The world is a dumpster fire! Today we’re talking about what’s been helping us get through quarantine, the Anthropocene and the hypocrisy of its hyper-ethics, Black feminist futurity and imagination and environmental racism and the slow violence of redlining, Superfund sites, and the water in Flint, MI. We also discuss the value of taking up arms versus taking up community care during and after the revolution, as well as the ethics, politics, and erotics of sharing videos of Black death.
Zora’s Daughters Podcast: Episode Four
Co-Hosts: Brendane Tynes and Alyssa A.L. James
Title: The World is Basura en Fuego
Total Length: 01:27:33
Trancript by Kamry Goodwin, Content Editor
[00:00:00] Alyssa: After the revolution, what are you going to do if you can’t grow your own foods? And I think that Flint also shows that, like, guns sure as shit didn’t help anybody get clean water.
Brendane: I mean, maybe if they pulled up on the right person (Alyssa laughs) and asked for clean water maybe that would’ve changed some things
Alyssa: Do some John Q stuff, are you recommending (laughs) some Denzel in John Q stuff?
Brendane: No, oh my gosh, no, absolutely not! (laughs) [Intro Music][00:00:42] Alyssa: Hi everyone! Welcome to the Zora’s Daughters podcast. I’m Alyssa, Black woman, using she/her/hers pronouns, and socially distanced anthropology Ph.D. student currently living in New York City.
Brendane: And I’m Brendane, Black woman, and socially distanced field worker—ooh, field worker, I don’t know if I wanna say that—but I’m doing fieldwork. And based in Baltimore currently. My pronouns are also she/her/hers.
Alyssa: Alright, so today we’re going to be unpacking climate change, environmental justice, and the Anthropocene with our three segments: “What’s the Word?”, “What We’re Reading,” and “What in the World?!”
And in case you’re like, “We don’t really have to think about climate change, like, we black.” No. Environmental justice is racial justice and hopefully you will get to hear and learn and understand more about that as we make our way through this episode.
Brendane: Period. If you would like to follow us on social media, you can find us at zorasdaughters on Instagram and zoras_daughters on Twitter. And if you would like us to host a virtual workshop on Black feminist antiracism for your organization, you can book us by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Alyssa: And we also love monetary and non-monetary support, which means follow us on social media, share our posts and episodes. One of our posts is blowing up right now actually. Thank you all for that. [We don’t know] who shared it but it is blown up. Please subscribe, rate, and review the podcast, especially on Apple Podcasts. And, you know, in these turbulent times, put you and yours first, but if you can spare some coin, you can donate to us at bit.ly/supportzdp, and there you can make a one-time or a recurring donation.
Brendane: And thanks to those who have signed up and made recurring donations. Shoutout to my aunt, I love you! [Laughter] And thank you.
Alyssa: Thank you!
Brendane: Alyssa, what’s been helping you survive quarantine girl? Cuz it’s rough out here.
Alyssa: (Sighs) Tell me about it. Honestly, so it’s been a lot a lot of TV: Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, all of it, all of it. Some of bae, you know. Spending a lot of time together. And a little bit this podcast. Like, working on this has really helped me because I really have not been exercising that reading muscle much recently and I also find that my concentration has been awful. So I tried to do this book-a-day challenge, which I did over our winter break earlier this year.
Brendane: I remember, I was impressed. I was like, “Let me get on my shit.” But (laughs)
Alyssa: But it’s just been more like a chapter a day at best. But I’ve been reading Sister Outsider, which has been, like, it has just been snatching my soul. Thank you, Audre Lorde. I love it. But yeah, this week has been rough. You know, for various reasons. I’m just, I’m like, nearly ready to throw in the towel and activate my Gilead escape plan to Canada (laughs)
Brendane: Yo, yo, what the f—like, you know, what in the flying pig’s foot. I just feel like (pause) (sighs) “What’s the point?” some days. And then, yes, this podcast keeps me going cuz it’s like, “Oh, I have things to do, things to read about, ways to move forward in, you know, [a] quasi-academic kind of way.” And, you know, we were just talking before we started recording. You know, I recently lost someone who is close to me and my childhood and this week and just—also got some bad news about a grant, got rejected. And my little Pisces moon inner self is like “No, don’t be bitter about it girl, you good, you know, just reapply.” But, I don’t know, I’m like, “Hm.” I have question marks around this grant review process. But that’s neither here nor there. I also wish I could activate an escape plan but as I am an African American descended from enslaved folks, I’m like, “Where else imma go?” You know, maybe
Alyssa: Ghana will take you. Ghana is ready to repatriate African Americans.
