In today’s episode, Brendane and Alyssa are doing the Lorde’s work! We talk ideal care packages, the history of the fetish (wassup Freud, Marx, and problematic anthropologists!) and contemporary racial/sexual fetishization, the invisibility and hypervisibility of Black women, honor Audre Lorde’s Transformation of Silence into Language and Action, PLUS a ZD first: a guest! In our What in the World?! segment, we discuss the sexual harassment allegations in Harvard’s anthropology department and speak with Harvard Anthropology PhD candidate Chrystel Oloukoï about the double-edged sword of institutional whisper networks and how misogynoir excludes Black women from the “safety” of these networks.
P.S. Stay tuned until the end for a little surprise!
Zora’s Daughters Podcast: Episode Five
Co-Hosts: Brendane Tynes and Alyssa A.L. James
Title: Lorde Take the Wheel
Total Length: 01:32:10
Trancript by Alissa Rae Funderburk, Oral Historian
[00:00:00.00] Alyssa: It’s not that we don’t have a seat at the table, it’s that there’s a table at all.
[00:00:06.96] G: Exactly. And it’s also that idea that you can make it into the table and play the game, without even realizing that you’re the one getting played and often at the expense of the people that you pretend you’re representing or you’re speaking for in some way
[00:00:38.25] Alyssa: Hi everyone, I’m Alyssa.
Brendane: And I’m Brendane. Welcome to the Zora’s Daughters podcast, where we define real world issues and empower our listeners to join in academic and anthropological conversations with a Black feminist lens.
Alyssa: Today we will be talking about silencing, the invisibility and hypervisibility of being a Black woman, and institutional whisper networks. Plus, we have an exciting first, a guest! We’ll be speaking with a PhD student in African Studies and Anthropology at Harvard University, later on in the episode.
Brendane: But before we get started, we want to give a huge thank you, thank you—
Alyssa: Thank you.
Brendane: —thank you to Mayyadda, my girl, looking forward to living off of you in the future, and LaShelle, who is my aunt—I love you so much. Devian—I hope I pronounced your name correctly—Darva, Miss B, love you. Ryan, and Allison for donating to the podcast! Your support is invaluable. And if you would like to donate, you can donate by visiting our website zorasdaughters.com or through the link bit.ly/supportzdp on our Instagram.
Alyssa: Thank you, thank you all so much. Of course, in these challenging times we want you to put you and yours first so we are also big fans of non-monetary support. That can look like a rating and review on Apple podcasts, following us on social media @zorasdaughters on Instagram and @zoras_daughters, as Brendane likes to say, on Twitter [laughter]. Or it can be sharing our podcast with your friends, family, and colleagues. Actually, a friend of mine—well not a friend of mine but a friend of mine’s friend, she once dropped some links to some articles about race after some shady comments in a group chat and then she just left the group chat—so we appreciate that energy too!
Brendane: Yes. Share us with your friends. You’re like, “oh you need some education, here’s some education, here’s a little podcast, here’s some women doing the work here.”
Alyssa: Those wannabe allies, just shoot ‘em a link. It’s fine. So yeah, and we’re thinking about having an “end of semester” Zoom with all of our supporters, people who have donated and shared, talked about us on social media, so let us know if that’s something you would be interested in because we would love to meet you all. E-meet, as we can.
[00:03:06.35] Brendane: Yes, man, I’m excited for that actually [laughter].
Alyssa: I think it’d be dope.
Brendane: It could be, we could like sit around and sip some wine or, you know, some Hennessey if that’s what you’re in to. I mean, that’s what I’m in to, so anyway [laughter].
Alyssa: It could also be juice or water.
Brendane: [Laughter] Juice or water? You know, yeah, if that’s—
Alyssa: For the teetotalers out there.
Brendane: For y’all. And if you also like tea, that’s also fine too. I do. I sip tea and I spill it, that’s how I do [laughter]. So, Alyssa since we like to start out with a question, I feel like each podcast, I thought that I would bring the question this week. I saw this prompt on Twitter that I thought would be good for us to talk about. @zugenia, she asked—and she said that she was inspired by Christina Sharpe—she said, “What would be inside your ideal care package from a friend or well-wisher?”
Alyssa: Ooh, that’s a good one! That’s a good one. I’ve actually gotten two care packages over quarantine. I feel so loved and so blessed to have such thoughtful friends.
Brendane: You are though, that’s true.
Alyssa: [Laughter] Yeah so shout out to y’all. But if we’re thinking big, I think my care package is going to come in the form of an in-home massage therapist who won’t try to have a conversation with me—cuz I hate when you’re trying to just relax and they’re just “hello, oh how’s your week been” and I’m like, “leave me alone,” [laugher] I’m just trying to enjoy the massage.
Brendane: I’ve had a massage therapist go on about how she wished she had my body but I feel like that’s a, that’s for the word of the day [laughter].
Alyssa: That’s for something else. Oh lordy.
Brendane: No conversations.
Alyssa: So yeah, in-home massage therapist, no conversations, and that massage therapist should be holding a bottle of pinot noir, some crispy french fries, and aromatherapy candles. All of which I would enjoy to the soothing sounds of cello and piano interpretations of movie soundtracks. But I guess that would be from a very special friend. But the way to my romantic and platonic heart is good wine, food and relaxing music. So yeah, how about you?
Brendane: Oh man, now our listeners have the keys, if y’all want to be in Alyssa’s heart, some wine, some food, some music and a backrub. There it is [laughter].
Alyssa: A professional one, cuz some people—y’all don’t got the skills, you know.
Brendane: No, we not doing no pats on the back here. Yes. That’s so funny. This quarantine I feel like I’ve gotten a couple of care packages too. My mom and my aunt sent me more food than I could ever eat. One of the things they sent me was, what was it, a ten-pound bag of pancake mix, for those days when I really need to eat pancakes. And I’m so thankful. Thank you again. My partner and I are still tackling the cans of food. My mom and my aunt really try to take care of me.
I also got one from one of our friends in common—hey girl—for my birthday. She really put me on to this hand cream. It smells like cake. Every time I wear it, [deep inhale] Mmm, it’s luxurious. I’m like thank you for putting me on.
Alyssa: Yes, it’s so nice [laughter] I love the way it smells and with all the handwashing we’re doing in quarantine it hits the spot you know, it hits the spot and the spot are cracks [laughter]
Brendane: Yes, and it stays in my purse, it has not left my purse. I’m running low and now I’m like, I’ve got to buy it, I’ve got to find it, somewhere. I think it’s in Target but anyway, thank you so much. But my ideal care package at this stage of quarantine would definitely be some chocolates with caramel but no peanuts. So, like I don’t have a peanut allergy but I just don’t like peanuts, and so if you’re thinking about in the Snickers family, I love Snickers almond, that’s like my thing but not the regular Snickers. A book penned by a Black woman author, I’m trying to expand my little shelf. A card with some affirmations, I have a rainy-day folder that I keep all my cards in for when I’m feeling particularly depressed and I read through it, remind myself that people love me. A pressed flower or leaf for my journal collection, I have a few pressed flowers in there. And some Papermate flair pens, I don’t know if you’ve used those pens, but those are the pens that I use in class. I don’t know if you ever noticed that I write—
Alyssa: You use different colors, I’ve noticed.
Brendane: Yeah, yeah they’re like little markers. I love them. I have so many of them, but I always want more. And so, in addition to all that, I mean honestly, money is always king or queen, or you know, whatever.
Alyssa: It doesn’t hurt.
Brendane: It doesn’t hurt, I’m still settling into this new spot, there’s a couple more things I want to buy, so it’s like if somebody want to send me some money I’m always happy about that.
[00:08:49.49] Alyssa: So, two things. The same mutual friend who put you on to the hand cream, she is for some reason really lucky and finds a lot of four-leaf clovers. And she told me this when I met her, you know in this class we were taking last year and I was like, “yeah, okay, sure,” and she was like no, I have so many of them.” So, she just brought me four-leaf clovers and I actually have one pressed in my tiny little notebook where I make my little jottings. So, I think that’s really cool. And you always like these different things, like almond Snickers and then you got the white cheddar Cheetos. You can’t just have no regular ass Cheetos [laughter] you’ve gotta have the white cheddar ones.
