.” So basically, these teachers were checking with other teachers to see if I was really as good of a student as my paper suggested. I was like, “Wow, okay. So the evidence is right in front of you, but that’s not proof enough?” Okay, so—
Brendane Tynes 21:15
I mean, obviously—I mean, clearly, you just watch movies and copy papers off wherever kids copy papers off. I don’t—I don’t know—
Alyssa A.L. James 21:24
I wasn’t even at an age where—it wasn’t a time in the world where you could, like, steal papers from the internet yet [laughs]. Like—
Brendane Tynes 21:32
Yeah, we still had floppy disks when I was in school so.
Alyssa A.L. James 21:36
That—so did I! Wait, you were just joking. No, we actually did have floppy disks.
Brendane Tynes 21:42
No, I used floppy disks!
Alyssa A.L. James 21:44
Brendane Tynes 21:45
I loved floppy disks. You have to stick it in, make sure it saves, don’t pull it out before it says—yeah!
Alyssa A.L. James 21:51
And they had, like, 3 megabytes on them, if that. Like, that was just so sad. Okay, but we’re getting off track [laughs]. But—okay, so. Mitchell says that these acts are basically ways to ensure that the marginalized never feel safe taking up space. So I think in this essay, the question that she’s trying to answer, that she’s thinking about is why is it that when Black Americans embody everything the nation claims to respect, they face increased violence? So among other examples, she cites Ida B. Wells being radicalized when she realized that her friends were lynched in 1892, not because of an alleged rape, which is what people often—you know, what white people often claimed was the reason for lynching Black people. It was actually because of their entrepreneurial success. See the Tulsa Wall Street Massacre as well. And then in more recent times, she shows how the Obama family was the most criticized and the most disrespected first family.
Brendane Tynes 22:57
Alyssa A.L. James 22:58
And she explains that as American culture continually wanting to remind marginalized groups of their place. So, in a sense, we are done and undone by our accomplishments. Like, there’s—it’s just—it’s just a no-win situation. And so any progress or success is met with backlash. And that’s how she explains the election of 45—I guess that’s what we’re calling him now [laughs]
Brendane Tynes 23:24
45. I just—
Alyssa A.L. James 23:26
Just can’t say his name.
Brendane Tynes 23:27
45 and 46, it’s just—what’s the use—
Alyssa A.L. James 23:30
Just can’t say their names.
Brendane Tynes 23:31
—in names anymore? [Laughs]
Alyssa A.L. James 23:34
But I think it’s important to note that this essay is not just about this critique of the way violence and Black cultural production are read. She’s actually trying to help Black people reorient our interpretations of our racist experiences. So whether that’s these “microaggressions,” physical violence, or any of the shifting forms that racism takes.
Brendane Tynes 23:55
Yes, I think it’s really important to note that it’s—like she’s very clear about it, right? She’s like, “I’m not here to spell out all these violent things, to say, ‘Hey, look! This is violent.'” She—like there—the knowing is, yes, the violence is here, and it’s gonna come, right? And this is—and this is how you deal with it. And this is how you shift your mindset because what they’re doing over there, it’s not about to change. But she does offers suggestions on how white people can change [laughs]. Also in this article, right, she offers some of her own self-care strategies. And I like how she names these as self-care strategies as kind of active work that she does. And so one of them is she is always identifying know-your-place aggression. And the second one that she highlights in the article is she talks about actually doing a practice of highlighting how often white mediocrity is treated as merit. One thing that she also notes, which I love, is that violence is always committed whenever know-your-place aggression is present, no matter how subtle, right? Or when whiteness is treated as if it always has merit, that is a violent act, period. And as Mitchell says, the evidence of whiteness being treated as if it always has merit is everywhere. And when I saw that, when I tell you, I’m crine, like, literally typed “CRINE” in my PDF reader. Like, I’m CRINE! [Laughs]
Alyssa A.L. James 25:31
Love to see it. One thing I want to come back to is I feel like we talk about violence a lot on this podcast. Or I should say that we use the word “violence.” And I think there are some people out there who don’t think that a microaggression is violent or who think that we should be really selective about what we identify as violence. Maybe because, like, its overuse might diminish its power? I don’t know. So what—I mean, what I would say is that violence is harm perpetrated by an actor. I think it can be as broad as that. I don’t know. How are you defining violence when you talk about it?
Brendane Tynes 26:12
Yeah, I think I agree with you and add that violence can also be perpetrated by an institution. So not just like an actor. When I think of actor I think of a person. And so violence, for me, when I think about it, occurs on multiple levels. It’s an interpersonal level. So we talked [about], in our last episode, Alyssa kicking me. Like, that’s an interpersonal version of it, right? And then there’s the institutional form that we all have experienced. And then there’s ideological forms of violence. And so I really like what Mitchell says about violence that I think I naturally understood, but I like how she marks it, right, which is that violence is a tool that marks who belongs and who doesn’t. So I think about violence, like, in my own work, I think about how violence marks and creates categories. So violence creates the category of Black, it creates the category of woman, it creates the category of victim, and you know, right, that a person is a Black woman by what can be done to them with impunity.
Alyssa A.L. James 27:20
Yeah, that makes sense to me. And I think we’ll definitely talk about that in our next segment, which we’re not getting to yet y’all, don’t worry [laughs]. But yeah, no, I had the, you know, the same kinds of reactions that you did while reading this. You know I texted you and I was like, “I am cackling!” Like, this whole article had me weak in the best way. You know, her writing is very clear, very poignant. She states things in these really, like, matter-of-fact ways. And you just have to sit there like, “Did she—did she really just say that? Was this really published?” [Laughs] Like, people really said “What? People are reading this?”
