The Radical Future of Our Emotions

Are you in a toxic relationship with academia?

During my Liberate Your Research workshops with faculty and graduate students of color, I ask participants to share how they feel about their research. In every workshop, nearly every participant responds with words like: tortured, disempowered, and struggling.

As we share, we realize that we are not alone and that *we* are not the problem. The university creates the conditions for emotional anguish, especially among scholars of color.

Is the notion of “feelings” academia’s dirty little secret?  

We are encouraged not to think about what we are currently feeling in academic spaces. In a world where the ideal scholar remains a white dispassionate hyper-rational masculine observer, women and queer people of color are especially treated as if our emotions are a sign of weakness or that we lack critical distance from our scholarship and are therefore “not real scholars.” Rather than tuning into our emotions and healing or regrounding ourselves, many of us press on and push our feelings aside.

But noticing our emotions is as important as breathing. It is vital to our capacity to survive and thrive. We might be able to press on at first, letting life happen to us, but the more we overlook how we feel and lose sight of how we are showing up, the more we exist in either a dissonant state (feeling off balance, uneasy, and unsafe) or in a reactive mode (reacting to what we think others want us to do or be).

Do you find it easier to talk about difficult emotions or emotions that make you feel good? 

Many of us find it easier to express what we don’t want more easily than to express what we do want.

By unleashing the power of the imagination, Black feminist prison abolitionist Mariam Kaba urges us to dream about the alternative world we want to create rather than only talking about what we don’t want or what we want to dismantle. Kaba says that when we are striving to transform oppression, “we are deeply entangled in the very systems we are organizing to change” and therefore “we must remember that we ourselves will also need to transform.”

When I notice how I feel, I not only expand my capacity to recognize the conditions (structures, situations, interactions) that contribute to feeling disempowered, but I also grow my imagination about the alternative feelings I want to reach towards (i.e. inspired, peaceful, powerful) and the conditions that could help me get there.

Do we have the power to write without suffering inside?

Abraham Hicks taught me that how I am feeling contributes to where I am headed. If I feel I can’t write, how am I going to finish writing a book?

Accessing my capacity to reach for the emotions I want to feel helps my writing grow and flow. If each of us practices nourishing our future emotions–how we want to feel– in our everyday writing right now, maybe it will ripple outwards, towards more and more collective love and support and an abundance of writing prosperity for us all.

We do not have to allow a toxic system to determine how we feel or to determine the value of our work or ourselves. By aligning ourselves with our emotions, our dreams and each other, we uplift our inner and collective power and gain clarity on what we need in order to get to where we want to go.

For more information on how my Liberate Your Research workshops tackle these questions and more, contact me at: [email protected].

Nadine Naber

Nadine Naber is professor of gender and women’s studies and global Asian studies, and interim director of the Institute for Research on Race and Public Policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She is the author and/or co-editor of five books, including Arab America: Gender, Cultural Politics, and Activism (NYU Press, 2012) and Color of Violence (Duke University Press, 2016). She is a TEDx speaker, board member of the Arab American Action Network, co-founder of Mamas Activating Movements for Abolition and Solidarity, founder of Liberate Your Research, founder of the Arab American Cultural Center, and co-founder of the Arab and Muslim American Studies Program (University of Michigan). Nadine is a Public Voices fellow, columnist for the Chicago Reporter, recipient of the American Studies Association Carl Bode-Norman Holmes Pearson Lifetime Achievement Prize and the YWCA's Y-Women's Leadership Award.

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