This blog was originally recorded as a podcast episode for 824: The Spirituality and Social Justice Podcast. The episode is titled Episode 32: Choose Radical Love and Vulnerability. You can listen and support the podcast by using this link.
There are a few things in this life that I find unbelievable, like compulsive liars. But, right now I’m finding it hard to believe it has been one full year since I launched this podcast! One full year! Well actually, not quite, because I launched this podcast on February 29, 2020, so the birthday of this podcast won’t show up again until 2024. But, I digress. I feel so very fortunate to have the opportunity to bring a wealth of knowledge to the world about social justice and spirituality. I feel so very fortunate to have spoken with so many great academics who believe in the power of mind, body, and spirit connections for social change and justice. I feel so very fortunate to have the support of all of you who listen to each episode. Thank you!
This podcast started out of some spontaneous, creative energy that I could not suppress. One night, I looked at my partner and told him, “I’m going to start a podcast! I’m going to reach out to academics from all disciplines and interview them about social justice and spirituality. And do not even suggest to me that I try to make this part of my tenure portfolio because this work is about my passion and love for social justice and people. I will not subject my work to the critique of a bunch of people who know nothing about this. Some things do not deserve to be critiqued by the academy. The academy needs to mind its own damn business and not mind mine. I’ll be damned if I call this publicly engaged scholarship. And no, we will not have another conversation about Yoga4SocialJustice™ being part of my tenure portfolio too. The work I do in the community and my commitment to supporting the growth of others in this way is not up for debate in the academy. But, I plan to talk to a bunch of academics for this podcast because those are my people!” Those were the words I uttered to him in January of 2020.
And, in regular Matthew fashion, (that’s his name, Matthew,) in regular Matthew fashion he stared at me kind of doe-eyed as I went on my rant, then said, “Okay babe, how can I help? Or do you want me to stay out of the way? And also I wasn’t going to say any of that stuff to you, but just know you are engaging in public scholarship.” Matthew can’t help himself sometimes, when there’s a point to be made, he’s going to make sure he makes it.
Do you all know who the disciple Matthew is in the New Testament of the Bible? Well, Matthew, was a tax collector who Jesus one day looked in the eyes and said to him, “follow me”. From that day, Matthew the tax collector put down his ways of swindling people. My Matthew experiences skepticism at first when it comes to my ideas and he needs a little nudge to be told, “Follow me. Trust me. I got this.”
Matthew the tax collector in the New Testament, like other tax collectors, was known to overcharge on taxes and pocket some of it for himself. And I’m not calling my Matthew a tax collector, but he is. He overcharges me in love that he doesn’t even keep all to himself. The tax, the entry fee in our house of social justice, is love. While I pour love out and Matthew collects that love, Matthew barely keeps any of it for himself. Matthew throws most of that love back out into helping me shape this podcast, helping me design Yoga4SocialJustice™ workshops, helping me with my publications, helping me create a community of Yoga4SocialJustice™ followers on social media, singing my praises to others about how great I am and how great Yoga4SocialJustice™. Matthew is a tax collector of love and I cannot begin to express how grateful I am, because Lord knows I work that man’s last nerve. OOOOOOO do I work that man’s last nerve.
But, that’s the beauty of love. That’s the beauty of radical love. That’s the beauty of love that is revolutionary and evolutionary––that shit is life changing. It’s a tax that one cannot regret paying.
So, on that note, let’s talk about love. If you are familiar with the Yoga4SocialJustice™ posts on Instagram, then you know I talk a lot about love. I talk about love as an adjective, noun, and a verb. I talk about radical love.
Radical love is Earth shaking. Radical love is consuming. Radical love is just that, it is radical. And that shit can feel painful. Love without pain, struggle, challenge, tears, fight, is not the kind of love that I want. I want the love that at the end of the day, makes me feel so wiped out from the effort of turning myself inside out to unlearn and disrupt all the things that keep me from being the best version of myself for myself and others. I want the kind of love that pushes me to realize the truest and most unrealized parts of myself. I want a love that isn’t abusive, dehumanizing, disrespectful, or performative. Y’all know exactly what I’m talking about when I say performative. You know, that performative love that says I’m here for you and when the shit hits the fan you feel unprotected and undefended. You know what I’m talking about? It’s the performative love that says I’ll put on a shirt with the words Black Lives Matter scrolled across the chest, but I won’t dig deep to uncover my own fears and trepidations about the Black body. You all know exactly what I’m talking about. It’s that performative love that shows up on social media every time an injustice happens to a marginalized person. Let me tell you something, performative love is bullshit. Performative love can get someone killed. Performative love cannot be sustained. Performance can’t be sustained. It’s not meant to be sustained. No form of a performance whether it be on a Broadway stage or in your own house, can be sustained and it’s not meant to be sustained.
Performance creates an unreal sense of being able to handle hard things. As long as you’re performing, then you have no tools for being able to engage in difficult conversations that ask you to reflect on your identity. As long as you’re performing, you have no way of shifting your feelings of shame and guilt into feelings of empowerment. When you’re empowered and you’re able to own your behaviors and feelings as yours, you can stop performing and get to a place of necessary vulnerability.