Brendane Tynes 28:00
And I agree [laughs].
Alyssa A.L. James 28:01
Brendane Tynes 28:02
Like, no lies detected.
Alyssa A.L. James 28:03
She did say that. No. Not at all. So, you know, I think that was great. And then throughout—I mean, throughout this, you know, she talks about how she uses identifying white mediocrity as a self-care tactic by talking about how she approached writing her book for tenure. So that was one of her examples. She was really pressured by her mentors to write her first book within this particular timeline that we have for tenure. But she was just like, “Nah. People are going to, like, apply these standards to me really harshly and really strictly because I’m a Black woman. So it doesn’t matter what I do, they’re still going to hold me to a higher standard than everybody else. So I’m just going to focus on what I want to do.”
Brendane Tynes 28:44
Alyssa A.L. James 28:44
And you know what? It worked for her because I’m pretty sure I saw on Twitter a few weeks ago that she was promoted to full professor. So—
Brendane Tynes 28:53
Which, congratulations, if you listen to this.
Alyssa A.L. James 28:55
Brendane Tynes 28:56
Alyssa A.L. James 28:57
No assistant, no associate, just professor. And I remember her tweet, too. She said something like, “This is just confirming what I already knew about myself.”
Brendane Tynes 29:06
Alyssa A.L. James 29:06
I was like [makes sound of gunfire].
Brendane Tynes 29:09
Self-care. Right and she talks about how noticing, white mediocrity also helps her give herself credit for her work, right? Like what you saw in the tweet. She knows how her practice also allows her to examine how Americans and American institutions, “happily manufacturer merit out of thin air as long as the beneficiary is white.” And when I read that phrase, I said, “Hunny, the examples just percolated in my mind.” And here she’s extending the analysis of David Leonard who wrote about the manufacturing of innocence for straight white men who commit violent acts to discuss how the manufacturing of merit for white people happens generally. And in her own life as a faculty member, researcher, and mentor, she described how she never assesses her accomplishments with the same lens as her counterparts because she recognizes that she had to work much harder to get there. So white people hold each other to much lower standards than they hold everyone else. I hope we all know this. Like, I hope we all understand this. And so many of their accomplishments are not necessarily accomplished because they “earned it,” right? It’s rather that the bar or the standards or the criteria does not exist for them in the same way that it exists for others. And so she says, “Because American culture has never encouraged white people to hold themselves and each other to higher standards, merit is manufactured for them all. And innocence is manufactured for white people who don’t even have the decency to be mediocre.” Like, period—like, what?! In the article here, this is it, like, this is it, right? And so the only way that this will change is if white people hold each other and themselves accountable to some actual standards, right? It’s asking yourself, “Did I earn this? Or did my whiteness allow this to be given to me at the expense of others?” Cuz let’s be real clear, right? Nothing in this capitalist, imperialist white, supremacist, patriarchal, etc. society is “earned,” right, without impacting others. So let’s disabuse ourselves of these notions.
Alyssa A.L. James 31:29
The example she gives to demonstrate the way that white people don’t hold themselves to the same standards is rape culture. But we’ll get into that in a little bit.
Brendane Tynes 31:38
Yeah. Mitchell says that recognizing know-your-place aggression and white mediocrity highlights what public discourse often allies, which is that we celebrate the successes of white men and discourage, diminish, or destroy everyone else’s achievements. I was just like [snaps fingers], “Preach, preacher. Preach.”
Alyssa A.L. James 31:59
Snippity snap. Snap snap. [Laughter] Yeah, I think, you know, what she’s done with this and for—I mean, for herself, and I am so, like [sighs] I’m just—I’m glad that we read this. And it’s, like, I’m so happy that she wrote this and published it, because it has, like, given me tools now. But, you know, she talks about identifying white mediocrity as allowing her to put white people’s judgments in their appropriate place. And then that helps her develop this healthy assessment of her own work that’s dependent on opinions that matter. You know, hers and her community’s. And, you know, why I was saying earlier that this was the right article at the right time for me. You know, we talked about this in our grad school episode. There are a lot of periods of self-doubt. And that’s where I am right now. I applied for several fieldwork grants and fellowships this year, and, you know, I wasn’t successful. I’ll tell everybody. Here it is, this is me being vulnerable on the podcast [laughs].
Brendane Tynes 33:04
I know! I was just like—
Alyssa A.L. James 33:05
It happens [laughs].
Brendane Tynes 33:06
—”Oh, dang, you’re getting real vulnerable with them.”
Alyssa A.L. James 33:08
I know. And listen. Listen, y’all, it happens. It happens, you know, and that, of course, had me thinking, like, “Is my work really good enough?” And, you know, I texted you, I was like, “I didn’t get this fellowship.” And you were just like, “Don’t even worry about it. Like, your work is always going to be held to a different standard and, like, these structures are not made for us.” So, you know, I was reading this article, and I was like, “Yes, I have had to do more to arrive at the same place as everyone else. And that kind of thing will continue. So really, I shouldn’t let it affect my self-worth at all.”