Brendane: Yes. Y’all, Alyssa sent me a huge box of white cheddar Cheetos. It was like 36 little mini bags in there and when I tell you the joy that I felt in my spirit when I opened that box and saw all those bags, and then when I finished. It was like 36 bags y’all I literally ate. I probably ate like two bags of Cheetos a day and [laugher]
Alyssa: They were little snack ones though, it was alright
Brendane: They were but you know whatever, it’s quarantine I did what I did to survive. And so I finished those n like twenty days or something like that because I also had found like bigger bags of Cheetos too. So, anyway, I need to have special stuff basically.
Alyssa: I can’t imagine how big that box must have been when it showed up on your doorstep because I know I was like, “hey there’s a package coming for your birthday,” and you were probably like “oh okay she probably got me something little,” then it was probably like this enormous box.
Brendane: I was huge. It was probably like three feet by two feet.
Brendane: Yeah it was a huge box and then you opened it and it was like this huge blue bag that everything was in. It was like a gift bag.
Alyssa: Oh nice.
Alyssa: I did the, went for the gift wrap for your birthday.
Brendane: Oh, that’s how they gift wrapped it. This huge blue bag. I still have the bag. And it was just Cheetos and I was just, “yes.” This speaks to my Taurus Venus [laughter]. The food, the luxury of it all, I’m here, I’m with it and thank you. I mean, I feel like I’ve thanked you so much, but I’m thanking you again, you blessed me.
Alyssa: Just knowing you enjoyed it is, you know, is thank you enough. I really like giving gifts and being thoughtful in those kinds of ways. Like hearing and listening to things that people don’t necessarily think that you’re listening to. So that’s kind of my little joy.
Brendane: Aw, oh that’s your love language, gift-giving, aw.
Alyssa: It’s not actually. I wouldn’t say that it is though I do enjoy it. I heard someone say that love languages are what you were lacking in your childhood or something like that and gifts were a big thing in my family. We just, that was Christmas, birthdays, despite or regardless of how much money my mom did or didn’t have she would always have some stuff under the tree or some stuff for us for our birthdays. So, I guess in a way it is a love language but [laughter] I don’t know. I don’t know what I’m talking about y’all, don’t listen to me.
Brendane: It’s fine, it’s fine, it’s fine. Realize that as a multidimensional person, all of the love languages speak to me and I mean, you know that’s such a Gemini thing to say [laughter] I feel like I’m good at giving gifts but I’m also not good at it, if that makes any sense. It doesn’t but I’m like oh yeah if you say you want something, I’ll get it for you or if it’s like obvious that it’s something that you want, I’ll be like “oh this is for you.” But if I have no clue, I’ll just put money in an envelope or a gift card and be like “here you go, have the freedom and the possibility”
Alyssa: I mean money is, you know, money is fungible. Learned that word last week.
Brendane: Fungible is it.
Alyssa: You know, I was just reading. I’m actually reading Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo and in it one of the characters says that her godparents stopped giving her money after she turned sixteen and she was like “what, I don’t have financial needs after sixteen years old, that doesn’t make any sense.” But actually, I need the money more now than I did when I was a child so y’all need to do that, y’all need to go back let’s just roll things back, ya know [laughter].
Brendane: Please. I think about all the money I probably—I didn’t waste it as a child because, you know, you have experiences, money was there. But it’s like, if I had thought about the future and the bills that I would have to pay now, I probably would have put a dollar or two away from each gift. But I still get money sometimes from like family members or sometimes people will bless me with money and I’m really appreciative of that because life is hard out here for a grad students.
Alyssa: Yeah, I definitely get some money from my grandmother as well. And I did wanna say, I wanted to also add on the note of the care packages, that my mom did actually. She sent me three—like so my mom is a nurse in Canada where they have like plenty of PPE, so my mom has been sending me envelopes and envelopes—but like the big envelopes—of masks. And then in the first package she sent me a few gloves and a thermometer. So, every time people come over I take their temperature but she gave me like these sanitary things that you wrap them in and then you discard them so don’t worry guys I’m not spreading anything through that.
Brendane: That’s great, those are great gifts.
Alyssa: So that’s good. And I just asked her for some stuff. Ah, I can’t say because it’s a surprise for bae. One of the things that I asked her to send for me. But it’s something that you can’t get here in the U.S. and is only produced in Canada.
Brendane: Oh, I was gonna make a joke and be like oh universal healthcare but that’s not only in Canada.
Alyssa: Yeah, there’s definitely that. So yeah, everyone who’s listening, why don’t you all hit us up and let us know on Twitter – what would be inside your ideal care package? Okay so moving into our first segment.
Brendane: Yes, Alyssa, what is the word for this week?
[00:15:50.43] Alyssa: So, our word for today is Fetishization. Another word that I’m probably going to mispronounce a lot, I’m gonna jumble it up a little bit. But yeah, so where do we start with this word?! My inclination is to go straight to Marx—
Brendane: Mine too.
Alyssa: —but then I was like wait maybe we should start with Freud [laughter]. But I think that it’s probably best to start with anthropology, or the anthropological. It was actually the Portuguese developed the concept of the fetish and I’m going to try to pronounce the word in Portuguese “feitiço” [fey-chi-su]. So that was the word they used to describe the objects used in the religious practices of indigenous West Africans. So then, In the 18th century, a couple white philosophers popularized the term. Auguste Comte used it as, he called the fetishism, he said that was the most “primitive” stage in his theory of the evolution of religion. Kind of made me think of Durkheim’s The Elementary Forms of Religious Life, but I don’t want to get too much off into the weeds. People out here are always trying to find what is the most primitive stage and how we evolved to where we are now in this modern civilization.
And so, Comte was thinking about that in terms of religion though anthropologists now have kind of come to understand the fetish as the attribution of religious or mystical qualities to some inanimate object. So, the origins of the word, the way the Portuguese and these white male philosophers were using it, it was to talk about imbuing something with power, particularly in a way that is arbitrary. So, of course, that was part of the 18th century colonial delusion, that Africans are incapable of abstract thinking so it’s just simply irrational that these objects, these fetishes would have any kind of power. But it’s not irrational when holy water has power, is it? Or like when a crucifix has power. [laughter] Those are actually examples of fetishes and anthropologists would today categorize them as such.
Brendane: Right. I mean everything is wrong when it’s not you doing it. [Laughter] But that’s neither here nor there. Yeah, so after this initial conceptualization of the fetish, which I had no idea the Portuguese—I mean you know they did, we could credit them with starting slavery [laughter]—we could credit them with developing this concept of the fetish in its, of course, connection to West Africans. But what a lot of academics think about when we think about the fetish is Marx and Marx had this idea of the commodity fetish. We’re not going to get into Capital, his landmark thing that people say started a revolution, but we are going to talk about the commodity as a fetish. In the sense that it has been endowed with some kind of value that has power for, and often over, humans.
When someone speaks of the commodity fetish, it means that all of the human involvement and social relationships that go into creating objects are hidden from our perception of them. This is based on the idea that objects have no intrinsic value until they are given that value. So, for example we think about all these things that we purchase or that we want in life. There are a lot of work that goes into that that we don’t necessarily see, that doesn’t necessarily give it value, right. What gives it value is whoever the seller is saying the price is for. So, the price shows the value of the object so that masks all of the exploitation a lot of the times that goes into making this object. One popular thing that I have so much of because let’s be real, I’m an Apple girl, I’m an Apple girl, right. But like branding is kind of the—I don’t know, would you say twentieth century? I feel like branding has been around for a while.
Alyssa: Probably even before that.
Brendane: Yeah like, you know when people were able to print stuff maybe that’s when brands started being a thing, but branding is a great example of capitalizing on the idea of the commodity fetish. People don’t buy Apple products because they are inherently better than other brands. This obsession every September about what’s coming out on the iPhone or the iPad or, you know, the iMac or Apple watch, whatever isn’t because these are automatically better than anything else. It’s that the value that we have assigned to these things and also the value that society has assigned. There’s a class marker that comes with that. There’s all these meanings that come with having Apple. Like if I have an Apple phone versus you know, a bug phone [laughter] even that name right, a bug phone.
