The Gift In Saying "No"

The Gift In Saying "No"
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There it was. Another email from someone I didn’t know. Ultimately the request was, “Would you be willing to write for us?” Before responding I decided to research the person and publication. I discovered there had not been a diverse representation of authors or content. Thus, it was apparent the forum needed a person of color. I waited a few days and then replied with my own questions: “Who are you? How did you get my name? What is the remuneration? Timeline? Word count? Editing process? Can you clarify the assignment?” Even with these questions answered, there was a little hesitance. Yet, I concluded I would branch out and try something different, something new.

I wrote the essay. Submitted it before the deadline as is my custom. A week later I received comments from the editor. They were unsettling to say the least. Not because I mind making revisions, but the critique was that more was needed in light of the context and “what we really meant by the assignment was...” Redacting the assignment after submission is pedagogical, and in this instance, publishing disrespect. As alarming for me was the editor’s offer to “withdraw the essay if I wished to do so.” What?!

Yet, I persisted. Why? No, I am not a glutton for punishment. Truth be told this wasn’t going to enhance my curriculum vitae. However, I maintained that as this publisher by its own fruit had not worked with many scholars of color, I did not want to pour gas on the “They are hard to work with. We can find any” fire. So with much angst I edited what was becoming a-longer-than-agreed-upon essay and resubmitted. Remember that “little hesitance” I had earlier? The ancestors called it “your first mind.”

In the end the essay was not published. I could say it was time wasted. To some degree this is true. Yet, I commend this was an exercise of personal and professional recall: “Don’t take every assignment offered to you.” Some invitations are just impecunious tokenism. They will not advance your profession nor be of any communal benefit. Yes, the number of African American, Latino, and Native American scholars in many fields is comparatively low, but this does not mean we have to bear the dearth of representation on our backs all the time. The load is heavy, and institutions and publications must also do the lifting. The rage and disgust from Charlottesville have outstretched my tentacles, and I don’t have time--to waste time. I cannot afford to be a race or gender checkbox. With the White House resembling KKK Wizard Headquarters, this moment is too politically perilous. I have to work and write for the greater good--not so a magazine can say, “We have one.”

To my fellow scholars of color, please know the invitations will come. Therefore, as the semester begins, may I offer the following as you discern whether to give a resounding “Yes” or offer a just as audacious “Thanks, but no thanks.” Please consider:

1. Due diligence. If the request comes from someone you don’t know, take the time to research the organization. Google tells everything. Ask your colleagues what their experience has been with a publisher. We are research professionals so put those same tools to work here. No need to pursue anything eyes wide shut. What you see is what you get.

2. Days. Take a few days before responding. There is nothing wrong with waiting or mulling over the opportunity, especially if the source is unfamiliar. I realize email is the most common mode of communication, but really urgent matters are still handled in-person or over the phone. Spend time counting the cost of said proposal.

3. Dollars. No, money is not everything. Nonetheless, student loans are financial Medusas. There is nothing wrong with asking about compensation. People put their money with their mouth is. I’m a biblical scholar so here it is: “The servant is worth the hire (1 Timothy 5.18).”

4. Duty. Forward the assignment to another scholar. Yes, you are great! Yet, at some point we must empower and mentor others. Give someone else a chance to clear their throat and speak. Perchance a newly-minted professor could benefit from the exposure and forum. And when the person publishes, celebrate. No need to remind us of your article or volume. Pass the mic and exit stage left.

5. Discernment. Ask yourself, “Do I have time?” “How will this advance my career?” “Is it worth the writing and editing effort?” “Will this article advance my communal messaging in any way?” “How can this help somebody?” I admit there was some dis-ease about the invitation, and I should not have ignored it. Remember, Granny used to say, “Always go with your gut.” Instincts render insight.

If my essay had been published, these sentiments would still be the same. I will continue to write out of a puree of my own volition and from unsolicited, but carefully researched, sources. I just needed to remind myself and all of us that is still okay to say “No” to some offers. The gift of “No thank you” is being able to do what you really want. It also helps to reserve the space, energy, and time for what is next. Congresswoman Maxine Waters noted the significance of “reclaiming my time.” We should also learn to pre-claim our time.


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