Brendane Tynes 33:40
Like, purr, like, you are more than enough, right? You have always been. And actually, it’s just really interesting talking to Black women about graduate school cuz I have conversations sometimes and they’ll be like, “Well, what do I need to do or say to get into this program?” And it’s like, you know, “Baby girl”—and I hate to say that—but, like, “Baby girl, like, you are the gift to these institutions. You validate their existence.” Sometimes it’s really hard to remember that just as much as we want to be accepted in these places, these places actually are dependent upon us to keep themselves going. And yeah. But your money’s coming. It’s coming.
Alyssa A.L. James 34:19
[Laughs] I hope so.
Brendane Tynes 34:19
Big money. Big money soon come.
Alyssa A.L. James 34:21
Wow—oh, okay! I see you.
Brendane Tynes 34:25
You know, I’m practicing [laughs]. Next time imma be like, “I’m going to Jamaica, girl. Never coming back.” [Laughs]
Alyssa A.L. James 34:35
Okay, listen, listen. Me too. Okay, but of course, of course, you can’t have one of these articles where you’re talking about being a professor and a Black woman without talking about teaching evaluations. And so those are back in the mix. And if you haven’t listened to our grad school episode, in that one we talk about the way women of color are particularly disadvantaged with respect to teaching evaluations. And so Mitchell actually characterizes these—like, the way that people write in these evaluations as another form of know-your-place aggression. And so being called “aggressive,” being called “condescending,” being told that you enter the classroom “like Darth Vader”—as Mitchell experienced—is a way to remind you that the space is not made for you, and a way to assert that, you know, we—”we” being whoever it is—white people, generally—we can’t respect you if you don’t know your place. And so Mitchell points out that in all of these forms of violence, the subtext is always “You may be a professor, but you’re still just a” insert-pejorative-here.” “You may have a higher GPA than I do, but you’re still just a…” “Brendane, you may have gotten that A in the class, but you’re still just a..”
Brendane Tynes 35:52
I mean, honestly—but that was what was said to me, so. But I’m from South Carolina, so—anyway—we gon keep it movin’ [laughs].
Alyssa A.L. James 36:00
Well, you know, there’s—
Brendane Tynes 36:01
That’s literally what I was—that’s literally what was said.
Alyssa A.L. James 36:05
There’s the, you know, the content and then there’s subtext. But among the more liberal Northerners [laughs], it’s more of a subtext.
Brendane Tynes 36:16
“You may go to Columbia, but you’re still…” Da-da-da. Do-do-doo. But yeah, I think what’s also important to note about know-your-place aggression and white mediocrity being given undue merit is that all of this is perpetuated by silence. So Mitchell talks about—as you mentioned earlier, Alyssa—about rape culture as a prime example, which exists not simply because there are sexual abusers and misogynists but—cuz that’s not everyone, right? Like, everybody’s not out here harming people, right? Rape culture persists and exists because there are people who are unwilling to upset the status quo. They’re unwilling to challenge people who commit those kinda harms. So Mitchell writes that “Those who refuse to upset existing power dynamics are perpetrators’ best allies; they quickly abandon anyone with less power, especially if that person has been victimized and had the nerve to say so, rather than be a good ‘team player’ by suffering in silence.” And so what we do when we allow white mediocrity to go without any kind of comment, right, and get merit without any kind of comment, is we are playing along, right? We’re suffering in silence. And this is the type of attitude that has really allowed us to live in a world where white people can be mediocre and still succeed. And y’all, it always happens at the expense of others. I think people—like, we have to really sit and think about that.
Alyssa A.L. James 37:49
Yeah, I mean, this essay really helped me put into perspective some of the experiences that we’ve had in our department, some of the experience I’ve had in other places. And the way that when racist things happen, you know, people in power, say to us, “That’s not who we are, that’s not a reflection of our values.” When it’s actually, like, this is exactly who you are. This is exactly who you have been. And believing that this is—that this situation that we’re calling out is an aberration is exactly why things won’t change, right? So that’s what people, like, “Okay, of course, we can—you know, we can arrest Harvey Weinstein and send him to prison. But this isn’t reflective of the entire industry.” [Pause] It is!
Brendane Tynes 38:36
Alyssa A.L. James 38:37
Brendane Tynes 38:37
It is. It is when every actor who started out as a child was like, “I was molested, I was this, I was that.” It is. It is when, you know, all those YouTube documentaries, everybody has a dark history. Like, it is.
Alyssa A.L. James 38:51
Yep. So I mean, this is paraphrasing, but, like, we need to stop gaslighting ourselves. And we need to really start trusting our readings of situations. And she writes that, “When faced with evidence that the environment is hostile, especially when that hostility is inadequately addressed by those in power, it is important to empower oneself and others to call it what it is, even if only in private.” So all of this to say, recognizing know-your-place aggression is a form of self-care because it allows us to refuse the shame that’s projected onto us, and know that the violence that we are experiencing is actually a result of our success. And so that is how I wanted to tie this in to Black capitalism, and why we keep saying—or one of the reasons why we keep saying it’s not gonna save us. So you all might have seen our reel on Instagram. So someone actually said that to me, you know? When I was explaining all of the possibilities within abolition, you know, he was like, you know, “You’re living in a fantasy world.” All—you know, “That’s not really gonna happen.” You know, “Why is it”—this is my favorite actually—”You know, more Black people are dying from diabetes and high blood pressure but nobody says abolish Popeyes.” Can I get false equivalencies for $200, Alex? [Laughs]
Brendane Tynes 40:16
I mean, we might as well just hand out a PhD. Here we go here, here it is. Cuz you have solved all the problems. Here you go.
