Coming Back Out of Africa

I’m sitting in the Heathrow airport on my way home from a week and a half spent in Malawi, in southeastern Africa. In the last half hour, I’ve seen more white people than I’d come across in the last ten days straight and my heart sinks within me.

Guess my “race vacation”–a key treatment for race fatigue–is over. It was magnificent while it lasted.

Photo of a sunrise from an airplane window

Sunrise during my flight from Johannesburg to London, April Hathcock, CC-BY-NC

It’s been over a decade since I last visited the African sub-continent, and I’d forgotten how essentially life-giving and invigorating and renewing it can be to spend time in a place where my Black body is the norm and not seen as an anomaly. To be somewhere where everywhere I look, I see faces that look like me and mine. Everyone I encounter could be an aunty or uncle or cousin. To be automatically greeted as a long-sought prodigal daughter with “Moni! Muli bwanji?” and to witness the confusion on the speaker’s face when I respond in English that I’m not Malawian and don’t speak any Chichewa. Even if I couldn’t always follow the conversation beyond a child-like greeting, it still filled my heart with joy to be approached right away as though I belonged. (And inevitably, Aunty So-and-So would eventually say, “Well! You must learn Chichewa for when you come back!” Not if but when.)

And yes, there were painful and frustrating parts, too. I was there visiting my sister and spent time with some of her muzungu (“white/foreigner”–I love that in Chichewa, the word for “white (as in race) is synonymous with the word for “foreigner” or “outsider”) global health colleagues. I witnessed the differences in the way she–as the only Black non-Malawian in the group–built relationships with the local folks, as compared to the ways in which her white colleagues approached the people, culture, and work. In other contexts, as well, I saw neo-colonialism and white supremacy rearing its ugly head time and again. But I also saw how my Malawian cousins rise above that oppression, took what they needed from the patronizing hands offering, and continued working with joy to build back their independence and self-sustaining strength. The colonizers might have thought they were calling the shots, but the Malawians were definitely getting their own brand of reparations for centuries of the rape, genocide, and enslavement of their people and their land.

But, like their cousins whose ancestors survived the Middle Passage and Reconstruction and Jim Crow–all of which are the direct predecessors to what we are now surviving in the police state and industrial prison complex–the Malawians are finding their own way to joy and fulfillment. We always have been a hearty people. That’s why our diaspora has lasted so long, reaching so far and wide.

So even as I sit in the business class lounge of the Heathrow airport (Look, my ancestors! No Middle Passage for this Nubian daughter. No sitting at the back of any transport. I ride up front with the massas and missuses; and their precious lily white young ladies have to address me as “Madam” and serve me tea!); even as I endure the scrutiny of the white gaze–always wondering if I know where I am, if I really belong–even with all of this, I sit quietly in my corner with a smile on my face and joy in my heart that can only come from knowing what it is to spend time in a place I can always call home.

Ndakondwera kukudziani, Malawi! Tionana. I’ll be back to see you soon.

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Post-ALA Race Fatigue

I just spent the last 5 days at the American Library Association annual conference in Chicago, and I am suffering serious race fatigue

Race fatigue is a real physical, mental, and emotional condition that people of color experience after spending a considerable amount of time dealing with the micro- and macro-aggressions that inevitably occur when in the presence of white people. The more white people, the longer the time period, the more intense the race fatigue. 

My ALA Annual 2017 conference badge

I usually come back from conferences pretty exhausted anyway. I’m an introvert, an over-achiever, and an over-joiner, so I’m always faced with having to be conscious about taking breaks, saying no, and engaging in other forms of self-care. But when you combine that with 5 days of being talked at, over, and through by folks in a profession that’s 88% white…well, let’s just say I hit my limit. 

Its been 5 straight days of being tone-policed and condescended to and ‘splained to. Five days of listening to white men librarians complain about being a “minority” in this 88% white profession–where they consistently hold higher positions with higher pay–because they don’t understand the basics of systemic oppression. (They’re librarians. You’d think they’d know how to find and read a sociology reference, but whatever.) Five days of having “nice white ladies” tell you to be “civil” and “professional” when you talk about the importance of acknowledging oppression and our profession’s role in it. 

