This blog was originally recorded as a podcast episode for 824: The Spirituality and Social Justice Podcast. The episode is titled Episode 14: Reflections from Dr. Valin S. Jordan. You can listen and support the podcast by using this link.
So, here we go. I typically interview other academics for this podcast. Today, I am choosing to speak alone. Today, I choose to share my voice with all of you who choose to listen to this podcast. I encourage you to listen to this episode in full. Maybe, play it loudly so those who are sitting around you can hear it. I encourage you to listen to this over and over again, until you feel like your soul is beginning to crawl out of your body, requiring you to stop being silent. Maybe, you’ll listen to this and be moved to tears because you know me and have never heard me speak in this tone or manner. Or maybe, you’ll listen to this and return back to your normal behavior like you didn’t hear anything I said. Whatever you do––LISTEN!
The past few months have been hard. The past few months have been challenging while we all learned to just sit with ourselves through COVID-19. This past week has been challenging. Let me stop right there. The past week was triggering. The past week was igniting. The past week moved Black folx out of their homes into the streets to shout, “Black Lives Matter”! Let me say it for you again, “Black Lives Matter”. The past week moved us outside in face masks not as agitators, not as provocateurs, but as people who need you to know this unrest and dis-ease we feel is not just a one off because of George Floyd, we feel this EVERY SINGLE DAY. Let me repeat it again, I feel dis-ease and unrest EVERY SINGLE DAY. Because when I wake up in the morning I’m a Black woman. All day, I’m a Black woman. I’m a Black woman who will birth Black babies out of her womb. Black babies who will be delivered out into a world who I can only pray won’t die at the hands of a police officer. I wake up a Black woman everyday grateful to still have breath in my lungs. Grateful that I can still breathe. Each inhale and exhale is done with extreme joy and gratitude. Each inhale and exhale is taken knowing my life could be snuffed out at any moment because I just happen to be Black. The breath matters to me as a yoga teacher, because you move with the breath. The breath is your guide. The breath is my guide because I still have breath. I get to still be here and breathe and move. My breath matters to me even more knowing that so many people before me lost their lives so I could be where I am today speaking into an ether telling people we need to do better. We need to change.
What happened to George Floyd was tragic, and we have yet another Black body that has been sacrificed in order to remind America and the world WE ARE TIRED OF DYING. WE ARE TIRED OF NOT MATTERING. WE ARE TIRED OF HEARING SIT DOWN AND BE QUIET. WE ARE TIRED OF HAVING TO LET YOU KNOW WE ARE TIRED. WE HAVE HAD ENOUGH. I HAVE HAD ENOUGH.
Earlier last week, my good friend Danielle and I were discussing what happened to Christian Cooper. A man fascinated by birds, standing in Central Park, minding his own damn business––watching birds. He notices a woman who does not have her dog leashed. As a concerned citizen he tells her to leash her dog. Because FYI in New York City you can get a ticket for not having your dog leashed. He was doing this woman a favor, by telling her to leash her dog. That escalated to this white woman weaponizing her white woman fragility against this man to say “I’m going to call the cops and tell them an African American man is threatening my life”. She used the one phrase she knew would mobilize white fear––she said, “I’m going to tell them it’s an African American man”.
