The Dangers Of Intellectual Responsibility

It’s the middle of June, and I’m in the office. There’s chatter all around, but I think nothing of it, it’s the usual noise of the day. Today, however, I realize that the chatter is different — louder, not as easy to ignore. There are shifting eyes and I feel my spine moving, indicating that I’m being watched. I’m not the only black woman in my office, but I have a tendency to be verbal, and open about social issues surrounding state-sanctioned abuse. I’ve made a habit of combatting white supremacy/state sanctioned abuse at every corner by speaking and trying to provide information for others. People are chattering and watching because they are waiting for me to speak, to say anything about the news. Officer Yanez had been acquitted in the Philando Castille case. I hadn’t known until someone tapped my shoulder while I was on a call, and showed me the headline. They looked at me, showed me the headline with a look in their eyes that stated “What do you have to say about this?” rather than wondering if I was okay — rather than hugging me and providing a safe space for us to feel this news. It was then, that I came to know the dangers of intellectual responsibility. I had always been taught to use my voice, but I was never warned of the weight of the responsibility that comes with speaking — with defending your existence.

At the beginning of the day, I had thought I would return home with nothing significant to remember the day. I thought I would go home feeling as I usually do, tired but not drained by exhaustion. However, after receiving the news, I knew my day would be filled with tears, and mental warfare. It was not surprise that filled me, but the depletion of knowing that white supremacy had struck, yet again. It was not like I didn’t know this was coming; this battle against white supremacy/state sanctioned abuse has been ongoing for centuries now. Can you imagine? The exhaustion of fighting the same war, with the enemy metamorphosing into a different system every few years? It’s possible to predict the results at this point and it’s also disheartening to know the length and predictability of this fight. What is really tiring, is knowing that this system is in place, and there’s almost nothing that can be done to prevent it, or bring justice despite it. The rage that comes with this knowledge is enough to knock the wind from your chest and transform every fiber of your being into a pillar of vengeance. The depression is even worse with the way it often drapes your skin until every piece of knowledge only heightens the want to escape from it all, escape from your own body and mind. When my co-worker tapped me on my shoulder and offered nothing but stood ready to intake everything from my knowledge to my voice, I knew that I had to change something. This constant heaviness accompanied by the want to be a tool of knowledge without anyone caring about the emotional burden of knowing is the danger of intellectual responsibility.

I recently re-read Noam Chomsky’s “The Responsibility of Intellectuals” and remember being moved by a statement of his, “IT IS THE RESPONSIBILITY of intellectuals to speak the truth and to expose lies.” Yes. It is. We are intrigued by history, by the present and the possibilities of the future in relation to our existence. If you care enough to read, and challenge yourself, your ideas, and the ideas of others, consider yourself an intellectual with a responsibility. Throughout his essay, he talks about the importance of speaking the truth in ALL matters, and not some; the importance of exposing all lies, and being moved to speak against anything that misinforms the public, and ultimately damages the public. I often see this narrative — that we MUST inform the public if we know anything that will benefit them, benefit all of us. What nobody realizes is that the weight of knowing is unwieldy, and a burden to carry on the back. Upon knowing, you’ll come to know the feeling of exhaustion without ever having moved anywhere physically. They say that ignorance is bliss because it truly is. Hiding in the shadow of the unknown is painless, filled with joy that only ignorance can give you. So what can you do?

If you’re a more visible figure, or hyper-visible, you’ll find that almost everyone will look TO you, but fail to see your humanity — to understand that you also need a safe space to intake all the awfulness of the world and the systems that rule it. A safe space that doesn’t require your labor, your responsibility to be given access to it. I can say that I’ve been guilty of this doing this to others, and while I don’t consider myself to be hyper-visible, I’m visible enough in the small spaces I occupy, and I never realized the emotional turmoil of it until now. The way that I try to combat this, is to curate my own safe-space, for me and others to be within a space without speaking or feeling the need to, about these abusive spaces. I often de-clutter my mind by withdrawing from social media and the public. I engage in things that bring me joy. I choose to forget about the responsibility of intellectuality and choose me. Sometimes, you need to choose you. Yes. We’re all responsible. But that responsibility is not chained to any of us and while it feels satisfying to fulfill this responsibility, you must choose to be responsible for yourself. Take care of yourself so that you may help others, if you so choose. Take care of your emotional well-being so that this responsibility does not emotionally drain you. Protect you so that you are not wishing to escape life anymore. These are all things that I’m still learning but at least I am shifting my responsibility, and building a safe and steady bridge between my knowledge, myself, and the rest of the world and if you want your survival to be efficient yet still somewhat comforting, you should too.

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