Black Self Care in Racial Equity Work

My phone buzzed.  It was Jess.  I took a long stretch, yawned, and read the text.

"I am still in the bed at 2:30 PM on a Saturday."

"Well," I typed back, "at least I don't have to feel bad about doing absolutely nothing."

"I crashed as soon as I got home," she replied.

Bzzzz. "This email can forget it.  I am not opening a laptop till Monday."

No, we had not been out partying.  

We had just finished an intensive workshop called Exploring Racial Equity.  The goal was to practice common terminology, connect the systems of racism, and link systemic to interpersonal racism that happens daily.  It was good.  It was great. It was amazing.  So amazing that, a participant snuck $100 into my hand post-workshop and told me that I should definitely charge more.

So why were we talking to each other like one had just had a root canal and the other was Rip Van Winkle's twin?  Because this work is exhausting.  Let me tell you how exhausting this is. Any of you ever rake a pile of leaves in the wind, stare at the beautiful, clean result, go into the house, sit down, and then try to get back up?  Moving from one home to the next - what about that?  Have you done that?  Have any of you been to CrossFit and have a trainer basically kill you dead, then pump you full of electrolyte water and tell you to be back at it at 5:30 AM?  Yes, this work is that exhausting.  The emotional labor actually takes a physical toll!

I went into consulting being a bit cocky.  Somebody somewhere told me that I was a good teacher.  Then someone else told me I was a good facilitator.  A couple more somebodies in a couple more somewheres told me that I was funny, compassionate, insightful, thought provoking, even life changing.  It seems like everyone forgot to inform me of how draining this work is.  Nobody told me that, even after workshops and consults where no one gets upset, that I need at least 24 hours to recover.  Yes. 24 hours. No one told me about the shoulder and neck stiffness, the legs that feel like stones, or the letdown that induces urges to binge watch Netflix, like I am about to do after I finish this post.

Racial equity work is tense for most people.  But for Black women in particular, even the work that feels good will drain you dry and cold.  Every human body carries an "allostatic load" at some point - the type of stress that occurs in fight-or-flight.  After the threat is over, that load dissipates, and our bodies return to normal.  However, for black women who have experienced interpersonal and systemic racism in nearly every facet of their lives, that load never fully dissipates.  We are waiting for the next offense to fight off - not because we want to, but because it is a means of survival that has been imprinted into our DNA due to historical trauma of slavery, and beyond.

 Where white folks can let go, get rest, seek refuge, we cannot.  Even in our own homes.  Even though I'm about to watch Netflix to let off steam, I'm not going to see bodies, skins, voices, hair, cultures like mine.  Even in my rest and leisure, I'm reminded that I'm inferior.  That, and other racist subtleties, carry a load that black women bear daily.  And that emotional and intellectual load manifests physically.  

And being in front of a crowd, balancing THEIR emotions AND mine, THEIR needs AND mine - is like adding stone blocks to a plow that's already not moving.  But I move it anyway.  And Jess, as a white woman doing the work alongside me, moves it.  And then we rest.  Intentionally.

In whatever capacity that you stand for antiracist systems and people, I am going to give you this bit of wisdom that my pushers-forward did not.  Rest.  And I mean, REST.  Like, don't cook.  Don't go out and have drinks with pals.  Don't clean your home from top to bottom.  Take a blazing hot shower, put on sweats and a tee, and do nothing.  Let the load dissipate, and feel no guilt about it.  You can't keep going if you don't recover.


How did I come up with this name?

Well, I wanted it to have something to do with teachers.  I do not - repeat, DO NOT - plan on being principal consultant for long.  I'm too much of a homebody/TV/Facebook body for all that.  Racial equity had to be at the forefront.  Be real, folks - you can't tell who somebody decides to sleep with just by looking at them, but you sure can decide what race they are, therefore the treatment you think they deserve!  Since we know race is seen first, then I gotta keep race as THE work, not a piece of it.

Do we have an acronym yet? T.R.E.? um, no, I know too many dudes named Tre.  Tre, my former student, Tre from Boyz N Tha Hood, Tre that used to go to my church, Toothless Tre... Clearly we can't call the bidness TRE.  Back to the notepad. Hmm.  I needed another letter.  I started thinking like the cheat trick for playing Scrabble - look at each group of letters and just start going down the alphabet to see if you can squeeze a word out somehow.  TREA? TREB? Ugh.  TREC? Nah, I don't need trekkies visiting my page and wasting my stats. TRED?  Now that just sounds like I'm just barely hanging on by a string, trying to stay afloat.  Or replacing tires.  

