When I think of the activists I admire the most, many of them made a difference by being disruptive. But I’ve always shied away from causing disruption. Much of my caution comes from how I think people perceive a disruptive Black woman: someone who causes more trouble than good. Of course, this is a classic example of misogynoir which is a form of prejudice Black women experience at the intersection of sexism and racism. Nonetheless, in the past, I’ve chosen to err on the side of caution because it felt like the safer option.
I arrived in D.C. and at the Fellowship armed with this caution. My intention wasn’t to voluntarily mute myself, but during those first couple of weeks, I was overly cautious with how I presented myself. I was going to be surrounded by people with much more expertise than me, people with years of experience working to address the social issues I am so passionate about, and I didn’t want anyone to dismiss or misconstrue anything I said. This self-policing is something I’ve found myself doing often when I feel out of my depth.
I felt out of my depth at the beginning of my internship with the Aspen Institute College Excellence Program. Right away, I felt thrown into a world I’d never really even gotten a chance to observe. I remember struggling to explain to my family and friends back home in Texas what public interest communications was and I’m positive that my half-baked description which began with something like, “It’s basically like public relations for social change,” didn’t do the field justice. But here I was putting together a media recap during my first full week and sitting in on meetings about project management tools and brand rollouts. My self-policing was at an all-time high.
At the same time, I was aware that the kind of internal conflict I was experiencing wasn’t sustainable. It interfered with my ability to be fully present and engaged with the Fellowship experience. I was shy about asking questions, I was timider with my feedback. I felt like I was doing myself a disservice and also those lacking the means or opportunities to occupy similar spaces.
The communications field has historically excluded many marginalized identities. Racial and gender-based inequities, among others, still permeate the field. Yet, here I was, here were the other Fellows. We were already being quietly disruptive.
While it was challenging at first, some of the ways I decided to lean into disruption was by asking questions about the way things worked and practicing being more vocal during team meetings. Some of the steps I took to claim space were smaller than others, but they were meaningful nonetheless. Sometimes disruption looks like getting louder and other times it means finding creative ways to get your message across.
Becoming more comfortable with causing disruption was just one of the several growing pains I experienced this summer. I understood its importance before the Fellowship, but I struggled to internalize it. Now it is something I will always strive to practice in my advocacy.