Alyssa: [Laughter] What’s a bug phone?
Brendane: Oh, a bug phone is like—
Alyssa: Is that another word for Android?
[00:21:25.55] Brendane: No because Androids—I think not all Androids are bug phones but all bug phones are Androids? I don’t know [laughter]
Alyssa: Now we’re going it get too much into philosophy.
Brendane: Like they’re like, I don’t know, I guess people call them, like pejoratively, like the Obama phones, the senior citizen phones [laughter].
Alyssa: The brick phones, like a Nokia?
Brendane: Yes. Yes, the ones that last through—
Alyssa: This is telling me that we’re from a vaguely different generation [laughter] because I’m like oh yeah, the Nokia phones back in the day, having a Motorola that was fire, had the baby blue Motorola peanut phone. Y’all don’t know about that.
Brendane: You did? I have no idea what that is. My grandma had the Nokia phone for years and the only game she had on it was Snake and I dropped that shit in a puddle and it still worked after I picked it up. It was so—well Grandma, if you hear this I’m sorry girl but I dropped your phone abut fifteen years ago in a puddle but it still worked. So that’s when I think of bug phones, that’s what I think about. But like there are certain associations that we have with that phone that has nothing to do with the phone itself. It has all of these things to do with capitalism and the way that we were taught that things have value and they in turn make us valuable by having them and give us status for having them but we’re going to get to that a little later.
Alyssa: Yeah and I think another way to explain the way social relationships are hidden is there are children who have to mine the iron ore in Sierra Leone, I think, and they are the ones who are finding the right materials in order to make these tiny microchips and all these things. So, there’s that kind of labor. If you think about a Fendi purse, it says made in Italy but it’s made in Italy by, often, Chinese undocumented workers in sweatshops. And so, these kinds of labors end up being obscured by this brand and it being made by these people and it being sold by Fendi and being optically Fendi makes it worth more. It might cost them a dollar to make this purse but then you spend $5,000 on it and it’s only because they slapped that name on it. And it’s similar, my friend has put me on to Sephora and just returning things to Sephora, and I was like, “wow, I can’t believe you just do that.” She was like, “listen, it costs them fifty cents to make these things and they sell it to us for $35,” and I’m like, “you know what, go you” [laughter] “I’m on board.”
Brendane: I mean, it’s like—I have two comments to make. So also, in addition to thinking about the labor that goes into it, right, we think about these people who are positioned at the bottom of a societal totem pole that make these really valuable things that are markers for people who are at the top. And so, it’s like these things that we really value, like handwoven purses or if it’s handmade that makes it really valuable and it’s like actually, no one is really—and the thing about capitalism is you never really actually get the money or the thing in exchange that’s actually up to the value of your labor it. It’s always going to be a devaluation of your labor and in particular with these people, right, it’s not just the devaluation of their labor, it’s a devaluation of their personhood.
That thing and also, “I used to be this person who was like, oh I never steal from stores,” okay, and I still don’t steal because I’m really bad at it but like, I don’t knock people who have to steal from stores in order to get the things they need or they want. Because it’s like honestly, these stores steal from us. Like you said, this stuff does not cost that much to make or to have and it doesn’t make anybody any less of a good person if they have to steal things from the store. But yeah, I have a friend who like takes the stuff from Sephora, scoops it out [laughter] of the thing, scoops it out and it’s like, here you go you can take this empty canister back and just puts it in different containers. And one day, when I am brave enough to do that, I will. I just, I don’t know what it is, I guess it’s just my Christian upbringing that just keeps me from actually really taking down the system but that’s neither here nor there.
Alyssa: Alright well we’re getting a little off track. You were going to talk about the Freudian fetish since you’re so into the psychoanalysis.
Brendane: Yes, my boy. My boy, Freud. So, Freud in 1927, he wrote an essay called “Fetishism,” where he argues that the fetish is a penis substitute.
Alyssa: Always. Always something to do with the penis.
Brendane: Freud was probably gay and so everything was related to a penis for him and this concept of the fetish really—but what’s important to know from that is that the concept of the fetish has its roots in substitution. In both cases, if you’re thinking about the capitalist definition which is the commodity fetishism or the psychoanalytic fetishism, when we’re thinking about the concealment of social relations that allows for us to substitute this iPhone for a class marker, right, or one thing to be substituted for another, but all of those power relations are kind of built into that relationship in and of itself with the commodity.
[00:27:14.63] Alyssa: So that’s a little bit of the genealogy of the concept of the fetish. But put simply, fetishizing is when you project qualities or values onto something or someone that it does not have. Of course, what we really want to talk about is the fetishization of people, particularly racialized women. In this instance, you substitute a person’s race, or certain characteristics associated with race, with stereotypical ideas about what those characteristics mean. So, when a white man says, “I have a thing for Asian women,” it’s often because they have some kind of preconceived idea about what Asian women will or what they’re supposed to be like. And so then of course the retort to be like “oh, you’re fetishizing me or you’re fetishizing me or you’re fetishizing ‘x’ group of women is to say “eh, it’s just a preference.” But it’s like your preference is based on making one body substitutable with another and projecting your own racialized fantasies onto them. That’s racism.
Brendane: Period. On peri-dot.
Alyssa: Yes. You’re not sexualizing a characteristic like, long legs for example. You’re sexualizing a part of someone’s racial identity. When your preference involves imposing meanings that you associate with race onto people you don’t know, that’s racist. That’s racism.
Brendane: That’s racism, yeah. People do this with mixed race children, right?
Alyssa: Oh, my goodness, do they ever.
Brendane: There’s fetish around whether, oh I wanna mate with this person—I know I’m using scientific language when I said that—but basically you know, I wanna mate with this person to produce this kind of bing, bang, boom, child with green eyes and curly hair. And it’s like, okay maybe but there’s a lot of concealed social relations beyond the statement of I want a child that looks like this.
Alyssa: You also get these people who are like oh that’s going to be the solution to racism is like interracial, mixed-race families, and that is, again, fetishizing something. You are fetishizing the mixed-race child as something, actually you’re thingifying, objectifying, you are fetishizing them as something that will be a solution racism, anti-Blackness, and white supremacist violence, and [Jamaican accent] that no make no sense.
Brendane: It doesn’t and also, hasn’t it, miscegenation, hasn’t it been a thing always? And isn’t racism, anti-Blackness, whatever, still here?
Alyssa: And you still hear some white parents saying some messed up stuff about their own kids and about Black people. So it’s like, just because you have Black children or mixed-race children doesn’t mean that you’re anti-racist. So, no.
Alyssa: No. [Laughter]
[00:30:11.26] Brendane: But I think—so, when I’m thinking about fetishizing, one historical example that plenty of people have done research about but I think about too, is Sarah Baartman. And that was, of course, her colonized name but she was a Black woman from West Africa—
Alyssa: South Africa. Well now South Africa but she’s a Khoisan [non-Banut indigenous people of Southern Africa]. She’s a Khoisan woman
Brendane: Oh. Okay, so what I read said she was from West Africa. So, South Africa, thank you for correcting me, thank you.
Alyssa: Yeah, what is now South Africa. She was Khoikhoi, I believe, if I’m pronouncing that right.
Brendane: And she was toured around Europe until her death in 1815. She was commonly known, like when they would advertise her, they would call her Hottentot Venus. She was part of this “freak show,” back to the fetishism, where white people would come and gaze at her body, they would look at her large butt, they would look at her breasts, they would touch her. They would be allowed to touch her genitals. She was a commodity that allowed them one to make money, so of course this is during slavery so they’re making money off of her in multiple ways. But then, also she reinforced the fragility that reinforces this kind of ideal body type for them it’s being this super thin, light skin, very light, pale body and also entrenched some like fatphobic things into the world. But then also, on the other pole, dehumanize Black women. Her brain, skeleton, and genitals remained on display in Paris until 1974 and then her body was returned to her homeland. So, this continual fetishization of Black women and their bodies is rampant throughout history.
