Letting Go by Donna King and Catherine G. Valentine is an important book that I would recommend to young women/feminists/future academics + the scholar noire fam. Perhaps especially young women who enjoyed Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO. The editors of this volume point out the problematic aspects of Sandberg’s bestseller: its blindness to structural solutions and comprehension of gender equity at home and at work, the over-reliance on neoliberal conceptualizations of power, labor, and leadership, and the almost laughable ignorance of intersectionality. That is, that affluent white women are not even the primary members of the female workforce. Actually, black women make up the greatest proportion of educated women, not in small part thanks to for-profit “lower ed” institutions (see: Lower Ed by Tressie McMillan Cottom). Thus, Sandberg’s denial, reluctance, or refusal to acknowledge women of color, working class women, and even sociological understandings of gender inequality or sexism - all the while calling her book a “manifesto” - was maddening. She was called out, again, and again, and again. And Sandberg issued an apology for her shortsightedness after severe challenges in her personal life following the death of her husband. But the point remains - her book was wildly popular, causing the release of a new book specifically targeting college graduates.
As a student of DuBois, Patricia Hill Collins, Dorothy Roberts, and other critical scholars, I was immediately suspicious of Sandberg’s book. But more than that, I was too overwhelmed with schoolwork and life to think deeply about it. As I complete my fourth year of graduate school, I see that this is the way for many of us: we are grasping for more time to do this or that, stealing hours or days for ourselves guiltily, blaming our declining mental health and wellbeing on weakness or a lack of discipline. Or is it just me? No, I don’t think it is. Because Letting Go reflected my own experience in a liberatory way and offered me a rare proposition: let go. Let go of the belief that you can:
1. Do it all given your conditions and
2. That you should want to.
The credo of scholar noire is self-care. Self-care because it saved my sanity. Self-care because I (you, we) deserve it. Self-care because no matter how many awards you win, books you publish, and twitter followers to your name, you are the body performing the labor, and you know your limits. Self-care because there is more life to be had. Take care of the life you are living in this moment. From a perspective of lack, and not enough-ness, you may never relax.
I recently attended a financial management course because caring for your finances is another form of self-care. The presenter shared that there is such a thing as over-saving - starving now to eat later, living far beneath your means in order to enjoy it during retirement, a heretic like self-restraint that is driven by fear of not having rather than balance. He says many of these clients pass away never having spent their amassed fortune because their frame of mind never changed: “there will never be enough.”
Self-care to the rescue, once again. Self-care is responsibility and love. Self-care is not a part of life for me anymore, it’s a way of life. There are many sacrifices I have made in order to attend to my Self, yet I know that more opportunities will come my way because there is enough. There is enough for you too.
King and Valentine point to zen understandings of mindfulness and the art of staying present in the moment as one method of understanding how to take care of oneself. Rather than the content of the task, one can focus attention of the task of being - the process of living. “The Zen of letting go suggests a practice of paying attention to immediate experience and responding appropriately, including listening to the body and meeting bodily needs as they arise.” 18
This speaks to me, as does their assertion that self-care for black women is subversive, per black female scholars like Shanesha Brooks-Tatum:
“It is subversive to take care of ourselves because for centuries black women worldwide have been taking care of others, from the children o slave masters to those of business executives, and often serving today as the primary caregivers for the elderly as home health workers and nursing home employees. Black women’s self-care is also subversive because to take care of ourselves means to disrupt societal and political paradigms that say that Black women are disposable, unvalued. Indeed, people and things that aren’t cared or are considered expendable. So when we don’t take care of ourselves, we are affirming the social order that says that black women are disposable.” (Brooks-Tatum 2012).
So it’s an intellectual and emotional call to action. Bell hooks, who writes the final chapter of the anthology, actually says that we need to “dig deep”, not lean in. Sandberg’s ideas are far from original, and surface level when it comes to tackling the serious issues of gender inequality at home and at work. Further, hooks argues that neoliberal feminism such as this operates under a “trickle-down” purview, operating under the belief that one woman CEO at a time will deconstruct gender inequality. Instead of embracing, or even defaming Sandberg, it is up to us to “do our part to change the world so that freedom and justice, the opportunity to have optimal well-being, can be equally shared by everyone” (hooks:234).
This is an excellent book because it reminds us of our splendid humanity, and that if our vision of success only includes us, it isn’t big enough (thanks, Ava Duvernay). I am still Letting Go, and that is indeed a process.
An incomplete list of things I’m letting go of:
-A fixation on making sure that I do whole blog/youtube thing “right”
-Creating a multi-week upload schedule
-Creating the illusion that I am the perfect PhD student
-Wanting all of the above.
Everything is as it is right now, and I’m okay with that.
For further reading on self-care, please check out some of the links below:
My self-care morning routine: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M2RfdFH2n1g
How do you balance maintaining ambition and letting go?