>> Intellectually, I know the media labor’s to take down Black female bodies, because if they did not chuck us into the spoils of inferiority and exile, then someone would have to explain the consistently negative representations of Black femininity. I also know that no one wants to explain themselves to my sorrowful rage. No one wants to answer to Black female disgust fueled by centuries of indignation, nor will they because no one makes them. In moments of recoil my anger morphs into a bottomless ache for just humanized representation. I want to turn on the television and know that I will see my radiant self-reflected back to me, rocking to an inner melody of desperation. I want someone, some show, or some song to intentionally tell me that I matter and make millions. I am angry. I am angry at the repressive presence of Black women in the media. I am angry. I am angry that the media has frowned upon my biracial Black female body my entire life. To those who oversee the institutionalized degradation of Black women, you have just been served. Take note. My body is no longer your playground. I am angry. Hello, my name is Dr. Rachel Lisa Griffin here at the University of Utah. And you have the good fortune of joining myself and Marley Ralph, for another episode of it’s just a podcast.
>> What’s good? My name is Marley Ralph and you are listening to it’s just a podcast. I’m here in Utah today at the University of Utah interviewing, actually an author that I read while I was in school at Loyola Marymount University, Rachel Griffin. Rachel Griffin wrote an article called I am an Angry Black woman. And I read it at a time when it was my first semester at a predominantly White institution, and I was feeling like that angry Black woman. So reading her article at the time, really made me feel like there was somebody out there that understood me and that made sense of what I was going through and also introduced me to so many powerful Black women, intellectual Black women, that I didn’t even know was there. So thank you, Rachel, for that. Yes, so I flew out to Utah and now I’m here sitting in her office, and it’s kind of bizarre, and she just gave me a book.
>> Well, what else would you expect to Marley? When you come to a scholar activist office? Of course, you’re going to leave with a book in hand. And that book, folks, in case you’re curious, is a copy of Audrey Lorde’s, Sister Outsider because I think every single person in the world should have to read Audrey Lorde’s books. I have this fantasy in my mind of like a top 10 reading list to be human and Sister Outsider would definitely be on that top 10 reading list. Like to be a good human, you should know who Audrey Lorde is, and you should know her name. And maybe that’s bold of me to say, but I think it’s absolutely true. So yes, we find ourselves sitting oddly right as two women of color in all places in the world in Salt Lake City.
>> On the University of Utah’s campus, but as a critical cultural scholar, activist in the field of communication, it is definitely my pleasure to sit and chat and connect and talk about feminism and activism and being an intellectual and what that looks like and what that can feel like and why it’s such an impassioned existence.
>> Yes, I second, all of that. So Rachel, tell me about yourself. How did you get to the University of Utah? How did you start your educational pursuit? What was it about higher education that kept you going?
>> I think if I, you know, reached far back into my life that one of the most profound things that my little girl Black self knew is when I was in elementary school, if you remember to when people asked you like, what do you want to be when you grow up? AndI said that I wanted to be a reader. And I said, I wanted to be a reader because I loved reading and, you know, I came from a lower working class, single parent home. And you know, my mother couldn’t afford book fair money, which if you were a kid in the 1980s book, fair, money was amazing. I know that y’all be reading books online now. And maybe they don’t have book fairs in elementary schools anymore. But when I was a kid, it was all about the book fairs, and the books were brand new. You didn’t have to go to the library. Other people hadn’t read them yet. And so I would read and read and read to get my name on the stars or the shoes or whatever it was. So I read copiously. I read everything I could get my hands on. My mom’s only rule. She said I could have read whatever I wanted. And I could get as many books as I wanted from the local thrift store as long as I could carry them. And I had to be willing to talk about whatever it was that I had read. And I will tell you that by the time I was in sixth grade, I had read all of the Hardy Boys, all of Nancy Drew, all of The Baby Sitters Club, VC Andrews and John Grisham. Some of y’all who are parents might be like, why is your mama letting you VC Andrews and John Grisham? But remember the rule, as long as I was willing to talk about it with her, she would let me read whatever I wanted to read. And the amazing thing that came out of that is not just a deep connection with my mother over the significance of reading, but also the ability to share what I think about what I’m reading and reading comprehension skills, which of course those are very important in elementary school, but to date, I am a voracious reader. When I think about the bricks that laid the path to my career in higher education, they are firmly situated in my childhood and my mother nourishing a desire to read. I love it. I mean, you know, Marley, [inaudible], probably, I’m going to go with a solid 200 to 250 books in here. I would love to say that this is all that I own, it is not.
>> I walked in, it’s honestly like a library in here. Beautiful books on every shelf, on every corner, and you’re packing up right now. You’re about to leave for the summer.
>> I am.
>> So this literally isn’t even half the books.
