From Our Minds and Into Our Actions: How to Stay Well with Rachel Cargle

interview by Brianne Patrice. photography by Andrew Goble.

“If Black women were free, it would mean that everyone else would have to be free since our freedom would necessitate the destruction of all the systems of oppression.”

- Keeanga-Yahmahtta-Taylor

Sometime ago I remember being asked if I would be in attendance for one of the many marches on women’s rights. I immediately said no as I believe these marches hold no real space for women of my kind. A wave of guilt came over me as I said these words aloud, I mean after all the co-founder of this movement is a woman of color. Yet and still my relationship to feminism and intersectionality as a whole is that of a rigid one because these things exclude me rather than include me. 

This sudden uproar of protecting our rights as women and this imminent need to remove Trump from office comes from the very group of women who put him there. This group of women who voted with their husbands in mind. Who voted with their race in mind. Who voted with the elitist mindset that under him—by class—they would be protected. Your cause is not my cause. And your fight is not my fight.

“Women of color been marching a long time” says Rachel Cargle in a recent interview with the WashPo. We have laid our bodies at the forefront of enemies lines. We have rallied and we have taken to the streets. We have petitioned and we have outcried. But most importantly, we have earned the right to exist. To be heard and to be acknowledged. To be protected and seen as equal by the very country built on the arms of our backs.

For without us there would be no you.

‘Life, love, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’. Unalienable rights afforded to all just not to me, the soul of this land. But as our fight grows stronger and our voices get louder even we deserve moments of stillness. Race work is indeed energy work. So we at BGIO, sat down with Rachel, our beloved sister and communal activist, learning all the ways that we are allowed to stay well while remaining informed…

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When we think about the personal being political, your work at the intersection of race and feminism certainly comes to mind. What would you say makes you a political being?

I think that existing in a human body... on this earth... in modern society makes you inherently a political being -- whether you participate in politics or not. A lot of the reasoning behind this is because of the way that government entities have such a strong hold on how we exist day in and day out. From our driving age to our reproductive rights to our purchasing power to vaccinating our children. We must maintain awareness and a voice about these higher level decisions that effect the way we live -- quite literally our lives depend on it.

I read an article published earlier this year posted on the Daily Collegian and in it, it details how a photo of you holding a sign during one of the 2017 women’s marches went viral and how the responses received were different between the black and white community. For you this was a pivotal moment causing you to be more introspective. How have you shown up differently since that transition?

Well, mostly I have shown up more aware. That pivotal moment you're referring to was both a moment of intensive learning about things I didn't know but also pushed me into a space of intentional UNlearning of what I knew about myself, my race, my feminism and this country’s history.

What is something you do daily that helps you stay grounded?

Reminding myself and relishing in the fact that I have much to learn. Though I have alot of people who learn along with me I stay grounded by not feeling pressure to be perfect or an "expert" -- I am learning. I teach what I learn. I then critically consider my experiences as a black woman and I encourage us all to show up tangibly with that knowledge. Move it from our minds and into our actions. I also have a lot of groundedness from recognizing that I am not alone in this fight. There are so many women who have done this type of (often heartbreaking) race work in the past such as Mary Church Terrell, Ana Julia Cooper, Hallie Quinn Brown. Then there are the trailblazers of today who are doing work obviously on and offline. From educators to organizers to academics and beyond. None of us are alone in this fight.

What are your vehicles for information? Do you watch the news, read articles? How often? What have you found is the right balance for you to stay informed and well? And what advice would you give to those feeling overwhelmed?

This is such a good question because sometimes it really is hard to stay well while staying informed. I don't watch much news on television but I do enjoy reading and listening to stay informed. I think this may be because instead of getting often triggering or uninformed soundbites I can really dig into the issues at hand, educate myself and digest what is being reported to me. My advice would be for people to lean into making the news work for them as opposed to it being something we are constantly banging up against on various platforms. I set aside time in the morning after my meditations to then get into it either from podcasts or longford written reports with a clear mind. I also, often do breathing exercises afterwards to help calm my nervous system which inevitably gets overactive while reading what's going on in the world.

As persons and women of color just being here is a political act. Everything from learning to volunteering on down to starting businesses awakens our political activism, yet many are afraid or don't even acknowledge it as such. When was that moment for you, when you said, "okay this is who I am, this is who I'm stepping into"? And what would you say to others struggling to do the same?

I don't think I ever necessarily avoided the connection between politics and my everyday life as a black woman, but I will say that once I really did the work to dive deep into what the implications are of me NOT being vocal I couldn't turn back. Seeing black men being shot down in the streets. Seeing the numbers of black babies being put through the preschool to prison pipeline. Hearing about the experiences of black trans people in the healthcare system. Recognizing the realities of black women's experiences within academia -- each of these pushed me into being more intentional and meaningful with my voice, platform, dollars, and opportunities. I'm not saying its easy either. It's terrifying to go up against ideas and systems that we have known and existed in for so long. But we must do hard things in order to produce world changing results. I hope that everyone can at least start by choosing a platform they really believe in and begin with baby steps by becoming more educated about it, sharing what you learn with people in your sphere of influence and finding ways you can stand behind that belief concretely whether it be how you vote, where you shop, or how you hold others accountable.

In such a heavily white space and with the work that you do, I'm curious to know what boundaries have you set for yourself? Are there things you will and will not discuss or give attention to? How do you pour back into Rachel?

Yes. I have to in order to survive this work. I have a few hard rules in my IRL teaching spaces. First, is that no white men are allowed to speak in my classrooms where feminism and white supremacy are being discussed. We've heard (and suffered enough from) the opinions of white men for ages, I'll pass on that in my classroom spaces. Another boundary of self-care is giving black women in my spaces reminders that they have priority in my spaces....to speak, to ask questions, to approach me for whatever reason. My boundaries both hold me accountable and ensure that the benefits of this work always go to the people Im fighting for -- the black community and more specifically black women.

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Rachel Elizabeth Cargle is an Ohio born writer and lecturer currently living and loving in NYC. Her activist and public academic work are rooted in providing intellectual discourse, tools, and resources that explore the intersection of race and womanhood. Along with being a monthly columnist at HarpersBaaar.com Rachel is currently writing her first non-fiction book exploring the racist history of the feminist movement. You can find her on Instagram under @rachel.cargle.