Alyssa: Yeah. I think that the way that that continues today is kind of something that you have talked about in previous episodes just about in your church and the way that, because of the way that you developed as a child, that it caused people to place certain associations or place these certain ideas that about what kind of child you were. And so again this is the idea of imposing your own ideas and values onto certain parts of a person’s body. I think it’s kind of whack.
Brendane: It’s all whack. And you know, me and my therapist Alice we talk about it [laughter]. Because fetishization can have harmful effects and what we see in the academy is I think of tokenization as a form of fetishization. Which we will get to that.
Alyssa: Oh, we sure will [laughter]. But I think that we’re here doing something. We’re taking steps towards making these changes and helping people understand. What we’re doing is speaking out and I think that that brings us to our next segment, What We’re Reading. So, what are we reading today Brendane?
[00:33:46.42] Brendane: We are reading “Transforming Silence into Language and Action” by Audre Lorde. And Audre Lorde, my girl, I love you, was a queer Black feminist scholar and poet whose definitions of care for the self and community frame many contemporary conversations, especially about self-care. She described herself as “Black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet.” I just, I love it. Her essays and her books provide a Black feminist political intervention by demonstrating how the personal becomes a site for political transformation. She was a prolific essayist and poet, and she wrote a few books. Just a few. Sister Outsider, Zami: A New Spelling of My Name, The Cancer Journals, and A Burst of Light to name some. An interesting fact while I was obsessing about her for this episode, I mean always but just especially for this episode, she is actually an Aquarius!
Alyssa: Yes. I’m telling you, we out here, we out here [laughter].
Brendane: She was a late Aquarius, Pisces cusp.
Alyssa: Like a cusp? Okay. I know the lingo, a little bit.
Brendane: I see you. But she left this earthly realm in 1992 and she was 58 when she passed away. And I believe that the stress of the academy killed her but [sigh].
Alyssa: Yeah, I, as I’ve been saying on the last two episodes, lately I’ve been reading Sister Outsider and it has transformed me. I think that—well one of the things that I noticed is that I read a lot of these ideas before without knowing that I was reading her ideas and you were like, “yeah, a lot of people plagiarize her work and then don’t comment on it, don’t cite her, nothing.” And I was just like, alright well I definitely see that now. And don’t get me wrong, I have read a couple f her essays before but reading the whole works was just, it was transformational. I loved it.
Brendane: Yeah. I would say that it’s never too late to discover Audre Lorde in my opinion and I feel like this socialist woman really opened my eyes to understanding what it meant to be, you know—to have a non-normative sexuality, right. She also was a mother, she had children and she was so prideful about that as well. And as academics I feel like for those of us academics who desire to be mothers and are mothers, that’s a part of our identity we’re told that we’re not supposed to uphold to be real and true academics. I do not currently desire to be a mother but I think that will change in the years to come, we’ll see.
Alyssa: I think she learned so much from them even. I mean, she writes almost this whole essay about having a son and what it means to be a lesbian feminist who has a son. A boy who’s going to grow up and become a man and part of the patriarchy, although she hopes that he won’t perpetuate it. But, I mean I think that there is some really interesting meditations on various things. But the essay?
Brendane: The essay itself. So—
Alyssa: Yeah [Laughter]. It’s like a five- or six-page essay, we should be able to get through this.
Brendane: I know.
Alyssa: [Laughter] But we won’t.
[00:37:42.04] Brendane: We’re just honoring her. We are honoring you Audre, thank you for sharing your gift with us. So what were some things that really spoke to you, like of course all of it, but like what were some quotes that stood out to you from this?
Alyssa: [Sigh] So many, where should I start? I think that when she says, “What are the words you do not yet have? What do you need to say? What are the tyrannies you swallow day by day and attempt to make your own, until you will sicken and die of them, still in silence?” One it just, it was so poignant. So she’s writing this essay or she’s reflecting on when she found out that she might have cancer and so she’s like I am going to die and I might not have said the things that I needed to say. And one of the things in our first episode that I talked about which is like the necessity to create language to communicate our experiences, and that was something that really resonated with people. You know, and she talks more about that in another essay “Poetry is not a Luxury,” but here I think that one, she—when she talks about “what are the words you do not yet have, what do you need to say,” it really made me sit down and think what language do I not yet have to communicate my experiences? And I think that that is really the goal and the mission of being in academia, is to give language, give words to experiences that haven’t been communicated properly yet.
Brendane: Yeah, that’s beautiful. I think for me that line hit or it resonates in ways that’s speaking to my own personal experiences with violence and abuse and thinking about the tyrannies that I swallow day by day, make my own, explain away, say well maybe I did this to deserve this until I sicken and die of them, in silence. And the first time I read this I was just like oh shit, my silence literally all it does is hurt and harm me and it helps whoever’s hurting me to just continue doing whatever they want to do. But like just the image of swallowing these tyrannies for me it was just like wow, I wanna do that, how can I spit these shits back up. Like, I don’t wanna do this no more. And then the line that comes after.
So, when I’m reading this again, because I come back to this essay over and over again, especially when I need to feel empowered to do something. This time, at this stage in my life, the line that followed after what you just quoted in which she says “Perhaps for some of you here today, I am the face of one of your fears. Because I am woman, because I am Black, because I am lesbian, because I am myself—a Black woman warrior poet doing my work—come to ask you, are you doing yours?” Whew, I was like, oh my chest, am I doing my work Audre? I don’t know, am I? And I think about the times where I feel like I’m not doing enough and my friends always tell me that I actually do too much. But, I think for me it was like I need to sit with myself and center myself because it’s like the tyrannies I have swallowed have made it so that I don’t feel like I am capable of doing my own work, but I know there is work I’m called to do. I have been afraid of living in that purpose and in that calling. I know what it’s like to live in that fear and in that silence, I have been afraid of speaking my truth for what it would cost me, not knowing that swallowing the truth would truly, truly cost me more. And so this part of her speech, she wrote this in reflection of having cancer but also this was a speech at either the Modern Language Association or the National Women’s Studies Association. On or the other. Alyssa, I’m sure you’ll correct me but she—
Alyssa: I’m getting in the book.
Brendane: Yeah [laughter].
Alyssa: Yeah, the Modern Language Association’s Lesbian in Literature panel in 1977 in Chicago.
Brendane: She’s like also speaking to these white women and what I love about her, she would come to these panels and turn up and be like “y’all thought I was going to talk about this but here I am and I’m about to turn up on all of y’all.” And so she’s like—actually this is something that I’m reflecting but I’m also putting to you, are you doing your work as a white woman, as a Black woman, as a lesbian, as an etcetera? What tyrannies are you swallowing?
Alyssa: Right, and she didn’t coddle white women. She absolutely did not coddle them. She wasn’t like, “okay, we’re going to a common understanding.” She was like, “no, actually, what is preventing you from understanding me? I’m not here to understand you, you need to understand this situation, you need to understand this world that you’ve created and think about that.” And she really would just put people in their place and I really appreciated that. I really appreciate that about her work. And I think that the, “are you doing yours”—so in a later essay she kind of reveals that that comes from Malcolm X, it’s kind of a paraphrase of Malcom X. And so, I just want to say that your work doesn’t mean doing all the work, it doesn’t mean doing everything, it doesn’t mean that you need to be doing more than other people. It means that you need to be doing what it is that you are called to do and I think that you’re getting there, you’re feeling that, you’re like yes, that’s right, I have this particular mission and you’re gonna do it. I know you are. I was talking about this with another friend, I was like, “If there’s anybody I know in academia it’s going to be Brendane who’s going to write that pivotal paper/essay/book that everybody refers to for the next—that she’s gonna eat off of for the next forty years [laughter].
[00:44:07.04] Brendane: That’s the hope, if it don’t kill me first. Which is neither here nor there, but thank you so much for your affirmation and I feel like she talks about this. So getting to that, right, what causes us to be silent, and she really hones in on it. And it’s fear.