>> No, no, and I take them with me. Like I would be more apt and I wish this wasn’t true. I would be more apt to share my toothbrush, then I would my books and it’s because I read them. And I take notes in them. You know, I always tell my students that approximately 30% of my dissertation was written in the margins of books, you know. And so there’s the lines in the article where I talk about writing in the margins of Patricia Hill Collins book Feminist Thought book and that is literal and actual, right? Because I deeply think when I read and I write down what I think and I put question marks and I highlight. You know, if you were to look at my the first copy of Audrey Lorde’s Sister Outsider that I read, when you open up the book, you’ll see layered different colors of highlighter and that represents the different times that I’ve read it and now it’s to the point where almost the entire book is highlighted, and it’s kind of overwhelming. I’m going to show Marley what it looks like. Literally.
>> Wow. So how long have you been doing this in this book?
>> Oh, I have probably read that book three or four times cover to cover and then different parts I’ve reread. Like if you look at the essay, The Uses of Anger, you’ll see that there’s more highlighting, or the essay transforming silence into speech, you’ll see that there’s more layers of highlighting and what Marley is looking at, since you folks can’t see it, is she’s looking at this book that has probably 20 different tabs in, you know, 10 different directions, different highlighting, different pen marks all different colors. And there’s just something about the nature of the tactile parts of reading that they really feed my soul. And I’ll say this, you know, as the biracial, Black and White woman of color in higher ed, in the moments that I’ve hurt the most and whether that hurt has been a pain of exclusion, you know, the heat of anger or, you know, the fury of irritation, I oftentimes returned to the books where I have felt found and saved and reread to find a way through.
>> You know, who I hear that from also?
>> Maya Angelou.
>> She talks all the time about when she was younger, she was mute. Well, she wasn’t, you know, physically, but she just —
>> She was a survivor of sexual violence.
>> Exactly. And so she felt like she couldn’t —
>> That’s her way of coping.
>> — speak because when they found out that she was raped by a stepfather it was, she felt that his death was her problem was her fault because she spoke out on it. So she silenced herself. She didn’t want to speak anymore because she didn’t want to impose any more trouble —
>> And she read and read and read.
>> And she read and read, and read and she read Shakespeare and she read all of these old books that are written by White men. But she recognized inside of these books, she’s like Shakespeare could have been talking about this young Black girl that was me. She’s like, I just made up all the words in my imagination made the ways that I look at these words. And then she says how she had a teacher who encouraged her to read poetry out loud. So the same thing as your talking about —
>> And that’s how she found her way back to life.
>> Exactly. Poetry and reading out loud and the rhythm.
>> There’s something about whether it’s editing my own writing or trying to understand someone else’s writing. There’s something beautiful about reading work out loud. Especially poetry, especially narrative especially auto ethnography. Like I’ve heard from other peers in the fields or other faculty who, they’re so kind, will write and say, you know, I, I taught your I am an Angry Black Woman essay. And I had all of my students read different sections out loud, and I’m like, gosh I would love to just, you know, be a fly on the wall in that classroom because that that probably changes the nature and meaning of the essay. And I know it changes it for me, even when I was updating that essay to be included in the Handbook of Auto Ethnography, Second Edition, I was reading parts of my own essay out loud, and it brought back some of the same emotions, but also different emotions. Like something I realized in updating this particular essay, is that writing about my anger isn’t as scary now, as It was, you know, in 2010, 2011, when I was writing this essay and going through the revision process for women’s studies and communication, and I like that shift in myself, you know, the way that I talk about it very transparently, is that one of the things I love about being, you know, so I finished my PhD in 2010, which means I’m 11 years out, one of the things I love is how low my thresholds for bullshit has gotten. And I have these moments where I was like, ooh, I don’t I don’t know if my threshold for bullshit can get lower. And then it does, and it’s lower. And I’m like, ooh, I like this new low, right? I mean, they’re just things that I understand as truths for other people in this world. But they don’t even edge in on my reality. Like, for example, the assertion that I haven’t earned my position as a woman of color in the academy. Are you for real? I understand that there’s people who still cling to affirmative action ideologies about how and why people of color, women of color, bisexual women of color are in the position that they are in. I respect that is their own ideology as their own truth. But it is not my own, right. I also understand that there are people, including people on this very campus in this moment who don’t understand why Black women’s epistemology is so essential to include in the canon of traditional works that students are assigned and taught. I understand that they’re out there, I just don’t agree with their approach. And when they try to impose their approach on my own work, or my own classes, in so far as the epistemology of women of color, or the epistemology of queer folks, or the epistemologies of queer women of color and what have you, when they try to impose that on my world, I simply refuse it because it’s not a sustainable truth for how I move through the world. It can be a sustainable truth for how they move through the world. Right? I don’t agree with it. I certainly don’t agree with it when they use their positions of power to systemize that exclusion, but that ain’t even nothing new. Right? I mean, that’s the same shit that’s been happening for literally centuries. And so I have these moments when it comes to dominant logics, whether it’s racism, or sexism, or classism or heterosexism. or what have you. I have these moments where I’m just like, y’all ain’t even got anything new. Don’t, aren’t you tired of making the same exclusionary arguments? Because we’re tired of making the same arguments. I mean, there are ways like, if we think about what’s happening right now in Alabama with the abortion bill, I’m like, y’all like, it’s so beyond me that feminists and activists and women, everyday women who might not politically ascribe to being a feminist or activist, we’ve been making the same arguments about our bodies for centuries. And I’m like, aren’t you tired of hearing the same thing? Like, we would stop saying the same thing back to you, if you would stop doing the same thing to us. I mean, it’s just, I just have these moments where I’m like, okay, so this is like, straight, I don’t know. 1862. Right?