Even with well-meaning white people, friends even, it’s been exhausting; the fatigue is still there. Five days of having white colleagues corner you to “hear more” about the microaggressions you’ve suffered and witnessed, not because they want to check in on your fatigue, but because they take a weird pleasure in hearing the horror stories and feeling superior to their “less woke” racial compatriots. 

Five days of mounting anger and frustration that you struggle to keep below the surface because you can’t be the “angry and emotional person of color” yet again. 

Don’t get me wrong, there were delightful moments of reprieve. I went to the Spectrum Scholarship 20th Anniversary celebration and met the amazing Dr. Carla Hayden–first black, first woman, first librarian–Librarian of Congress. (She’s so wonderful. We chatted about my name, which I share with the main character of her favorite children’s book.) I caught up with friends and colleagues of color and met new ones. These moments kept me going. And I did have some moments of rest with a few absolutely invaluable and genuine white allies. 

But I’m tired. 

Luckily, the rest of my summer will be spent going on vacation with family, steeping in time with the people who love and know me best. I’ll be getting some much needed R & R in this racial battle called life. And when I get back to it all, I’ll keep on fighting, bearing in mind the inspiring words Dr. Hayden imparted to us at the Spectrum celebration: “You gotta be in the room. You gotta be at the table. You gotta fight.”

April in April

I talk about self-care a lot. Mainly because I can be so bad at it. I forget I’m only human and try to do way too much. I overcommit and overextend physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually. 

I was just at the Association of College and Research Libraries Conference, having a great time, meeting many of you IRL for the first time, and I nearly collapsed with exhaustion when it was over. I had to cancel another trip I had planned for this week. And even knowing my limitations, I’m still feeling a bit of guilt and regret about not being able to do it all. 

And yet. 

Spring is coming. It’s a time of natural renewal and rebirth. For me, it’s a reminder of the importance of spiritual renewal, rebirth, tossing off the weariness and burden of the winter to burst forth into a new life. 

In a few short weeks, this sad-looking, concrete-growing tree will be bursting with purple blooms.


So as my month approaches for the thirty-fifth time of my life, I’m going to take a break, a step back. I’m going to celebrate my life with the people who gave me life. I’m going celebrate the Resurrection of my faith with my beloved family of faith. And yes, I’m going to do a little travel–to a new exciting place I’ve never been. 

April is going to be about April. See you all on the other side.

Self-Care Warfare

“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

~Audre Lorde

Hi, friends. 

I’ve been a bit quiet on the social media front over the last few weeks. That’s because I’ve been reveling in self-care:

I roasted a turkey and baked my grandmother Muz’s famous mac ‘n cheese. 

I teased and giggled with my little sister and talked video games and grad school with my baby brother. 

I watched football with my dad. (Well, not really. He watched and I read a book and checked in the score every now and then.)

I went Christmas shopping with my mom. 

I gave treats and belly rubs to my furry nibling. 

And then I joined my favorite people in the world to celebrate the 60th birthday of the queen of our lives. (She looks fantastic. So glad those good genes gave birth to me.)

Long live the Queen!


Now I’m on my way back to mycity  and my work and my day-to-day life. 

About a month ago, I said I was going to grieve and then go back to the fight. Looking at my activities over the last few weeks, it might seem like I’ve been just chilling, taking a break. But don’t get it twisted. As librarian, poet, black queer and feminist activist Audre Lorde made clear, self-care is “an act of political warfare.”

This is wisdom that goes way back for my people and many other marginalized folks, I’m sure: the best way to defeat your enemy is to live and love your living, even as you fight. That’s why so many mistakenly embrace the image of the happy slave as full historical truth. They miss the acts of intense physical, spiritual, and emotional warfare that looms behind those smiles: My enslaved ancestors weren’t happy or even accepting of their lot. But a major part of their strength to fight back, a powerful weapon in their arsenal, was their ability to continue to live, love, and laugh with all the dignity the oppressor tried to withhold from them. 

And that is what I do today. With every kiss, hug, shout of laughter, giggle, and burble of joy, I shoot a flaming F— YOU! at those who would try to deny me my joy, peace, and justice. I fight and I smile as I fight, not because the fighting is enjoyable but because this is my life and it is worth living. It is mine. 

So, I revel in my self-care. And I encourage you all to do the same. Sharpen those weapons and fill your enemies hearts with fear. 

Love and peace to you all. 

My favorite people on the planet.