Alyssa: Yeah. I mean the fear of visibility and one of the most powerful things that we have is our voice. And yeah, so she comes to talk about fear and visibility as being the reason that we will silence ourselves, that we will swallow these tyrannies. And then she goes on to talk about the ways that Black women are simultaneously hyper-visible and invisible. So we’re hyper-visible because of the ways we stand out in places, we’re always errant. We’re too Black in feminist spaces, we’re too female in Black spaces. And then at the same time, we’re invisible. And so Lorde calls this we’re invisible because of the depersonalization of racism. For me, it’s a sort of willful blindness, this failure or even refusal to see us as human. I’ve been listening to the Michelle Obama podcast and she was talking about how when she was literally the first lady of the United States, she was in line with another Black woman, her friend and her children, after a soccer game or something. They were in line at a café and this white woman stepped right in front of her in line like she didn’t see her.
Brendane: Right and Secret Service didn’t go [laughter] intercept ofrnothing?
Alyssa: I think they were a little bit further back. And so, how many of us have had that experience, where someone has stepped in front of us without a care in the world? And if you did speak out or you did say, ‘excuse me, I was there,” they’ll be like “oh sorry, I didn’t see you.” But how many of us would swallow that small tyranny? This tyranny that tells you that they don’t see you as a person, but they just see a black. Lorde argues that this visibility, by speaking out, it makes us vulnerable because our presence is an aberration—as she says, we were not meant to survive, we’re not meant to be here—so speaking and making that presence seen, or felt, or heard, can bring on danger. Being silent doesn’t make us less afraid or safe actually. And that’s the most important thing that she comes to.
Brendane: Yeah which is so true. Your silence does not ensure your safety by any means and this fear of visibility, in a world where “racial difference creates a constant, if unspoken, distortion of vision,” which you speak to in people being like “oh, I can’t even see you.”
Alyssa: Right, I didn’t see you there.
Brendane: Black women have been simultaneously hyper-visible and rendered invisible through racism. Black women were ever present. She’s thinking about these Black women, domestic workers who were in white women’s homes. Black women were ever present, they were domestic workers in white folks’ homes, as teachers in their own communities, as breadwinners in their own homes, but often their unique voices and needs were subsumed under the Black struggle for liberation. Which many people are confused and treated as the Black cis-het man’s struggle for whiteness and white power. Or under the white feminist gender justice movement that requires Black women to be silent about the racist violence white women exact on them. So when—
[00:48:00.03] Alyssa: And that’s meant to be in solidarity with womanhood, with this common womanhood.
Brendane: Yeah, solidarity to cause our silence in a lot of spaces. So in this time, second phase feminist movement, when white women were begging to be out of the home and be released from the control of their husbands, Black women were already working outside of their homes. It was like that was their duty. They were actually working in these white women’s homes. But racism, sexism, homophobia, all these other things right, occlude differences when we throw people together in categories like Black people or women. They hide the differences that often Black women face in these circles. Blackness renders us as indispensable, which means literally y’all need us to survive. Like what is a Black liberation movement without Black women? It don’t exist. What is a women’s justice movement, women’s liberation movement, without Black women?
Alyssa: That is exactly what I was going to say, it’s like, while y’all are out becoming CEOs, and I’m talking about white women, while y’all are out doing that, who’s looking after your kids? Black and brown women.
Brendane: Especially in New York.
Alyssa: I see it every day. I see it every day walking around my neighborhood. And it’s like they’re out here literally putting their lives at risk—
Brendane: During a pandemic.
Alyssa: —for your children, for your economic progress, for your development. And then y’all don’t even see us as human.
Brendane: and because you don’t see us as human, you ask us to risk our lives to come watch y’all kids. So, it’s like you can lean in and reach your potential, but as Black people, as Black women we are always rendered as indispensable. We are necessary for the survival of everybody but then also, simultaneously we’re seen as excess, which means too much. Like you were talking about earlier, we’re hyper-visible while at the same time invisible. But they need us. But anyway, visibility comes with danger. Once I make my voice known, once I speak, I am pushing up against a social order that actually needs me to be silent in order to exist. But in order for us to live we gotta speak, which we talked about in an earlier episode.
Alyssa: Yeah, there is something that Zora Neale Hurston has been quoted as saying but I searched and searched for the source of it. People said it was in Their Eyes Were Watching God but it isn’t. She is said to have said, “If you are silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it”
Brendane: Yep and still I oop.
Alyssa: I was like that’s it. Episode done. [Laughter] But I think that one of the things that I really took away from this essay is that a life of silence will not compensate for the losses we endure by choking on the things we have to say. Even in silence we’ll still suffer and we will still die. Audre Lorde really forces us to ask ourselves, if death is the final silence, will I have said all that I needed to say? She reminds us to speak our truth and live our truth while we are still living. That really, as soon as I saw that I was just like Brendane your incredible essay that just came out in Anthro News, “How do we listen to the living?” You talk about how the voices of Black women are really only amplified in death and that we need a transformation and revolution in that dynamic. And so, yeah I made that connection in these two things, it was fantastic.
[00:52:12.13] Brendane: Aww thank you for thinking of me! If y’all want to read the essay, we’ll link it for you.
Alyssa: It’s going on the syllabus [laughter].
Brendane: It’s going on the syllabus. I’m not going to go to deep into it. I feel like if you read it, you have questions, feel free to shoot us emails. One of the things that I do want to highlight in the essay that I think would be pertinent to this conversation is me asserting that Black women and girls we been talking right and who hears us? Which ones of us are heard? Typically those with class, skin color, pretty, and thin privilege who get heard. Even then, it’s through the distortion of racism, that fetishizes you, that people hear your Black ass is like through this fetishization of like you’re this kind of Black or this kind of person. But Lorde tells us in this essay, she says “And where the words of women are crying to be heard, we must each of us recognize our responsibility to seek those words out, to read them and share them and examine them in their pertinence to our lives.” So even in this moment she’s making a call to be listened to and to be heard, and for us to listen to each other and to take silence and transform it into a type of action that allows us not just to sit around and listen or be heard, we’re not here to tell stories. It’s to transform the world in which we live and so that point to the political I think is also very important.
Alyssa: Yeah, this brings me nicely into this documentary that I said “oh, we should watch this for the podcast,” then I watched it and I was like “actually nah, don’t watch it.”
Brendane: I was like okay.
Alyssa: It’s on Amazon Prime, it’s called “You Belong to Me: Sex, Race and Murder in the South.” It’s a documentary from 2014 and the story in itself is interesting, the documentary on the other hand is a little sketchy. In 1952 in Live Oak, Florida this Black woman, one of the richest Black women in the state at that time, Ruby McCollum, she walked into her white doctor’s office and shot him four times in the back. In this documentary, they’re calling it an unsilencing, they want to tell the story, tell Ruby’s story because there’s a debate about why she did it. It’s actually a story that continues to resonate in Live Oak today, people still kind of feel the weight of it. So, they speak to a lot of people, her family, her friends, descendants of some of the like major ‘characters’ we’ll say, and even a juror who was on the jury during her trial. But the thing that I wanted to say, the thing that really resonates with our topic today is actually something Zora Neale Hurston wrote about the case, she said that “the truth of this case lies on the other side of silence.” So, that brings us to our final segment “What in the World?!
[00:55:44.12] Brendane: Like what in the world? What in the world?
Alyssa: What in the world? So, it’s back to school so we had to do a little back to school something. But we’re going to be talking about the Harvard scandal—is that what we’re going to call it? [Laughter]
Brendane: Harvard scandal. And if you’re not an anthropologist it’s probably not too much of a scandal.
Alyssa: Yeah, yeah, I mean it’s actually not a scandal because it’s something that is rife in so many institutions. We’re going to be talking a little bit about Harvard but really, we’re getting into whisper networks and how that works for women and specifically Black women. If you’re not an anthropologist [laughter], in May, just as these uprising we’re kicking off around anti-Black police violence, the Harvard Crimson published an article exposing numerous allegations of sexual harassment against three male faculty members. I think that given the timing it was hard for me to really give my attention to that but, you know, we did agree that we wanted to talk about It eventually on the podcast. In August, another article in the Chronicle of Higher Education came out and so, we’re not going to be speaking about these allegations but rather how women and especially Black women navigate these institutions, and not just academic institutions, where sexual harassment, gaslighting and minimizing about that harassment are just super common place. That it just goes unspoken.