Alyssa A.L. James 40:25
So yeah, I mean—and so his argument was basically that Black people need to own their own businesses and work for themselves, and, you know, that’s the thing that’s gonna save us. And so to clarify what Black capitalism is, in a kind of broad sense, it’s, like, it’s essentially the belief that if the Black community amasses enough wealth and economic power, that will bring us the political power to advocate for ourselves as full citizens. That’s an illusion. And know-your-place aggression is a major reason why. Like, even Martin Luther King was like, “Mm. Maybe Black people don’t need Black capitalism, they need Black socialism.” And it was when he started making that shift in his rhetoric, that was when he was assassinated. So there’s actually a really good episode about why, like, American politicians support Black capitalism. It’s on Code Switch. It’s called “Do the Golden Arches Bend Towards Justice?”
Brendane Tynes 41:21
Alyssa A.L. James 41:22
And so the gist of that is, like, politicians basically get to sell the idea that they’re being liberal, that they’re supporting Black people, while not actually, in a very literal sense, supporting Black communities. So, essentially, all of this to say that know-your-place aggression means that buying Black is not going to help us mitigate racism. I’m just gonna let that percolate for y’all. Just listen to that one and then maybe we’ll do an episode on this cuz it’s a longer conversation [laughs].
Brendane Tynes 41:50
Right, right. Forreal. And we might talk about some of your faves in that one, too, I think. One of the things that was so poignant for me as Mitchell moves toward the end of this article is that she advises marginalized groups to take on a “critical demeanor of shamelessness” is what she calls it, in which we recognize that it is our success and our accomplishments that bring on violence, and not the white supremacist lie that we are inherently deficient. So we are not violated because there’s something wrong with us. We’re violated because our—when we succeed, right, we put the mediocrity to shame. It’s like, “Oh, I can do this, this, and this, and this, and this and be here with you. And all you had to do was wake up in the morning and walk?” Hmm. And so that shame that Alyssa was talking about being projected earlier, right, there is shame around that. Like, you should feel—I mean, I’m not saying you should feel. I’m not pointing no fingers. One should sit and think and feel ashamed that you are in a place that a person of color, a Black person, a Black woman, a trans person had to work three to four times harder to be in. There’s shame around that. But what happens and what happens through white supremacist lie[s] and, like, racism, right, is that shame is actually projected onto us, right? And we take it up like it’s ours. We internalize it and say, “Well, there must be something wrong with us.” But it’s not, right? So one of the things I’m working on, right, is, like, holding no reservations about my work, right? And you don’t need to have those reservations either. It makes me think about that Toni Morrison quote where she talks about, like, racism being a distraction. And so, like, know-your-place aggression is a distraction to keep us from doing what we’re purposed to do. And so what we have to do, right, is as Assata—to quote my girl, Assata—and Assata, if you ever hear this, I’m sorry, that I called you “my girl,” but I feel an affinity for you—but as she said, right, it is our duty to fight for our freedom. And it is our duty to win. And I strongly believe that we will win. And one of the ways that we will is by taking on this demeanor of shamelessness. But speaking of winners and winning, right, I think we should move on to our next segment.
Alyssa A.L. James 44:15
Our next segment is what?
Brendane Tynes 44:17
Alyssa A.L. James 44:18
What in the world?
Brendane Tynes 44:20
In the world is going on? What in the world?
Alyssa A.L. James 44:24
Brendane Tynes 44:25
Lawd. [Laughter] We’re recording a lot later than we normally do, y’all. Just so you know [laughs].
Alyssa A.L. James 44:33
Brendane Tynes 44:33
We sound a little relaxed. [Laughter]
Alyssa A.L. James 44:38
So the young tennis player, Naomi Osaka, has been in the news recently. She withdrew from the French Open. At least that’s what the headlines are saying, and I take issue with that characterization, but, you know, we can talk about that later. In any case, athletes in competition are generally contractually required to do press conferences after they compete, whether they win or lose. And so Naomi Osaka, she announced that she wouldn’t participate in press conferences to protect her mental health. She’s been living with depression and anxiety, which is worsened by attending these mandatory media events where people are like, “Well, how did you feel about losing? How did you feel about beating your idol? How did you—what were you feeling when you missed that serve?” Like, imagine being expected to compete at the highest level in whatever it is that you do and then having your every single move scrutinized. And even when you succeed, having your failures scrutinized? That must be awful. That must be absolutely awful. And—you know what, I’m gonna do a little aside. I remember reading someone—someone tweeted, “What if academics aren’t socially awkward, but the way that they act is just an effect of being scrutinized for every single thing you say, whether right or wrong.” And I was like [gasps], “I feel attacked.” [Laughs]
Brendane Tynes 46:06
Alyssa A.L. James 46:07
And so what if I actually don’t have social phobia, but it’s just an effect of being an academic [laughs]?
Brendane Tynes 46:12
Yo. We’ll have to talk about that. I’m thinking a lot about, like, how much of my personality is actually a trauma response and how much of it is me. But.
Alyssa A.L. James 46:23
Yeah, okay, there—yes, that is probably something we should talk about today since it is our Black women’s mental health [episode], but I guess we didn’t wanna talk about our own [laughter].
