We come home to ourselves. Our realized desiring selves. We also come home to spaces that are loving, spaces that are giving, spaces that are nurturing, spaces full of awareness, spaces that enable looking. Of all these spaces, looking is my keep for today.

Bell Hooks once described a power in looking. A power also with choosing to stop looking. She described it as a gesture of resistance. And when you return to looking, when you return after turning away, an oppositional gaze emerges. I am in this space, these days.

Not to be confrontational or difficult or even disrespectful, I am finally understanding the pleasure of saying no. I understand now what it means to say no to structures which had asked so much from me when I assumed a posture of subordination. Saying no is a radical gift that I gift myself these days, a gift that I use to nurture and protect me.

In the past, I was the first with ideas. I still am in circles that value my intellect. I was the first to say yes, to give myself fully to such spaces because we were all fighting the same beast. The truth is, our battle was personal and we wanted to come out victorious and unharmed. Until the fight turns on you. Until you realize you are now the beast and your head is on the chopping block. Hence why looking becomes critical.

Bell Hooks described this as having an oppositional gaze. Mainstream research circles in no way acknowledges that black women can thrive on their own. You don’t have to ask me, just do a quick search on who gets funded and you will see that they are not black or female. Look also at those in power in whatever space you find yourself in and again, whether at a grocery store or at a hospital, chances are that your leader isn’t black or female.

It’s for this reason that an oppositional gaze becomes vital, viral even if you are black and female.

Mainstream circles will remain ‘aggressively silent on the subject of blackness and representations of black womanhood,’ noted Bell Hooks. Many disallow the ‘possibilities of spaces, places even that include black women’s voices. It is also difficult to talk when you feel no one is listening, when you feel a special narrative has been created that only the chosen can understand’ she states. Yesterday, I was in such a space.

I know I shouldn’t be using this medium to air personal grievances. But I want growth and I need to continually gift myself the freedom to just say no to spaces that fail to enable me to discover or uncover all that I have. I did that internally, silently too when demands were asked. Not because I could not speak, but because it is difficult to speak when no one is listening. It’s is also difficult to speak when you are not valued.

So I stayed mute and looked. I stayed mute and applied Bell Hook’s oppositional gaze. I shared my thoughts with friends and they said, staying mute doesn’t help you grow. I disagreed. It helps me. That’s all that matters these days.

After going through this pandemic (we are still in it too), after going through moments of chaos with homeschooling, moments of stress with raising children, all I want these days are moments of healing for myself.

Even though silence will not protect me, and Ms. Lorde would want for me to transform it to action, I am, but for myself. I am learning to say no for myself first. This gesture protects me from whatever they think they have in store for me. I say yes always and all the time to spaces worthy of my yes. I say yes to spaces and people that know my worth.

I keep learning this every day. The power of saying no, the power of saying yes. It’s mine to gift first, to spaces that nurture and protect me. Spaces unafraid to affirm my subjectivity. My yes these days belong to people that are not afraid to hear me speak. People that know that my words are just that, words, with no desire to harm but to help them grow. People that don’t make me speechless. I was not born to be speechless.

This power that I gift myself, this power of oppositional gaze is to protect myself for the violence perpetuated and advocated in spaces that would rather I stifle my growth. And if I describe it as violence, it’s because this is still a battle, and the goal remains being victorious and unharmed. Writing in this way, about the power of oppositional gaze, makes my healing possible. I am also learning that there is more to looking. Keep it for yourself, especially in spaces where you gift yourself the power of saying no.

There is a Black exodus happening in academia. It is female, oppressive, and recursive. The latest, Dena Simmons of Yale University. She left the university citing ‘racism and years of bullying.’ She didn’t feel ‘valued’ or ‘protected’ at Yale. I spent my Sunday afternoon reading brief but concise social media postings on Dena. They were mostly by Black women. Some still in academia. Some gone, and off to start their own enterprises, in spaces and places where they would feel safe and protected. There is a Black exodus happening in academia now. But it is a site of power. Black women are reclaiming, restoring, even rekindling their God given power to exit spaces and places that do not value or protect them.

