Fancy Auntie Talk

This week I need to send in my title for a talk I’ll give at a national conference plenary session. It’s a big honor. Only four scholars from across the U.S. are speaking on the panel and the organization’s Vice-President and President are in charge of the session. The topic they chose is: Got Critical Race Feminist Studies? The Possibilities and Challenges of Institutionalizing Intersectionality in the Neoliberal University.

This morning, as I printed out the details and really paid attention to the panel title, I thought, “Gosh, that’s a hefty title.” It’s weighty and hard; in my mind it is loaded down with a long and brutal history of struggle and way too much literature for me to ever adequately address. It’s a title that makes me feel like I need to come up with something fancy to say, but I’m not really a fancy talker, so it feels impossible.

Do you know the feeling? When you’re asked to do what seems an impossible task and for some reason, either you respect or admire the people who asked, or have a belief the task is important, or some combination of both, you say, “Yes, I’ll do that.” Then, either a short or long while later, you realize what’s happened. “Oh bummer,” is usually my thought when I finally figure this out.

And after I say, “Oh bummer,” I know that’s my cue to sit and be quiet. To really pay attention to my surroundings. This would be the wise instruction my Auntie would give.

And so I do. I sit and be quiet. I pay attention.

The birds chirping–I didn’t notice them a moment ago. I hear at least five different bird voices. How lovely. How the grass looks a deeper shade of green, surely nourished from a recent rain. How, at first, the trees look like they’re standing still but on closer look I see the gentlest of breezes moving the very tip tops of the trees. Just a bit. Oh! Now I hear the wind in the trees, that soothing rustling sound. I think wind is greeting me, “Good morning,” and is probably pleased I took the time to notice. Yes, the breeze has picked up now, out of nowhere, seemingly. And I got to notice this change. How lucky I am to witness the tall tree tops dancing gracefully, their movement fluid and joyful.

Auntie was right. Mother Nature is the best teacher. She’s helped me see I don’t need to worry about the impossible. I only need to do what the best social scientists do–really pay attention to my surroundings.

Now, feeling grounded, feeling nurtured by nature, I take another look at the panel title. Got Critical Race Feminist Studies? The Possibilities and Challenges of Institutionalizing Intersectionality in the Neoliberal University.

I’ve decided my topic and message–Critical Race Feminist Studies needs to respect place and our Mother Earth.

Critical Race Feminist Studies does a lot of important work in helping us critique and address racism and heteropatriarchy. Yet, I feel my Aunties calling me to pay greater attention to our More than Human Relations. To think about the history and future of place from an Auntie and Mother Nature perspective. To remember the best social science includes all beings in our ecosystems.

The panel I’m speaking on will address academics. I feel a responsibility to give specific recommendations for implementing an Auntie methodology:

  • Go outside.
  • Understand where you are (place).
  • Build a respectful relationship with Indigenous peoples and Native Nations.
  • Structure academic programs to be accountable to communities they’re meant to serve.

It’s not a perfect message. I’ll keep working on it. I have a month before the conference date arrives. I’ll try to keep paying attention to Auntie wisdom. What a gift. Maybe the simplicity of the message is its own kind of fancy. Yes, perhaps it is fancy Auntie talk.

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Published by Michelle M. Jacob

Owner of Anahuy Mentoring

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