It seems we REALLY missed y’all because it’s a long episode! Today we talked neoliberalism and waiting for Biden to make it rain with stimmy checks, Black political strategies and women’s participation in political movements through the work of anthropologist Leith Mullings, Alyssa explains for 6 whole ass minutes why Canada the “cultural mosaic” isn’t the nice post-racial oasis the country’s PR team would have you think, why Black capitalism AKA buying Black won’t free us, and why Barack Obama is the quintessential Black liberal. We get into Black liberalism and their abolition-ish ways of watering down Black radical politics, what being cancelled really means, and how Black masc & gender non-conforming folks are harmfully impacted by REAL cancel culture. Finally, Brendane tells us more about abolitionist politics, why we weren’t begging y’all to vote like most of your other faves, and how Black folks are already practicing abolition.
Zora’s Daughters Podcast: Episode Eight
Co-Hosts: Brendane Tynes and Alyssa A.L. James
Title: The Black Liberal Agenda
Total Length: 1:57:50
Transcript by Kamry Goodwin, Content Editor
[00:00:00] Alyssa: The main picture is of a family. The dad is Black and he has a shirt on that says, “White Lives Matter.” The mom is white and she has on a shirt that says, “Black Lives Matter.” And then their son, I imagine is mixed race and the product of the two of them, and his shirt says, “All Lives Matter.”
Brendane: Yes, there it is! That is the liberal fantasy of miscegenation.
[00:00:45] Alyssa: Hi, everyone. It’s Alyssa, your resident word nerd. My pronouns are she/her/hers and I am happy to be back on the mic.
[00:00:54] Brendane: And hey y’all, it’s been a minute. I’m Brendane, I’m the resident hot girl. I got to rep my girl Meg, you know, and my pronouns are she/her/hers. And I’m happy to be back here with you on the mic, Alyssa.
[00:01:10] Brendane: Today, we will be talking about Black political movements, neoliberalism, and honestly truly how some of y’all really got the Daughters confused for somebody else.
Alyssa: Somebody else. But before we get started, we want to thank our wonderful supporters, Davian, Mayyadda, Jason, Kyle, Miranda, Sophie, and Esther for donating to the podcast. And one thing that I started noticing that’s super dope is that we’ve been getting donations from all over like Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, like, it’s just incredible to know that we are reaching people in all of these different places. And that Black folks are multiple and out there.
Brendane: Yes. And honestly, open your wallet and open the borders [laughs] because I got to, uh, well, we’ll get to that. We’ll get to that. If you can spare some coin in these troubling times, head to our website zorasdaughters.com or click on the link in the description of this episode. But don’t think for one second that dollars and cents are really the only way to support us. Every new follower, comment, and share means so much to us. Thank you to Tiff, Sarah, and the two others who left reviews on Apple Podcasts. And special shoutout to our listener, Sophie, for writing in to us to share how the podcast has transformed conversations at your university. We really appreciate hearing from y’all, so please don’t be shy about writing in.
Alyssa Yeah, love it. We love it. So keep leaving those reviews on Apple and Stitcher. Hit us up on Instagram at zorasdaughters and Twitter @zoras_daughters, or you know, even shoot us an email: email@example.com. So let’s get into this life update. Why we couldn’t, didn’t feel like recording the last month, get another episode out for y’all. For me, I think for both of us, it was grant-writing season. I mean, that’s an ongoing process. We were both trying to get money for our fieldwork. And I’m like, I’m working hard on this one, grant. I’ve got it, you know, you and I with two other Black women, you know, we had our little writing group together.
Brendane: Yes, it was so fun.
Alyssa: It was great. I loved it. So you know, we’re working hard, working away. And let me find out last Friday, after I submitted that grant we’d been working on for six weeks, that there’s a whole ass other grant due in four days [laughs].
Brendane: Yo, when you sent that text message, I was like, “Ooh, bitch you gon have to put in some work.” I was like, “Oh, this is done. I’ve submitted. Let me take a couple of days to catch my breath.” And you’re like, “Let me get to the keys on the keyboard.” Click clacking it up. But you did though. I was like, “Okay.”
Alyssa: I sent my supervisor a text and I was just like, “I’m in a bit of a panic.” [laughs] Read that like, “A bit? A bit of a panic?” [laughs]
Brendane: Un poquito.
Alyssa: It all got done. You got yours in and it was fantastic. So you know, fingers crossed for you, fingers crossed for us.
Brendane: I know, I had to resubmit. It was it was a process. I will say that along the way, I learned a lot about myself. I learned a lot about, you know, really honestly this whole process and just how I don’t ever really want to go through this again. But this is actually really if I choose to be an academic. This is…this is the rest of my life. This kind of stressful grant-writing season moment.
Alyssa: It is part and parcel of being an academic. It’s not…I don’t know, you’ve gotta ask a lot of people for money [laughs]. And hope that they think that whatever it is that you’re doing is worthy, right? And so there’s a lot of gatekeeping involved in that, or there can be. And so, you know, you kinda just have to work hard and hope for the best. I think a lot of it, a lot of it is luck, but also a lot of it is setting yourself up for success. And so, you know.
Brendane: Yeah, that’s real. I think I’m gonna just try to win the lottery. And then—I do!—I played the lottery one time. And I got three out of the six numbers. So I was like, “Okay, maybe the next time I could get closer, I could win some money,” and then I’m just going to give money to like all my friends. Alyssa, you’ll get the message. It’ll be a code message, like “It’s time to quit your job.” And I have another group of friends, I’ll be like—well, that won’t be the code message, it’ll be something else—but you know, it’ll be, the alert will be sent out and whether you choose to join me or not, that’s on you.
Alyssa: You can do the independent scholar thing.
Brendane: You know, independent scholar, independent woman, independent living, um, you know, I’m just, I’m tired, woo. But as far as what I’ve been up to, honestly, I just took this time to rest and rejuvenate. And like, just get more into myself and my own life and spirit after my ancestors and spirit guides and angels, etc. dragged me on how hard I am on myself, I tried to practice more self-love in trying to drag myself for not doing that before. So it’s been a journey, I’ll say that. I’m excited to be back, yeah. We just really needed that break for our own mental health. It’s like the podcast started to feel like a job and we’re like we never want this to feel like a job. We enjoy sitting down and talking to each other and talking to y’all. So the break was appropriate for sure.
Alyssa: Yes, absolutely. But don’t worry, we’re not going to shortchange you on episodes, we’re gonna get all of the episodes out. You’re gonna hear everything for the season. So worry not, we got y’all. Insecure reference! [laughs]
Brendane: “And, uh we got y’all, uh-ha.”
[00:07:43] Alyssa: Awful. All right, so let’s do our quick, let’s quickly run through our little, our little game that is very appropriate for the season that we’re in right now, which is we’re still waiting to hear on who is going to be the next president of these here United States. And so we’re going to do our Defund, Reform, Abolish, and I have come up, well not come up, but I have listed some phrases that you will hear on the right-leaning Fox News kind of news websites. And so Brendane, which do you want to defund? Which do you want to reform? Which do you want to abolish of the phrases “middle America,” “the radical left,” or “Take back America”?
Brendane: Oh, man. Okay. Whew child. Okay. I know we gotta get through this episode. So let me figure out how to do this. I think I would definitely reform “the radical left.” I would say out of those three that phrase is the one that I think is the most salvageable just because, you know…well, hmm, if you’re radical, are you on this spectrum? There are some people that say no, right? You’re not going to be on the spectrum of the right or left if you are a radical. But then there are people who are leftist who have radical leanings. So this is for y’all. Y’all have been reformed, you should leave the left and just join the radicals. Middle America, I think I’m going to defund y’all because technically capitalism has already defunded you, so I think I’m just gonna go ahead and just say defunding that because it’s already the truth. The middle class, as you all may have, you know, seen in reports, is gone. There’s no such thing, really, as a middle class. Either you are working class or poor or you’re not. And this is the state of the world. If you believe that America has gone somewhere in which it needs to be taken back, I am going to go ahead and ask you to abolish that thought and that school of thought, because that is not—what are we taking America back to? What, at what point? We’re not taking it back to the Indigenous people who lived here before, you know, all of us arrived. So what we taking it back to? Because I know, I know, y’all not talking about slavery? I know!
Alyssa: I don’t think of the take back to though, it’s usually a take back from, right? So this usually comes along with the, you know, with like the majority-minority rhetoric, which is like, actually, “All of these like, blacks and browns, they’re all taking over America. We need to take it back from them.” [Crosstalk] It’s basically “Make America White Again.”
Brendane: Yeah, I was trying to stay away from that interpretation. I was gonna take, you know, tryna take another interpretation. But yeah, obvi like, take it back from us. I mean, what do y’all want, the decreased life chances? What, do you want, like, the fracking? Do you want the environmental dangers? Take it back. Take it back!
Alyssa: Have it. Keep it.
Brendane: Have it. Keep it. It actually belongs to you, and you know, take that bag. But as far as like, positions of power, it’s already yours. It’s a myth. It’s a myth that it’s not already, you know, anyway. Um, yeah, that’s where I’mma stand on that for now.
Alyssa: Yeah, I think I follow that. I definitely agree with you. I actually thought that middle America was more geographical, that’s how I always understood it. But maybe, I mean, it isn’t, maybe it is the middle class, but I always thought of Middle America being those like flyover states that nobody really pays attention to. I mean, all of these basically what, you know, what these phrases really are, of course, are dog whistles, and can we even call them dog whistles because it’s very clear what they mean and we hear what you mean. But they’re, you know, basically saying, you know, Middle America is saying, “White Americans take back America, give white Americans back America,” like, you know, “Put us back at the forefront” or not even put us back at the forefront like they very clearly are but it’s like, “Stop making space for people who aren’t white” I think is what that phrase is. And of course, the radical left is they’re trying to take away our guns and [laughs] and religious books [laughs].
Brendane: Yo, you know, something’s wrong when…when they start labeling people who very clearly have centrist politics, or even right-leaning centrist politics, as radical. It’s like, oh my goodness, the threat, like, this person is a threat to your way of life in absolutely no way, but you need to label them as such, because this is how politics work on a two-party system. But yeah, I never thought of it as like a geographical Midwest thing. But it still, like, it makes sense. It makes sense, too in a lot of ways, like I always thought of it as the middle class. ‘Cuz they were talking about, you know, white people voting against their interests, or like middle class or working class white people voting against their interests. So, that’s like, where my mind went.
