Episode 11: Dream Yourself Free
“Rest as resistance?” Womanist scholar and community organizer EbonyJanice Moore continues the history lesson and shares her perspective on internal empowerment, the shifts she says Black women should consider making deep within their hearts and minds, to break free from the mental and psychological bondage imposed by racialized trauma and stereotypes in the American labor force.
Due to the pandemic, this interview was recorded by Zoom and/or phone. A transcript is available below. In The Gap was created with the support of the Leonard C. Goodman Institute for Investigative Reporting and In These Times magazine. Contact the show at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
CHANDRA THOMAS WHITFIELD, HOST: Welcome to In The Gap, a podcast about how and why Black women aren’t getting their green. I’m your host, Chandra Thomas Whitfield.
On this podcast, we’ve talked a lot about Black women’s challenging experiences in the workplace, working longer and harder and often for less pay and, let’s face it, less recognition. But we’ve also talked about many Black women saying they feel they need to do even more work to fight for equal pay and equal opportunity in their careers. It all just, I don’t know, it just sounds exhausting.
On today’s episode, we’re going to flip the script a bit. We’re talking about how to get yourself off of that never-ending hamster wheel and get this—dreaming yourself free.
[FROM RECORDING] EBONYJANICE MOORE: Our worth and our goodness just in relationship with whether or not we’re doing something—we have so much guilt around just doing nothing.
WHITFIELD: That’s our guest today, EbonyJanice Moore—and that’s EbonyJanice, one name. She is a womanist scholar, author and community organizer who focuses on Black women’s access to dreaming, joy and play. She was recently featured in an amazingly provocative and, dare I say, groundbreaking Harper’s Bazaar article asserting—now brace yourself—that rest is the real revolution for Black women. She joins us now to share her perspective on the gender pay gap as it relates to Black women past and present. Welcome, EbonyJanice Moore.
MOORE: Thank you for having me.
WHITFIELD: You’ve accomplished a lot and you’re really, really focused on this work, and so that’s why we were so excited to have you. So, you describe yourself as a womanist scholar. Can you elaborate on what that means?
MOORE: Yes. So womanism is a sociopolitical tool that centers Black women in all of its work. For me, womanism, about the origin for me, entering into womanism was actually through theology. So as a womanist, theology, I believe cultivating both a sociopolitical and a spiritual-related conversation that centers Black women, but as it pertains to this conversation, it’s ultimately suggesting that, womanism suggests that we will walk in any room—in any room—we hand the microphone to Black women and/or we hand the microphone to whoever is the most marginalized identity because womanism is suggesting that we have heard enough from certain groups of people. We need to hear from people whose voices we very rarely hear.
MOORE: I identify as a womanist scholar because ultimately I’m hoping to contribute language, more language for it in this conversation. My work with Dream Yourself Free, which has been very revolutionary and groundbreaking for my own personal life and I feel like the lives of other women that have been impacted by it, is this idea: What would it look like if Black women were to actually create our lives around our highest dreams and not just around resistance?
And so the introduction to that for me was really realizing that so much of what I was doing in my work, this work that I feel very passionate about, this activist work, even my academic scholarship, was as a result of resistance—having to create something because it didn’t exist, and not just having the opportunity to create something because it was something that I wanted to see. And there’s a drastic difference, right? Like creating something for Black women because it doesn’t exist is resistance work, and creating something because it’s like, ‘Oh, this is something beautiful and sweet and full of joy and full of ease.’ And those are two drastically different things.
So this idea of rest as resistance feels very much like, because our relationship—Black women and our bodies and our work and our labor, our relationship with this Earth, this space here in the U.S., particularly as a result of child slavery, has been so much about resistance and labor and our worth and our work and relationships with each other. And what if we just surrendered all of that and relaxed our shoulders and said, ‘What do I want to do that has nothing at all to do with resistance?’
WHITFIELD: Yeah. Maybe that dream is rest. Maybe that is the dream. And I tell you as a mom to two young children myself, that is the dream a lot of days. And it does, you know, you do feel somewhat guilty, or like you’re not being “productive,” quote unquote, when you’re doing nothing, and just being able to value the opportunity to do nothing and do whatever it is that you want to do.
MOORE: Absolutely. I’m going to say that the origin of that is capitalism. The origin of that, even on a deeper level for Black people in America, particularly for Black women, is child slavery. Just think about the story of being an enslaved person whose entire duty is to work. Your entire purpose is labor. So in order for you to not be—and then there’s a narrative created about shiftless Negroes, lazy Negroes—so you create this story about Black people being lazy. Meanwhile, their entire purpose on this land that they’re on is to do labor that you don’t want to do. So if your entire existence is centering doing work, if at any point you’re not doing work, you could be punished. You could be whipped. You could be harmed. You could be given even more work to do. This narrative has continued to be pushed, so you have this story—work, work, work, work, work. You’re always supposed to be working. You’re always supposed to be doing something. If you’re ever seen not working, you could be punished.