But how do we bear witness to a moment that is often not recorded, not discussed, not visible, not even in mainstream media, but yet a lived experience of many black women in America? Writing, is the one place where we can retrieve, restore, recover and give voices back to the unknown and unshared invisible, experiences of all black women, those in or not in academia. It is the one place where our silence will not protect us. It is the space where no one tells us what to do. It is the place where we can create rooms for our own unique experiences. All the words I write, every phrase and every structure, is mine to do as I please. If I wanted to control the narrative, all you see and hear about me, even what my social spaces, or social interactions may look like, at home, at work, even at church, then I would have to be radically open and write from my soul. For it is in writing that we bear witness to our history, our stories, our ways of being, our lived reality, our gaze.

Bell Hooks shared in a glorious piece entitled ‘the oppositional gaze,’ the power inherent with looking that is in opposition. Our ‘gaze’ she said, has been and remains a site of resistance. But it can also be a site of power, a site that breaks silence, breaks constraints and makes us the subject rather than the object of dialogue. Yet one thing black women don’t do enough though, is value our process of looking, enough to publicly name it, she stated. Even when we have our own reality, our own history, our own lens, our imaginations, one that sees the world differently from anyone else, Hooks stated that we do not name it or even describe this experience of seeing things rather differently. Even when we create alternative lens, based on our own unique ways of contesting, resisting, revising, and interrogating the dominant ways of knowing and looking, we still do not define our realities. Yet, how we see ourselves, whether at the center or the margins of our stories, how we look at ourselves, Bell Hooks notes, is most is important.

So to is my writing, the place where I am most free to be myself, to see myself. This blog has become a space of agency for me and for every reader, both old and new. Know that every keep, every word written, is my way of looking at myself, my way of using my lived reality to know the present, and imagine the future. Every keep is my way of reclaiming, restoring and rekindling my power. So though there may be a Black exodus in academia right now, for those of us still around, do keep an oppositional gaze.

I learnt the other day, the importance of being silent, eloquently. It’s mesmerizing, the audacity of silence. Coming from someone known to be a talkative, being silent is divine. I am learning this day by day. Even my husband would be proud. True story, I remember being whipped in primary school in Nigeria because I talked to much. In other words, talking and nonstop about things I know and may not know is how I have lived this thing called life to date. I have been whipped so bad for it. But I am learning now that there is power with being silent. Power in choosing it, framing it as you like but ultimately, being it. I will be silent.

The prolific author, Bell Hooks, once wrote that ‘we all need to choose or identify spaces where we begin our process of revision…where we push our boundaries…where transformation is possible. This choice is crucial because it shapes and determines our response. Also informs how we speak about the issues we choose.’ I choose silence. It forces me to move out of the familiar. Silence is uncomfortable for me. It’s my space of radical openness, where my mind dances, the site of my anthills and nests. Silence is wisdom for me. Not because I don’t have much to say, Lord knows I can still talk up a storm if need be. I will be silent because the moment needs it, no demands that I share nothing, not a word or even an opinion. Just my silence. If not for anything, then at least for me. I will be silent so I see. In silence, I see reality. In silence, I am sustained. All my hopes and impediments become clear.

And so the hardest thing I will ever do, the hardest I have ever done will be to remain silent. It is harder than giving birth. In labor you scream even in the most difficult pain. The most unbearable pain, demands a response whether audible or not. Not silence. It demands nothing. Except only that you practice it. Say these words if you must; I will be silent. And for me. I seldom take me, my feelings, my thoughts into consideration. But the moment demands that I do. Not because I don’t have much to say. On the contrary. But because my silence, my eloquent silence is the only power that I own. They can’t take what they don’t know. I and not them, choose silence.

In silence, I am able to reflect. In silence, I am able to plan with the right people. In silence I am also able to learn or reflect, to adapt or change if I must or nurture or keep what truly matters to me. In silence, I plan. The next move, the next adventure, the next question, whatever the journey, for I won’t miss my way, when silent. It’s a mesmerizing thing when you practice it intently, when you channel all your talkative energy to being silent, to seeing it as a plan. I am also learning that it demands that I am still and know. I am still as I bask in what I know for sure. They can’t take what they don’t know and I can’t give myself to anyone or anything when I am silent. It is a powerful realization, this thing called silence when you practice it for yourself and I intend to fully keep, eloquently in 2021. For if I can be silent, long enough, effectively, even eloquently, then silence would become me. So, I will be silent. Not because I don’t have much to say, but because in silence, I plan. Keep silence eloquently.