[00:14:01] Alyssa: Yeah, I think that concept, voting against your own interests, you know, and having your own interests, actually moves us nicely into our next segment, which is our What’s The Word segment. So what’s our word for today?
[00:14:18] Brendane: Our word for today is neoliberalism.
Alyssa: Now, neoliberalism is one of these new -isms. I mean, it’s not actually that new, as you will discover today, but people love to use it. And if you’re in higher education, if you’re in the university, you have absolutely—
Brendane: Everything is neoliberal [laughs].
Alyssa: Everything is. You’ve absolutely heard someone lament the neoliberal university—”This is just the neoliberalization of the university”—at least once, if not more. And so in some ways it’s this term that has come to mean so much that I don’t even think it really means anything more. But we’re gonna unpack it today.
Brendane: Yeah, we are.
Alyssa: You gonna get us started with that?
Brendane: I am. And, yeah, so we’re gonna start with, as we always do with, like, origins and things like that. So, the term was coined post-World War I by the Freiburg School, which is a group of economists and legal scholars in Germany, to mean their revival of classical liberalism. In the 1990s, it was taken up by critics of market reform in the Global South, giving it a negative connotation and association with US policies to globalize capitalism after many believed the fall of Soviet communism would mean the unchallenged spread of American free market capitalism.
Alyssa: And so, like any new idea, or any new policy, there were, of course, critics. People said, “That term is opaque, it’s just some silly catchphrase that was invented by radical academics”—there we go again with the radical—and so on. But essentially, it came to mean the glorification of self-interest and self-reliance, economic efficiency, and of course, unchecked market competition. And so, in that phrase that we hear so much, “the neoliberal university,” it’s usually used to mean that responsibility is downloaded onto the individual rather than the institution kinda taking care of these things that they actually once used to but decided to make more of an individual problem.
Brendane: So to understand what is “neo” about neoliberalism, we have to understand liberalism. So we have to go back to the classical liberals, like Adam Smith—whew child, Adam Smith—the 18th century British economist. The classical liberals were critical of monarchs who had complete control over the economy, who amassed these large amounts of wealth, aka gold that came from…anyway, dot dot dot. So they said, “Actually, why don’t y’all redistribute some of that, and we need a free market in which prices for goods and services are self-regulated by the open market and the consumers.” Supply and demand were [free from] influence from the government, from any authority, monopolies, or artificial forms of scarcity.
Alyssa: Right. You know, now that you’re saying this, this actually sounds a lot like the logic that kind of undergirds why America doesn’t have universal health care. I feel like I always hear people say, “Well, you know, it’s just, it’s a consumer market. And if there’s enough competition, then, you know, these will reduce prices for consumers.” So America understands sick people as consumers. You know, they also kind of say that, it will encourage hospitals to offer better services because people have the option of going, you know, of choosing which hospital they go to, and all these kinds of things. And it’s just like, a. this is wild, because in Canada, there are still great services, and you can choose your hospital. But it also clearly doesn’t work, like this concept of the market regulating itself, and I think we see that a lot with digital technology. I mean, the fact that the majority, not even most, the majority of the apps on my phone are either Google or Facebook products is clearly a testament to that. So, we basically have just ended up with these, like, new mercantilists and instead of digging for gold, they’re digging for data. And so, they really, they know how to play the system to, like, amass these ridiculous amounts of wealth.
Brendane: So, if we want to, you know, be gracious towards Adam Smith, I feel like, that’s why I said like, “Why don’t you redistribute?” I think that was definitely a gracious reading of it, right? Like, “Oh, instead of the king having all this gold that you stole from, or you robbed continents of, and people of, why don’t you just redistribute it among us, the deserving people,” right, who should make good choices. So it’s about rationality, it’s about these Enlightenment thinkers that we’ve talked about in previous episodes. And these kind of ideologies about who knows what’s best is also deeply tied into neoliberalism. So when you’re talking about the consumer knows best and it’s like, things are framed as a choice like, “Oh, no one chooses to really be sick. So like, why would you choose to go to this bad hospital? Or why would you choose to go to—” you know, these kind of things, that also is about, what you said earlier, about downloading responsibility to the individual. Taking this, like, government responsibility and reframing it as a choice framed under this kinda laissez-faire economic system. And so these ideas about this free market and laissez-faire economics actually helped stir a lot of the 18th century revolutions that ended these royal dynasties and separated the church and the state. And you know, that was all good until the Great Depression.
Alyssa: So you didn’t want to say hunky dory, okay.
Brendane: (laughs) “Hunky dory.” I’m like, “Do I use that word?”
Alyssa: I do. Nah I’m kidding, I don’t really. You know, it was meant to be used ironically. Like everything was hunky dory until the Great Depression. Because I’m sure that around that time people were saying hunky dory.
Brendane: Yes, everything was, uh, hunky dory until the Great Depression. And people became very skeptical of these liberal ideas like freedom, opportunity, and hard work. And so to avoid revolution here in the US, we got these egalitarian liberals like Franklin Roosevelt, who was influenced by the British economist, John Maynard Keynes [pronounced like “KAINz”].
Alyssa: [pronounced like “KEENz”] Keynes.
Brendane: Keynes. Is it Keynes? My whole life I heard it was Keynes.
Alyssa: Oh, well, you know, what? A name is a name is a name and I am not here to police your pronunciation, so.
Brendane: My whole life has been, you know, I’m moving back. Anyway, Keynes, who wanted to defend individual autonomy and property rights, but also allow a secular state to regulate capitalism.
Alyssa: Yeah, so if you’ve ever heard the term Keynesian—or [different pronunciation] Keynesian—Keynesian economics, it’s basically because of this guy. And so for me, the first time I heard it, it was because of this, like, annoying, pedantic white dude in a bar when I lived in London. And he was tryna to explain something to me, I can’t remember the context of the conversation, what it was that we were talking about. But he was like, “You know, it’s all because of Keynesian economics.” And I was just like, “What’s that?” And he just looked at me like, “Are you okay?” [laughs] He’s like, “Are you all right? You all right, mate? How do you not know what that is?” But, anyways, I wasn’t an economics major. Keynesian economics. Okay. But essentially [laughs] what it is, is that he challenged the idea that the market would regulate itself. And so he advocated for spending in times of economic crisis in order to create jobs increase, you know, and increase spending by consumers. So we definitely saw this concept in action with the stimulus check, aka the stimmy. When’s the next stimmy coming? [laughs]
Brendane: Oh, my gosh. [laughs]
Alyssa: People are out there on the internet talking about their next stimmy. So they’re just waiting for
Brendane: Why did I have no clue what people were talking about. And now it’s coming, I was like, “Stimmies?” just
Alyssa: Stimmy. Yeah, people are, like, people are just waiting for Biden to make it rain with stimmy checks. Keynesian economics is basically what kind of undergirds that stimulus check idea. So lawmakers actually justified it by saying, “This is going to help the economy,” right? This is going to help keep the economy afloat. It wasn’t like, “We’re going to help people survive one of the most significant crises in the United States in a century.” Instead it was more about helping the economy. So in that sense, egalitarian liberalism is a kind of controlled capitalism and the, like, golden period of this egalitarian liberalism or controlled capitalism was from about 1945 to 1975.
Brendane: So egalitarian liberalism was poppin’. as the kids say, but, you know, the economy was great, wages were high, inflation was low, until the 1970s, when the world faced severe economic crises. So some liberals were like, “Okay, let’s bring black—” bring, ooh, bring black, no, bring it back [laughs]—bring back classical liberalism. But now it’s the 70s and globalization is actually really ramping up. So that brings new challenges and new opportunities. So you could gloss neoliberalism as free market economics and personal autonomy under globalization. These neoliberals were committed to spreading a free market and free trade model around the world. And while Keynes, or Keynes, dominated macroeconomic theory in practice up to this point, the neoliberals set the world’s economic and political agenda from the 1980s into the early 2000s.
Alyssa: So neoliberalism, we can actually thank for structural adjustment programs. And so, if you’re not familiar with these structural adjustment programs, or SAPs, they really constrained the autonomy of a lot of countries in the Global South because they were touted as the way to successful economic development for quote-unquote, third-world countries. And so what these were essentially loans from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, and they would loan this money to developing countries. But the terms of the loans were that they had to make social and economic adjustments to the country. And so, that could be meeting human rights standards, but it also meant integrating them into global structures of trade, finance, [and] production. And so all of these adjustments that they needed to make were decided by these organizations rather than the countries themselves.
So it kind of, like, enforced these, like, Western ideas of what development means onto countries who had their own ideas of what it meant. So in that sense, it hindered these self-directed models of development that kind of focused on the domestic market, and then basically gave license for all of these, like, powerful nations to pillage, like, material wealth from countries in Africa, the Caribbean, and so on. So, you know, and then it left them very heavily indebted to the World Bank and the IMF, and of course these are funded by, you know, basically, like, the US, UK, France, China. And so that’s why you’ll kind of find that there that there are so many, like, mining companies in in different countries in Africa and that these mining countries are—or these mining companies are owned by, you know, some kind of American or British, you know, subsidiary or something along those lines.
Brendane: What you’re saying really reminds me of this documentary, I watched in one of my courses first year about the structural adjustment program in Jamaica. And, the name has escaped me, so when I figure it out, I’ll link it in the transcript. But it really linked this kind of, this neoliberalism to what they called neocolonialism, and it really shows how, like you were saying, like, how these two things work together to kind of redo or, you know, make what happened in the 15th and 16th and 17th centuries happen again, and continue to happen in these countries. But essentially, neoliberalism can be broken down into three policies: 1) deregulation of the economy, 2) liberalization of trade and industry, and 3) privatization of state-owned enterprises. So you’ll see things like replacing welfare with workfare, aka, get a job—if you really want to, you know eat, get a job—downsizing the government and these kind of tax havens for corporations that invest certain amounts into, you know, the stock market, into the government, anti-unionization efforts, removal of financial and trade regulations, and so on and so forth.