Brendane: I need Ghanaians to be accepting of me and my bae, my boo, and not assume that we’re, like, siblings or something. I don’t want to pretend I’m not in love with the person I’m in love with. So, we’ll see. Plan B: Once Ghana stops killing quote-unquote “homosexuals,” I might be able to go there. But other than that, I don’t know. I got therapy today so I’ll be…me and my therapist. Alice will come collect me. She’ll collect me, for sure.
Alyssa: Listen, they’ve been collecting, oh my goodness. This week, I told you, mine dragged me (laughs). Mine dragged me. [Crosstalk] I was like, “Damn.”
Brendane: I don’t know, it’s like, “How do you know what to say, like, how do you know exactly what to say to get at the heart of the shit that I was trying to hide from you?” Like
Alyssa: I’m telling you.
Brendane: You know, every time she asks me “Are you sure this is not about your relationship to your mother?” I be like, “Damn, you know, damn, Alice, can I live? Can I breathe? Could you take your foot off my neck please?”
Alyssa: (Laughs) I’m telling you. Mine’s just like, “Are you sure that that’s not, you know, related to not feeling like you have control?” And I was just like, “You not really gonna call out my control issues today.” (Laughs)
Brendane: First of all, what we not bout to do is act like being in control is not the move, okay? (Laughs) Like, but, they—yes. Yes, looking forward to it. Looking forward to it.
Alyssa: One of the things that we did want to address was something we talked about or didn’t talk about or didn’t mention in our last episode. Which is, you know, some people called us out about this, that we never said what “WAP” stands for. And we were talking about, you know, like, women empowerment and being comfortable with all these words. And, Brendane, I mean you did point it out, you know, towards the end. You were just like, “Damn, we never said that.” And you know what? I think, at least for me, I just…I haven’t really decided if this is an academic podcast or if this is professional or if I should start, like, ticking that “Explicit” box when I upload the episode. So, I suppose that in some ways, we’re kind of, like, you know, limiting ourselves within a sort of politic of professionalism. Or, dare I say, respectability. So that’s where we’re at, or at least, that’s where I’m at I should say.
Brendane: Yeah, I agree. So, for me, it’s just like, I think about the fact that now that I know students that I’ve had before listen to this, I’m like, “Oh no, do I want them to know that Ms. Tynes knows these words and says these words?” You know, that’s kind of where I’m at with it. But yes, definitely operating within a politic of respectability and also just all these things in academia about what’s acceptable and what’s not acceptable. And, I was reflecting on how a lot of, like, Black queer studies work brings those words like, you know, f-u-c-k and, you know, “pussy,” or whatever, into the actual academic language. And so, I’m like, “Ok, maybe that’s something we can lean on.” You know, Black queer studies as a methodology of taking what is seen as explicit or should not be “professional” and bringing it into the professional space because it does, in fact, inform our research, right? So, yeah, I don’t know. That’s something I’ve been thinking around. But, y’all could tell us what you prefer. I know my friends would be like, “Girl.” My friends have told me this is the most, like, censored they’ve ever heard me speak, so. And if you know me in real life, and you’re my friend, then you know that I cuss a lot. So, it’s, like, difficult for me (laughs)
Alyssa: Me too, me too. Yeah, no, I think that’s a good point. I definitely, you know, we can think about queering the professional and queering the respectable. And, you know, we can discuss that more. And let’s, you know, I agree, like, I wanna hear what y’all have to say.
Brendane: Be like, “Bring on the cursing.” (Laughs) And we’ll see what we can do. [00:09:29] But yeah, I think we should go ahead and get started because our word for today is one that you probably have not encountered unless you are an anthropologist who’s interested in this type of stuff. Like, honestly. So, Alyssa, what’s the word for today?
Alyssa: Alright, our word for the day is “Anthropocene.” And we’re probably gonna say it differently and wrong and, you know, confusedly (laughs) throughout the episode.
