Academia, museums, and my blackness are constantly in conversation with one another, and as of late, I can’t help but to consider the ways I negotiate these spaces. This week on the blog we wanted to take the time to address ourselves and the precariousness that often follows our existence.
I choose the word “space” intentionally, as opposed to place or some other designation, to highlight a lack of destination but boundless with possibility. Over the years, I realize that I make it a habit to insert myself into spaces that historically exclude my existence and intellect. In undergrad, beyond the comprehension of my family and immediate community, I majored in Anthropology and with the help of black feminism, I learned I would have to push the walls of a discipline laced in epistemological racism to make room for myself.
Surprisingly, I was not struck with a burgeoning desire to actually work in museums until my last year when I realized I could do the work of feminism and cultural studies that could enrich communities. However, as my habit continues to consume me, here I am in grad school treading the path of American Studies, a space where I too often have the unfortunate job of being the spokesperson on black subjectivity. But it is more than a lack of visibility but of simultaneous hypervisibility that I contend with everyday.
Currently, I intern in one of the Smithsonian museums and often feel like I’m on display as frequently as some of the exhibits. I walk in with my natural kinky hair (and if I dare change it no one remembers who I am from the other day), nose ring and tattoo behind my ear that I forget is there until I internally chastise myself for imposing more difference on myself, then in the same instance console myself through the lens of those privileged not to have to second-guess their existence. However, this is a never-ending story, I can tell myself that I am challenging the politics of professionalism but my very body is in opposition to those politics.
Being in the nation’s capital and being on a predominantly white campus nurtures my habit as I find myself “codeswitching” between metro stops. It is when someone greets me and I exclaim with a heavy “girl,” that I fear I have exposed myself. Or, when I have gotten comfortable with being myself and it’s funny to others because I went off script. I realize these questions and tension are nowhere near going away, and to negotiate these experiences is an act of will to exist, to survive.
My new saying, as a result of me being my “unconventional” self in the quiet of an art museum––”I prefer to be ratchet in institutional spaces”––is my solace in all of this. The ratchet is the improper, the unexpected and nonconforming, and if I am going to be me, I am going to be all of me at all times. It is and won’t be easy, but making an active choice to savor the teachable moment I think is one of the first steps. It is something that I am struggling through, but in my discomfort rather than to stew as a victim of circumstance, start a dialogue. A recurring theme for this blog will always be that we are not alone, our voices will save us.
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