Alyssa: Yeah. And so there’s that. It’s a policy, it is a mode of governance, but it is also an ideology. So what is an ideology? So it’s an idea or a belief that’s widely shared, and it’s accepted as true. And what it does is it encourages people to act in a certain way. So who kind of like, codifies or, or kind of, like, makes us, helps us to understand and believe in a certain ideology? It’s going to be the society’s elites, right? It’s going to be corporations, journalists, celebrities, politicians, think tanks. All of these groups, they sell neoliberalism to make it seem dope. So that’s why you’ll hear from the richest person to the poorest person being like, “I just have to work hard, and I can have what, what Kanye West has. I want what Kanye West has.” But, you know, I think that the American dream and the kind of practices that are meant to be behind achieving the American Dream are fundamentally neoliberal. And so I just wanted to say that I saw this headline for someone running for, I can’t remember if he was running for representative or senator. He’s a Black man. His name is Johnny James and he was running as a Republican. And there is a news article about him and the headline that they took from one of his quotations, one of the things that he said during his interview was “America, the only country where you can go from slave to Senator in four generations.” I was like “Bruh, do you know how long four generations is?” [pause] Longer than that pause, okay [laughs].
Alyssa: So this is like another thing. It’s just, like, they sell or they disseminate these images of the consumerist free market world, it’s the ideal. It’s like, “Look at this amazing life you can have with all of these dope cars and clothes and things that you don’t really need but should have. And if you work hard”—and there’s that liberal word, the hard work—”You can have it too,” right? But then what that does is it basically obscures the market forces and fundamental inequality, and impossibility of that free market capitalism, because it really only works when some people are poor and sell their labor for less than the thing that they produce. So when you put it that way, I was like, I was like, hang on, as I was typing this, I was like, “You know what? Capitalism sounds like a pyramid scheme.”
Brendane: It is, though. That’s the gag! it is!
Alyssa: Capitalism, it’s a pyramid scheme. Like, too many people see it as their salvation, but it’s not. So it’s like all of the people that you’re looking up to are exploiting or have exploited someone to possess that net worth. Like, yes, Beyonce and Jay Z. Yes, Kanye West. Yes, Tyler Perry. Yes, Warren Buffett, who you idolize for his business acumen. Like business acumen is basically “How can I generate the most profit for the least expenditure?” And so that’s why I always think about the time AOC [Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez] said you don’t make a billion dollars, you take a billion dollars, because profits are taken from underpaying and underresourcing people. So let’s all just disabuse ourselves of the notion that capitalism is noble. And that neoliberalism is the way to our freedom.
Brendane: It’s not.
Alyssa: it’s not.
[00:32:03] Brendane: It’s not. But you know, we gon come back to the celebrities, etc. later. We should move on to what we’re reading today because I think that’ll really help us kind of pull in these threads of like, when we get to Black politics that’ll really help us pull it all together. So Alyssa, what are we reading today?
[00:32:23] Alyssa: All right, today we are reading “Mapping Gender in African-American Political Strategies” by Leith Mullings.
Brendane: Yes, Leith Mullings is a distinguished professor of anthropology at CUNY Graduate Center. So that’s in New York City. She is an anthropologist, author, lecturer and educator who conducts research on timely social issues with community members directly impacted by these issues. She has conducted research in Africa, Latin America, and the United States. And through the lens of feminist and critical race theory, she has analyzed a variety of topics including kinship, representation, gentrification, health disparities, and social movements. And she was also the president of the American Anthropological Association, from 2011 to 2013.
Alyssa: Big tings a gwaan.
Brendane: Big things—yes! I don’t know why I just tried to say that. [laughs] Mullings has written a groundbreaking corpus of work. And she serves as a model of politically engaged anthropological scholarship. Currently, she’s working on an ethnohistory of the African burial ground in New York City. But today, we are reading a chapter from her book, entitled On Our Own Terms: Race, Class, and Gender in the Lives of African American Women, which was published in 1997. And this book takes a comprehensive look at Black women’s lives in the US, but we’re only going to focus on this chapter.
Alyssa: Yeah, I think that Leith Mullings is definitely someone who, whose work, you know, we think of ourselves as being in the footsteps in, you know. She’s really doing this, like, feminist and critical race work, but, you know, through, like, a kind of global lens of doing, you know, fieldwork in all of these different regions of the world and then bringing that together to help us really understand Blackness and I think that is dope. Hello. Hi. I hope you listen.
Brendane: I know. [Hope you] hear this or someone tells you that you’re featured, so you’ll listen [laughs].
Alyssa: So where should we start? I feel like this chapter is stacked with so so many important contributions. I think that one, she, you know, Leith Mullings, she really sets the record straight by saying women have always been instrumental in political movements. And so Black women in particular have always had to deal with gender inequality in these movements because of our racial and gender identities, aka the intersection of these identities, aka misogynoir. If you’re like, “What in the misogynoir?” you can check out our first episode [laughs].
Brendane: Yes, where we break it down.
Alyssa: But you know, what she points out is that some movements ask us to put our racial identities before our gender. But of course, we know that’s impossible. And so to kind of give you an overview, she writes about how many studies of Black movements place them in two camps: integrationist versus nationalist. But Mullings notes that there are actually three distinct categories that fully capture the Black political experience. So she takes us through a mapping of gender politics in Black American political movements by drawing attention to three camps, which are essentially inclusionist, autonomist, and transformationist.
Brendane: Yes. So inclusionist movements assume, and I quote, “African Americans are Americans who just happens to be Black.” And so they aim to integrate Black people into white American society, and to adopt white American values and lifestyles. So they aim for this kind of equal access to opportunity, which is typically achieved through existing structures in the social and legal system. And these movements rarely question the current economic system. So the neoliberalist-capitalist system, except when it fails to live up to its, quote-unquote, democratic principles under which this country was founded. And I think maybe, you know, later in a section or a future episode, I’ll have to really think about what does democracy mean to us as Black people. But for now, I’m just going to keep it pushing and say, you know, these inclusionists are actually, I think some of us would call them reformists, who believe that systems are broken, right, and can be fixed through certain forms of representation. So Mullings traces this mindset and she says it probably began with the free Black communities in the North. I wanna highlight “the North.” Early, you know, W.E.B. Du Bois in his early days was definitely an inclusionist. And the older A. Philip Randolph. And if you don’t know who A. Philip Randolph is, look him up. He is, or he was, excuse me, he’s passed away, an American labor unionist who founded the first predominantly Black labor union, which was called [The] Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. I don’t know why the car porters are asleep, but—oh maybe it’s the porters of a sleeping car. Got it. The early civil rights movement is also an example of an inclusionist movement.
Alyssa: Right? So you know, as I was reading this, I was thinking about the way inclusion is often appealed to respectability politics. So they’re, you know, they’re the ones who will say, like, “Black men, pull up your pants” or things like that. And we’re going to come back to that. And if you want to learn more—see, I’m just, I’m dropping the episodes. I’m just like, shouting us, shouting our own selves out. Cite Black women—we talk about respectability politics in episode three, “There’s Some Anthros in this House” if you’re kind of like, “What exactly do [you] mean by that?” But I was really thinking like, “What role does respectability play in inclusion as politics? Which is the chicken, which is the egg? Like, does respectability lead to inclusion as politics? Or does inclusion as politics engender, like, engender people playing into respectability?
Brendane: Yeah, I was thinking, I think what you’re saying is, yeah, it is definitely a chicken and egg. So possibly, I don’t know. Or maybe respectability came first in the sense of like, if I’m thinking about enslaved folks who might not have seen themselves empowered enough at the time to even create a movement that allowed them to be included into this particular system, but could abide by a certain type of respectability politics in the hopes of escaping certain types of violence. So I can see like that, but I do think what you’re saying is right, like I do think they work hand-in-hand with each other. But I think there’s a sense of respectability really in like, in most inclusionist, and also in certain autonomous, movements as well. We see respectability—and I know I just introduced the word without it being explained, so [Crosstalk]
Alyssa: We’re almost there. But, yeah, okay, I think it’s interesting, it’s something, it’s something to think about, but you know, those chicken-egg problems. Are they ever really solvable?
Brendane: That’s true.
[00:40:10] Alyssa: But yeah, I mean, when we were prepping for this episode, you asked me if there were any kinds of examples of inclusionist movements in Canada. And, this is my time to shine [laughs]. So contrary to the popular belief about Canada, there was never a time before 1834 when Black people were not held as slaves. And Canadians are not always nice. And Canada is not free of racism and/or anti-Blackness. So after the US Civil War, so I think people a lot of people are like, “Oh, you know, this was the end of the Underground Railroad. You know, Canada was helping to free slaves, etc, etc.” I personally think that they were mostly just trying to piss off the Americans after losing the war, but like, okay [laughs]. Um, but so after the US Civil War, and the Emancipation Proclamation, a lot of Canadian Blacks actually moved back to the US—
Brendane: I’m dead! [laughs] I’m dead.
Alyssa: Because they were like, “Nah, this ain’t it.” They were like, “Canada is never going to be a place that’s hospitable for Black people.” So there is actually more hope, I guess, because of the war, and people actually had fought on the side of freeing slaves, you know, quote-unquote. Again, there’s an asterisk there. I guess that, you know, people tend to feel that going back to the US would be, you know, better than staying in Canada, where they had no hope of ever being included or being a part of society. So there was that. Then, in the 20th century, in the early 1900s, the Canadian government was literally always trying to find ways to deny Black Americans from coming into Canada. And so at that time, they were looking for farmers to start kind of like farming the prairies, which is, like, the kind of middle of Canada. Lots of flatland, grow lots of things, lots of wheat, things like that. And so instead of just being like, “Okay, here are all of these people who are sharecroppers and they want to come to Canada, and like, make a living, make a life.” They’re like, “Nah, we’re just going to deny all of you, but we’re not going to say it’s because you’re Black, we’re going to say it’s for medical reasons” and stuff like that, ‘cuz they still did. Now they weren’t trying to piss off the Americans.
Brendane: Yo, Canada, pick a side, pick a side.