Brendane: I know, I literally say it differently each time I say it. So, it’s either “an-THRO-po-cene” or “ANTHRO-po-cene,” so.
Alyssa: It’s fine, decolonize language and all that. So, Anthropocene, so this is like a new suggested epoch in the geological time scale. I don’t know how much you remember from geography, but there are all these different, like, time scales, right? You got the eras, the periods, epochs, ages, and all of this stuff.
Brendane: I never listened. (Alyssa laughs) Never, I was like, preparing for this like, “Oh, this is when eighth grade science would’ve been. I should’ve tuned in a little more. Sorry, Ms. Yelton, I should’ve tuned in more. But I was going through some things, and puberty took that away from me.
Alyssa: These were, like, way too—I mean, these are just like grand time scales that are kind of, in many sense, unfathomable, I think. So yeah. So, the Anthropocene is this new one, before that, or currently, depending on who you ask, we are in the Holocene. And that was from, like, the end of the last glacial period. And all of this is part of the Cenozoic era. Girl, I have no idea what that means (laughs)
Brendane: I’m like, “Doesn’t that have something to do with dinosaurs?” Like (laughs) Preparing for this, I’m like, “Cenozoic, Triassic.”
Alyssa: Triassic period. Is that Jurassic? Jurassic Park? No. So, the Anthropocene, it means Age of Humans. It comes from anthropos, which is Greek for human, which, you know, has the same root as anthropology, and cene which comes from Cenozoic. And the term was coined in 2000 by Paul Crutzen and Eugen Stoermer. And they argued that we’ve entered this new epoch, it’s characterized by the significant influence of human activity on geological processes and conditions. I was gonna say contradictions, which we’re gonna get to later (laughs)
But yeah, there was a lot of debate about this. So, I actually took a course, I took an “Environmental History of New York City” course my first semester. It was a really interesting class and I learned a lot about New York City and the history and stuff. But, one of the debates was like, “What’s the golden spike going to be?” The golden spike is like this marker where scientists can be like, “Ok, that’s the start of the Anthropocene.” And so, in 2019, the Anthropocene Working Group, they decided that this spike would be in the mid-twentieth century aka the “Atomic Age” aka when folks started bombing stuff up. And so, with the detonation of all this, like, all these atomic bombs, there was debris and radioactive particles, and they’re now embedded in, like, glacial ice and sediments around the world.
Brendane: [Crosstalk] And this is stuff that’s melting? Oh my god…
Alyssa: Pretty much but [Crosstalk] I know, they’re like, “Oh, we’re gonna see, like, you know, we should be able to tell that this will be in the rock record millions of years from now.” And I’m like, “Millions of years from now?” (laughs) No idea what the Anthropocene is, but like, shit’s apocalyptic. Anyways, so in the next couple years, the International Commission of Stratigraphy is going to decide whether or not we have moved on from the Holocene and into the Anthropocene.
Brendane: Yeah, so this debate around the An—I really was bout to call it “an-THRO-po-cene”—the Anthropocene is around the fact that humans have basically long been having an effect on the Earth from the start of farming and pastoralism, the Industrial Revolution, and on and on and on. And so, as we mentioned in our last episode when we talked about “scientific” decisions, most of them, in fact many of them or all of them if you would like to go that far, are actually well-justified, arbitrary choices.
So, I have been more privy to debates around the Anthropocene starting in 1492. So I TAed for a course about climate change and the Anthropocene and I was the only Black person there. And so, having to do a lot of talk about, like, when people believe the Industrial Revolution was the start of capitalism and things like that and capitalism being the origin story of everything being messed up, and me being like, “Ok, but in order for people to even know about machines and do machines, like slavery had to happen.” So we had lots of back and forths about the actual start of the Anthropocene and, you know, so, some say it’s in 1492, which is the year that Columbus “opened” the portal for colonization of the Americas. But there are anthropologists and other social scientists who want to make it start at the Industrial Revolution because that’s when we really started polluting things. But, a lot of people know that growing cotton is not good for the environment. So, anyway, rolls the eyes.
Yeah, the issue that I take with this framing, really, is that it does not take into account the ways that Indigenous and Black genocide has also altered the ways that we interact with the earth. And we’ll get to that.
