Moving Beyond Theory-To-Practice: Towards an Understanding of Self Through Black Womens Ways of Knowing

As I think about the work of Cite A Sista, I’ve wondered how much of our conversations and focus needs to shift more internally. While white people in the academy need to absolutely literally cite Black women scholars and certainly employers and families across the world need realize what they gain from Black women, I’ve started to think about ways we may un(in)tentionally cause harm to one another.

Because this project is not only about literal citing but also how those we work with, engage, learn, and grow from pour into us, I couldn’t submit an in-school self-reflection project without putting it out here for all of you to see. As more and more Black creatives, particularly Black women, engage online, I’ve come to realize just how many not only white people co-opt their (our?) work, but how many of US do it to one another. And, the buck stops here.

In this lengthy post (I know, #sowwy), I outline ways in which who I am as a scholar, researcher, aspiring higher education leader, and Black woman in general benefit from the work of Black women beyond formal who decided what counts as founnamed.jpgrmal anyway? academic settings…  Beyond this, I highlight ways social and digital media, online blogs, and digital communities that are beyond the scope of Cite A Sista change how I think and grow equally as often as my graduate education.

I understand that many of our cite a sista readers are not within higher education. This is okay, and we’re happy to have you. But I ask that you sift through this post and understand this if you gather nothing else: Black women are changing the way we know and understanding by not only contributing to a culture of knowledge but also how we collectively experience Black womanhood within and outside of work, school, and relationships.

I hope you’ll stick with me!

Earlier this semester, one of my faculty assigned us an ongoing self-directed project to explore who we are as student affairs educators and activists. As I thought about the work that I’ve done thus far from critical scholarship to helping develop the Cite A Sista platform, I knew I wanted to critically engage language, intra and cross-communal cultural nuances, and reflect on ways I can center Black women and girls in my work in ways that allows other historically marginalized identities to move towards the center.

From the outset of this project, I envisioned myself as a student affairs educator committed to unpacking anti-Blackness, and more specifically misogynoir, from which I assume I will be able to unpack other isms and social justice issues thereby contributing to a more equitable and inclusive culture of higher education. To say it plainly: I sought to better understand who I am and how I show up by looking not to the works within the academy that I grapple with, instead to those Black creatives, activists, liberators, protectors, and other individuals who contribute to my understanding of self and nuanced view of activism beyond the constraints of the academy.

I took to work and research outside of higher education to learn first hand and on the ground from folks doing liberatory work outside the confines of the academy.  I spent a great deal of time engaging the work(s) and posts of The Kinfolk Kollective, Feminista Jones, Bougie Black Girl, Black Girl Dangerous, Aurielle Lucier, and occasionally The Trudz to name a few. Many of these creatives and/or digital communities were included in the one-page write-up I submitted to my professor in January while others organically became sites for unpacking who I am and where I fit within a larger culture of resistance.

C8g_023XsAI3sPw-1.pngWhile working through when and where I enter, I found out halfway through my self-directed study that ACPA College Student Educators International was taking a similar approach to social justice and defining what the association endeavors to stand for with their development of a strategic imperative for racial justice (Shoutout to my Black ACPA Current, Past, and President-Elects).

As Dr. DL once explained to me, and I’m paraphrasing here: The brilliance of Blackness is the ability for multiple Black folks to do similar work towards a similar goal without ever consulting one another or crossing paths.

As ACPA announced their goals, Dr. DL (funny how so much of my life revolves around Zim), too, opined an article on language shifts in higher education.

This strategic imperative for racial justice and work on nuanced language around diversity in higher education were the sole works from within the academy that I went on to consider in working toward my self-definition and understanding. In addition to these works, linked below is a piece from each of the aforementioned creatives that I sat with in thinking about what I wish to bring to academia:

Their words contributed to a shift in even how I thought about this project and led me to six ways in which I understand who I am and how I show up with the very core of my work being the essence of me and what I’ve created (from a long tradition of Black women’s community building and coalescence– particularly in digital spaces).
B. Williams - Slide.png

In developing an image and perception of self, I worked from Cite A Sista as a concept, project, and state of being as my core and moved clockwise from 12. This led me to six frames of self-perception, resistance, and activism that define who I am as a Student Affairs Educator and that uses a whole bunch of words that “aren’t” words but I’m making them real for the purposes of this post:

First: An Unapologetic Centerer of Race

  • Race is not a dirty word. Period. The concept of not seeing one’s race has been debunked many of times. So I feel no need to discuss that here. I have learned from the Kinfolk Kollective cultivated community that an online platform that makes every post, concept, and frame about race and has shifted the ways in which I’ve thought about creating educational environments that shift who’s of focus and why.