Alyssa: So there was that. In Nova Scotia, which is where a lot of the Black loyalists settled, those who were loyal to Britain during the War of Independence. And so the kind of, you know, what was the policy at the time? So if you fought on the side of the Brits, if you won, and you didn’t die, then you would be freed. So a lot of slaves joined the war as a result. Of course, the British lost, but what they did offer is that you could come to Canada where you’d be free, you’d be given land. Of course they are given the most garbage land possible. And then the places where they were told that they could settle were awful. If y’all want a little more of like a fictional kind of rendering of that, you can check out The Book of Negros. So yeah, so a lot of them were settled in Nova Scotia. Nova Scotia had segregation, segregated schools, public spaces. If you know about Viola Desmond, people kind of render her as the Canadian Rosa Parks. She sat in a seat that was designated for white people at the movie theater, and she was dragged out of the movie theater and charged. It wasn’t until 2010 that she was pardoned for that posthumously.
Brendane: That’s when it matters.
Alyssa: And so there was KKK activity in Ontario in the 60s. There was even in 1991 a race riot in a Nova Scotia high school. Race riot is their language, not mine. But in any case, one thing I think is that— so actually, there was a lot of rioting in Canada. That was the kind of like, Black political language, let’s say. Even though there was quite a bit of integration into politics, like, I think we had our first Black elected official like a lot early than the US had [laughs]
Alyssa: But what I did want to think, or what I wanted to say was that I think Black people in Canada have never really been naive about the possibility of true inclusion, because they’ve always been from elsewhere. You know, they were always like, former American slaves, you know, Caribbean immigrants and things like that. And on top of that, there is the prevailing Canadian ideology, which is anti-assimilationist, right? It’s, it was codified by Pierre Trudeau—and yes, that is Justin Trudeau’s father—and he created this multicultural policy and he asserted in 1971 that Canada is a multicultural country with two official languages, and that was actually a correction after a lot of people kinda critiqued him for saying that it’s a bicultural country, so he kind of changed it and was like, “We’re a multicultural country.” So the way that I always learned about Canada was in opposition to the US, right? The US is a melting pot in Canada is a cultural mosaic. And those are the exact words that you will probably find in a civics textbook, at least from the 90s and 2000s. So Canada has always imagined itself as a kind of cultural mosaic. And the point was that, ideally, anyone could enjoy the rights of Canadian society, while maintaining their own cultural specificity. So, of course, that doesn’t always work in practice. But this very, very long explanation was to say that I don’t really think that there’s an inclusionist political movement.
Brendane: No, that’s so fascinating though.
Alyssa: Please correct me if I’m wrong. Listeners, please correct me if I’m wrong, but I think that there’s more transformationist politics, political actions going on. Another word that we introduced without explaining
Brendane: Right, but I’m like, yo, Canada. As a young girl educated in South Carolina, I really don’t remember much about my history lessons besides the fact that we spent an entire year learning South Carolina history and celebrating the Confederacy in different ways. And so it’s always interesting to me to hear other people describe their experiences, because I don’t know shit. So, and I accept that I don’t know, but that, like, this melting pot versus cultural mosaic image for me is really fascinating.
Alyssa: And again, I want to say it’s an ideal and it is not something that Canada or Canadians always live up to in practice. Let me just make sure that’s clear for everybody that I’m not trying to idealize Canadian values or anything like that. But there is some kind of like legal precedent out there for people to be able to say, “This is part of my culture and the government can’t impose on it. And I’m still then deserving of the rights and freedoms guaranteed to me by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.” [laughs]
Brendane: Wow. Well, yes, I have to do some studying on Canada, because I’m just, you know, my brain, you know, it’s working really overtime about—Anyway, let me stop nerding out for a second.
Alyssa: Yeah. [Crosstalk] Okay
[00:48:25] Brendane: We should tell them what autonomous movements are [laughs].
[00:48:27] Alyssa: Yes. So I will, I will get into that. And I’m sorry you all have to listen to my voice again for so long [laughs]. So autonomous movements, they assume that Black Americans are Africans who just happen to be in America. And so they quote, “Seek free social space, autonomous geographic, institutional, or cultural space, that allows them to participate as equals either within the parameters of the state, or in an altered political relationship with Euro-American civil society,” end the quote. And so while they have these elements of nationalism in their strategies, all autonomous movements are not necessarily nationalist movements. So these movements they don’t, they also don’t aim to kind of like significantly change or engage with the social and economic conditions caused by white supremacy and capitalism. Instead, they aim to create a separate social space that serves as a buffer to different forms of racial oppression. So race is the primary form of identity that people organize around. And then all other forms of identity and impressions are secondary while white racism is seen as a constant that will never change. So Blackness becomes, quote, “The fundamental variable in the distribution of power and the primary basis for organizing politics, people, markets, and capital.” And so an example of an autonomous movement would be Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association, the Nation of Islam, and The Republic of New Afrika, among others. And so Black capitalism, aka, “buying Black” is a kind of autonomous movement, right? So we’re trying to redirect our monetary resources within our own communities. But what that does, then, is kind of validate the current economic order that subjugates us, right?
Brendane: Yeah, like, so I guess one way to explain what we mean, when we say all autonomous movements are not necessarily nationalist movements, is looking at Black capitalism. So Black capitalism argues for a separate economic space. Black people, we spend our money on each other and with each other and among each other. But that doesn’t necessarily mean, right, that we’re trying to create a separate nation or a separate like, geographic space in which we all necessarily live together and identify as people of this African American nation. And so, nationalist movements, the ones that you’re probably most familiar with, which would be the white supremacist nationalist movement, is one that desires land, right, and has stakes in land, and this land belongs to a particular nation of homogenous people. So not all Black autonomous movements have the same grounding in land. But, you know, moving forward, right, buying Black, y’all, it’s not gon free us. But we, we make a commitment to do that on this podcast, because we believe in supporting Black people, especially Black women, Black queer, trans, and disabled folks, but we know that Black capitalism is not going to liberate anybody, like we, it’s not gon free us. So all these Instagram posts about how all you need to do is invest $250 into an LLC, so you can be this, that, and the third, it’s not gon end anti-Blackness. All it’s gon do is have you subtracting $250 out of your bank account.
Alyssa: Ice Cube today being like, “I just got the president to confirm that he will invest half a trillion dollars into the Black community. And y’all are getting it on me. And I don’t even need an endorsement.” I was just like, “Is there some kind of Black community bank account that I don’t know about or something?”
Brendane: I know, do I need to sign up? Like, do I need to sign up for this, like?
Alyssa: That’s what I’m saying. But anyways.
[00:52:44] Brendane: That’s…we’ll get to that when we [laughs] We’ll get to that in our What in the World?! but yeah, like, moving forward. So this next movement that Mullings describes is the transformationalist movement. And these movements share some of the ideological beliefs of autonomous movements, which mainly is the groundedness in this African identity and heritage. But the main difference is that transformationalist movements aim to completely change these oppressive structures, as opposed to living apart from them. So she traces these historical roots for this strategy back to Nat Turner. Back to my girl Harriet Tubman, you know. And she claims the older Du Bois also believe this, but I don’t know if I agree with that, as well as like a younger A. Philip Randolph. And so transformationalists work to dismantle all forms of inequality and not just those based on race. And they also recognize that Black liberation is a transnational struggle, so they connect with Black freedom struggles across the globe.
Alyssa: Right, interesting. Would you say that, like, abolition is a transformationist movement or would you not put those two things together?
Brendane: I think in order for a movement to be transformationist, it has to be abolitionist. But not all abolitionist movements are transformationist movements. But in order for something to be transformationist, I think it has to have abolition.
Alyssa: Okay, interesting, we’re gonna get into, we’re gonna have a really good convo about abolition shortly, y’all. But, so for each of these movements, freedom and liberation, they mean different things to each group. So, those working within inclusionist, autonomist, and transformationist movements have different strategies for economics, family life, societal structure, culture, and of course, the role of women. So inclusionist and autonomous movements, they can be very conservative when it comes to gender roles, and they all kind of perpetuate a type of patriarchy that’s rooted in control of women’s bodies. Going to drop another episode: you might want to check out episode seven, “Deathcraft Country” if you want to know a little bit more about that. [Inclusionist and autonomous movements] can also be extremely homophobic and transphobic because they have these visions of building Black futures through a cishetero form of reproduction. So transformationist movements, on the other hand, they tended to treat women as leaders rather than as foot soldiers. And that was, when I was reading that I was just like, “Oh, hell no.” Like, they had us literally put—I’ve been watching a lot of Girlfriends, y’all [laughs]—but they have us, like, literally putting our bodies on the line with no position of leadership, and then talk about we’re supposed to raise children and inspire men. Like what? And then they were just like clearly kind of valuing reproductive Black women. So, like, womanhood is tied up in this ability to reproduce, in which, you know, men are the seed and women are, quote, “the field upon which we reproduce, the nation,” and I was just like, “Hmm, how are we meant to find liberation in that as a Black people, like, broadly?”
Brendane: You know, I mean, it would be, quote-unquote, liberating for Black men. If your definition of liberation is based, is like, oh, the ability to oppress other people, then yeah, that’s liberating for Black cis men. But yeah, these hotep movements that be calling women “wombmen,” I don’t know if you’ve seen that, but like, they like “womb,” like “W-O-M-B-M-E-N.” And, you know, then they, they make these claims that like, our African ancestors had their wives in the kitchen, quote-unquote, you know, cooking, and then, like, giving birth every five minutes, like, you know, kind of parallel African family structures to these European ideals of family structures. And these same movements demonize queer and trans people and saying that it’s European influence that makes us live these quote-unquote, unnatural lives. So all I gotta say is, if liberation looks like me being married to some cis man and popping out his kids and obeying his orders, then I don’t want it, like, period. Like, I don’t want it. That, it’s not for me. I don’t feel liberated through that.
Alyssa: No, not at all. And of course, like, let’s be clear, those categories are not static, right? And I mean, whose politics really are static, one would hope that they’re not. So sometimes, you know, movements and movement leaders, they move between these categories. So Martin Luther King, Jr., he started out as an inclusionist and then kind of moved more towards the transformationist movement closer to his death once he realized that integration was not enough, and Black liberation leaders who have been killed or assassinated, it was usually when they started talking about capitalism. And about like, about moving ourselves away from capitalism and critiquing capitalism, that was when they were killed. And so I think I tweeted once that like there is a C-word that environmental activists can’t use, and they can’t critique capitalism. But actually, what I’ve learned is that they just can’t say the S-word, they can’t start talking about socialism, because that is when they will lose their platform, they’ll lose the people who are supporting them, because all of these movements are essentially supported by capitalism.
