I had the benefit of recently reading my colleague Ruth Nicole Brown’s book Hear Our Truths: The Creative Potential of Black Girlhood (University of Illinois Press, 2014.) One of the most significant tendencies in this book was Ruth Nicole’s resistance to let her “program” for Black girls, Save Our Lives Hear Our Truths (SOLHOT), get pinned up against the wall as a thing — as a fixing Black girls program, as a feel-good-doing-the-Black-girl-work program, as a program that meets here and meets there for this long kinda thing, with this many people served towards that many outcomes, etc.
By the end of the book, I still wasn’t sure what SOLHOT “was” and, for that, I was thankful.
I read Ruth Nicole attempting to prevent SOLHOT from being named. She is keeping it slippery. By keeping the work slippery and the work private, she prevents SOLHOT from becoming “work,” like taxable labor kinda work. I think about this resistance historically, beginning with slavery. Slaves need to resist “the work” because they need to do a different kind of “work” (i.e. survival, rehumanization, etc.).
Ruth Nicole Brown is thinking about not letting her youth program become the work, the work of fixing Black girls, which simultaneously delegitimizes Black girls truths. She is not letting Black women working with Black girls become workers since these bodies are already overtaxed and under compensated.
“Dear so and so. Could you please come speak to us (again) (for free) during our listening tour? Sincerely, Power.”
The only way to not let it become that kinda work — to resist the disciplinary gaze that regulates it as work and delegitimizes the worker — is to keep it unnamed, to only speak in metaphorical rather than literal terms. It requires not talking to “the listener” on the listening tour. It requires not doing the work of maintaining an a la 1960s centralized organizational structure of resistance. And as that kinda work is resisted, a different kinda work can happen, like meditating on the anger and the absurdity of this moment kinda work.
“Wait… we are still here? Since we are still here, then how about we just, like, stay right here… and then you can wake-me-up-when-this-shit-is-over, like when the work is done.”
Ruth Nicole is taking a different approach right now to talking about the work of youth programs and it is one that we have to take seriously, particularly when the impulse is to ask, “Is the work working?” Asking that question in and of itself imposes a tax, an uncompensated burden, on Black women and girls.