What about TREE?

Images flooded my heart like the butterflies I had when I first kissed this fine husband of mine. Images of the mossy trees in southern swamps, who whispered soft, furry clues to enslaved black people escaping to their freedom up north of the Mason Dixon line. "Feel the trees at night.  Moss grows north."  Images of a gnarly, old, grand weeping willow tree, full of stories, storm scars, and twists and turns that added to its beauty and strength.  Images of my backyard twin maples, who provide shade in the summer, colors in the fall, and a mess to clean up in the winter.  Images of the proverbial tree in the book of Psalms Chapter 1 that is planted by the rivers of water, bringing forth fruit, leaves not withering, and prospering in whatever it does. 

But the most vivid image was that of a Baobab tree.  This tree grows in the savannas of middle Africa - where the terrain is arid and dry. In fact, the poorer the growing conditions, the stronger the tree.  It simply digs its roots deeper. It provides nutrient-dense, fatty fruits for the savanna's inhabitants, homes for birds who burrow, and an oasis of shade.  And, it's beautiful.  It has everything that a superficial, shallow man would look for - thick trunk... And I will stop there.

I thought of the Baobab as the various children of color that I have had the joy of teaching.  Even in some of the poorest conditions created for them, they shine.  They thrive.  They command rooms. They charm. They laugh. They work. They succeed.  I supposed I could match that effort they must expend deepening their roots to circumvent a systemically racist school system, by disrupting the system itself. Jesse Williams said, "Just because we are magic, doesn't mean that we aren't real."  Just because our babies CAN thrive in poor conditions made for them, does not mean that they have to, or should.  I thought of colleagues of color as my twin maples - how they enter teaching, fired up and ready to make a change, and, as the climate changes, they are quickly jaded by the racial microaggressions imposed on them - and they quit, burn out, or dissolve into a messy pile that sometimes makes it into the media's clutches. I thought of pioneers and role models of color that I've had, and likened them to the majestic weeping willow - standing tall, but with plenty battle scars to tell stories about.  TREE stands for Teachers for Racial Equity in Education, but it means something more.  It symbolizes my duty to my folks - and other folks who are affected by the racist ills of education - public, private, and otherwise. 

"I think I found a name," I told my colleagues...

Welcome to TREE Ed Consulting!

Content warning:  If you are here to disagree that racism exists in schools in institutions, please observe the small "x" on the side of the page tab, and click one time.  Ctrl-alt-del at the same time will also do the same job.  Good day.

I did it.

I finally took a leap into the troubled waters.  Only with one foot, tho. See, I still have a mortgage and a car payment and whatnot, and unless I strike it big, I need a jay-oh-bee.  I have stepped into the destiny that has been set before me, as was evident by ALL YALL blowing up my FB inbox, text messages, and email inbox, asking for advice.  But it wasn't that your requests were bothersome because you were asking for free expertise (which, I mean, let's just call it like it is, moochers. But I love you!)

The bothersome part was that ALL of your requests were the same.  "My child's teacher/principal/school is racist, what do I do" and "What school do you recommend for children of color" was like a scratched record.  And that is sad.  It is sad that your tax dollars go to institutions where you are supposed to trust that they have your child's best interest at heart, only for them to come home with a behavior referral or suspension, with them swearing that "I didn't do anything!"  It is sad that you - parents and taxpayers - cannot trust that your children will be safe in ANY school they set foot into.  

Sad.  Unacceptable.  And a call for action.

TREE, which stands for Teachers for Racial Equity in Education, is here for every stakeholder - parent, student, teacher, principal, district.  I seek to provide advocacy, training, and planning for ANY and ALL stakeholders, of ANY race, who, like me, seek to close the opportunity gap between white and nonwhite children and staff members. "Teachers" is plural, because although I am sole proprietor and principal consultant for now, there are shoulders upon which I stand, and it's my dream that, at some point, the sage wisdom of my Black, Brown, API, African, Latino/a, and Hispanic metaphoric teacher aunties and uncles, as well as my teacher sisters and brothers, will become faces of TREE Consulting.  I hope to refer specific educators for specific purposes, because I am not Jesus The Christ.  

This blog will be full of ups and downs, ins and outs, a little advice scattered here and there, and, if you know me, you know that not a post will go by without me saying something bold, switching flawlessly back-and-forth between academic language and my spoken vernacular - which I like better anyway!  At any rate, I hope that you follow, and join me in the fight for our kids and educators of color.

Y'all following me or nah?