Brendane: Right. Right. And it’s like, in Martin Luther King, Jr’s case, he was like, “Even though I have numerous children with white mothers and white people in my life”—that’s okay, y’all, if you didn’t know it’s not a secret. Watch the movie Selma. Read on Martin Luther King, Jr. There are white people who are descendants of Martin Luther King, Jr., and you know, once he realized that, like, “Oh, I can’t actually live the life that I’ve dreamed where my Black children and my white children can hold hands and you know, see each other for the countenance of their character” or whatever you want, you know, it’s like, oh, actually, underpinning all of this is this structure that holds Black people down because they devalue our labor and want us to continue to work, essentially for free.
Alyssa: And it’s just like, white people, Black liberals, they always quote, young/early Martin Luther King, Jr. They are not quoting his later works and writings, they are not quoting Malcolm X, they’re not quoting Assata Shakur, because those are like, the true radical, down-with-the-system kind of work and too many people are invested in the system, as it is, Black people and white people, and non-Black people of color, I guess, since we abolished BIPOC [laughs].
Brendane: Right, like, too many people are invested in this system. And if I were to think of like, contemporary examples of transformationist movements, I think we have movements that are inclusionist that really approach transformation, it’s like they’re like, you know, if we could think about transformation as some type of asymptote thing. I’m pulling out my pre-calc for this moment.
Alyssa: I was like, “Asymptote?!”
Brendane: Asymptote is like a line that you can never really approach. It’s like a certain type [Crosstalk]
Alyssa: Ahh yes. Like a parabola kind of thing?
Brendane: Mm hmm, you get close to it, but you can never actually touch the axis.
Alyssa: Ooh, yooo, Brendane, you know someone is about to take that from you. And it’s going to be in a journal article about how something out there related to Blackness, anti-Blackness, it’s going to be the next “in the wake.” It’s going to be “approaching the asymptote” [laughs].
Brendane: You know, and if you do, that’s cool. I, you know, I do not feel wedded to that idea. Good luck. But I do think that like most movements, of today’s movements, are inclusionist and they approach transformationist. I don’t think, I don’t know, I can’t think of any right off the top of my head of any like, really autonomous movements outside of the Black capitalist, buying Black. Like Black Lives Matter I see as an inclusionist movement, because people are continuing to push for changes in a legal system. Right, even its appeal to like, Black lives mattering in a system that exists through, like, the death and exclusion and exploitation of Black people, to make Black people human, quote-unquote, and matter quote-unquote, in this system is, I think, an inclusionist movement. And if you have issues with me saying that, you know, I’m cool. We can talk about it.
[01:02:25] Alyssa: Yeah, hit us up. Yeah, so I think in that sense, I mean, like, this episode is about Black liberalism, right? And so I think liberals are definitely within the inclusionist realm. And we’re going to unpack that now. In our final segment, What in the World?!
Brendane: Like, what?
Alyssa: What? So, so this episode, it was actually planned, ‘cuz that’s how we roll. It was planned to kind of coincide with two things, right? So first, the 2020 election, for which we still do not have a result as of this recording, and also the release of volume one of two of Barack Obama’s memoir, A Promised Land. And so for me, Barack Obama is the quintessential Black liberal. And that is what I really wanted to talk about today is like, specifically, this kind of Black liberal project and agenda. And so I think that there were a lot of Black people who were, like, disappointed by his political decisions. And even today, like the things that he says, because they were like, “This is gonna be great. You know, this is something different.”
But really, he’s not, he is fundamentally a believer in the system. And if you didn’t believe in the system, you wouldn’t run for president. So, you know, he’s kind of down with the cause as long as it’s respectable, of course. But he also spouts this, like, neoliberal rhetoric, right? This is a nation of freedom, a promised land. If y’all can’t see, but I’m side-eyeing that one. You know, when he said, “Black men, pull up your pants,” when he said, “Black moms, keep your kids off the street.” He’s basically saying it’s your responsibility to keep yourselves from being killed by state-sanctioned violence, and not the responsibility of the state for sanctioning violence against Black people, although we know that it is built on, like, the inherent exclusion and death of Black people, as Brendane said earlier, and we’ve talked about in previous episodes. And then, you know, Michelle Obama, also a Black liberal, right? She is always saying, “Make healthy food choices,” and never “Put healthy affordable grocery stores in every neighborhood,” right? So again, it’s that kind of downloading of responsibility on to the individual to ensure that you are able to escape these kinds of like structural harms and violences.
Brendane: Right, and like this—I’ll never forget the day that Michelle Obama’s healthy lunch thing for public schools came out and, like, I remember it like, yo, at lunch we used to get fried chicken, and like, I’m from South Carolina, so like, we used to eat, like, fried chicken and, like, stuff for lunch, and then it just like, the shit switched up! And we were, it was like the school lunch was so healthy and we complained for so long. We were like no more Fried Chicken Wednesday, no more, like, breakfast pizza, like, this bitch got us out here eating applesauce and something else. And, you know, 14-, 15-, 16-year-old me was not a happy camper. But looking back, I’m like, “Oh yeah,” like, that was part of this kind of neoliberal rhetoric where it’s like, “Okay, you people don’t know better for yourself. So we’re going to institute these things, and go against your wishes, and your tastes, and give you this food, and then mandate that you pay for it, which is [Crosstalk] For those of us who weren’t on free lunch, I was on free lunch my whole life. But what I think I also find interesting about Barack Obama as this quintessential Black liberal is that he is biracial. And so he kinda captures this imagination, I think, of what a lot of, I would say Black and non-Black liberals imagined to be the pinnacle of liberation, which is this, like, these fantasies of miscegenation as liberation, which—miscegenation just means, you know, interracial…
Brendane: Essentially. And so it’s like this idea that, and this fantasy, really, that having mixed babies will free us. But the tea is, y’all, newsflash: people of all races have been fucking for centuries. And you know—
Alyssa: Very long time
Brendane: Racism, anti-Blackness, and all these other evils still persist. So—and what’s, you know, now what we have been seeing is even this fetishization of mixed-race people, but we’ll get to that in our colorism episode coming up.
Alyssa: Very excited about that, but we also did cover it in an Instagram, look up—I just keep citing us, I love it! So we actually, we talked a little bit about it in an Instagram post on September 17th. So you can check that out. It says fetishization and then the main picture is of a family. The dad is Black and he has a shirt on that says, “White Lives Matter.” The mom is white and she has on a shirt that says, “Black Lives Matter.” And then their son, I imagine is mixed race and the product of the two of them, and his shirt says, “All Lives Matter.”
[01:08:16] Brendane: Yes, there it is! That is the liberal fantasy of miscegenation, right? But it also shows, when we think about him and his biracial identity, if we think about Kamala, right, and also her biracial identity. And it shows like, okay, what type of Black person is allowed to have this kind of power or inhabit this kind of position. Right, Michelle Obama, as an unmistakably Black woman, enters in a position of power by being this biracial man’s wife, right? Like, Black woman who looks like me, who looks like Fannie Lou Hamer, who looks like Shirley Chisholm, right? These women have a lot more obstacles for a variety of reasons and to getting into that position of power but what is it about mixed-raceness that allows that while also inviting a lot of anti-Blackness, right? And so it’s such, I dunno, such an interesting thing for me to think about.
Alyssa: Yeah, I mean, they’re seen as the translator. The translator of radical Blackness into white liberal modes of communication that allows them to hear in a kind of easily digestible—and by digestible, I don’t mean simplified, I just mean something that doesn’t actually attack the foundation of what it is that white liberals believe in, which is still capitalism, which is still, you know, structures of inequality, which is inclusionism. It’s just like, “All right, well, if y’all want rights, it has to be within the structure that we’ve already created. None of this abolition business.”
Brendane: Yeah, no, and I think also connected to what you’re saying is like this politics of desirability as well. And not just in a sexual way, but like a just, a literal, like, who do we find attractive enough to fit into this space? Who would we want to listen to? Who would we want to look at? Who is just Black enough, right? To be diverse—I know, how can a person be diverse?— but like to be diverse and then, but not too Black so that they’re not necessarily undesirable? And it makes me think about this presentation that I saw by Zalika, and I’m, you know, forgetting Zalika’s last name in this moment, but um, Zalika was talking about like, desirability, and a lot of people think about desirability as something that provides safety, but actually what desirability does is provide access. Safety’s not guaranteed, necessarily. And so I think about like, Obama, as this desirable figure. Like when he was running for president everybody was like, “Oh, he’s, you know, he’s cute. He’s this. He’s that.” Cool, but also just like, a desirable figure because of his respectability, because of all these things, but that didn’t mean that he was necessarily safe as president and he and his family got a lot of threats. And so there’s a way that like Blackness, do I want to say fractures desirability, because I don’t think, I don’t know. But like Blackness, like, tweaks desirability so that it doesn’t necessarily mean safety, it means access to spaces, which I think…is such a big part, though, of Black liberalism is, like, representation. Like that’s such a big, like having access to space is such a big component of, like, this liberal idea.
Alyssa: Absolutely. It’s because of the politics of representation people come to believe that just by the presence of a Black person that that space that they are present in is inherently radical and transformative. But I think we’ve established and we’ve seen not all skinfolk are kinfolk, and we absolutely saw that—was it last week or two weeks ago?—when the honorable Clarence Thomas was the one who swore in Amy Coney Barrett.
Brendane: Oh, yo, what the fuck is going on in this world? That’s all I have to say is what the fuck is going—um, yeah, I totally agree with what you’re saying, though. It’s like this idea that inclusion is radical, but not understanding that inclusion can happen through and be refracted through all these different forms of oppression, right? Like, just ‘cuz you let one of us in don’t mean we’re gonna be operating at the same power and ability as others. And when you do let one of us in and we do get to operate with the same power and ability, as Clarence Thomas has shown us, that doesn’t mean that they’re going to make choices that are good for Black people. And so, what I think Clarence Thomas does is he provides his kind of authenticating presence, like a Black man seal of approval to racist classist, policies because he’s like, Welp, you know, I’m a negro, so here’s my—
Alyssa: “She’s got Negro kids, so I approve.”