Alyssa: Yeah, yeah, no, exactly. I feel like, with archaeologists and geologists, they’re thinking in these huge spans of time. I mean, archaeologists, they’re kind of on like two ends of the spectrum. Geologists are obviously thinking in millions of years, archeologists may be thinking about a certain time period. But they’re thinking about these super large spans of time that cultural anthropologists are definitely not thinking about.
Brendane: Yeah, we’re not, mm-mm. We don’t have that range (Laughs)
Alyssa: No, do not (Laughs) We try—no we don’t. But, you know, so the Anthropocene, I think, is used quite differently in the social sciences and humanities. And, Anthropocene is kind of shorthand for this process by which, you know, we’re bringing about the end of life as we know it, if not life all together, right? And so when we name something, you know, we kind of ask, “What’s its critical potential? By naming the Anthropocene, what does it allow us to do, say, and think?” And so, for us, I think, the Anthropocene, it tends to prompt questions more about the end of civilization, thinking about the human, the non-human, the more-than-human, the less-than-human, the post-human, and also nature.
But then there’s some critics who are like, “Well the Anthropocene, it overemphasizes the human, we’re still centering humans. Maybe we should think about the Capitalocene, you know, which centers more like imperialism and capitalist accumulation as the main driver of environmental loss.” Or, others suggest the Plantationocene, you know, to kind of mark how the plantation economy created these conditions of possibility for today’s economy, like, you know, and today’s economy and environments and social relations. The thing about, like, that Plantationocene work: it doesn’t really engage with Black studies’ long history of thinking with the Plantation and colonization. So, it’s interesting.
Brendane: It is. It’s just, I mean, I always find it interesting when anthropology likes to pretend that other bodies of knowledge doesn’t exist and do work. Like, “anthropological” work. So yeah, I find that to be very interesting too. And, I really like what you said about the critical potential of things, like what, in thinking through, like, the Anthropocene, what does it allow us to say, what does it allow us to do, what does it allow us to think? And I think that really is taken up well in what we decided to read for this week.
Alyssa: Excellent. Great transition.
Brendane: Yeah. Boom. (Laughter)
Alyssa: [00:17:57] Alright, so Brendane, what are we reading today?
Brendane: Today, and forever it seems, we can always come back to this piece and read something new, we are reading “Blackness and the Pitfalls of AnthropoceneEthics”by Axelle Karera. And Axelle Karera is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy and African American Studies at Wesleyan University. Her areas of specialization are in twentieth century continental philosophy, the critical philosophy of race, contemporary critical theories, and the environmental humanities. She is currently working on her first book project—whoop whoop—tentatively titled The Climate of Race: Blackness and the Pitfalls of Anthropocene Ethics, which she assesses the ethical and political shortcomings of—ooh, of (laughs)—Anthropocenean discourse on matters of race. Yes, y’all, I’m reading from my notes and sometimes I can write things and not know what they say, so.
Alyssa: We just snatched that off of her bio (laughs) I’m gonna say that I think it’s dope that she’s in philosophy. I actually don’t know any Black philosophy Ph.D. students or Black philosophers. Well now I do. Because I know Axelle Karera. And that might be because I’m not in that discipline and I don’t read a lot of philosophy, but yeah, go sis.
Brendane: Yes, go sis. I only know…So, we have a professor, a Black philosophy professor at our institution (indistinct)—and we probably should bleep that out—we have a Black philosophy professor at our institution. And he’s a really nice man. And then, I know someone that I met through our colleague, Chloe. She’s a Black philosopher.
Alyssa: Hey Chloé!
Brendane: Hey girl! And I know a Black trans woman who is a philosopher. And I’m sure that she is among the few of Black trans women who are out here doing philosophy work. Her name is Naomi Simmons-Thorne and she is amazing. Follow her on Twitter, like really, everything she says, I’m like, “You are really breaking open the ways that I think about the world.” But yeah, there’s like, so few of us.
