I am going to say something wrong.
To be completely honest, I already feel as if I’ve said many somethings wrong. Any time I sit down to write, I can’t help but think of all the powerful activists I admire and the multitude of ways they would disagree with me. I imagine them reading one of my articles and thumbing through an endless mental encyclopedia of sources I’ve never even heard of, much less read. I imagine them rolling their eyes at my rudimentary analysis of race relations or queer politics. I imagine them laughing. I imagine them frowning. I imagine them getting to one sentence in particular that so clearly illustrates that I have no idea what I’m talking about…and not bothering to read another word from me.
In this very essay, I will say something wrong.
And maybe I’ve already said it. Maybe my anxiety over the “correctness” of my activism is the something wrong. Maybe I’m too preoccupied with how I’m doing things when I should just be getting something done. Maybe I’m too critical of myself. Maybe I’m too soft for this. Too insecure.
Or maybe I’m just not thorough enough in my research to be confident. Maybe I’m not critical enough, not quick enough to condemn atrocities, not scholarly enough to bring nuance to the discussion. Not angry enough. Not Black enough. Not queer enough.
Maybe I’m not the right person to do this.
I have been a Black queer woman my entire life, but I am so new to understanding myself.
(I wish this constant back and forth between Too Much and Not Enough was a spectrum upon which I could at least sometimes fall in the perfect middle. But it’s not a spectrum. It’s a switch.)
The truth is, I am new. I have been a Black queer woman my entire life, but I am so new to understanding myself. The beauty of my own identities is sometimes so foreign to me that what I have to say about them offers no enlightenment. Only the most obvious validations that have been echoed a thousand times over by voices more poetic than mine.
I want to be the type of writer that speaks truth into the furthest corners of the most complex ideologies. I want to be the type of activist so fueled by my own righteous anger that the bodies around me swell with the pride of my indignation. I want to be educated beyond reproach. Experienced beyond censure. I want my words to give rise to someone else’s action.
But what of my action? Do my words count as work, even when they lack the solutions to the problems I’m railing against?
Oftentimes, I have no answers. At least, not ones that I have created. I have the answers of those who have come before me — the language and mechanisms of those more powerful, respected, committed, established.
Too often I read the work of race scholars and feminist educators, completely perplexed by concepts I thought I had finally mastered. What does this mean? Have I been doing this wrong? When will I know enough to not mess up? I am currently pursuing a higher education — but then I scold myself for endorsing the elitist values that classism places on academia. Would my inspirations laugh at my textbook understandings of the justice they learned from the streets?
It’s not fun being new. There exists a constant gnawing in the stomach that simultaneously urges you to be silent because you do not know enough to speak, but also compels you to shout because silence is complacence and complacency is the gravest of sins.
I am not silent. (But sometimes I whisper.)
I never want to lose the sensation of having an ocean of knowledge in front of me and a single toe in the water.
This sounds existential, but the truth is I have made peace with my novelty. It forces me to work hard in the way that only those who feel they have a lot to learn will ever work.
While this may sound unhealthy given all the agonizing I’m prone to, I hope I will always feel new. I never want to lose the sensation of having an ocean of knowledge in front of me and a single toe in the water. And maybe this whole ‘pursuit of justice’ thing is like being in the ocean. Admiring it, feeling comfortable in it, surfing its waves and riding its currents…all the while knowing there are greater depths than I will ever reach and they could drown me should I ever get careless.
On the other hand, that could just be a self-soothing thought. Enabling myself to watch others wade deeper into the waters while never leaving the spot where my feet touch the sand. After all, I can’t swim.
But maybe that was the wrong thing to say.