Brendane: “I approve.” And, you know, I remember when Brett Kavanaugh was up for the Supreme Court seat last year. Oh, feels so long ago, but I think it was last year, and people were saying that he was for sure, absolutely not going to be appointed, because a white woman had accused him of sexual assault. And I was like, “Uh, wait a minute, do y’all not remember Clarence Thomas? Like, do we, have we forgotten Anita Hill?” And I just remember having conversations about this with lots of people and trying to show them that like, actually, Clarence Thomas, as a Black man set the precedent, right, for perpetrators being appointed when he was appointed. Like he set that precedent. If you could not disqualify a Black man for violating someone, what made y’all think? Like what, I dunno. I know that, I don’t know, it might take a minute for some people to understand what I’m getting at but, like, I’m getting there. And, no, in my own opinion, all that Anita Hill hearing did was really solidify his commitment to white supremacist and patriarchal principles, which were evidenced through his violation of this Black woman, right? Like he actually, this has demonstrated like, “Oh, I’m actually fully committed to this white supremacist, patriarchal project.”
Brendane: And he was not gonna be punished for that. Like, that’s actually what this social order says is how Black women should be treated. We should be disregarded in this way, we should be violated in this way. And what was disappointing, ‘cuz this happened when I was a baby, so I don’t, you know, I didn’t have no participation in this. But reading about it now, Joy James writes a really insightful, short chapter about this, but like, people, Black people supported Clarence Thomas because he was a Black man, because they believed that him being included would bring about rights for Black people. Despite all the telltale signs that he did not give a fuck about us. And he actively, and continues to actively, vote against our interests. So he swore in Amy Coney Barrett, who, in her very short legal career has demonstrated that she will also affirm policies that will have the most harmful impact on Black, brown, and Indigenous women and poor people. But I mean, representation, right? Like, at least there’s a nigga in a high place, right? That’ll bring us, that’s freedom, right?
Alyssa: I love what you said about the authenticating presence. It’s actually what we should replace representation with, I think. Because I think a lot of people are like, “Well, you know, we just need to be represented in government and things will be better. We just need to be, you know, represented in the C-suite in corporations and all these kinds of things. But that doesn’t actually make any changes. It doesn’t necessarily beget change, right? What it does is it kind of validates whatever kinds of, like, policies around diversity and inclusion or affirmative actions. It’s a validating, authenticating force, the Black—here I go again with that—but the presence of the Black in a room I think is just, like, is something that validates other things, but doesn’t actually make things better for us.
Brendane: Right. It’s like, “Oh, this is proof that our diversity and inclusion shit is working. Cuz y’all are here, one of you, is here. So it really must actually be working.”
Alyssa: Yeah. But I mean, but so like, on the politics of representation, I think there’s a really great episode on Code Switch, which is a podcast by NPR, and they talk about Kamala Harris and this program that she had for getting tough on truancy when she was the Attorney General. I think Attorney General, I might be wrong about that. Don’t take my don’t take my word for that position that she had. But she had this like tough on truancy policy, truancy being not going to school or being absent from school. And so the law was already on the books. It’s not like she just created a law and then whatever. She was like, “Here,” she was moreso like, “Here is a kind of political discourse that will allow you to enforce this law.” And so, there was a Black woman, she’s a mother of a girl who has sickle cell anemia, and sickle cell anemia, you can be very tired, you get sick very often. So she was missing a lot of school. And so, as part of this project, the district attorney or something in her area decided to charge the mother with truancy, showed up at her house in the morning, perp walked her out of her house in front of cameras. It was on the news. And so she was arrested and charged because of a misunderstanding between the mother and the school. That was what—and so, then they were just like, “Okay, we’ll drop the charges if you agree to do a parenting class, you know, so you can learn how to become a better parent who gets her daughter to school.” And so the mom was like, “Okay, great, thanks. But like, how is a parenting class gonna make my daughter’s sickle cell anemia better? Like she’s not missing school because I’m incompetent, she’s missing school because she’s sick. And are you going to give me the resources to make sure that she has the best possible care? No.” So here again, we kind of see neoliberalization in practice. That was just—y’all check out the episode. So another thing that I think that I wanted to talk about today is that in the last six months, one of the things that we’ve really seen is that people are so so invested in watering down the radical politics. Which is like…Like abolitionists say “Abolition!” But the Black liberals are like, “But reform!” Reform, abolition, they’re like abolition-ish, you know.
Brendane: What about non-reformist reform?
Alyssa: Yes. And so you know, we’ve talked about Ibram X. Kendi’s book on the podcast. You know, we’re also seeing these, like, watered down Black liberation syllabi. I should say liberation in, like, in quotation marks. You know, we’re seeing these watered-down anti-racism workshops kind of just like, you know, serve to make white people feel better about racism but not actually let them know that they are the ones who are responsible for changing it. Race, racism, and white supremacy becomes a Black people problem that we need to deal with rather than like something that white people need to change. But I digress [laughs]
Brendane: Yo, but that’s literally it, though.
Alyssa: Yeah. And so these people, these people being the Black liberal, you know, they serve a very particular purpose as you, you know, as we were talking about earlier, this authenticating purpose. But they also make these very scary concepts like abolition more palatable. And so they defang them and then they turn them into like a gentle reform. And radicals, the people who have actually come up with these concepts, they get shut out of the conversation. So it’s like, these Black and then Black adjacent, like Shaun King, these Black and Black-adjacent liberals, they’re kind of, like, complicit in the silencing of the Black liberal, right? And these are the people who are leading the uprisings. But what’s even worse than that is like Black liberals, they actively pursue and participate in the silencing. And so they’re just like, “All right, we’re gonna interpret this, make it easier for white liberals to hear.” They’re the kind of, like, the people who are like, “We have to go slow.” And it’s like, Johnny James, four generations, like, that’s not slow enough? That’s too fast?
Brendane: Maybe it should be eight generations maybe? Between slave and senator. Ooh, child, ooh, something to celebrate.
Alyssa: So you know, while we’re on the subject of Shaun King, why has no one called him out? You know, the money disappears, the money doesn’t make it to places, but no one has really canceled Shaun King. And like, by canceled, I don’t mean critique. But I mean the actual, like, de-platforming of Shaun king and his social justice capitalism. It’s kind of like, I don’t know why not a lot of, I mean, I think that there are definitely activists who are calling him out and being like, don’t donate. But I think that like big names, who are usually supportive of like, various movements for Black lives and things like that, they don’t really say anything. It’s almost, like, because of this representation situation where we’re like, “We just need a foot in the door, so that we can get a seat at the table.” They’re kind of like, “Oh, well, I guess you’re, you know, as long as you’re on the train to liberation with us, we don’t need to know if you have a ticket or not.” [laughs]
Brendane: Or if your ticket is for first-class, sleeping car porters [laughs].
Alyssa: It’s like, I don’t know if Shaun King gets a ticket on the Black liberation train, like. I don’t know, I mean, what I should say is, I don’t know if Shaun King was born with a ticket for the Black liberation train [laughs]
Brendane: That’s the question, right? So, a couple of things like, there have been numerous Black women who come forward and say, “This man is a fraud. This man is a fraud.” I think it’s because it’s Black women who’ve come forward, and like, defrauded him. And of course, politics of desirability, like, this man is light-skinned, possibly white, who knows? I mean, people don’t know, you know, whatever. I think there are lots of reasons why he has a platform that he has, even though all the receipts are there about his scam. Robbery and scamming.
Alyssa: And we’ve, I mean, we’ve got to…we have to be skeptical because Jessica Krug, CV [Vitolo-Haddad], these new professors coming out all of these people. Rachel Dolezal, like all of that we need to be skeptical.
Brendane: This man came forward and said, you know, basically, he thinks he’s Black because his mother was promiscuous. And even though he was raised by white people, his promiscuous mother probably slept with a Black man, and that’s why he thinks he’s Black.
Alyssa: Oh Jesus.
Brendane: And so it’s like…but, I think people are going back to civil rights movement, Black Power movement, people are so quick to point to a cis man and say he’s the leader. And I think that’s part of the reluctance of, like, letting problematic men go in these movements is because people are just really, are looking for that kind of charismatic, quote-unquote, Black male figure to lead us out of this neoliberal, neocapitalist, post-Ford, whatever “insert all the academic words” here.
Alyssa: Okay, so I just mentioned canceling, right, like, and I said really cancel. And so I think people have like totally gone crazy with this whole like, “All these leftists and their cancel culture.” And they use it to mean “So-and-so was subjected to a social critique to encourage them to analyze the ways their behaviors or words are oppressive.” But what does it really mean to cancel someone in activist circles? And do, like, do you know anyone who’s been canceled? So what, like, what happens? What does it really mean? Because it’s not just, “Here’s a critique of what it is that you’re doing and why it’s problematic.” It’s more than that.
[1:25:41] Brendane: Yeah, so canceling, I think is like de-platforming someone. So taking away…now activism is like a job. So people get paid to speak, people get paid to like, you know, show up and be authority on x, y, and z. And so when someone is canceled in the activist circles, they’re de-platformed. If they have a large social media following, they denounce, you know, you know, they denounce it, they have to publish their little Instagram apology, they have to publish their Twitter apology, they have to do their Facebook apology. If they’re famous enough, they get to sit down with Jada Pinkett Smith and you know, at the red table and have a talk about why they made the horrible choice that they made to say, you know, the N-word if we’re thinking about non-Black people say the N-word. Or like, why they were homophobic, even though people are rarely canceled for that. Or in like, Doja Cat’s case where she was canceled, because, you know, Black men found her desirable, but she was like, “I don’t like y’all, I actually prefer to show my feet to white supremacists.” And, you know, she got canceled for that. And so, I think—
Alyssa: So she was actually de-platformed?
Brendane: Well canceled, like, Black men were like, “We’re not gonna listen to her anymore.” And then there are Black people now who just like don’t play her music, because she has said that she—”I grew up with my white family, and like, I aligned myself with these people.”
Alyssa: So it means, like a broad reduction in access to the public, the public ear or eye kinda thing?