Brendane Tynes 47:32
No, we’re just gonna—we’re gonna open that up there. I’m just like, “What do you want to know? Do you want me to call my therapist.” Like, what? [Laughs]
Alyssa A.L. James 46:40
Exactly! [Laughs] No thanks. Um, so yes. Okay. So she was like, “Okay, I’m not gonna do these press conferences anymore. This is, you know, this is me taking care of myself.” And then the French Tennis Federation was like, “Alright, well, we’ll just fine you $15,000.” And that’s common practice. You know, you might have heard of the trademarked line from Marshawn Lynch when he said, “I’m just here so I won’t get fined.” [Laughs]
Brendane Tynes 47:11
Yes, I say that all the time.
Alyssa A.L. James 47:12
Uh, yeah. There are some things I could definitely say that about [laughs]. So Naomi Osaka was like, “Alright, cool. I’ll pay that.” You know, she also wrote to the tournament privately offering to discuss the issues with those rules around media obligations. And so rather than them being like, “Yeah, you know, we can see how this would be difficult. Let’s see how we can make this situation better for all athletes,” they were just like, “Well, if you keep skipping your press conferences, then you’ll, you know, default in the tournament and in your next matches” and things like that. So, of course, this just became like a media circus. And Osaka withdrew from the tournament in order to not take away from the other players and the event overall.
Brendane Tynes 47:58
Wow. I wanna go back to something that you said earlier about why you take issue with that characterization. I’m curious to hear. I have a suspicion about why you would but I want to hear you talk about it.
Alyssa A.L. James 48:12
Yeah, I mean, I’ve been thinking—I’ve been really tryna closely read—I know you say you close-read things—but I’ve really been trying to look closely at headlines and the way that they frame particular issues and, you know, thinking about active voice and passive voice and, you know, in a lot of the headlines, Naomi Osaka is the one who’s the main actor, right? So the headline will be like, “Naomi Osaka withdraws from the French Open.” But why aren’t the headlines “The French Tennis Federation doesn’t care about Black women”?It’s a callback. If y’all don’t know what I’m calling back, issa callback [laughs]. Get on the culture if you don’t know what [laughs] that’s a reference to. You know, but it’s just ridiculous that they expect people’s best performances, make them feel like shit when they don’t succeed—and even when they do succeed—and then expect them to want to come back for more. And so it’s just, like, the framing of the headlines themselves are a form of note of know-your-place aggression, right? Like, she—what she did was show her power and her success by saying, “Yep. I’ll face these financial consequences and prioritize me because I got it like that.” And then she’s getting dragged for it. She’s being blamed for it when it’s, like, actually the tennis and the media, and the way that, you know, the expectations that we have around athletes is actually the issue, where she’s getting framed as the problem.
Brendane Tynes 49:43
Alyssa A.L. James 49:44
Ooh, “If you speak up about the problem, you become the problem,” Sara Ahmed.
Brendane Tynes 49:48
There it is. I’ve—you know, if you’re silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say that you enjoyed it. So—and that’s Zora, that’s me paraphrasing Zora Neale Hurston. Yeah. I—like you were saying, though, this is a prime example of know-your-place aggression outside of academia. We talked about a lot examples inside earlier, but this is, like, literally what it looks like in the world, right. And, as you said, Naomi chose to do what she could do with her riches, which is protect her mental health, which is—like, what good is all that money if you can’t even do that, right? What good is it to have this money to be like, “Oh, yeah, $15,000? Okay, at least I get to sit out and sit with my little boo, and do what I need to do,” right? Like, what’s the point of that money? But that goes back to what we were saying earlier about class and Black capitalism, like, it’s not going to save us, right? Being rich is not going to save us from experiencing racism. It’s not going to save us from experiencing anti-Blackness in particular. She is not supposed to have all this money. She’s not supposed to have the choice to say, “No, I will not subject myself to being scrutinized. Like, I’m not gonna subject myself to that.” But I will say, there’s a reason why some people compare sports to slavery. I mean, that’s all imma say, cuz I really don’t wanna offend nobody. But we could think about Naomi, we could think about Serena, we could think about this past summer—the NBA protests and the WNBA protests.
Alyssa A.L. James 51:27
The NFL and the way that they’ve been, like, “race-curving”—is that what it’s called?
Brendane Tynes 51:33
Oh, yeah, Colin Kaepernick?
Alyssa A.L. James 51:35
No, no, they’ve been—so I don’t know if you’ve heard about this, but they were race-norming for IQ to calculate brain injury compensation. And so they were basically saying that Black people have lower IQs to begin with, so the difference between whatever their their IQ would be after, like, these concussions and things like that hasn’t been—hasn’t reduced as much. And so they don’t deserve as much of a settlement.
Brendane Tynes 52:05
Oh, y’all can’t— anyway, back to what I said: sports to slavery.
Alyssa A.L. James 52:12
So yeah, I mean, as another aside, I think that actually what happened to us with, you know, How Not To Travel Like A Basic Bitch—which, if you all haven’t listened to that episode, you know, we had a situation—I think that’s also a form of know-your-place aggression.
Brendane Tynes 52:29
Alyssa A.L. James 52:30
Brendane Tynes 52:30
Alyssa A.L. James 52:33
You know, you—”I’m sorry, you’re working towards PhDs and you dare call out my work and people agree with it. Know your place. You may have several years of experience talking about race, but you’re still just two Black bitches.”
Brendane Tynes 52:53
Who can’t even afford to use Photoshop [laughs].
Alyssa A.L. James 52:58
Brendane Tynes 52:59
[Laughs] You know, you try to use Photoshop on this stipend. You get a—you know?
Alyssa A.L. James 53:05
Listen. Honestly, you try to use Photoshop with this time that we do not have [laughs].
