Our Survival is Spiritual, Black Excellence (w/ Brittany Janay)

This week, Brittany Janay shares her reflections on the language of surviving and thriving and how she’s been evolving in her understanding of this juxtaposition. She offers up how positioning surviving and thriving as a good/better binary might unintentionally lead to qualifying someone’s state of being, living and existing as better than others. Brittany talks about this in the context of how we’ve traditionally come to describe “Black Excellence.” She shares beautiful insights from Toni Morrison and a poem by Audre Lorde, A Litany for Survival, and ends by affirming “Our survival is deeply spiritual – our survival is Black Excellence.”

You can connect with Brittany on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Check out her personal website.

Learn more about Liberated Love Notes.


Brittany (00:11): Hey, y’all this is Liberated Love Notes, a podcast on Living Corporate network, hosted by yours truly Brittany Janay, creator of Liberated Love Notes, critical self-reflections and affirmations for the culture. You already know Liberated Love Notes is your source for weekly doses of self-reflection affirmation and re-imagining for us by us. Yes, I’ve been thinking about this juxtaposition comparison of surviving and thriving. I have even used it quite a bit myself, this suggestion or call for moving beyond survival as if simply surviving is not enough. As if the act itself, or the act, or journey rather of surviving is somehow less certain. I believe we all deserve to thrive. I think flourish, grow, to experience the highest form of expressing ourselves truly, wholly. And I don’t believe this is some sort of thriving, is some sort of destination, or end game.

(01:49): I’ve come to believe that it is not linear. I don’t believe thriving has to happen outside the context of surviving. I don’t believe it’s an either-or. I have evolved in my thinking around this, in part, because I fear doing this survive versus thrive dichotomy can create this good-bad or good-better binary. It can have us qualifying some folks’ state of being, and living, and existing as better than others. I think about the whole conversation around black excellence. And when we unravel that, when we think critically about how we’ve defined black excellence, it has more often than not, been associated with standards like one’s education, or income, monetary gain, climbing a ladder mainstream visibility. Those standards, too, have also been associated with thriving.

(03:12): And so what do we lose? What do we lose when our standards of excellence, our standards of thriving pushed to the margins, those with whom we are in community, who, are doing a damn thing in their own way. Y’all, there’s this clip. There’s this clip by Toni Morrison resonates with me so much. She’s asked by the interviewer, how can we survive in a world where we are all victims of something? I actually wanna see if I can play that for y’all.

Interviewer (03:56): How do you survive [inaudible 00:03:56] I can’t do this quickly, Juan. Okay, how can you survive in a world where we’re victims of something?

Toni Morrison (04:05): You know, that’s a nice, big, fat, Eastern, Western, philosophical question about how do you get through? Sometimes you don’t survive whole, you just survive in part. But the grandeur of life is that attempt, it’s not about that solution. It is about being as fearless as one can and behaving as beautifully as one can, under completely impossible circumstances. It’s that, that makes it elegant. Good is just more interesting, more complex, more demanding. Evil is silly. It may be horrible, but at the same time, it’s not a compelling idea. It’s predictable. It needs a tuxedo. It needs a headline, it needs blood. It needs fingernails. It needs all that costume in order to get anybody’s attention. But the opposite, which is survival, blossoming, endurance, those things are just more compelling intellectually, if not spiritually. And they certainly are spiritually, it is more a fascinating job. We are already born. We are going to die. So you have to do something interesting that you respect, in between.

(05:48): Mmm. It was something about the call-out of survival being deeply spiritual for me, y’all. Our survival is spiritual. It’s more than checklists and things that we need to do, to accomplish this, or reach this. It’s more than our quest towards reading ourselves of feelings of not enoughness. It’s more than, tell me what I got to do to be this, or do this, or to be successful, to be excellent. Our survival is deeply spiritual. It’s in us. And that in and of itself, makes our survival excellent.

(06:43): There’s this poem by Audre Lorde. I also want to share. She calls it a Litany for Survival. And in an interview, she refers to it as, A Litany for Survival: Number 42. She offers the number as a reminder to us that survival is not a one and done. It’s not a one-time thing. She describes it too, as this journey and more over, an on going commitment. I’m going to read not just a passage. I think I’m going to read the whole piece here, A Litany For Survival by Audre Lorde.

“For those of us who live at the shoreline, standing upon the constant edges of decision, crucial and alone. For those of us who cannot indulge the passing dreams of choice, who live in doorways, coming and going, in the hours between dawns. Looking inward and outward at once before and after seeking a now that can breed futures, like bread and our children’s smiles. So their dreams will not reflect the death of ours.

For those of us who were imprinted with fear, like a faint line in the center of our foreheads learning to be afraid with our mother’s milk. For by this weapon, this illusion of some safety to be found, the heavy-footed hooped to silence us. For all of us, this instant and this triumph, we were never meant to survive. And when the sun rises, we are afraid it might not remain. When the sun sets, we are afraid it might rise in the morning. When our stomachs are full, we are afraid of indigestion. When our stomachs are empty, we are afraid we may never eat again. When we are loved, we are afraid love will vanish. When we are alone, we are afraid love will never return. And when we speak, we are afraid our words will not be heard nor welcomed. But when we are silent, we are still afraid. So, it is better to speak, remembering we were never meant to survive.

(09:53): So it is better to speak, remembering we were never meant to survive. Our survival is deeply spiritual. When I think about the definition of litany, I think about worship, prayer, even Audre Lorde’s language, a Litany for Survival, prayer, worship, call, divine call y’all, our survival is deeply spiritual. Our survival in, and of itself, is excellence. Hmm, our survival, our survival is deeply spiritual. Our survival in and of itself, is excellence. That’s all I got y’all. I’m gonna catch you next time. Peace.

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