Help, I have lost myself again. Lost myself and I am nowhere to be found. Yet, I think that I might break. Lost myself again and I feel unsafe. Be my friend, hold me.
Sia, “Breathe Me”
I have decided that for now, my motto will simply be, ‘Ngiyazama.’ Ngiyazama means, simply, “I am trying” in Zulu. When I first began to attempt to speak with Zulu speakers in South Africa, many people would look at me in surprise and ask, “Ukhuluma isiZulu?” (You speak Zulu?), to which I would emphatically reply, “Ngiyazama,” to general laughter.
For me, Lent has gotten off to a rip-roarin’ start of frustration and isolation. This tends to happen when I make solemn promises to understand the Jesus I believe in and in turn attempt to understand the love I have received in hopes of giving that very love to other peoples. But, in short, it’s been a bit of a train wreck of late.
This week saw me grappling with continued revelations about my father and the general fucked-uppery of my family situation. It’s been a lot of awkwardness to process, and it is incredibly difficult to actually understand that situations that affect my family, my parents, really impact me. I tend to view my family history in a way that I’d view a historic text; something that matters, but also one that I can somewhat analyze through my critical tools. This week has shown me that I’m not nearly as aloof or as removed as I’d led myself to believe.
In addition, I found myself in an incredibly volatile and unfortunate meeting between members of the history faculty and the symposium that I am planning. The tensions between the aims of a conference to increase diversity recruitment, and one that focuses on the intersections of gender and women’s history were needlessly cast in oppositional roles, and as the only person serving on both committees, I found myself in the unpleasantly familiar position of having to serve as a “bridge between differing peoples, perspectives and cultures” just by virtue of who I was. And yet no progress initially appeared to be made. I had to swallow my own discomfort and my own angry and my own powerlessness in hopes of finding a solution and while a compromise was reached, I just felt broken by the end of it. Did I mention that in the inflamed rhetoric of the meeting I was accused of supporting white supremacy? No? Well that shows the particular amount of non-reason that was functioning in such a discussion.
I thought I’d made it through the midst of it all, when the ridiculousness of UCSD’s ‘Compton Cookout’ broke out. You see, for many an observer, it’s just another incident in a history of racist parties and white privilege masquerading as ‘good fun’ or ‘free speech.’ Yet for me, this hurt far, far more. This was where I obtained two degrees, this is where I fought to make my own space and to feel like I belonged. This is a school where, upon my entrance as a freshman in 2001, the black population numbered less than 200 in an undergraduate pool of 20,000. We were less than 1%, we were ‘negligible.’ Yet we were there. It was where I first really realized I was a ‘person of color,’ and that there were real things worth fighting for, like education equity, decolonization of educational institutions, and against the silencing, normalizing processes of white, male, heterosexual privileges. Yet soon afterward, a student went on SRTV and called those people who fought such buffoonery, such derision “uppity niggers.” And like a similar incident that happened to me last year at the U of I, my sense of safety was taken away. You see, white privilege is fun and insidious that way; it is so normal, it fills the contours of what is acceptable and desirable and regular. For people of color, the lines of orientation, the ones to reproduce whiteness in colonial spaces like the United States, are often painfully apparent when they don’t fit contours of whtie expectation. And in the ensuing nonsense of UCSD, I once again remembered the daily, petty ways I felt my own security, my own belonging chipped at by people that sometimes didn’t even realize that they were pushing me out of my own spaces.
This has been a brutal week for me, as I’ve struggled to reconcile the disillusionment with my family, the disappointment with my department, and the despair with my alma mater. I have been tired, I have been angry, I have been disoriented by racism and privilege and pride and pain. And that, unfortunately, has made me less of the person that I’d want to be. I’ve lashed out in anger at people who needed correction but not excoriation; while it is not always my place to have to be the conduit fo runderstanding for people, I have at times this week just abandoned the pretense altogether. I have been exhausted by my own workload and the simultaneous weights of my history–familial, professional, institutional–and I have not led from the love that I know I am offered by a God that cares for me and for communities that welcome me.
I have been afraid, and I have been exhausted. I have not taken time to self-care for fear of falling behind in my own workload. So to anyone reading this,Ngiyazama. I am tryign to love. I am trying to untangle my heart from the fear that I won’t have everything together, and that things will completely fall apart. And I am grateful for those of you that love me, that remind me who I am and where I am going. I am sorry for those I have treated with less than love this week, and I struggle mightily to balance my multiple hats and my multiple orientations as scholar, friend, human, community member.
This morning, after reading about yet more ridiculosity around the world, and right before missing my bus, I thumbed through my Bible, a practice that I genuinely enjoy and regret not doing as often as I’d like. Again, fear of not being on top of my workload is powerful, eh? But I found this passage this morning:
And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.
God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.
(1 John 4:16-21)
I am afraid, and I am tired. But if I believe that I am loved by God, and that love is to be returned to others and celebrated, than I need to be sacrificial and I need to be revolutionary. I need to rely on some of you out there, I need to be vulnerable, and I need to be okay with my brokenness and my incompleteness. In short, I need to try.
So, Ngiyazama, my friends. Ngiyazama.
How am I feeling?:: exhausted
What’s playing?:: Sia – Breathe Me