>> For real. That’s what it feels like.
>> Like, I have moments.
>> That’s what it feels like.
>> On this campus in this world where I’m like, look, right, like the property laws of the 1800s called, and they want their ideology back. Like, you’ve got to be kidding me. And so far —
>> We are in 2019.
>> Right. And we are, I mean, so as an , something that warms my heart and scares me to the point of tears is that if you look at my as a rhetorical text, and you go all the way back to like, Ida B. Wells Barnett, right, and her . We use different language. But we don’t, our arguments are profoundly similar. And that freaks me out. Right? When you compare rhetorical texts from Black women, over centuries, you’ll find that the language has changed with the era but the sentiment is the same, right? The sentiment that, that Black women, we deserve to be treated humanely that we deserve to have our bodily integrity respected, that we have the right to speak, to be listened to. That we have the ability to claim our citizenship and activate it in accordance with the Constitution. You will find the same sentiments and it’s just so profoundly sad to me. And you know, this is perhaps the impatience of, you know, my grandmother would say, I’m still young. I don’t know that I feel young anymore. Perhaps that she would say it’s the impatience of youth. But I’m like, gosh, we’ve just been having the same conversation.
>> That actually, I’m still looking through Sister Outsider, the book that Rachel gave me to look over. And one of the quotes that actually popped out to me, she says, for there are no new ideas. There are only new ways of making them felt.
>> So all of these ideas that we’re experiencing, they’re not new. They all came from somewhere. But now it’s how are we going to penetrate the system to make these ideas felt.
>> As a society, it’s so clear that we haven’t come as — we certainly haven’t come as far as we think we have. I mean, it’s heartbreaking when we think about the omnipresence of the imposition of multiplicative, overlapping intersecting oppressions and the ways that in here again, I’m thinking about Audrey Lorde that we haven’t been able to break free of the institutional shackles, right? Like some women of color, like if you use myself as an example, as a woman of color with a PhD firmly rooted in the middle class, despite having been born into a single parent home in the lower working class. Some of us in our everyday individual lives have been able to break free of the micro shackles, but not by any means the institutional shackles. One of the mistakes that I made as a young, naive brand new PhD, you know, so that would have been around 2008 is that I thought that having a PhD would function as armor. And I thought it would protect me from racism and sexism because I had done everything that I had been told to do. Right. I had played the quote unquote proverbial man’s game, I had earned a bachelor’s degree, and earned a master’s degree, and earned a PhD, and earned my first faculty position. And I thought that that I had enough of those dominant markers of success. And one of the hardest lessons I learned early on is that having a PhD provides me to a certain degree with resources to draw upon when I experience racism and sexism, but it hasn’t protected me from racism and sexism. And there’s, there’s heartache in that for me, you know, because we’re taught especially as women of color in a society that valorizes formal education, you know, dot your i’s and cross your T’s, and then you get there and you’re like, well, this can’t possibly be the promise land y’all was talking about because this is not humanizing, and respectful. And my intellect doesn’t feel whole and heard and validated here. So this can’t possibly be where I was trying to get to. And then you realize, oh, this is what we have. This is where you’ve gotten, you know, in racism and sexism are still as real here. As a grown ass woman with a PhD. It’s just as real now as it was before I have what I call alphabet soup behind my name, you know, and so one of my own ways to survive but more than survive, to thrive in higher Ed is just to keep on lowering that threshold for bullshit. And not being willing to entertain dominant truth that hurt my spirit then degrade my intellect, right? Automatically as though that’s just business as usual because I’m a woman of color. I don’t expect that I don’t abide by that. I acknowledge that it’s part of the world we live in, and that the people who ascribe to racist and sexist ideologies have the right to think and feel as they wish just like I do, but the second how they think and what they feel and so far as oppressive ideologies gets imposed into my world, that is where I start talking back.
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