Brendane: Right. And part of what sustains these things are the tokenization and fetishization of Black women in these spaces. To give two seconds to the current moment that we’re in, in which white women have been impersonating Black women. That’s allowed through the fetishization of certain characteristics for light-skinned Black women and also the tokenization of Black people in spaces. There are so few of us in academic spaces that we do feel the need to fight for these spaces and then they’re typically given to those who are tokenized and fetishized in certain ways. The world knew that we needed to talk about this now. Even though we—
[00:58:06.17] Alyssa: That’s what we do, that’s what we’re here for. Alright so with that said, we are excited to introduce our first ever guest on Zora’s Daughters, Chrystel Oloukoï. Chrystel Oloukoï is a PhD student in African Studies and Anthropology at Harvard University. She holds a MA in Geography from the university Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne and is an alumni of the Ecole Normale Supérieure of Paris. Her research deals with imaginations of the night in post/colonial Lagos through archival work and sonic ethnography. She explores in particular the legacies of colonial imaginations of nighttime in shaping the nights of Lagosians today. Welcome to the Zoom studio, Chrystel. Tell us where are zooming in from today?
Chrystel: Thank you for having me today, I’m so excited to be with you all. I’ve long admired this podcast so I’m really glad to be here. I’m speaking from Lagos, Nigeria.
Alyssa: Okay, excellent.
Brendane: You know, I’m a big fan of you, so yes. Y’all can’t see Chrystel today but she has on this beautiful yellow, it’s looking resplendent and her smile. I’m just so happy to have you here so thank you.
Alyssa: Yeah, it is bringing me joy, thanks for being here. To get started, we were planning on calling this episode the Whispering Gallery, but sometimes I get these little pockets of inspiration and then I change the title [laughter]. But a whispering gallery is basically a phenomenon where in a circular enclosure, whispers from one area can be heard in other parts of that same enclosure. It’s kind of a cool phenomenon, there’s one in St. Paul’s Cathedral in London and one in Grand Central Station in New York. It happens in caves and stuff like that. In any case, I wanted that title to kind of index the way in these very tight-knit, rarefied spaces of the university or other institutions, the only we often learn about sexual harassment, who to avoid and things like that, is through these whisper networks. Chrystel, you made such an acute observation on Twitter. The whole thread was brilliant, but you wrote “We’ve normalized tenured professors ‘whispering’ while writing about ‘speaking truth to power’” whew and that is—those are facts. Can you talk a little bit more about that thread and the politics of these whisper networks?
Chrystel: Yeah, of course. So, the context of that was there was an article about my school, my department, the anthropology department at Harvard and three professors were being accused of sexual harassment. And talking to my peers and classmates about this whole situation a lot of us spoke about the whisper network and how we’ve been exchanging knowledge between ourselves throughout the years to protect ourselves. But also, how like sometimes tenured professors or like other kinds of professors will also [circulate knowledge] about how they treat us. And then it will circulate among students. For me whispering is a function of the specific relation of power and I think it is an apparent tool in the context of the article as academia to be able to whisper as a first step to be able to make known instances of harm. Then I find it a bit surprising and a bit defeating also when people who are at what you consider the top of the academic food chain, or are saying that the only things they can do in those instances is whisper. And then I also as she like it’s not it’s phonies. It’s how whispering things feeds into this academic culture of always putting forth this idea of powerlessness, which is beyond that, at some point, we need to ask ourselves why people who are the most precarious in academia such as graduate students, adjunct professors, are willing to take risks, are willing not to be silent about instances of harm, but people who are as powerful as tenured professors decide that the only things they can do is whisper.
Alyssa: Yeah, I think that this need, at least this apparent need to whisper makes it seem like there isn’t anything that can be done. It’s just but there is. There is something that can be done to change the fact that these situations of harassment are happening, and that they don’t need to happen. But I don’t know who knows what it is that is preventing people from doing something.
Brendane: When you, I don’t know if you coined this phrase, but I’m going to attribute it you Chrystel, the performance of powerlessness. And that is like, rife in the academy particularly among, I think, among like Black tenured professors who are like, you know, yeah, it was a struggle for you to climb to get to where you’re at. You’ve had to endure a lot of violence, but you’re tenured, which means you have a set of security that, like you mentioned, adjunct professors and graduate students don’t have, but then this kind of this performance that they, I think attribute somewhat to like their Blackness, where they’re like, “Oh, well, you know, I’m Black and things are never really secure.” And it’s like, but aren’t you a full professor with an endowed chair? No, this that and the third, like, you know, and I’m telling you that this person said these racist things, or did this like harm to me, and you turn and say, well, one response is, “Well, that’s what you have to deal with in the academy,” which I’ve heard, right or like, “Well, I don’t know. There’s nothing I can really do for you right in this moment.”
And I think that they perform that powerlessness to avoid accountability for their own actions, and their own harmful action. To say like, “Oh, well, I don’t want to take the responsibility of actually intervening on your behalf. Because that means that when I have to face that non-Black colleague in faculty meetings, we have to deal with this issue. And I don’t want to, I don’t want to add that to my list of things, to my own list of struggles as a Black person in this department to deal with.” So, I offer that as like, potentially one reason, but I like what you said, you know, just to say you don’t care enough to take a significant risk, right. Being Black, but we all have risks when we choose to speak up and not be silent in spaces, but some of us are more protected than others. And so, it’s it is a matter of care. And I think you’d you choose that word, and it’s actually really good, like it’s thinking about care and like what it in these networks, that you say display power relations, but also, I think, among graduate students and other precarious folks in the academy is a is a network of care, in a sense.
[01:05:53.50] Chrystel: Yeah, I think something I think, like the idea for whisper network is really a double-edged sword from and I like how you like go back to that question of care. Because I think it comes from a place of care. At least that’s how I’ve encountered it especially from peers where it is about protecting ourselves. But then sometimes I also feel like there is a specific kind of pleasure about, like the pleasure of gossiping and the pleasure of circulating certain kinds of knowledge within academia and I’ve never really perceived that pleasure from peers, but from people who like have much more power, but who are going to share that knowledge in a way where you don’t feel like they’re saying that protect you, but more as a way to like this is a kind of socialization into discipline, sharing those kind of knowledge. And that’s where I feel like whispering can become sort of counter revolutionary or like preventing harm to be to be changed in any way. It’s more about the pleasure of sharing and creating a sense of belonging for that sharing of forbidden forms of knowledge than about actually caring about the person sharing that knowledge with and actually feeling committed to protecting that person.
Alyssa: That’s interesting.
Chrystel: I also feel like you’re in that second instance of whispering more as gossip than as protective network, it reminds me of Nick Mitchell has an article, which I think is the best article that was ever written on academia ever, which is called “Summertime Selves.” And in that article, they talk about—they talk about what are called, like the accumulation of non-tragedies and how whispering and talking about one’s experiences, does that. So, you feel that what happens to you was something significant, but through sharing, and circulating that knowledge and realizing that there’s so much routinized harm happening, it’s almost as if some kind of normalization of harm in academia. Because there’s so many, like, just the amount of stories. It’s almost become as if the sheer amount because it’s only about sharing becomes also, makes you feel a bit powerless. If it’s only about sharing,
Alyssa: Right? It’s like you are basically being initiated into a club. If I mean, if you’re talking about this pleasure of sharing knowledge, or if it’s not even, not even knowledge, it’s like just sharing information, then it’s like they’re contributing to this initiation into this club which a lot of what academia is these like every day experiences is like, it is. People say that grad school is like hazing and hazing means that you’re being initiated into some kind of group or club. And this is all a part of the experience. And yeah, I think Brendane also what you were saying earlier is that like, I found really interesting and it made me think of part of the problem being this hierarchy and the way that the university has been kind of like broken up into the administrative, and then the intellectual labor and all these kinds of things. And this splitting up and then hierarchization, I guess we can say. It allows a lot of people in the academy to kind of shirk responsibility and accountability. They can just kind of be like, well, this actually isn’t my problem. This is someone else’s problem and you need to go, you need to go see this person, you need to go talk to this person.
