Today is the first day of my second year as an Assistant Professor of Education in Houston, Texas. As I embark upon this academic year, it is hard to ignore the feeling of unease in my body. As of August 1, 2016, it officially became legal to carry guns on campus. I learned that this would occur a few days after moving here a year ago with a newborn, a 2-year old and my husband. There was much to do at that time to say the least: unpack, become acclimated to life in Houston, Texas, prepare brand new course syllabi, pump breast milk for my son when I was away from him, figure out how to drive, etc. etc. I did not have the time to fully think about what this gun-wielding law would mean for me in a year. So, like most Black women with much to do, I kept going. I created new syllabi, I met new colleagues, I learned about the urban campus in the heart of downtown, which was more on the quiet side in comparison to New York. The silence bored me. I missed the noise of home, but I kept going, because that is what we do, us sistas of the sun, we keep going even when we should stop and reflect.
Many things happened to me in my first year. I experienced racism (been there). I shut down racist colleagues (done that). I spoke up at meetings (I am free). I started this blog (I don’t believe in censorship). I learned that my Blackness (still) precedes my doctorate, my actions, my ideas and my perspective every time I speak. But this does not bother me, because I have learned how to love myself without white supremacist validation. Yet still, actively rejecting white supremacy can be dangerous while living in a Black sista body, rocking Black sista hair and blazing Black sista boldness. And now students can carry guns, because it is “their legal right.” As a Critical Race Theorist, I know that the law is not colorblind in any way, shape or form although, it proposes to be just that. Assata taught me. Tamir taught me. Renisha taught me. Aiyanna Stanley Jones taught me. Jordan Davis taught me, which may explain why I am still cautious about how loud my music is when driving close to police cars or other white civilians who the law chooses to protect when they pull out pistols upon hearing so-called “thug” music. To be free in this Black sista body also means that I have to make a living and come home to my family each day. How do I make a living in spaces that were not built for me, that were not built for the kind of radical sparks that emanate from my soul intentionally and impulsively?
Now that students can carry guns in a state like Texas at a public institution where I am employed, I find myself thinking about how to preserve the integrity of my work. How do I continue to practice social justice pedagogy in a space where some students may be armed? Surely in my classes, I may come across armed students. Now to be clear, the law maintains that the weapons must remain concealed. But I find that danger becomes more alive when concealment comes to play. For example, institutional racism is often concealed too, but it is there, powerfully altering Black/Brown lives because it can and it will. Do I change the radical nature of my pedagogy because of the possibility that I can get harmed for doing so? Or, do I walk by faith and not by sight, as my Christian upbringing whispers in my ear? I honestly don’t know the answer to these questions. I am a revolutionary with a cause but one that I am not willing to put myself in blatant danger for. I can say that honestly and fully. Yet still, I do not compromise on what I believe is right either. I know that teaching my students about the intersections among literacies, race and education is work that must get done. I also know that I love the sound of my daughter’s laughter in the morning. I love the way my son looks at me when he is tired. I love my husband’s faith in my ability to change the world. How do I balance spaces of violent institutional oppression and love simultaneously? At this moment, I do not have any answers.
Today is the first day of my second year as an Assistant Professor and I am armed with love and language. I am armed with nontraditional knowledge systems. I am armed with motherhood and false notions of meritocracy. I am armed with the faith that my fear will have to fester in in the face of freedom.