She knew enough to know that the Black male body is feared and seen as dangerous. She knew enough to use the one set of words in the chamber of figurative guns that would garner support, sympathy, and empathy for her. She was a white woman afraid of a Black man. Black men for as long as America has been a country have been seen as dangerous and to be feared and that white women are not only weak and powerless in their presence but that Black men will prey on them. This is our history. This is our reality. Amy Cooper, she invoked what she has always been taught to be true––the Black body is to be feared. And because the Black body is to be feared she could be protected by her Whiteness. I want to make clear here, it is indeed Whiteness and the weaponization of Whiteness that is to be feared. But, I can’t live my life in fear. I can’t live my life feeling the weight of unchecked Whiteness standing on my neck or trying to suffocate the life out of me anymore. I can’t breathe under this weight of destructive Whiteness. I can’t breathe under this weight of White supremacy. I can’t breathe…
That said, the students I teach at a university located in the Deep South do the same thing, they utilize their Whiteness where they see fit. They utilize it for the intentions of disparaging me and the work I do to help them understand why social justice matters to them as future teachers. I teach about diversity, social justice, and raising critical consciousness for the purposes of changing our schools. But, white students consistently say, “Dr. Jordan is intimidating.” “Dr. Jordan made me feel shame for being white.” Let’s be clear, no one else can make you feel shame. You feel shame, because you feel shame, not because of my teaching or assigned readings for a course. Especially when I teach content, I don’t teach about my life. But, my life just so happens to be the content. Let that sit with you for a minute. I am a walking textbook about Black identity, black pain, trauma, and a cry for healing.
Students have also said “Dr. Jordan is anti-military” after they learned the military is also a racist institution. Or they say, “I never went to talk to Dr. Jordan about assignments because I’m scared of her. We all are.” That’s my favorite one, because it echoes the sentiments of Amy Cooper, my boyfriend’s mother, and every White person who views the Black body as dangerous and aggressive. As I told someone today, “Telling a Black person they are aggressive, intimidating, or that you feel fear in their presence is one of the loudest racial microaggressions we can hear because we die from being seen as aggressive, intimidating, and dangerous.”
The white fragility weaponized against me as a professor isn’t what I signed up for, but it has become what I am inadvertently asked to lean into given the work I do. Because the most perennial topic since the founding of this country and the most salient feature of my body is race and it is the fact that I AM A BLACK PERSON. Yes, a person of color, but I am a BLACK PERSON. The hate and despise for Black bodies is longstanding. But, I was born a Black woman, not by accident. There are no coincidences in this life. This is a gift from God. I was gifted with Blackness.
Yesterday, I spent much of the day talking to some of my cousins. I called one of my cousin’s who is a police officer to ask him how he feels about being an officer. He said, “Well just a couple of months ago I was a hero! First responders are our heroes. Thank you. Here’s free food. Now, I’m not better than the officers in Minneapolis responsible for George Floyd’s death just because I’m also a cop. So no more free food for me.” As our conversation continued, I asked him how he feels about being a Black officer, who is also a Black man, who has a Black son–– “How do you feel knowing that your son could die? That he could just be gone one day from moving too swiftly, or he didn’t keep his hands where they could be seen, or that he made a smart remark? And poof he’s gone.” My question sucked the air right out of our conversation.
Later on, I called another cousin who recently graduated college with a Bachelor’s in Criminal Justice. We are all so proud of him. He and I are 10 years apart. So we didn’t talk very often when he was younger, but we talk more now that he’s all grown up. And I asked him yesterday how he feels about being a Black man in America and if he ever feels nervous. He paused, and said, “I try not to live my life in fear. I try not to live my life looking over my shoulder. But, I look over my shoulder if I want to live. I’m just trying to survive. So yes, sometimes I am nervous.” As our conversation continued and we talked about how we conceptualize our Blackness we both just felt better to have each other to talk to. We felt better because we could laugh intermittently during our convo. We felt better because we could feel love.
