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Exorcising Empire

My whole day today had a theme. Well actually it started yesterday in therapy… My therapist made me think about how much of my energy was consumed in worrying about the way I was being perceived by others. She helped me to accurately locate that preoccupation within the systemic anti-Black structures that I navigate. These structures largely are represented through work environments in the Academy. As an assistant professor, I represent, for many communities, a legacy of extraction and exploitation in which U.S. social and natural scientists have long partaken. This legacy is rooted in the racial capitalism that evolved from feudalistic Europe and set the stage for the modern Western world. Even as my therapist was explaining how this preoccupation was harming me physically, my response was, “Yes, but if I begin to speak up, they’ll think…” When amidst your own healing you are concerned about how you will be received for human emotions that can offend the sensibilities of an exploitative and powerful class, empire ceases to be solely an external entity – it has officially taken up residence within your being.

My best analogy is from a scholar friend who likened this embodied violence to choking back a scream because one who stepped on your foot also had the power to deem your expression of pain more offensive than their violence.

And I have been suppressing screams for years.

Fast forward to today when two separate senior scholars of critical orientations advised me to ensure that my intellectual property and media content were just that. Mine. Additionally, they reminded me that no matter how far I progress I will never fully be endorsed by any institution as long as my goals are centered on Black liberation. Finally, by day’s end, I came to realize an entire drama had been unfolding on social media not unrelated to my previous theme-based conversations. The richest man in the world had decided to target a Black queer critical scholar for expressing her pain and lack of remorse at the death of a colonial figurehead. He wielded his power in the same way that he failed to effectively wield it over Chris Smalls, who after being maligned as inarticulate, successfully unionized his accuser’s corporate manifestation of empire.

This display of insecurity, and of abuse of power, by the end of the night resulted in the institution of that critical scholar posting a statement to distance itself from her. With so many interrelated discourses swirling around in my head I concluded – the need to exorcise empire of antiBlackness is not an external one - it starts in one’s very soul.

The power and influence of those who have benefited from the violence of imperialism and colonialism, can cause fear and material harm in those of us who are committed to liberation. Conversely, expressing actual pain is a necessary means for healing. In the healing justice framework expelling harm from the body is central to healing.

The last 48 hours solidified for me that my work and my continued efforts will be dedicated towards primarily exorcising empire and anti-Blackness from my own body. By expelling the harm, I will subsequently be able to summon the strength to outwardly strive for the liberation of all subjugated people, by first reminding them that when oppressors stomp on our feet, we don’t worry about their feelings - we scream!

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