And the community of enslaved people start to push that on each other as well, especially on their children: “Don’t just be standing still, be doing something.” When you have a deep-rooted history of “do something, your labor is important, you have to, we have to do this.” Even when enslaved people, even when Black people were free, you gotta be doing something because you don’t want to live into this idea that Black people are shiftless, Black people are lazy, so we should constantly do something, do something, do something.
And I’m telling this story about growing up in a home where my dad would literally be like, you know, might walk past the bedroom door and see me just chilling. He’d be like, “Why you ain’t doing something? You got nothing to do?” And it’s like, “Dad, it’s Saturday. I don’t have anything to do.” But this history of our worth and our goodness just in relationship with whether or not we’re doing something. We have so much guilt around just doing nothing.
WHITFIELD: One of the most interesting quotes in the article is it says that Black women are the quote “only human beings who have been used for both reproduction and labor” and that this country has been built, quote unquote, “on the backs of Black laborers or people of color.” And so that was very intriguing to me because, you know, you never really think about isolating that fact, that point.
MOORE: Black women exist in a very unique space of being used, like the way that the land is being used for labor and also for reproduction. Black women’s bodies have been used in their very own way. And so what does that mean? Black women are the only group of people to exist that have been used for labor—so meaning pick the cotton, cook the food—the labor, do the work. But also reproduction, meaning her womb was the carrier for more laborers. She gave birth to more people to contribute to this labor.
And so here’s my, just thinking about the gender pay gap conversation that we’re having and that we’re getting to—how can you ever properly compensate Black women for their contribution to what America is? She worked, but she also reproduced to add more people to this exploitative system. And so how can you compensate her? How can you ever give her what she is due? In a white supremacist society, you would ultimately have to say that all of this belongs to Black women. This would not exist if it were not for Black women.
WHITFIELD: Are there any particular moments when you look back at history, policies that you feel have contributed to where we are today?
MOORE: Absolutely. I talked a little bit about the New Deal. And so I’m just thinking about, as a result of that, you might think about housing, think about how the Moynihan Report came out, which has been very clearly acknowledged as falsified information, this story about the welfare mother, right?
WHITFIELD: Oh, yes.
MOORE: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I just think that’s so important because just think about all the tropes that exist for Black women, from the Mammy to the Jezebel to the Sapphire to the welfare queen. So you create this story about the welfare queen. You create this story, not just about the welfare queen, but about how everything that she will do to make sure that she doesn’t have to work. Even though we see the numbers of Black women participating in labor, in the workforce. But you create this story of everything that she will do to not have to work. You create a story about it, and it’s two things that don’t actually jive with what really exists about how many more Black women and Black mothers are receiving federal assistance and welfare, and you create this entire story. And then you continue to devalue her work and her contribution.
And so, yeah, of course we will still be having this conversation all these years later because it’s so if it becomes the truth. Think about how many years it took for somebody to actually disprove—and not that it wasn’t immediately disproved, like immediately we knew this isn’t true—but it was held as the truth. It was supported by actual so-called credible organizations and institutions that this story about the Black woman as a welfare queen was so true, even though it was very clearly not true and could have very easily been disproven. And so I think that that’s something that feels very important to this conversation, even all these years later, because they’re still disproving a lot of the tropes that have been created for Black women.
And again, I’m talking about this very unique space that Black women existed in and this story about Black women, all these tropes that have been created and existed, particularly for Black women and other women of color, but especially for Black women. And those stories and those tropes just do not exist for other groups of people. And so we’re not just pressing against the policy that has not supported Black women being able to be equally supported and receive equal pay, but we’re also pushing against this creation, this fantastic hegemonic imagination around Black women’s worth and her actions and her words.
A Black woman didn’t get a job? She could not use gender discrimination, period, even if it was very clearly not just because she was a woman, it was because she was a Black woman. And if a Black man got a job, then a Black woman could not come and say this was because of race because, well, a Black man got the job, so it wasn’t about race. So again, she couldn’t say, “No, no, no, there are intersectional issues happening here. It is not just because I’m Black. It is not just because I’m a woman. It is because I am a Black woman.” And so these court cases were happening where it was being thrown out. “No, you weren’t discriminated against. You didn’t not not get this job or you didn’t not get that raise because you were Black. Because here, this Black man got this job, or because you’re a woman because look here, this white woman got this job.”
And so Kimberlé Crenshaw put forth this language of intersectionality, because you think, look at the very unique positions at which race and gender intersect and how that is a different experience than what any Black man has ever had and a different experience than what any white woman has ever had. And if we don’t have anything, any policy, any language, anything to account for that, we will always be not getting the job and/or not getting the raise and/or not, you know? And so that language is so important, and people are using it wrong. That language is so important because it also speaks to, again, the very unique space that Black women exist in as a result of both our race and our gender.
WHITFIELD: So you’ve spoken a lot about myths and narratives that have been created. So what, in your view, is the truth about Black women in the labor force?
MOORE: Yeah, Black women are hard workers. [Laughs] And I hate that language of hard workers because I personally don’t want Black women to have to work so hard, right? Obviously that’s the reason why I’m creating conversations, or supporting conversations, having more conversations around just dreaming, right? Like, dreaming is this relaxed state, you know, creating from this relaxed state and envisioning, imagining from a relaxed state. I don’t want Black women to have to be hard workers, but very clearly, very clearly Black women are hard workers.