[01:09:58.51] Brendane: Yeah. And it’s like kind of this like institutionalization, I guess, or whatever, making a bureaucracy of the whole issue. Like when I’ve had experiences of harm in the academy, and it’s like, you tell the person you think you’re supposed to tell and they’re like, “Oh, go to this other person, and they’re supposed to help you.” And they’re like, “Well, actually, that’s not really my job you need to talk to so and so.” And then by the time you like, as a graduate student, you’re TA-ing, you’re trying to work on your own work, you are trying to have a life outside of whenever you’re at school. You’re exhausted running around to all these people and kind of what you were saying Chrystel about then you learn just like how, especially at our institution, Alyssa, like, you learn how normal it is for people to experience violation and you’re like woah, I’m just one of the many who have experienced this. When I was told in one instance, “I mean, you could put in a report, but it’ll—you will graduate before you will be seen about it.” That’s how many reports they had,
Alyssa: Yeah, I mean, somebody tweeted the other day that more students have been suspended for not social distancing, than have ever been suspended or expelled for sexual harassment. And that is crazy. That’s absolutely crazy. But I mean, also on the note of—jumping all around, this is what happens. On the note of like, initiating, one of the things that I found striking in the Chronicle article that recently came out is that there are these boys’ clubs, you know. And I mean, it’s not just in the article. We know of this happening even in our institution, Brendane.
But there are these boys’ clubs where male professors and graduate students, they all go for drinks or they organize reading groups, and all of that amounts to this kind of informal networking. And then as women, Black people, disabled folks, queer and trans folks, we have these whisper networks, which aren’t just about sexual harassment. They’re also about like, which professors are anti-Black, who is transphobic, and all of these other kinds of things. So, for men, their informal networks put them at a professional advantage. And for us, our informal networks are about keeping us safe. And it’s this like completely unacknowledged cis-het male privilege in the academy and beyond, not just the Academy in other institutions as well. That, you know, I think is, frankly, it pisses me off.
Brendane: Yeah, I mean, what else?
Chrystel: This is so true.
[01:12:39.31] Brendane: It’s so real. It’s so true. Like, when I heard about one of the boys’ clubs, I was just like, wait a minute, like, what about me? You know, then I realize do I wanna sit in a room with these people? No, I don’t. But I think like the Academy is literally just like you have to know the right person at the right time to get access to certain things, or to be heard, or to feel like your voice is valued, or to get certain opportunities. And I think about as I enter into my fourth year, like these opportunities that I was not privy to as a first-generation student, right, that did not know that, Hey, I got to tap into all these different networks. Besides the one that I feel like most Black women, we already know, when we show up, we need to get connected with all the other Black women so we can really know what’s going on. But even then, it’s like you have to be careful about who you let in your circle, because not all skinfolk are kinfolk. And it’s like, not all of us really look out for each other and really have a politics of care. So, I think that’s what you’re saying.
So, like there are there are some people who want to chit-chat, you know, want to chop it up with you because they like doing it. And they’re gonna say “oh you know so and so she ain’t shit, she do this, she do that, this, that, and a third whatever. But they actually are really not willing to take that risk to change anything even if they have the power to do so much more about just like the pleasure of the conversation or, or I think even a power of like power relationship of just like I am the holder of this secret top-notch knowledge and oh my gosh, I’m about to bestow upon you. And Aren’t you so glad that like I trust you enough to quote unquote, to like tell you this information and now you must reveal to me all of your secrets that will pop up somehow in the end of the year review in some way so like, not that that happened to me. I’m just imagining situation, but yeah. You know, that is that is the thing that happens and I think you just like said is so, so well. But I think about, like all the opportunities that we miss out on as Black women, because we’re not a part of these circles.
Alyssa: Yeah, I mean, you talked about that in your thread Chrystel as well, like who is excluded from these networks?
Chrystel: Yeah. I think something that I love in what you just said Brendane was when you were like, do I even want to sit in this room? Because I feel like when we start asking yourself this question, I feel like something shifts in how we can react to those situations. And like, I found a lot of, I don’t think its comfort or like, self-groundedness in knowing, like, what I can accept and what I cannot accept, and like, also the roles in which I don’t want others.
Alyssa: The problem is like, it’s not that we don’t have a seat at the table, it’s that there’s a table at all.
Chrystel: Exactly. And it’s also that idea that you can make it into the table and play the game, without even realizing that you’re the one getting played and often at the expense of the people that you pretend you’re representing or you’re speaking for in some way.
[01:16:11.17] Alyssa: Yeah. Oh, I was just going to say this. This is actually something that we were going to talk about, but it’s like Brendane said once before, you know that she was surprised that there aren’t more senior scholars who don’t invest more in mentoring and, and you know, all of those things. And that when she gets that, or if she gets to that point, and I believe will, that you know, she wants to focus on building a community of folks who are coming up. And it dawned on me that this need to stay relevant, particularly at the expense of upcoming scholars is based a lot in ego. So, like older generations will be like, oh, millennials and Gen Z, they’re so spoiled. They demand so much than we ever did, or tenured professors would be like, you know, you should just be happy. get any funding, there was no funding when I was in graduate school. And it’s like, why aren’t you proud to have paved the way so that we can have more than you did you know, instead of telling us that we haven’t paid our dues?
Chrystel: That’s just like, those kind of questions always amazed me, because why would you? Like why do—Sorry. Why would you ever wish less on someone? Like this idea that’s students today or like whiny or like asking for too much are just a bit weird to me not just because the external conditions in which we exist right now are so radically different from those in which they existed like the situation of the job market has nothing to do with what they face. So, it can be said that we are having it easier in some ways, but also like, they should be proud that like, you’re asking more and we’re trying to transform things and like you shouldn’t want us to be like asking less.
Brendane: Yeah. I think it’s it goes back to a certain way that we’ve internalized like capitalist thinking and that this can only be some people at the top like it’s a zero-sum game. And if I’m at the top and I have to stay at the top even if I am you know 66 and I got it. No, I’m made in the shade got my tenureship got my health insurance and you know, I could no, basically build up other people’s careers, those who are starting out. And 66 is a random age, y’all. There’s nobody who said that out there. before someone starts researching and being like, who is she talking about? Um, I’m not talking about anybody but just thinking even with my own experiences with other Black women scholars who are well established and who are just like, I’ve seen on Twitter. Like that whole Black in the Ivory tower situation where you know. It Like, she, as a tenured professor was just like, I’m gonna take ownership of this thing and completely cut the grad student out of it cut Joy out of it. Um, and it’s just like, that’s, you know, it could have been an opportunity where both of you came up together. It’s not like the world has finite resources. That’s what we’re told or we’re taught. But that’s not the truth. And I see two trees stolen and similarly just thinking about like, this to me is so much more when you can actually make it a community effort.
It feels so much more meaningful to be like I have a legacy with there are young, especially I’m like young folks of color, behind me who are saying that they stand on my shoulders and do more work, do better work. I’m not trying to do this all like, bitch, I’m tired. Like, I’m not trying to do all this shit. I would like to be able to rest like and you know, but there are some People who, who don’t see things that way and I’m learning, like, academia kind of weeds out the people who believe in that kind of community mindset. Even through the virtue of just like, you need to publish this, this and this, you need to, like, publish all these and be first author and have a book and speak this many times and you know, have this many students that you’re mentoring. And you know, it’s just, it’s a culture that breeds this kind of competition mentality. But we try to, like break that apart in our circles. Because it’s like, there’s so much work to be done. There’s no limit to the amount of work that needs to be done in the world for liberation. So, there’s no reason why any of us need to monopolize that.
