The Liberation of Isolation
So, I have a dirty little secret.
It’s an unpopular opinion during this time and I’ve been holding it in for fears of being insensitive but here it is…
I love being in isolation.
I know, I know … but I really do.
I love being at home. I love being alone. I love choosing to wear or not wear clothes. I love the solo dance parties I have while eating all the snacks. Gone is the impending dread of having to go out into the world to meet any person, at any place, at any specific time.
But what I love most is the space which I’ve created and surrounded myself within my home.
It wasn’t always this way.
As the inevitable closing of schools was announced, I sobbed on the phone for hours to my cousin, Zootie. When I finally paused to take a breath between tears, she offered this to me. She walked me through a meditation, telling me to find myself in ten breaths. “And by that tenth breath, picture yourself in a safe space. Picture this space in your mind. What do you want it to look like? Imagine that there are three people in it. These people are uplifting you. What do they look like? Who are they? Let’s look at what we can control. You are home and you have control over what you want it to be. This is your chance to create a positive space for yourself.”
I let those words settle on me. In the stillness and the solitude of my home, I imagined standing in the space from my meditation leaning on everlasting arms. “Who are the people uplifting you?” Picturing those people was easy. I, immediately, thought of Black women. There stood Sakinah, my aunt, and Zootie. I wrapped my heart in the fabric of these women and were cushioned by their care. In the warmth I felt from their light, I began to shed some sadness. As the seeds of security began to take root, I extended the space in my heart. I pulled in Kisha and Arlène, Aeriale and Janelle, Julia and Zia. Each day I arose in an atmosphere encompassed by divine feminine energy. I was purposeful in my collection. These women were carefully chosen, vetted, and plucked. Some were family by blood and others by stroke of serendipity. I extended gratitude to them all, honored that they chose me back. I called on their wisdom and expertise. I flooded them with questions and I learned from them. Unguarded and vulnerable; unfiltered and unbound, I stood before them. They accepted all the parts of me. I felt a freedom I hadn’t felt in a long time. They shined their light on me and I stretched towards the sun.
And yet, whiteness still crept in. The news highlighted stories of those who deemed it essential for people of color to risk their lives for white people’s luxuries. While they protested the oppression of face masks, the numbers of African Americans dying from this disease rose above any other race. “Black and Latino workers are overrepresented among the essential, the unemployed, and the dead.” American exceptionalism didn’t protect white people from the coronavirus. They were inconvenienced and mad as hell about it.
Television was allowed less and less in my space. I curated my social media feeds, excising all accounts that spouted nothing but misery and complaints. Slowly, I untethered from the performance version of myself. The one who went through the motions and smiled out of obligation rather than genuine joy. The facade faded. I didn’t need it in this space. The women here could see through it anyway and it wouldn’t be tolerated. This space was free of artificial flavorings and preservatives. We only allowed what was natural. Thick hair and asses; naps, kinks, and coils; brown skin punctuated with scars. They affirmed my truest self. They reminded me to rest. They confirmed my ancestral intuitions. They validated my identity. I didn’t have to explain my existence to them. I could speak in “mhmm” and “whew, Chile!” and not explain what I mean. There was no code switching as we created the code we spoke in and group texts became gospel. We traded recipes, deep conditioning tips, and laughed at the men lusting after us in our DMs. We quoted Audre, Anita, and Ari and deciphered the rhythms of the moon. I relentlessly retrograded back within myself. The true me was unearthed.
And yet, whiteness still crept in. “Aren’t you curious to see what these kids’ homes look like?” a coworker typed in a video chat. Faculty discussions about scheduling, assessments, and giving out Dojo points to families in the midst of a global pandemic made me feel sick. We have no jurisdiction over these children in their homes and yet the need to control them is pervasive. A teacher made a comment about the cleanliness of a student’s bedroom. My stomach continued to turn. We had front row viewing into students’ lives now. White gaze had turned into white voyeurism. I stopped showing my video during Zoom calls.
There was no need to widen my space to fit in my students. They were always here. Their honesty and sharp eyes have always seen the real me. The time apart hadn’t changed that. Children draw hard and set lines about who they share their joy with and they, too, were creating their spaces. I noticed it especially in the boys. They were much calmer and more vocal about their needs. Or maybe I was just in a better space to listen.
“What have you been up to?” I asked.
“Resting” the children replied.
I never realized how much rest the children needed. How weary they were from the toll of the school day. How they, also, had been performing. How exhausting it was. School didn’t love the way my boys learned. School labeled them “chatty” or “loud”, “busy” and “troubled”. School called their favorite foods “smelly” and “weird”. School made fun of their cultural dress and shortened their names. At home, the students shed those labels. The ones too often given to brown boys who don’t conform. There were no labels in a space filled with people who uplift you. Who let you bask in the warmth of their light. Who cushioned you with their care. Slowly, my boys untethered themselves from all the labels school had attached to them. They were thriving in the online environment. Remote learning offered a liberation not found in traditional school.
But in America, Black boys can’t freely be Black boys. Not in schools. Not in their neighborhoods. Not jogging outside. Not even in the isolation of their own homes.
I sat in my home, in the center of my space, and looked at the ring of Black women standing shoulder to shoulder around me. It was so easy for me to begin with filling this space with Black women because of my biases. But as I peered at the spaces in between these women and looked closer, I found affirmations from boy children, carefully written in wriggly handwriting that said “thank u teacher” taped to my fridge. The sound of my name echoes through this space. A name that’s a gift from my father, the first man who taught me to love myself. Daily praise rings out from my phone through texts from my uncle. He speaks my success into existence. The soundtrack to my solo dance parties are selected by my personal DJs, Yvel and Ihsan. My optimism for the future of leadership and reform are ignited each day by Andom. I smile at encouraging tweets from Cornelius. I am settled by uplifting calls from Claude. Though I stand in the light of Black women, I am held in the arms of Black men. I gather them in and hold on tightly. I want to protect them. I want to keep them here with me, forever loved, forever safe, forever liberated. I want to keep them alive.
And yet, whiteness still creeps in.
This blog post is part of the #31DaysIBPOC Blog Challenge, a month-long movement to feature the voices of indigenous and teachers of color as writers and scholars. Please CLICK HERE to read yesterday’s blog post by Irenè Castillon (and be sure to check out the link at the end of each post to catch up on the rest of the blog circle).