Intersectional Guilt and Unapologetic Blackness – #BLM Guest Post

[We continue to solicit #BLM guest posts. We pay $150 for accepted posts. 1000 words ballpark; profanity welcome. Poetry/Art/Video/Song welcome. Please send a draft or query/pitch to Karen at gettenure@gmail.com]

Lorraine Scott (she/her/hers) is a proud DC native and 2nd year Doctoral Student in the Human Development and Family Sciences Department at the University of Texas at Austin, where she is also the Co-President of the Black Graduate Student Association at UT. Under the supervision of Dr. Fatima Varner, Lorraine is exploring her research interests that broadly focus on race related stressors and the impact that they have on the health outcomes of Black men and women, respectively. She is also interested in the impact of intragroup experiences of marginalization on Black people. For any inquiries, please contact her at lescott@utexas.edu.

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By Lorraine Scott

To be “unapologetically Black”, means that I aim to live my best and truest life even though there are constantly people out there trying to “block my blessings”. It means being proud of my Blackness in all of its facets and intersections and loving it, even when this country makes it hard or difficult to do so. Basically, Damon Young of Very Smart Brothas said it best when he wrote that while “unapologetic Blackness isn’t easy” it is about “…getting to a place where you’re both unscared to be your Black-ass self  and embracing of that Black-ass self”, despite how nonlinear and painful the journey to unapologetic Blackness is. I think of it as a supreme form of attained racial identity. However, when I think about the current journey that America is sending me on right now, I understand the pain that he was talking about. At times, America has made me want to question my unapologetic Blackness, and I am annoyed, tired, and frustrated at having experienced what almost felt like a regression in my journey, but after thinking further on the issue, and discussing it with others, I realized that now more than ever, unapologetic Blackness has taken on a more intersectional role in my life, and understanding these intersections are necessary if we are going to dismantle these racist systems all while trying to maintain a semblance of mental health. 

Intersectionality, coined by Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw, is a term used to describe how race, class, gender, religion, and various other individual characteristics “intersect”, overlap, and combine with one another. Many of us occupy multiple intersections, and each intersection shapes our life experience. For example, I am a light skin Black cishet woman who grew up somewhat middle class in DC. My intersections afford me varying levels of privilege and disadvantage simultaneously. However, because of these intersections, I am beginning to realize and better understand that what has been going on recently impacts me and my emotions in different ways than it may impact someone with different intersections – and the overwhelming emotion that I realized that I have been feeling is guilt, intersectional guilt. And this is important for other people, especially fellow Black people, to understand. This guilt that I know many of us are feeling, is a part of actively unpacking White supremacy. For example, many of my peers feel guilt at not physically going to protests or donating enough money, even though many of us are occupying the intersection of being broke graduate students. However, living an unapologetically Black life, in and of itself, is a form protest. Being #BlackinTheIvory tower of academia, is a protest. And combining both…well that is lethal. Our mere existence in this space challenges, disrupts, and shifts the status quo. It gives people a constant reminder that #BlackLivesMatter, whether they want to accept that or not, and if we are truly being unapologetically Black, they will feel the weight of our Black life in every space that we occupy. 

I saw an amazing graphic the other day depicting that in the movement, everyone has different roles, one of many is physically protesting. However, there are healers, caregivers, builders, visionaries…the list goes on. Therefore, we have no need to feel guilty that we do not join every physical protest or die in and instead choose to practice radical self-care. Because there is so much else that we can do to progress this movement, and I am tired of this system forcing me to think that I am not fighting for my life hard enough. Make that make sense.

Even more intersectional guilt for me has come from my intersection of being a Black woman. Because, there is more overwhelming public knowledge of Black male lynchings than female lynchings being circulated, as a Black woman, I felt like we failed Breonna Taylor, Atatiana Jefferson, and Nina Pop that I personally failed them. When the news broke of each of these women’s murders, many people shared the info and began petitions, but eventually people lost steam. It wasn’t until the recorded murders of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd were distributed that people really began to become more invigorated and emboldened. I was one of those people. I watched and shared their petitions, wrote letters, donated money, got into arguments and difficult conversations, all while sharing any information I could….for justice. However, at the same time, I watched the news of these two women fall further and further into the recesses of everyone’s mind and timelines. They were not advocated for to the same levels of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd, and while we can debate on why that may be, it maddens me that the cops and racists are forcing these slain Black people to compete to prove their humanity even after their death. It’s disgusting and traumatic. I became so ridden with intersectional guilt that these Black women were being erased, even in death, when living Black women have already been erased so much, that I began sharing copious amounts of information about them. I donated, signed more petitions, and even tried to find ways to work their names into my Master’s thesis. All so these Black women would not be forgotten and so I knew that I did not aid in their erasure. The stress and guilt that comes with trying to be an unapologetically Black woman in the movement is difficult. You feel as though you have to overperform, be a part of every forum, watch every video, know every name, respond to every White apology text, and support everyone. But in reality, we know that that is impossible – and that is maddening that this society even put us in this situation to begin with. However, coming to terms with this impossibility has been my saving grace. Movements like these have historically been built off of the love and labor of Black women. Therefore, as long as I am actively fighting for what I believe in – and that is the dismantling of a system that never served me and speaking up for the just and equitable treatment of all Black people of all intersections – I know that that is keeping me unapologetically Black – and sane.

In conclusion, being Black in America is stressful enough. We are tired, traumatized, and stressed. However, I refuse to let America make me feel guilty for not fighting hard enough to prove my humanity. I know my worth, my contributions, and my voice matters. It carries weight. And I implore all Black people to recognize that and actively uplift each other while not destroying our own mental well being in the process. Otherwise, the stress and the guilt that we carry…will kill us more than they already are.

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About Karen Kelsky

I am a former tenured professor at two institutions--University of Oregon and University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. I have trained numerous Ph.D. students, now gainfully employed in academia, and handled a number of successful tenure cases as Department Head. I've created this business, The Professor Is In, to guide graduate students and junior faculty through grad school, the job search, and tenure. I am the advisor they should already have, but probably don't.

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