Chasing Heart or Interventions?: Reflections from a Brown Boy soon to be Ph.D.
Some days I feel like the "academy" asks us to state our interventions before we state our passions. It asks us to come at our work from a position of posturing as opposed to a position of heart. As if our interventions didn't first stem from our passions—out of those things that drive us, that connect us to a past we didn't live and a future we may not see but that we know, by our present, that were and will be.
I've been thinking about this lately, and the kind of social pressure the "academy" pushes on young scholars. This wouldn't be a good post if I didn't define my terms so I want to make clear that by the "academy" I don't just mean universities or colleges. I mean the whole eco-system of scholarship which includes institutions of higher education but also the tenure track system, the hiring system, conferences, dissertations, theses, doctoral programs, not to mention the unspoken beliefs, ethics, morals, and values that are perpetuated in these spaces, explicitly by people and implicitly by policies. It's that eco-system that at its best can empower a lower class brown boy to find his voice, grow, challenge himself, and one day write his magnum opus and the same eco-system that can tame that brown boy's passion, quenching it with the politics of assimilation and forgetfulness. That can slowly teach the brown boy that to succeed he must forget the story of his parents and the knowledge of his abuela and instead speak from the "tried and true" methods of the "academy" (which we won't question, even if some were forged in the fires of colonialism that burned the backs of the brown boys' ancestors). This is the "academy" I speak of. This two sided coin that has the capacity to bring life and flourishing and often perpetuates the habitus, the embodied pattern, of un-passionate production.
Me and My Abuela: Carmen Nereida Rivera
I think about this contradiction and complexity each day that I'm in the eco-system. Even as I perform as a perfect exemplar of the "academy"—because if our people have learned anything about survival it is how to play the game better than the one who created it—I continue to have questions about this space and the spiritual pressures it places on me. Spiritual because sometimes I wonder if this eco-system doesn't rip the life out our work by asking us, at times, to state our interventions before we state our passions. Asking us to "pay our dues" by adjuncting six classes at $2500 a class while still expecting us to get our book out because our intervention is important. Asking us to take on thousands of dollars in debt as we struggle to pay rent and discouraging us from unionizing because that would take away from our ability to clarify our intervention. Placing us in conferences to share our intervention only to tear us down and tell us the reason's it is wrong. Yet as I state these realities of spiritual distress I also hear the ancestors tugging at my heart, pushing me to do the work they laid for me before I was born. I see this space I have, these privileges I have, to trace the stories of my people in order to show that even amidst the systemic attempts to cut against our spirit we are free because freedom is our own and no one can take that from us. So we work in the interstices—the cracks—of the "academy," being clear about what we can learn as well as what the academy can never give us—those things that could only come from our people. And in those interstices of institutions—the places our people have always strived—we declare our freedom by centering our hearts as opposed to our interventions.
These are lessons I have learned from my fore-parents in the academy. It was Dr. James Cone who constantly told me that we need to write from the gut and from the clarity of knowing our voice and where it comes from. He often shared that when he was writing his Black Theology—as a black man in a time where not only was there virtually no one that looked like him in the academy, but at a time where his mere presence in the academy brought about death threats to his person—he wrote without regard for objections. There was something in him that had to come out! And that thing was not for the academy, it was or his mama, for his church, and for his community. So he wielded that which he could from the academy but ultimately was not interested in making interventions, he was interested in that which his ancestors placed on his heart.
Dr. James Cone
There's a stream of this in the work of Dr. Teresa Delgado who, writing about the Puerto Rican experience under colonialism and empire declares that freedom is our own. Which is to say that political status and the undermining of empire is crucial, and also the dignity and worth of Puerto Rican people and, indeed, of all people in the struggle, comes not from a legal designation but from our ancestors who imparted on us love. Only when we truly live into the freedom we already have in our own persons and communities can we begin to address those legal and systemic issues that prevent us from walking into the fullness of that freedom.
Dr. Teresa Delgado
Thus for me, I think there is a question to be asked about whose performance we're going to live into even when we choose to be in the "academy." It's not just about whose stories we privilege in these spaces, but about what spirit we carry in these spaces. Is this about heart for us, or about interventions? And which one is sustainable to our spirit?
Perhaps I'm just writing to myself—a moment of reflection as I "feel the feels" of this eco-system as a "minoritized" student/worker/teacher who is beginning to gain clarity on the next steps of this journey. But part of me also feels I'm not alone. Because this academic "thing" is too big for me to be alone. So I write this as an offering for anyone who needs it, including myself. May we follow our hearts—the hearts that carry the cells of those that came before us, and that will be carried on by those who come after us—so that from there may our interventions rise.