In September, when I return to campus how do I tell my colleagues that my summer project was resisting soul murder? You see, we go through this ritual of telling others what we did for the summer. The unwritten rule is that we are to speak of all the wonderful and thought provoking research we did-so that we can prove our worth. Or that we speak of all the exotic places we visited—often another status symbol used in academia to jockey for position.
But me, this summer will be spent wrestling for my soul. Why? Because while I can’t escape anti-blackness and race-gender oppression, I can choose how I want to live. Historian, Nell Painter, in describing the lasting impact of slavery on the enslaved, employs the term “soul murder”. Soul murder occurs when what is most essential to the person, in this case freedom and human dignity, is killed but the body is alive. Soul murder is trauma, the trauma that results from race-gender oppression; the type of trauma that transcends time and space, as it is trans-generational.
Front porch sitting is a form of resisting capitalism that often requires me to be in constant production. This quest for constant production is used as the carrot or stick, depending on your mental state, by suggesting that our value is measured solely in commodities—published pieces, pieces under review, pieces in progress….. pieces, pieces, pieces. These pieces we believe will bring us to a higher ground of security and belonging. I resist that this year. The piece that I want to produce is not for consumption. The piece I want to produce is my repaired soul.
But it involves being in touch with my body. Academia often requires a mind/body duality. This mind/body duality is often related to the constant need for production. We are asked to deny how our bodies feel in our quest to produce the next piece. To be able to answer with a smile, I worked on my book project, is part of the ultimate prize. And so we deny how we feel. We deny that writing causes anxiety that can manifest in physical aliments. We sit too long at the computer denying that we need to release our bladder because that all-important word/sentence/paragraph will disappear from our minds. Then we get home and wonder why we have dysfunctional personal relationships. So this summer, I’m feeling my body. I’ll let my preoccupation with my mind cease, if only for a moment.
Not all my thoughts and/or creative projects are for public consumption. What would happen if we simply took away the pressure of writing for consumption? Might we write our truths? Might writing our truths help to make us whole?
This is a new writing project for me. It focuses on colonialism, resistance and autobiography. I have no clue the shape this project will take and I have no desire to make it take a particular shape. This to me is the art of letting go. But more importantly, it is an opportunity for me to (re)learn the language(s) of my feminine divine ancestral sprits.
Last year, I couldn’t find a daily planner that spoke to me. So I developed my own. I called it Afros & Butterflies. Why? Because these two symbols represent freedom to me. I can remember as a little girl that my cousin had a girlfriend that I admired. What’s interesting is that I don’t remember much more about her. But I remember her afro. Ever since I was a little girl, I wanted an afro. Over the years, I tried to grow one, but I could never grow an afro like hers. Her afro, to this day is central to my understanding of beauty—and not just physical beauty. The planner is focused more on how I use my energy and less about finding “balance” and managing time. It’s less about me as an individual and more about me as a contributing member to my community. It’s less about me achieving personal goals and more about me working towards liberation.
But it involves being in touch with my Black feminine energy. I pledge to design a yoga and meditation practice that allows me to freely express my Black feminine energies. This also involves attending Afro-yoga.
Why? Because it’s just fun. Beyond this, it gives me a break from being an intellectual and all that is expected.
Part of my challenge with soul murder is reconciling Catholicism, and anti-Blackness. I didn’t expect to be placed in a context that forced me to look at the legacy of colonialism, as funded by the Catholic church and how some, and I stress some, Catholics still engage in racism and the same ideology that prompted the colonial mentality. As a result, I have found myself in a fraught relationship with church—the institution and practices. As a consequence, I’ve been attending church out of duty/obligation and not part of a spiritual practice. I wonder what would it feel like to stop doing this?
This is related to me getting back into my body and my quest to (re)learn the language of my divine feminine ancestral lineage. The beats of the drums will allow me to hear them.
Race-gender oppression has caused me to see the outdoors as a place where harm occurs. As such, I limit my time outdoors. What this has done is fractured my relationship with the earth—the vessel that gives me life. One day I decided to take a walk, just a walk, not for exercise but for the sole purpose of feeling my feet touch the earth. I came across a turtle. I walked this path before and had never seen a turtle. But there it was. I stopped and looked at it. This turtle then inspired me to walk and simply look, to allow the earth to choose how it wanted to interact with me. The earth would determine our relationship as opposed to the other way around. On another trip, but on a different path, I saw a black butterfly. The turtle and the black butterfly coming into my path (or more likely vice versa) helped to change my relationship with the geographical terrain that I currently traverse. Our relationship has been clouded by my experiences with racism. But now it is shifting. I’m ever so gently reminded, by the slowness of the turtle and the fluttering wings of the black butterfly, of the vastness of the universe and somehow this makes me feel connected to my ancestors.
It is this connection to my ancestors that will ultimately allow me to resist soul murder. So ultimately, my summer will be spent connecting with my ancestors in hopes that they will guide me into my future.
What are you doing this summer?
 Schwab, Gabriele. Haunting Legacies: Violent Histories and Transgeneratlional Trauma. New York: Columbia University Press, 2010.