Brendane Tynes 53:12
Alyssa A.L. James 53:13
That we’re dedicating to this podcast.
Brendane Tynes 53:14
I—yeah, you know, actually, I hadn’t even thought about or put that label on that experience. But absolutely, like, absolutely. And then, you know, getting—the desirability piece comes back in there for me, too, of just, like—of how she used her desirability in certain ways. And then, you know, insert Black man-prop, right, to also signal other things. And we’ll get—maybe, you know, we’ll have this talk, for all our ZD diehards who be DMing us, we’ll have a conversation about how, you know, Black cis men can be one of the people who perpetuate know-your-place aggression against Black women. Which is what—I mean, if I were to have something to add to the article, it would be that. That would be the thing I would add.
Alyssa A.L. James 54:08
I see you. But yes. Okay, we will rewind [laughs] [crosstalk]—
Brendane Tynes 54:14
—[crosstalk] back to—
Alyssa A.L. James 54:16
Yeah, getting back to what we were talking about. I loved what Venus Williams said in her press conference. So I don’t know what the question was exactly, but I guess someone was like, “How do you deal with the media questions?” and all these things, and she was just like, “I know they can’t play as well as I can. So no matter what they say, or what they write, they’ll never hold a candle to me.” And I was just like, “Talk about a critical demeanor of shamelessness.” Ayye ayye, I see you [laughs].
Brendane Tynes 54:42
When it’s like—like, literally, like, your most formidable opponent is your sister.
Alyssa A.L. James 54:53
Someone said—who was it that said, “I’m so happy that the only people who can beat Serena now are the Black woman who started playing because of her”?
Brendane Tynes 55:08
Venus and Serena Williams are trailblazers, right? And—
Alyssa A.L. James 55:14
Brendane Tynes 55:15
Like. The best athlete in the world. Serena Williams is the best athlete in the world. Naomi Osaka is on her way, right? And not just for her tennis skills, but also the way that she is making people uncomfortable with the status quo, like, openly demonstrating her politics on the court, prioritizing herself, her mental health, her relationships, her self-care. And someone on Twitter said that Black women often demonstrate their strength by all the things that they’re willing to put up with. But our real strength is about what we are not willing to put up with, right? So there’s a whole set of privileges that come, right, that allow folks to set and enforce certain boundaries, right? She could afford to spend, you know—$15,000, that ain’t nothin’, you know, to protect myself. A lot of us don’t have that choice, right? But I think as we work towards a world where we are able to prioritize ourselves and our self-care, right, we are going to have to make those decisions. And they’re going to cost us. Because the point of this world is to make us do things that we don’t want to do. Like, that’s the point.
Alyssa A.L. James 56:24
I think that’s a really good segue into what’s been happening in academia, to bring it back there. You know, and how it is quintessential know-your-place aggression.
Brendane Tynes 56:35
You all may or may not have heard that Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, creator of the landmark 1619 Project and MacArthur “Genius” Nikole Hannah-Jones was denied tenure at the University of North Carolina [at Chapel Hill]. And I went to Duke for undergrad, so this—I was like, “I mean, makes sense,” you know, honestly. For all you UNC fans out there, just to do a little dig [laughs]. For those of you who may not be aware—and I definitely wasn’t until I started doing this PhD process, right—tenure decisions, generally go like this. You spend years building this thing called a file, your tenure file. And when you submit it, it typically has your publications or articles, books you’ve written, things like that, your teaching evaluations, your CV—which you also want to make sure you include, like, students you mentor, honors theses you’ve supervised, things like that—letters from colleagues, and other things that show how you’ve contributed to the field and to academia broadly, and are supposed to demonstrate these things, you know. Demonstrate whether you’re worthy of a job for life. So your department reviews the file and then there are also outside reviewers. And if they approve it, it goes to the dean. And once it’s approved there at the dean’s office, your file goes to the provost and/or to the president of the university. And once you pass all these steps—which Hannah-Jones did, right—it goes to the Board of Trustees for sign-off. And it was at the level of the Board of Trustees that her tenure case was denied. So effectively, this board of mostly old white men, one Black woman, and one white woman, which, you know—
Alyssa A.L. James 58:22
Brendane Tynes 58:23
Alyssa did some fact-checking!
Alyssa A.L. James 58:23
[Laughs] I did. I looked at the Board of Trustees, I counted, did the numbers [laughs].
Brendane Tynes 58:30
You know. Right, most of them are lawyers and bankers and probably know very little about the field of journalism. So, of course, right, this denial of tenure for her really comes out of a wave of, like, this conservative criticism around The 1619 Project and other forms of critical race theory. So the main conservative criticism that I heard on the unfortunate day that I watched Fox News—cuz I was forced to—it is this element of this new thing called “wokeism.” And so their main point was 1619 seems like such a random year, why not start with 1776? Teaching critical race theory actually promotes division, and as Americans, that is not who we are. We are a country that is united and not divided.
Alyssa A.L. James 59:28
There, we heard it again. “That’s not who we are.” That’s exactly who you are! Like, that’s why there was a civil war [laughs].
Brendane Tynes 59:39
Alyssa A.L. James 59:40
But, like, imagine working for years—years!—to, you know, contribute—to, sure, contribute to the field but also just working on these things that you’re passionate on, making—you know, making these incredibly important contributions. As someone said, even before The 1619 Project, like, her investigative journalism was fire, like, she would have been an excellent candidate for tenure before 1619. But that was the thing that brought her some of the highest praise. Imagine working for all of these years for that for some bankers, for some lawyers, to decide on, essentially, how important all of the work you did was, and decide on what your future was going to be. People who have, like, no idea what you’ve actually done. And it just goes to show that, like, it wasn’t about her. It wasn’t about her at all. It was about perceptions. It was about politics.