Chrystel: Yeah, I’m like talking with like a close friend of mine in my program, William, who just realized, like just the like severe lack of mentoring that happens for women of color and Black woman in grad school. Like, I can’t really say I’ve been mentored at all in my program. And we just realized the extent to which the mentoring work is actually like your peers are doing your feedback on everything you do, like your peers will also like your, like your kin, politically, and not just like your peers, as to people who are in your program, because I think this distinction is important. One of the things that gives me a little bit of hope is that I do think that our generation is breeding, like the kinds of communities we would like to see in it now. And is also like proving that another way of organizing ourselves and as a way of relating to ourselves is possible. So, I’m glad for that.
[01:21:44.61] Alyssa: Yeah, I think that’s what we’re doing here on this podcast. Actually, I mean, someone did point that out, guys, you know, on Twitter, she was just like this. You know, I listening to this, it just reminds me of the camaraderie that I had with my cohort and, you know, building, you know, creating these kinds of networks. And so, yes, as Brendane said last week is, we are transforming and we are creating the change that we wish to see. That’s not what you said, I’m paraphrasing. I’m paraphrasing a paraphrase.
Brendane: I mean, I’ll take credit for that, too. Who knows Obama, Obama got it from me. Who that, Obama? Martin Luther King?
Alyssa: Mandela? [Laughter]
Brendane: One of them [laughter].
Alyssa: Oh, wait was it? Was it Ghandi? [Laughter]
Brendane: [Crosstalk] Okay. No, yeah.
[01:22:37.34] Alyssa: I wanted to go back to Brendane, what you were saying before about like, also what goes into these networks, you know, you said that not all skin folk are kinfolk, right? And so, trust is a huge factor. Who do you trust right to share this information with I know that I was fortunate enough to be told to avoid a certain person at our institution and I think for the person who did that, they really had to, you know, weigh keeping me safe with being labeled a gossip, which is like an obviously gendered insult, but also having their future prospects curtailed. So, there’s a lot. There’s a lot going on. Yeah.
Brendane: For me, I’m just like, when I choose to disclose people and to people I’m like, well, I’m never going to tell you something that I don’t want to come back to me. Um, so that that’s the thought I have in that and I’m also just like, and it has come back to me in some way. Some things I’ve had to tell do come back to me and do you know, it does have an effect on my life in some ways, but for me, I
Alyssa: Was it a lie? It was the truth.
Brendane: Never a lie, though I’ve never.
Brendane: I’ve never lied. Some people just don’t like to hear the truth, mirrored to them in certain ways, but it’s never a lie. But for me, it’s just like, I wish that someone would have done the same for me because some of the harm that I, most of the harm that I experienced in graduate school was preventable. And like these instances of harm and harassment is like if someone had just said something to me, like, “Oh, hey, this professor, I’m not the one.” This student in this case, I don’t know, I used to have a stalker. I used to have a stalker in graduate school. I’m not afraid to say this because he knows who he is. And like if someone had told me that this man had those kinds of sensibilities, I wouldn’t have dismissed the harm that I experienced. And so, it’s just like, but people sit in silence because they think that protects them. They also don’t think about, you know, these networks of care and community. And it’s like, no, I don’t want I don’t believe that people should struggle. I believe that there’s a way that I can make sure that you don’t struggle, I’m gonna help you not do that, especially if you’re a Black person, if you’re a Black queer person, if you’re a Black trans person, a Black woman, like, I’m gonna be like, Look, let me help you out. So that you don’t have to go through hardship because life is hard enough. So that’s kind of my politic around it. I have no fancy way to say it, but just like I don’t got time for that. Ain’t nobody got time for that.
Chrystel: Yeah, same. Like everything I know about people who cause harm, I would tell to everyone was in position to be harmed by that person. Because I don’t think it’s like, I don’t think it’s the kind of knowledge that that’s mine to keep, if that makes sense. And like something, like one of the reason why I’m so very hesitant with this whole whisper network thing is like the ways in which as we said, the knowledge leaves a lot of people outside of it. As like a Black woman and also as an international student, like there was like nobody who ever told me. They said he couldn’t do that to me and I think it’s a kind of like misogynoir that often works against Black woman that either they’re like, not the type aesthetically of abusers, which is like so racist. Or the idea that they are like so strong willed, which has been said to me that like, people cannot see them in like a position as victims, which is also very wrong. And does harm in so many ways to Black woman.
Brendane: Yeah. And this, this refusal to see us as human beings to see us in our vulnerability that is actually literally a historical fact. Right, like, especially in colonized countries in which Black people live like Black women have in like, inhabited this position of vulnerability that is at once a race but also very well, much so like assumed, you know. And so, yeah, first of all, I’m so sorry that you heard that I heard something similar upon entering graduate school about, you know, being like, okay, you’re safe because they don’t, they don’t like you anyway. And while I hadn’t had any experiences with professors and harassment, in that kind of way, I feel like that you say, like, that’s a certain kind of misogynoir that is perpetuated because if something were to happen to me, it would be instantly be unbelievable. And so, and it’s just like, or inconceivable, like, why you? And it’s like, it’s not about the way that I look. It’s about being in positions of power and being able to do exactly this kind of violence with impunity, which is like what happens in these boys’ clubs and these like these networks of powers.
And because this is like the academy, how it works in university and how it works with tenures, like, it’s a position of power. They can’t really take you out of it. But yeah, that’s, I think I tweeted that the Black in the Ivory: “Upon entering, I was told that I was safe from sexual harassment because I was a Black woman,” and it was told to me by like other Black women. And so, I understood for them what they were saying, right, like I understood like, they’re saying, like, okay, you know, what other people might face as far as sexual harassment, you don’t have to worry about that with these particular professors here. Like, in a sense, it was kind of like, you’re safe, quote, unquote, here, but that safety is couched in this kind of like misogynoir. Like it’s like, okay, people aren’t going to look at me as this type of object because of how I look.
[01:28:45.53] Alyssa: I also want to say that none of us are saying that we want to be sexually harassed.
Brendane: Oh, yeah. Oh, no.
Alyssa: Like point that out as well, in case anybody listens, and they’re just like, hang on.
Brendane: We get some emails so we just gotta make sure [laughter].
Chrystel: It’s all about the fact that Black women do get harassed and those kind of ideas about attraction and attractivity and Black women are sometimes so much more difficult for that woman to come forward. Or other marginalized positions when they do get harassed because harassment is, as you said, Brendane, it’s a question of power. And it’s also about who can you harass and get away with it. That’s how people proceed and try to like, groom potential victims. Black women in the academy are in specifically vulnerable position.
Alyssa: Yeah. I feel like we could talk about that you can talk to you, Chrystel, forever. This has been a fantastic conversation.
Chrystel: Thank you for inviting me. It was lovely.
Alyssa: Thanks for thanks for being here with us. All right. Can you, do you want to tell everyone where they can where they can find you?
Chrystel: You can find me on Twitter at underscore, Onikoyi, O-N-I-K-O-Y-I. And also, I’m part of this group this like building communities of Black students. Black Radical Anthropologists. Brendane is also part of it. Radical Black Anthros. So, there’s a website if you want to join. And it’s about creating an alternative community that’s not just based on like the fact of being Black but also bad. The fact of being actually committed to Black liberation and to a different kind of anthropology.
Brendane: And we talk about astrology a lot. More my contribution is being like, hmm, tell me who you are. So, with all of This wonderfulness I’m just feeling so awful. Thank you so much Chrystel for joining us. And thank you all for listening. If you heard something today that made you laugh, or helped you rethink something, or made you question yourself or the world around you please leave us a rating and review on Apple Podcasts and let everyone know that you love the Daughters!
Alyssa: The daughters! [Laughter] I don’t know, I just made that up [laughter]. And if you’d like to follow us on social media, start a conversation about this episode, or send us ideas for future episodes, you can find us at zorasdaughters on Instagram, and zoras_daughters on Twitter. Head to zorasdaughters.com to find transcripts for the episodes, our bios, contact info, and ways to support the podcast!
Brendane: And until next time I want to remind you all that we must take care of ourselves and each other always. Bye.
Brendane: [Rapping/Singing] Welcome to Atlanta where the players play and we ride in em things like every day. Big beats, big streets, big gangsters rolling, and parties don’t stop til [in unison] eight in the morning
Alyssa: in the morning [laughter]
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