Some might conclude at this point that performance is exhausting. It’s not that the performance is exhausting, it’s the fact that you are not telling the truth, that’s what becomes exhausting. It’s not the performance itself that makes you tired and feel spent. You feel tired and spent because you aren’t telling the truth. And real love requires us to tell the truth. Radical, revolutionary love requires truth. And you know that saying, “The truth will set you free?” It’s true. The truth will set you free and liberate your soul and the souls of others. We need to speak the truth about injustice, dehumanization, oppression, and frankly we need to speak the truth about respect for human life at all turns. Tell the truth dammit.
It is a choice to be radical and to embrace love as an adjective, noun, and verb. I want to share a short story with you. As many of you know I was formerly an Assistant Professor of Diversity Education at University of Louisiana at Lafayette. I have a lot of noteworthy stories to tell about my time as an Assistant Professor that I plan to share in upcoming episodes of this podcast. About a year ago, after reading Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Friere for my course, I had a student tell me, “Love is only reserved for my family.” She went on to say, “I am very uncomfortable by the idea of reading that love belongs in education. I am uncomfortable when I hear people say they have love for students or that they love me. Love is only reserved for my family.” I responded, “I don’t have to know you, to love you. It is because I don’t know you that I can love you, because I know oppression, dehumanization, and marginalization based on one’s social identity is wrong. If I am contributing to the change in this society, then it is up to me to transcend narrow definitions of love as simply familial, to a definition that empowers me and others to disrupt a system that is unjust. I cannot be disruptive or radical if I do not love. And frankly, you cannot do your job as an educator in a transformative way if you do not love.” To which she replied, “I resent the notion.”
Of course she resents the notion. Hell, I would resent the notion too if someone told me I couldn’t do my job because I do not love, but lucky for me no one will ever tell me that. My former student resented the notion because challenging her own identity structures and her complicity in an unjust system prevented her (and probably still prevents her) from recognizing the hard work she needs to do with herself about how her social identities inform her lived experiences. She resented the notion, because what I essentially said to her was: you can’t contribute to the liberation of people, especially not students who are bombarded with content that does not reflect who they are, if you do not love them. That kind of love rises and exists deep in your soul.
I was raised in a Black Baptist church, if any of you listening were raised in the Black Baptist church or have ever attended a Black church then you might know where I’m headed. Throughout my childhood the message of love, resistance, and action were passionately and affectionately taught to me through the sing-song style of the preacher, the choir, and my family. I learned what it means to move with a love that resides deep in my soul, from the Black preachers and hymnals that very loudly professed my liberated day is on it’s way and to continue to stay in the fight even when it’s hard. Because I’m not alone; my community and something bigger than myself will keep me going. Love, resistance, and action, that’s what I learned growing up.
Yet, I have slowly started rejecting the notion of resistance because when one resists we don’t create space to fully see, fully hear, fully feel, or fully heal. Resistance is a shutting down and when you embody resistance you create stress. Stress is good for no one, and it’s certainly not good for the activist, because your work starts to mirror that stress or rather that internally held resistance. So I’ve started replacing resistance with the word vulnerability.
Vulnerability is necessary when we’re working towards social change and justice of any kind. Resistance and vulnerability don’t exactly go together. Vulnerability is necessary when we’re working to call people in, rather than call people out. Vulnerability is necessary if we’re looking to teach others. Vulnerability is necessary if we’re looking to practice compassion, kindness, and love. Vulnerability is necessary and it can no longer stand as a choice in our practice towards change.
Earlier I mentioned performance. One has to stop performing to get to a place of necessary vulnerability. Performance is the antithesis of vulnerability. Vulnerability, combats all injustice that we find ourselves participating in or ignoring. If you were to get real honest with yourself in this very moment, you will probably notice that the idea of vulnerability being the practice you need, makes you incredibly uncomfortable. It makes sense that you would be uncomfortable with the idea of vulnerability. If you’re vulnerable, then you leave yourself open to getting hurt, you leave yourself open to being exposed, and you leave yourself open to possibly losing your sense of power. Those things may be true, yet I believe practicing vulnerability sets you up to be seen, embraced, and empowered as an agent of change. The work of change doesn’t happen without vulnerability. Damn that’s good! And you want change right? I know I do.
I could go on forever. So let’s get vulnerable together. Let’s move into action together. And let’s choose radical love together .
I’m going to stop here and tell you I plan to be with my community of listeners in a more personal way. This podcast is taking new shape. Yes, I have interviews to continue to share, but I plan to record more episodes with just me. Over the summer, I recorded a solo episode asking you all to sit still and allow your souls to crawl out of your bodies as you listened to me pour my heart out about living my life as a Black woman nervous that if someone perceives me as angry I might die. I asked everyone within the sound of my voice to make a choice to do better because I just want to live. And many of you responded by telling me how moved you were and the emotional, tearful responses you had as you listened. Many of you responded by sharing that particular episode months after I released it. Many of you moved into action and began taking the small steps to unlearn and have reached out to me for support. And at least one of you suggested that my voice is just so soothing you hope I start recording meditations. While I won’t do that, I do promise to release more solo soulful episodes with just me discussing social justice and spirituality. So I ask that you please continue to listen.
This podcast isn’t the only thing that’s changing. Yoga4SocialJustice™ is making a lot of changes too, please stay on alert for those things. Send me an email or a DM any time. I’m going to don myself the auntie of yoga, social justice, and spirituality. I don’t know how long that will last, but it feels like a good thing to say at the end of this episode. So on that note, stay human, stay connected, choose love, vulnerability and action.