Brendane Tynes 1:00:44
And this perceived loss of status and power for conservative, white—really, white supremacist projects, right? It’s just, like, if we can recognize this Black woman’s work that says that slavery was a thing that happened—which is literally—you know, 1619—slavery is a thing that happened and this is, you know, how it affected the US. Like, literally, we can’t acknowledge the truth. But I think—speaking of, like, weathering, like we talked about weathering earlier just makes me think, like, how exhausting it must be to be a Black woman at a southern institution. And if UNC is anything like Duke—and in a lot of ways it is, right?—every day is a fucking battle, right? And so to think that, like, at least I’m gonna be able to not have to fight this fight no more, right? Like, “I’ve submitted this, I’m more than enough, I’m more than good enough.” And then to be like, “Oh, yeah, no. No, no. You’re not. You’re not.”
Alyssa A.L. James 1:01:49
Yeah. So, you know, there have been a range of responses to this within academia and outside of it. Because, of course, you know, this has made headlines. But people were like, “This is an outrage!” And then other people were saying, you know, “Why are you surprised? This is the rule for Black woman, this is not the exception.” And so I actually just read about a Black woman professor that UNC has been trying to attract for years, you know. And she withdrew herself from consideration from the position. So there’s been all of this, you know, solidarity. People are really rallying around Nikole Hannah-Jones. You know, meanwhile, as people kind of pointed out, there were many, many, many, many Black women who have been denied tenure over the years, and, you know, never got so much as a tweet in solidarity. So on the one hand, I think people are like, “We’re glad that this is bringing attention to this issue.” But also this issue has been ongoing. And there are a lot of people—a lot of very qualified people who didn’t get the jobs that they deserved. And so, you know, this is the reality for scholars of color, and especially Black scholars, especially Black women. You know, the people who are evaluating our work literally know nothing about the work that we do. So they don’t even really know how to evaluate it—
Brendane Tynes 1:03:12
Preach on it, ooh.
Alyssa A.L. James 1:03:13
—you know? So I haven’t really seen a study like this in the social sciences and humanities. But in 2011, there was an analysis of NIH, which is the National Institutes of Health. So there’s an analysis of the NIH grants that showed funding rates for Black scientists were 10%, lower than for whites, even after factoring in educational background, previous research, publications, and, of course, like, the prestige of the institution that they’re at. And so there was a follow-up study that was published this year that showed ain’t shit changed. It’s the same. And people in 2011 were like, “Whoa, can’t believe it. How can we fix this?” And then didn’t.
Brendane Tynes 1:03:57
[Laughs] I’m sorry, that might be loud when you listen to it.
Alyssa A.L. James 1:04:00
And so, like, you know, there’s another study that found, like, behavioral and social sciences—they’re actually less representative of racial and ethnic minorities than the biomedical sciences and engineering. And in many subfields, minorities are less likely to receive funding. So it’s something that we know anecdotally. But I don’t think that there’s numerical data that we can access to understand the extent of it, and I would love to see it cuz I know it’s out there cuz I filled out the forms. Those demographic data forms, I filled them out when applying for grants. I wanna see the data.
Brendane Tynes 1:04:39
Yeah, I think—and there’s probably a reason why it’s not out there, though. People try to mystify as much of it as possible. There was one thing that I wanted to mention when we talk we’re talking about Serena and Naomi. And we—yeah, what’s really interesting is this shift from praising Naomi Osaka, right, when she beat Serena. And then they depicted [Naomi Osaka] as kind of—I don’t know if you saw the cartoon where she was depicted almost like a white woman? They lightened her skin, straightened her hair. In comparison—
Alyssa A.L. James 1:05:10
And it was blonde.
Brendane Tynes 1:05:11
Yeah! Oh, see! I was like—I thought I imagined the blonde, but I’m gaslighting myself. Her hair was blonde—like, in comparison to Serena, where they always tend to depict Serena as animal-like because she is a dark-skinned Black woman. And one of the one of the tensions that—what I thought about this was in thinking about Nikole Hannah-Jones—one of the tweets I saw was “Oh, people”—“Of course people are gonna rally around this woman who is lighter skinned, who has all this prestige. But imagine how many dark-skinned Black women are brutalized in academia and don’t have anyone to avenge them, right, or stand in solidarity with them?” And unfortunately, right, colorism does play a huge part in and who we think is worth defending when it comes to any type of violence, but especially know-your-place aggression, right? Like, it’s actually seen to be more appropriate to instill into darker skinned people that their place is to be lower, which is fascinating to me now. But yeah, I think—the final thing we’ll talk about here before we let you all go back to your lovely summer is self-care. And this idea of self-care being commercialized. And we all know that in some cases, it has been commercialized, it has been commodified, and, you know, we talked about it earlier, the bubble bath, facial. Girl, make sure you get your laser treatments every month, make sure you, you know, get your waxes and your eyebrows done. Like, that is how you take care of yourself. Get your hair did. Get your nails done, like, that is how you take care of yourself. That is self-care. And people often use Audre Lorde’s—or I would say misuse—Audre Lorde’s quote around self-care being a political act of warfare to justify this capitalist understanding of what it means to take care of oneself. And I just—
Alyssa A.L. James 1:07:14
Audre Lorde was a socialist, y’all [laughs].