Alyssa: I love that. Yeah, I mean, you tend to find more of us in, you know, sociology. I mean, I’m talking about the social sciences and humanities specifically. But, in English, doing more, like, literary criticism, and cultural studies and, you know, the social sciences. But, when we’re thinking about humanity, it’s definitely more along the lines of, like, English or French or things like that. Doing philosophy is, like, another level of thinking that I (laughs)
Brendane: I had a philosopher tell me, he was a Black man, he was like, “Oh, the work that you’re doing sounds more like philosophy than anthropology.” And I was like
Alyssa: Hm. You know, in [Karera’s] title, you know, she’s talking about Anthropocene ethics. And I think that academics, they often say, you know, “the politics of.” In our intro, we were talking about “the politics of” respectability. Or they’ll say, like, “An ethics of X” or “the aesthetics of Black Lives Matter” or something like that. And, you know, sometimes it can kind of just seem like this is like a scholarly way of making things sound more, I don’t know, more esoteric or something. But it does have a meaning if it’s used correctly. So “the political,” it refers to what can or cannot be done or what’s made possible or impossible by a particular state of affairs. So, and that’s often determined by power, so you can say something like “the politics of representation,” you know, what does that mean? And then “ethics” refers to what ought to be done, like how should we live among each other. It’s almost like, it’s about, like, imagination and the imaginary and, like, working towards something. I think. I mean, it’s what you would say is like, poiesis. And poiesis is like creation. So, it’s like creating, you know, a different, better, more just, moral, or ethical world. But that’s just, like, a shorthand I use to remember those things. How would you explain it?
Brendane: I would say that the way that you explained it is, like, really useful framing for me. I think the only thing that I would add to that is when I think about the political, I think about it implying a sense of agency versus oppression. And some people like to think of it as like a zero-sum game, where either you’re an agent or either you’re oppressed. And that thinking works sometimes and sometimes it falls apart. But, essentially, also, like, thinking about this in philosophy period, or philosophy thinking, right, is a lot of philosophers look to the Enlightenment period and they point to that as a period of time in which an understanding, right, this kind of Western liberal understanding of what is possible or impossible came about through the language of human rights, which are conveyed through laws. And we all know that the legal system definitely does not dictate what is possible or impossible. But our modern discourse around law and legal systems is limited because of, like, the ways that we’ve been conceptualizing it since the Enlightenment period. And so, I like to think about this in my own work and around activism and thinking about how, like, Black women especially use their agency to fight against different forms of oppression that may actually be legal. And so, right, like, this difference that people are kind of saying, and even when we say, “Black lives matter,” a lot of times they’re thinking about how to change different laws. But that might not necessarily change the ways in which, you know, the world works, right? Even if the laws are changed, what’s possible and impossible might still be operating under a certain type of social order.
Yeah, so I also wanna, like, draw attention to when we think about the political and different levels of power to the distinction from the legal, and also to highlight, like, how that constrains what is possible. But I think Karera asks us to think about what is possible in the age of the Anthropocene through the language of ethics, which takes the political, the legal, and the social into account to determine what is “right.”
Alyssa: Right (laughs) I didn’t mean to, like, echo you, I was just like, “Yes, that is what you are saying.” So, in this essay, Axelle Karera, she critiques the way that scholars of the Anthropocene ignore or elide these past and current imperial injustices, and are unable to imagine futures that don’t just spell the end of capitalism but also [the end of] Black suffering or [the end of] the disposability of Black life. And I think that this essay, it really highlights what you said in a previous episode, that like, “Blackness fractures the meaning of things.” I still think that was so beautifully phrased. So, in this essay, you know, we really see how Blackness ruptures notions like ethics and relationality and humanity because her question is like, “How wild is it that you can talk about this global crisis, a crisis that the entire world is facing, and still avoid questions of race?” Like, what?
It’s like while these mostly white scholars are imagining a new world after the apocalypse, they really failed to grapple with the questions of racism and anti-Blackness, and they focus on the human, but then they’re like, “Well, we’re not gonna talk about who is excluded from the realm of the human,” right? It’s like, without this there’s no ethical transformation after the end of the world. In this, like, postapocalyptic world, the world just stays the same for us. But then, you know, as I was reading, I was thinking about, like, a question I might have. Not that I might have, but I do have (laughs) We often discuss racial capitalism and so if we concede that capitalism and racism are intertwined and that, you know, the creation of “the black” and Black death are preconditions for capitalism, so these things are required for capitalism to have been created and to continue into the present and the future. Wouldn’t the destruction of capitalism kind of spell the end of racism? I don’t know, what do you think?
