I have come to hate the word "gratitude".
This is not to say that I am not extremely grateful for the years of excellent mentorship and friendship that I received in graduate school and undergrad. It is not to say that I am not thankful for the program I worked in taking a chance on me and giving me a tenure track position. In all of those locations, I learned a great deal about myself, the academy, and exactly what I could take and grow from. I am extremely thankful that I had all of those experiences. I hope that I served well in them and gave as much as I got. But this isn't the kind of gratitude I've been told to feel.
Ever since my first year in graduate school, I've been told to be "grateful". What was always implied in that statement is that I should be happy and quiet and never critique or examine my environment, peers, professors, and program. That I should offer unwavering allegiance, despite what was happening to other marginalized bodies in the program, or myself. That I should absolutely not negotiate for more pay, better treatment, more humane conditions. That I should not dare make moves that would make my life better. That I better not dare.
I've been getting a lot of mixed reactions about my leaving the academy as word officially spreads. Some people, including my fantastic advisors from my grad programs, are extremely supportive. Some people are hurt, angry, and feel abandoned. Some people have already decided that my decision is their story to tell. I'm also getting a lot of "you are selfish and ungrateful."
Let me make this plain. Both for folks who have decided that I am ungrateful, and for folks who are thinking about leaving the academy.
You are not ungrateful for assessing your needs and following them. You are not ungrateful for engaging in acts of self care, especially within an institution that was designed to do nothing but dehumanize and marginalize you. It does not mean that your program, your dept. you peers or professors are bad people. This does not mean you are a bad person if you leave them. It does not make them wrong for staying. You do not owe the academy your blood, your tears, and your identity. You are not dependent on the academy and those in it for your self worth or identity.
Ever since graduate school, the narrative of "gratitude" has been used to silence me. "Be grateful I'm even in the program. More Black people will show up if you are here. Be grateful we even talk about race and gender. Be grateful you are here." I am thankful for the things I've learned, the student's I've taught, the friends I've made. I'm thankful that I learned enough about myself to fully learn what I can handle and live with. I'm thankful for the opportunities I've had, but I'm not going to let myself be bound to them. Especially if they are wearing me down to the point where I'm losing myself.