Brendane Tynes 1:07:17
Like, she was not sitting in no—in her office writing about self-care while she was, you know, dealing with cancer talking about “Oh, yeah, I really would like to get my hair done. Like, no! Like, honey, no! That’s not—that was not the thought, right? It was actually—what she was saying was that this act of taking care of myself as a Black woman, as a Black woman warrior, as a Black lesbian, as a mother, right, in a world that tells me that my place is actually to put everyone else above me, is a political act of warfare. So however you take care of yourself, right, is an act of warfare, if you recognize, right, that this is actually something that this world has designed that you’re not supposed to be able to do. Especially as a Black woman. You’re not supposed to be able to take care of yourself, you’re always supposed to be doing things for others. So even all those things that I named before, like the “grooming” things, right, that are supposed to be so you can make yourself more presentable for an outside world. Like, yes, that’s self-care. But tied up in that understanding is that people are gonna scrutinize your appearance and so you need to make sure that you look acceptable in the best way possible. So, I mean, I reject those logics. And I like to think about self-care as, yes, me taking care of myself, but also what I can do in community with others. So community care—that’s self-care. And then also self-care of just making sure that I have my mental health together. And my therapist really helped me out with that. She helped me out.
Alyssa A.L. James 1:09:00
In the article, Koritha Mitchell does talk about how having yourself together mentally helps you do the work. She’s like, “It’s not required to do the work,” she definitely makes that point. But it helps you do the work. And I think—yeah, I mean, essentially, what we’re seeing is this co-optation of self-care, as capitalism always does in order to, like, keep itself relevant, you know? And [laughs] one of my friends pointed out how much it annoys her that, like, that companies and the people that she’s working for, you know, they’re like “Self-care, prioritize self-care, prioritize taking care of yourself!” But they don’t do anything to facilitate it.
Brendane Tynes 1:09:44
Alyssa A.L. James 1:09:45
They’re like, “Uh, mental health days? Nah.” You want me to take care of myself, where’s the money? Where’s the time off to actually do it? Where’s the—where’s the support to make it okay for me take a day off—
Brendane Tynes 1:10:01
Where’s the child care?
Alyssa A.L. James 1:10:02
—to take care of myself? Where’s the child care, right?
Brendane Tynes 1:10:06
You know, those of you who have children, like, where’s the child care? Where’s the community, like, to help you, like—yes. Yes, yes.
Alyssa A.L. James 1:10:15
For me, saying no is a form of self-care. Setting boundaries is a form of self-care. Refusing to let them kill us softly, kill us slowly, is self-care. Asking for what you want and need? Self-care.
Brendane Tynes 1:10:36
Ooh, child, reading me.
Alyssa A.L. James 1:10:38
Because true self-care is not something you can buy. In fact, true self-care threatens capitalism. Self-care actually threatens the institution that will gleefully profit off you working yourself into the ground and then replace you as soon as you’re gone. There is nothing that power fears more than someone with the agency, confidence, courage, and security to refuse. And that’s why we’re taught to believe in scarcity. We’re taught to believe that there are only so many opportunities, only so much money, only so many romantic partners, particularly for people like us. And capitalism thrives not on our fear of rejection, but of our fear of rejecting. We’re raised to feel guilty, to fear not being liked, or dismissed as angry Black women, or as being too picky if we choose to refuse. So I’m just gonna say, be steadfast in your commitment to keeping nope alive.
Brendane Tynes 1:11:44
I mean, that’s it.
Alyssa A.L. James 1:11:47
I raised my fist, but you guys can’t see [laughs].
Brendane Tynes 1:11:50
Purr, like. I mean, that’s all we have for y’all today [laughs].
Alyssa A.L. James 1:11:55
Okay! Oh, do I get the final word? I never get the final word [laughs].
Brendane Tynes 1:12:00
This is it. This is it.
Alyssa A.L. James 1:12:03
Brendane usually takes us home. You’re usually the one who takes us home.
Brendane Tynes 1:12:06
Asè, no, this is it. Asè, I’m sorry. I gotta copy and paste this and put this on my mood board, hunny.
Brendane Tynes 1:12:15
Asè, that’s all we have for y’all today. Thank you for listening. This episode was produced by the lovely Alyssa James and myself. Our intern is Menkhu-ta Whaley and music is by Segnon Tiewul. The podcast is distributed in partnership with the American Anthropological Association. This season of the podcast is generously funded by the Racial Justice Mini-Grant Program at Columbia University, which is funded through a partnership with the Office of University Life, the Office of the Vice Provost for Faculty Advancement and the Institute for Religion, Culture and Public Life. Further funding has been provided by grants from the Office for Academic Diversity and Inclusion, the Arts and Science Graduate Council, and donations from listeners just like you.
Alyssa A.L. James 1:13:01
Thank all of y’all for your support. We love hearing from you and we’ve really appreciated the conversations we’ve been having with you all in the DMS, in the emails. You can head to zorasdaughters.com to find transcripts for the episodes, our bios, contact info, and ways to support the podcast. Continue the conversation with us about Black women’s mental health and self-care on Instagram at zorasdaughters and on Twitter at zoras_daughters.
Brendane Tynes 1:13:30
Yes, and until next time, our final episode of the season, we want to remind you that we must take care of ourselves and each other. Bye!
Alyssa A.L. James 1:13:40
[END OF RECORDING]