This week hasn’t been an easy one. This week, just echoes and puts Black pain back out there for all to see. This week has even been difficult for the youngest amongst us. Danielle, who I mentioned earlier, is like a sister to me. I’m an only child. She’s shown up for me in ways that I have imagined a blood sister would show up for me, from going with me to doctor’s appointments, to holding each other’s hands through a doctoral program, to the births of her children. Over the course of our friendship we have had multiple conversations about her oldest, who is now five, growing up as a Black girl. These conversations don’t just come up when a tragedy to the Black community inflicted by a police officer happens. We have these conversations all of the time. Our Blackness is always on the table for a conversation. Always. For any of you listening, who might not be Black: Is your Whiteness always up for a conversation? Is your heterosexuality always a conversation? Is your able bodiedness always a conversation? Is your privilege always a conversation, just there for joyful and painful conversation? Please, send me a message and let me know the answer. But, for us, our Blackness comes up without trying. And yesterday, her daughter, my niece, had the harsh eye opener at five that we aren’t safe. Danielle texted me after they attended a protest in their hometown to tell me what happened. She told me, my niece asked what was going on, because she could read the signs. Mind you, this isn’t my niece’s first protest, but it will be the one I think she remembers. She was at the protest with us after Eric Garner’s murder, in a stroller with an “I can’t Breathe” t-shirt draped over her body to keep her warm while we stood in the December cold demanding justice! My niece went to the women’s march at two holding a sign that said “Future Nasty Woman”. This time though, my five year old niece could read the signs people were holding. I’m going to pause there, just so you have a minute to think about what some of those signs say and that a five year old can read them. But, she asked what was going on because she read a sign that had the words: “Screw the Police”. I asked Danielle how she answered the question, I’m going to read the text message to you all verbatim:
I fumbled through it to be honest, but I told her the truth. That some people don’t believe Black people are people and they treat us badly and they kill us. And then she asked about the police and said, “I thought they were supposed to help us.”
I had to make her not feel scared because she got really scared so I told her most of them do, but some of them don’t. And that we (Andre and I) do everything we can to keep her safe and that the people outside right now protesting are trying to keep us all safe. Then I told her that I don’t want her to be scared, but what I want her to take away from this is that she matters. And that no one can tell her she doesn’t. She’s beautiful, and smart, and kind, and she matters.
My five year old niece had a hard time composing herself. She was beside herself for quite some time. And rightfully so. We’re all crying. We’re crying about not feeling protected. We’re all crying because too often our Black lives haven’t mattered. We’re all crying because this wound that continues to trickle blood in this country has barely even scabbed over.
I’m tired. I’m exhausted. This week was triggering and drew up Black pain and trauma, that needs, rather requires healing. This week we collectively rose because we have to remind people that the history of this country is not history. It’s present. It’s now. I’m tired. I’m exhausted AND I’m a Black woman, with a doctorate degree, who grew up in a two-parent household in Queens, NY. I’m a Black woman, who went to private school K through 12, for my bachelor’s and doctorate. The first time I stepped foot into a public school atmosphere was as a public school teacher in East Harlem. I’m a Black woman who is heterosexual, who has a salaried job with health benefits, I’m able boided, I’m Christian. Lord, I’m dripping in privilege. And in some ways, I’m protected by these privileges, I’m protected in a way that some of my sisters and brothers are not. But, I’m still a Black woman. I’m still a Black person walking this Earth. I’m Black today, tomorrow, next week, and until I transition from this Earth––I’m Black.
For those of you have asked me repeatedly what you can do, racism is thick and deeply ingrained in the fabric of this country, but deeply ingrained in us as humans. Racism is like smog, Lisa Delpit says. For people who live in Los Angeles the smog is always there, you don’t even notice it anymore, it just is. But, this does not have to be the case. Unlearning and newly learning is what we all have to be up to. Unlearning the ways in which racism and oppression have impacted us and learning about anti-oppression and anti-racism. I understand you want to feel like you are actually taking action, but intentionally learning is an action. Intentionally, calling others out on their racist or oppressive behavior and not sitting idly by is an action. Intentionally disrupting to transform is an action.
So, what do I want you to do? I want you to be intentional. I want you to be in dialogue with other people who may not think they need to change. I want you to notice within yourself what you have never questioned and have allowed to dictate how you act in this world. I want you to not be silent. I want you to not be complicit. I want you to learn what you do not know. I want you to question everything. I want you to validate what someone says to you and honor it because it is their truth. I want you to be reflective. I want you to stare yourself in the face and say, “There is no change outside of myself until there is change within myself.”
To end this, I want to say thank you for listening. I want to thank those of you who have reached out to me. I want to thank those of you who support Yoga4SocialJustice. I want to thank you for doing your best, but please I beg you to do better, because I want to live.