Second: Doer of real work to recognize the emotional, academic, and personal labor Black women on twitter and other online platforms expend for greater learning 

  • I’ve learned a lot in graduate school, but I’ve learned even more outside of the classroom and social media has been a large part of this. I’ve learned that who I am is inextricably tied to how I learn from, develop, and grow outside of my campus environment. Given the folks I follow, named here and otherwise, my social media platforms often feel like an ongoing social justice course. I’m learning daily how to be a better ally to LGBTQ folks, how anti-blackness intersects communities of color, how misogynoir contributes to the ways I’m perceived in person and otherwise. Making space to reflect on and think about this within my work and personal lives are paramount to being sure I’m leading and teaching effectively.

Third: Rethinkier of the socialization of Black girls 

  • When I think of my role in higher education, I’m usually engaging young professionals and adults and a large majority of whom are graduate students. By this time, we’re either unpacking the horrible things we came to learn and experience or we’re trying to find ways to avoid passing them on. I view my interactions and role as an educator as directly tied to how my students and peers experience parenting and life as we rarely take any of our identities off of us when we enter different spaces.

Fourth: Serious engager with a multitude of images and perceptions of Black women and Black Culture 

  • In a higher education context, this means unpacking workplace dynamics and asking: Who are we hiring — what is considered hard work? How do we define it?
  • In daily life, it means unpacking the over simplification of Black identity in an anti-Black white supremacist culture where the very languages of people of color instead of saying Black or saying what we mean can contribute to perceptions that we’ve recreated hierarchy. I’ve recently come to realize why I’m against the use of people of color when we don’t mean a shared experience of resisting oppression for the very reasons outlined in the Black Girl Dangerous piece.

Fifth: Centralizer of Black joy as part of rather than antithetical to educational spaces

  • If there’s one thing I gained from Trudy, it is greater insight into how there’s an expectation of Black women to work for free. For many of us, there is joy is contributing to and being part of something great, but the darker flip side to this is exploitation and expectation that we do it on other peoples terms. Trudy has helped provide me language that explores the ways in which we expect women but Black women in particular to labor for free for the good of others with minimal return on their investment. Part of creating joyous educational spaces is making sure the onus of hard work is not on those we’ve created unrealistic and uncompensated expectations of.  This contributes to who I am and how I function as an educator because I’ll be sure to work to avoid classroom spaces that reify these issues.

Sixth: Serious questioner of if and how Black women are valued 

  • Aurielle’s ongoing thread about who values Black women and in what ways raise questions not only in who am I as a Black woman but how I show up and how this looks for my relationships. The idea of value impacts me and my work because they show up in how I’m perceived as much as how I contribute. Thinking of and holding near and dear my own perceptions of self and holding them in high having value is something that I’m reminded I need not only show, but impart upon other Black women in my educational endeavors. This shows up for me in mentorship, research, and centering Black women.

As I think about these six concepts embodying who I am as a student affairs educator with Cite A Sista at the core of my being as an ever present seventh, I imagine ways I can contribute to higher education and the world higher education functions within by:

  • Decreasing drop out rates by ensuring people most pushed out are able to persist;
  • Creating classroom environments where people of minoritized descent can speak up early and often;
  • Intentionally designing my course syllabi to feature the works of Black women and women & trans folks more broadly;
  • Allowing joy as part of the educational experience rather than functioning under the assumption that solely the Socratic method facilitates critical thinking;
  • Contributing to the diversification of images of Black women

As I reflect on this soul searching, I realize to borrow from Dr. Dre Dominue (2017) that

I am the benefactor of a historical legacy of black women’s labor being 1) expected, 2) exploited, 3) invisible and 4) critiqued…. [When] even in the most inclusive spaces our work will always be used but seldom rewarded or celebrated…

I am all of these things, and I am an agitator, feminist, community constructor, meeter of students where they… I am Cite A Sista in the flesh, I am Brittany Williams, and I’m a critical student affairs educator committed to continuous improvement. 🙂

*The term threaducation was introduced to me from the brilliance of Karyn Dyer.

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