Brendane: Yeah, kinda like a reduction in in social capital, which these days, because of the internet and social media, can mean like money, or, you know, class ascension, etc. But do I know people who’ve actually been canceled, like actually canceled in the activist circles? Yes. And usually the people who are canceled in activist circles are not Black men, Black cis men, very usually [it’s] Black masc, like trans and gender nonconforming people, who are canceled. And as someone who was like, you know, identifies as an abolitionist, and I’m growing and really trying to understand what that means and as a total transformation of how I relate to people, I’ve had several conversations with Black masc trans and gender nonconforming folks about, like, this cancel culture and how it’s harmfully impacted them. And I think, also, because I am a survivor of sexual violence, I have a particular position in this as well. And so I don’t think that canceling, quote-unquote, actually works for cishet men of any race. Like I don’t think that any cishet man has been canceled and actually de-platformed and is now, like, no longer living the life that he was living. I think, cishet men are allowed to practice apology. They’re allowed to, like, be allowed to make more mistakes and it’s kind of this, like, really weird, twisted gender essentialist logic of just like, “Oh, these men don’t know any better. Because they were born with a penis and they identify as a man they don’t really know any better.”
Brendane: Which again, like, getting back to Black trans and gender nonconforming masculine folks who may not have been born with a penis, right? So it’s like, “Oh, y’all should know better than to exact this type of violence in Black activist circles, but you do it anyway. So we’re going to punish you as if you are this oppressor kind of thing.” And what typically happens when they are canceled is they’re de-platformed. But unlike people who have other forms of social capital, Black trans and gender nonconforming people need these platforms to eat. They need platforms to have like, actual survival. And when we excommunicate them from Black activist spaces, it could mean literal death for them. Either by them being placed in prison because they have to make different choices for survival. Suicide with a higher rate for suicide for Black trans people, we know this, right? So like canceling in these circles is like a carceral form of punishment. And so, I’m really trying to think about that as someone who is Black, queer, feminist, in and out of these activist circles. It’s like “How can we employ a politic of love, of care and accountability in these circles without reiterating, or like, just bringing in state forms of carceral punishment and saying, ‘This is activist, and this is Black, and this is queer, and this is feminist because Black queer, feminist people are doing it.’ But it’s like, “No, this is actually just state-sanctioned violence being reproduced in these spaces.”
Alyssa: Right. Yeah, I think I mean, that speaks so much to your research and I think the questions that people often have about your research, which is that do Black woman really experience violence in activist spaces? Right, like, that’s a question that people are like, “Your research doesn’t make any sense.” So I think that, you know, this, hopefully, is something that people hear and understand that just because people are activists and radicals, as we saw, in the kind of three different political strategies that Black people employ, you know, they all can reproduce various forms of hegemonic violence. I find, sorry, I also find this like, innocence thing interesting. I don’t want to call it innocence for Black men, but I’m thinking of like, you know, white women innocence. And I wonder how—I don’t think innocence is really the right word for it. But you know, how we always say like Black men and white women are the weakest link in the movement, right? It’s like, is it because it’s tied to this innocence or something innocent-adjacent for Black cis men?
Brendane: I think, I think part of—I mean, I think it’s really a fragility, like this idea of, this like endangered, fragile category, which is Black cishet—sometimes gay men are included in this—but like, this fragile category that must be protected, because there’s so few of them because the state hates them, they’re hunted down. And so the few of them that dare to care about Black, queer feminist shit, we got to protect them at all costs, or we got to forgive them at all costs, or we got to understand that they were programmed to rape, etc. So “we just gotta talk to them” kind of thing. I think I think it’s like this kind of fragility. I know that’s now that’s like a buzzword because of a certain book that’s out. But I do think that that really frames like in the background, a lot of this. It’s just so interesting to see the way that race and gender intersects in Black communities, especially in Black community political work, because it’s that same fragility, belief of fragility that’ll have Black women standing on the front lines, the physical front lines in the movement, right? And it’s like, “Oh, we need to protect these grown-ass men back here.” And it’s—not that, you know, I believe in patriarchal forms of protection and that men should be protecting us, per se—but it’s this inverted logic that then demonizes Black women and says, “Well, y’all are emasculating us.” But then it’s twisted, but yeah, it’s—and all of this circulates and operates in different meanings in different times. And I think people don’t even realize when they’re participating in it, which is also really interesting to me, especially in these spaces that are supposed to be liberatory. It’s like, you know, “What’s the point? What’s the point of me being here if I’mma still experience this kind of violence?” kind of thing?
Alyssa: Yeah. Yeah. Interesting. So…I think, I mean, another thing I wanted to talk about in terms of Black liberalism, and let’s not confuse liberal with liberation. Liberal is freedom, hard work, all of these things. It’s all about the individual, etc., etc., okay. But in that episode of Code Switch I mentioned earlier, the hosts they talk about how, you know, we—Black people, but also white people—you know, we’ve heard a lot about racial profiling, right, in the last decade. Like that’s something that people are like, “Yes, racial profiling,” you know, most Black and white liberals will be like, “Yes, that’s a problem.” And so that’s actually because it affects Black professionals, Black elites. And at the same time, we haven’t heard as much about mass incarceration. And that’s because these Black professionals or Black liberals, the ones who have a seat at the table, quote-unquote, they’re not as affected by that. So I think that a college graduate, a Black male college graduate is ten times less likely to go to prison than a Black male high school graduate. I think that’s the statistic, I’m not exactly sure.
Brendane: That’s shocking.
Alyssa: But yeah, so that that speaks to this, like class and status divide that separates the interests of Black people, but that we never really talk about. And I think we see that a lot, you know, we’ve seen that a lot in the last few days where it’s just like, there’s this “the Black vote,” and the Black vote is very homogenous, particularly compared to white and/or Latinx voters. And as you said, like 18% of Black men, though, voted for Trump [laughs]. We’ll talk about that. But I think what it is, is that for Black men, they’re like, “Alright, we can, we can get a seat at the table.” But they have no interest in flipping that table over or just like getting rid of that table all together. And I think there was a tweet, and I don’t have it to hand, but to kind of summarize or paraphrase, it basically said Black faces who make it to high places are loyal to the high places, and not other Black faces. And I think that is, like, quintessential—I’m loving that word today—Black liberal. And so, Jamilah King, who was on that episode of Code Switch, she explains that Kamala Harris and other Black liberals, they are here to make punitive systems more just, but none of them are trying to disrupt the systems entirely. And so to bring this Black—bring this Black, ha ha! [Crosstalk]. So to bring it back to a Black feminist practice, it’s not about having the seat at the table, it’s about getting rid of the table all together, because the table is itself a tool of exclusion.
[1:37:13] Alyssa: So that is what I want to say. Now I really, this is the most exciting part of this episode for me, because I’m about to get some answers, y’all about to get some answers. We’re gonna have, we’re gonna kind of redo almost a little discussion that we had back in August, in response to people vote shaming. And so, you know I, as I said, in this post on Instagram, you know, I’m still kind of growing in my politics. And so, people had a lot of questions for me, after, you know, after we posted about why we weren’t begging people to vote, people had a lot of comments and questions like, “What are you talking about?” And I didn’t really feel comfortable, you know, I tried my best. But I also gave the caveat that, like, I’m still growing in this aspect of my politics. So I don’t want to, like, have the final word, and no one should really have the final word on these kinds of things. But can you elaborate on the connection between abolition and voting? Or the disconnection, really?
Brendane: So I think, as someone who’s learning and practicing abolitionist politic, I think that voting is a form of harm reduction, right? And so abolition, it’s about a total transformation of society and the way that we relate to each other. So moving outside of these forms of carceral discipline and logic. And, how can I break this down? So even me, like as an abolitionist, having to rethink my own friendships and romantic relationships so that way, when someone harms me, does me harm, hurts my feelings, my initial reaction is not “Oh, you deserve some type of retribution or punishment for this because I’m hurt.” It’s about decentering the ego, decentering the self. And for me, I really practice a “Why do I think that I am so special, that—especially as a survivor of sexual violence—why do I think that the harm that has happened to me is so special that someone else deserves to lose their life, lose their livelihood, lose their family, lose their connections to others because of something that they’ve done to me?” I want to say this is me, like, this is my politic, and how I move through the world and think about this. I want to put that disclaimer out there.
So in thinking about in relationship to voting, I think of voting as a form of harm reduction, one in which you choose between—you participate in a system that is totally, actually, evil. But you’re choosing lesser evils over bigger evils. And so I don’t know if there’s necessarily a disconnect. I think a lot of abolitionists understand that we make a lot of choices when we participate in the system, we’re always going to make choices that are about harm reduction, that are never really about abolition. Because abolition would require a total restructuring of our society and the way that we engage with each other and think about relationships and harm and accountability. I think that, for me, my choice in not voting is me recognizing that one, it’s a choice, and two, like, that I don’t want to no longer have to participate in the system where I’m choosing between two evils. So that’s my personal choice in not voting.
Alyssa: So I think the thing for me that I had trouble wrapping my head around was this dilemma of sacrificing some, and this was in a tweet responding to another tweet. So it was this dilemma of sacrificing some in the present for a better future. And I was thinking like, “This is the political system we have right now. Can’t people vote. and imagine a different future because abolition is, in large part, about imagining a different future and then making that future real, right? It’s not just about like getting rid of these systems today or getting rid of these systems today is part and parcel of creating this abolitionist future. So I was just like, “Well, okay, why can’t you walk and chew gum if you’re an abolitionist? It’s like, “Yes, let’s work towards dismantling these systems that are unjust. But also, let’s elect people who are going to kill us less until that happens.”
Brendane: Yeah, I think people can do that. I just was like, “I don’t feel good doing it. Voting did not make me feel good when I did it in 2016. And that was the last time I voted. Like, it just it didn’t…for me, it’s a personal choice. Um, I always think of voting as a choice. And I think it’s framed as like a right. But it’s only a right for some. It’s framed as a duty for some. But I think that like, there are plenty of abolitionists who say, “I’m going to vote, because I know it’s a form of harm reduction.” And I think as long as we recognize it as a form of harm reduction and not as a form of, like, liberation, like nobody that you put in the office is going to free you because then that means they will lose their job.