We live in a patriarchal, white supremacist society. So patriarchy in some way will protect men, Black men, specifically, and then white supremacy in some way will protect white women. There is some protection that exists for these groups of people. But for the Black woman, even in 2020, there is no patriarchy to protect us in moments, in glimpses. And there is certainly no white supremacy to protect us in glimpses or moments.
And so being a hard worker and having to try to get up every single day and maneuver in such a way where your body is safe, where your person is safe. There’s all the stories that had still been created around both the “strong Black woman” and then that we are aggressive, right? Like, still existing inside tropes in 2020 that we are aggressive despite the fact that maybe you’ve never seen me angry, maybe my voice just tends to have a heavier register than other groups of people. And so, yeah, so my voice, so like my body, that’s why I talk about Black women’s bodies as a justice issue. Because if the way that I sound is just—this is just how I naturally sound, this is how I sound when I’m talking about birds and this is how I sound when I talk about racism. It’s just how I sound. So if the way that I sound is translated as aggressive, how can I win? There’s no way for me to win. And so just thinking, continuing to think about all these tropes, so Black women are just constantly doing this work of working hard and trying to disprove these tropes and these stereotypes. And there’s no space for us to just be like, can I relax today or do I have to, you know, show up in a space on guard?
WHITFIELD: And that’s what I wanted to ask you about. I’m all for dreaming. I mean, I’m a big dreamer myself. I’ve always been very ambitious and really have been fortunate to pursue a lot of those dreams, obviously, but that was at different points in my life. Maybe when I didn’t have children, maybe when I didn’t have certain obligations like a mortgage and that type of thing. How can you really dream if you are still kind of a part of this structure?
MOORE: To me, it’s the reality of existing inside of a system and still having conversations about dreaming, like really dreaming ourselves free, really dreaming ourselves into the spaces that we want to be in. And a lot of that is healing work around the idea that I have to participate in this system in this way. I’ll give you an example very quickly and I’m done. My background is in, for the most part, in academia, right? And so you think about this very white male-centered industry, academia. The language centers white men, the academic conferences center white men, the publishing centers white men. It’s very, very white male-centered. How can I succeed in this very white male-centered academic space that is not here for my body, is not here for my contributions, is not here for any of that?
And honestly, a major part of it is me deciding that in dreaming myself free from that, but still being able to contribute to my people in a way that feels important to me, is I have to decide to remove the idea that white men will ever agree that I am the authority. I gotta surrender that. And in a lot of ways, people that are climbing the corporate ladder or climbing these very white-centered spaces, like climbing those ladders, that’s a major part of our struggle is we want to become the CEO, or we want to be affirmed or approved in some way in those industries, and I had decided that a major thing for me, the only way that I will be able to actually dream ourselves free in this space, is to decide that I will likely never receive that affirmation.
And what that looks like is I might never get tenure at Harvard, right? Like, I may never receive money, the type of compensation that a white woman in the same position may receive. I may never get that. That’s just what it is. I’m in an industry where I can possibly create the type of income to survive in a capitalist society that allows me to be able to survive to a certain extent. And so I know that people who are doing, maybe fast-food workers that are wanting to begin a conversation around dreaming themselves free, it may be a very different story for them, but I’m asking them at the very least to interrogate like, what is our goal? Are we going to continue to contribute to capitalist society by having certain goals that are actually unattainable as a result of patriarchal white supremacy, or are we going to create new standards for ourselves? And so to me, that is at the very least the beginning of the conversation.
Then you come to 2020, and you have Black women having more conversations about like—you know that you could do nothing, and that’s OK. You know that this moment doesn’t have to be productive, and that’s OK. You know that your work and your worth are not related to each other, and that’s OK. That’s the revolutionary part about it. And that’s OK. It’s OK. That is a huge deal.
Overall, what I really want to say is like, this is not an exhaustive conversation, and I hope that we will continue to have these conversations. And so I’m looking forward to part two and part three and part four of what you’re doing with this podcast. Because I feel like it’s just giving us more language and more things to keep talking about and interrogating and questioning and, you know, lifting it up and looking it over and saying, OK, this hasn’t worked. We need to do this, or will this really work? Let’s try that out. And so I’m very grateful for the opportunity to contribute to, at the very least, this small portion of the conversation.
WHITFIELD: Wow. Wow. Just wow. Are you speechless too? Special thanks to our guest, womanist scholar and founder of the Black Girl Mixtape—gotta check it out—EbonyJanice Moore.
Today’s show was reported and produced by me, journalist Chandra Thomas Whitfield. This episode was edited by House of Pod. You’re listening to “Convoy Lines” by Blue Dot Sessions. In The Gap was created with the support of the Leonard C. Goodman Institute for Investigative Reporting and In These Times magazine, which has been covering issues of equity and social justice since 1976. To learn more about In The Gap and the pay gap for Black women, go to www.inthesetimes.com/inthegap.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)