Alyssa: I mean, I think the last time that we were talking about it, you were kind of like, “Why put my energy into something that I actively want to dismantle?” And I was just like, that was what I couldn’t reconcile personally, it was just like, “But it’s…this is what we have right now.” [laughs]
[1:43:15] Brendane: Yes, is what we have right now. I think what troubles me, though, is because people think it’s what we have right now their imagination is limited to what we have right now, right? Like, the focus and the energy and the money and the attention is all about investing people into what we have right now versus saying, “Hey, this money, this energy, this attention could be put into this imagination, or actually enacting some of these things that we say we’re going to get to after we do the voting.” Like what, like I was talking to my partner about this the other day. Like, what if instead of spending the hundreds of millions of dollars to galvanize Black people into voting for a party that refuses to actually recognize them and their needs, what if we turn that money back into like, community feeding programs, community schools, all these other things that—okay, are yes, autonomous forms of movement—but, like reinvest that money back into ourselves and that time and energy back into ourselves rather than into this system that has shown consistently that it’s going to fail us? Like, yeah, let me cast my vote. Sure, cool. I’m gonna cast my vote with, you know, whatever. But like, actually, I’m going to take my money and my time, instead of giving it to Joe Biden’s campaign, I’m going to give it to my neighbor who needs money for groceries. I’m going to give it like, you know, mutual aid, things that help us sustain our communities, because at the end of the day, it’s community work that really does that transformation anyway. And that will bring about that transformation anyway.
Alyssa: Yeah, I think what you’re saying about it limiting imagination is, in a sense, what Toni Morrison talks about as a distraction, right? I mean, and I think that’s what this moralizing of voting and the efforts put towards it is, it’s I think, you know, you’re kind of paralleling what Toni Morrison said, you know, she wrote, she was talking about, you know, the function of racism is distraction, it keeps you from doing your work, it keeps you explaining your reason for being and so, you know, I think her example is like, “White people say you don’t have a language, so you spend all this time proving you do.” You know, she kind of ends that with saying, like, “None of this is necessary, there’s always going to be another thing.” And so I guess what you’re kind of saying is like divesting from that system will actually allow us to invest in things that will actually help us and not just, I guess, again, give us a seat at the table.
Brendane: Yeah, like, I think about all the people on my Instagram timeline, who are like “I’m up all day and up all night watching these things, and doing this, that, and the third” and like, really just getting anxious because yes, like, we are in a crisis moment. I think some people can say Blackness is always in crisis and Black people are in crisis, but…and like, just so much fear that comes, and that also limits the imagination by saying like, “Oh, holy shit, like, this is really it.” Or like these affirmations that there are hundreds of millions of people who believe that Black people are lesser than them and they exercise and show that belief through the way that they vote. Part of me is like, “Okay, yes, that’s the reality. That’s always been the reality.” What this does is kind of highlight that, make it a flashpoint. But where do we go from here? And so, I feel like, for me, I really think about like Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower is kind of like this guidebook, scary book, scary guidebook of, like, thinking about the end times where we have this Black girl who’s like, you know, “I know everyone else around here is thinking we’re safe, and we’re cool and all we got to do is just hide behind these walls. But I see what’s really up. I see what’s coming down the road. Like, destruction is coming.” And she prepares herself. And through that, like, begins to build a community around her. And so I tried to think about that, like, how can we as Black people see the end of the world, knowing that our world has ended so many times? Right, and like, understanding that, like, we have survived, our ancestors have brought us through so many ends of the world that here we are. And this is another world ending. We’ll survive it. We gotta learn these lessons about how to move forward, though, right? How to actually, like, build communities that keep us safe and don’t only keep some of us safe, right?
Alyssa: Yeah, I think that’s such a good—it’s a parable, right Parable of the Sower?—I think that’s, you know, that’s a perfect entry point for people to think about abolition, I suppose. And I think that for a lot of people, they hear abolition, and they’re like, “Oh, all they want is the dismantling of these systems. But what are we going to do without them? And I think that people get stuck on the abolition part. And they don’t know that there actually already are a lot of, there’s already been a lot of thinking and a lot of suggestions about what we could have instead. And they’re not even just suggestions and a lot of places, they already exist. So people are like, “Well, you know, what are we going to do without the police? How, you know, how will we stay safe?” And people have pointed out that the safest communities, even in the US, they don’t have more police, they have more funding, they have more parks and open spaces, they have more opportunities. And so essentially, an abolitionist America looks like a white suburb.
Alyssa: I mean, it looks like a white suburb today, like the way it operates today. I don’t mean we all need to be white suburbanites [laughs].
Brendane: I was gonna say, I was gonna offer, I got what you meant. I was gonna offer this too. Like I think about even in my own neighborhood, in Baltimore, where it’s like, people know not to call the police when shit’s popping off. So like the police exist, but people still operate with, like, they might not call themselves abolitionists, but you operating outside of the forms of this, like, state-sanctioned violence, cuz you know, involving them, what that’s going to do, what kind of harm it’s going to bring to everyone. So it’s like, even within our own communities, we have practices that we don’t, like, we don’t rely on the state. Mutual aid is another example, right? Like, people—me and my friends have this joke, like, we all be passing around the same $20 in our community, right? But that’s literally how we keep and we sustain each other and, like, and we recognize that like, okay, our jobs aren’t going to do it. The government’s not going to do it for us. So we got to do it for ourselves.
And so things start, I think, really thinking about abolition as something that is, like, actually achievable and approachable by thinking about “What are the ways in which I already practice care and community without state police?” You know, authoritarian involvement. That’s one way to start thinking about that. And then how do we, but to really make it a Black feminist practice, right, like, how do we think about these practices so that they’re not exclusionary of marginalized people, that they’re not exclusionary of disabled people, they’re not exclusionary of the elderly, of trans folks, of gender nonconforming, non-binary people? Like, how do we expand that imagination because we’re already taking care of each other? And I think Black feminists, especially Black women who are Black feminist, recognize that we already take care of each other. We all we got, we be seeing that all the time.
Alyssa: Yeah. I, honestly, this is great, like, I’m really glad that we’re having this conversation. I hope that people who haven’t felt the need to or haven’t had the time to, say, to really like, dig into what abolition is, you know, really leave with a different perspective on it. But the last thing that I wanted to ask you about, and I’ve noticed this from like conversations, but also some of the comments on that post about us not begging y’all to vote. I think that what people took away from this was like, “All right, well, you know, if divesting from this political system is what works for Black people, cool.” And so what I noticed from those kinds of comments and reactions was that non-Black people don’t actually see themselves as implicated or interpolated in that call. Like, they don’t themselves feel like they also need to be abolitionists. They’re like, “Oh, okay, I understand why Black people wouldn’t want to be involved, because, you know, this structure excludes them. So, of course, they’re gonna find, like, their own communities. But I’m already included, so I don’t need to divest, I don’t need to push away from it.” And so I just want to ask, is a part of abolition, that involves imagining and realizing new forms of community, just for Black people? Because we are the ones who are left out?
Alyssa: No! the answer is no, y’all! [laughs] You’re included too!
I think about, and I think disability justice really does this work for us. And I’m new in disability justice and like learning about all the ins and outs and the contours of it, especially. But one thing that really struck me, and this person’s name is Lydia [Brown], and I’m going to find more information about them so that I can link their information. But Lydia said the way that whiteness has been constructed is that everyone who is not white is already configured—not a white cisheterosexual man—is already configured as disabled. And I’ve been sitting with that, because I know what that—like, that was really something that was, like, groundbreaking for me was like, “Okay, actually, literally, access is defined through these different markers.” And so if you don’t meet that marker, right, then you’re not going to necessarily have access to opportunity, to resources, to wealth, to, you know, whatever, all of these things, because you, literally, because you don’t meet that mark.
And what includes you in this system right now, right, is the fact that Black people sit at the bottom. What allows you to have access to that is the fact that Black people sit at the bottom. So if Black people choose not to sit at the bottom no more, if Black people say, “We’re no longer gonna participate in this,” then who do you have to serve as a reference for what rights you’re supposed to have, right? And, it’s always interesting to me when non-Black people of color say, “I don’t see myself in Black liberation” when it’s like, “If the people who’ve been relegated as nonhuman, as the least of these, gain rights, your life will automatically improve. Like, if you, like, you won’t lose, I mean, you’ll lose capitalist forms of power and structure, etc. But like, it’s not like you will lose if Black people win. That’s the myth of capitalism. That’s the myth of all these different forms of oppression and thinking, is that if Black people were to gain, everyone else would lose, and it’s like “No, actually, this mass hoarding of wealth makes you lose too.” You just don’t see it because there’s a group of people who lose so much more.
Alyssa: I think disability studies and disability justice, I think they structure a lot of their thinking on the idea of the norm and what is normal. And I think that if we, we can apply that to race wherein, as you were saying, the white male cishet individual is what is normal, and then everybody becomes defined in opposition to that. So I find that really interesting. And we are at two hours recording [laughs]
Brendane: We are, we really are, we’re pushing it. I think, though, other people have to take seriously like the Combahee River Collective imperative that when Black women are free, we’re all free, right? And like, if people really internalize that, I think it would help them see that even if you don’t see a direct, like, “Oh, I need to be aligned with this movement,” understanding that if this is something that makes life better for Black women, it’s necessarily, like, going to make life better for me is really something to internalize.
Alyssa: Yeah, so all of that to say, you, too, are involved in this abolitionist call. Like, you, too are involved in the imagining and making real of a different world. It’s not just about Black people escaping the status quo. It is about all of us coming together and doing something differently. Doing the world differently.
Brendane: Period. Transformation, period.
Alyssa: Mm hm. Well, thank you all for listening, everyone. Remember last week—well, that wasn’t last week, damn, that was last month. Remember last time I said, you know, “You can only get one wish from your listeners.” So Brendane, what’s your wish from our listeners this week?
Brendane: My wish is that all of you find places of rest and peace in this moment. Our podcast is, of course, one of those places of rest and peace. Wink wink.
Alyssa: Yes. So share that place a rest and peace with others, please [laughs]. Of course, you know you can find us at zorasdaughters on Instagram. If you would like to read our transcripts for the episodes, our bios, or get in touch head to zorasdaughters.com. We’ve got the brand ownership on lockdown. Okay. All right. Thanks everyone.
Brendane: And until next time, remember we must take care of ourselves and each other. Bye!