Brendane: Yeah, I mean, I think that’s a great question. I’m gonna clarify for our listeners because I, too, was confused at the beginning of grad school. And I was like, “Why do people keep talking about ‘the black’? What is ‘the black’?” And, yeah, so just to clarify for you all, when we say, “the black,” we aren’t pointing to any individual Black person, like, “Hey, that, you know, Black person over there.” It’s not that necessarily. We’re talking about a social category that Black people can occupy. But we’ll also get to, like, a deeper explanation of that later.
Alyssa: Thanks for that, Brendane.
Brendane: Yeah. To answer your question, I would say not necessarily. Especially when we consider, like, how stratified life is in capitalism. And so, a racist or white supremacist apocalyptic fantasy is one in which Black folks are killed off first or the “good/smart/worthy” ones survive, right? And so, the afterworld that is imagined, in some imaginations of the Anthropocene, would in effect be a white supremacist fantasy in which “the black” as a social category is disappeared. But racism can still exist even when Black people are gone. So, if we don’t have a social category, or people who look like us, who can fill that social category of “the black” in order to determine who would be white, you still kinda have to determine who is gonna fall at the bottom of a social hierarchy. And so, if we don’t deal with—which is why I think it’s important to think about, and Karera points us to, thinking not just around racism but anti-Blackness in particular as something that mobilizes this Anthropocene characterization.
Because, yeah, we can get rid of racism, right? Which means probably extinguishing groups of people, but anti-Blackness as a way of thinking and a way of forming societies probably would still exist.
Alyssa: Right, definitely. I have a lot of things going through my head. I’m like, I think that the category of Black is something that has shifted so much just as whiteness has. So, if you think about who was considered Black in, I don’t know, if we think about Europe and we think about the Irish, they were often used to define a certain type of whiteness even though it wasn’t named that at the time. A certain kind of whiteness in England or in Great Britain. And so, this like a shifting category, but one in which we occupy. I don’t know where I was going with that. But I did want to say that it did, like, your explanation also made me think of The Handmaid’s Tale. And so, y’all don’t let the TV show fool you. In the book, all of the Blacks were just like—all “the Blacks” (laughs)—all the Black people were shipped off to the colonies and they died there cleaning up the toxic waste. So, even in that situation, in a completely white society, they still managed to find a hierarchy, or develop a hierarchy, through which some people are worthy and others are not. So, yeah, I think the way that you explained that was really helpful.
Brendane: Yeah, and even…And so, I think what’s interesting about that is that, like, as a category, right, “the black” is always gonna be the sub-human, non-human, at the bottom kind of thing. And also, is a referent for the experiences of Black people. And so, it’s just like, even—cuz when you mentioned the Irish example, right, it’s like, it’s not even really the Irish themselves and, you know, the horrible depictions of them. And then it was like [the English] calling them niggers, right? So, it’s like, even then, it’s not even really you, it’s also this referent to this Black person, which is why we hold on to the category of “the black” and we say that it, like, shifts over time. But I know there are some people who are gonna be listening to this and be like “Uh-huh, no.” [Crosstalk]
Alyssa: I did want to say that, like, that’s exactly what I was looking for that like, “the black” as a referent. I was, that’s what I was trying to get to but couldn’t quite put the words together. But also, let us all agree, acknowledge, recognize, that Irish people have been subsumed under whiteness. They are white now. Y’all don’t experience racism. Okay. (claps hands) And cut.
Brendane: And still I oop (laughs) That’s like my new favorite meme. If you don’t know
Alyssa: [Crosstalk] And I-oop
Brendane: “And Still I—Oop.” You know our ancestor Maya Angelou, before she left this earth, she let us know “and still I—oop.” And so, you just (laughs) that’s such a bad joke (laughs)
Alyssa: (laughs) I’m gonna leave it though.
Brendane: Leave it please.
Alyssa: Yes, so, where were we? We’re talking about the apocalypse, alright. And how white people kind of want the apocalypse because for them, they’re like, “It’ll probably be fine for us, but it’ll mean that we’ll live in a more comfortable society.” So, for them, this idea of the apocalypse can be emancipatory. I don’t even know why I’m using that word with the white folks. But anyways, I think that, what I mean by that is that [the apocalypse] has given [white people] the space to think about new ways of being in the world. And so, I read Staying with the Trouble by Donna Haraway. And she talks about “living and dying well in the Anthropocene.” And so, when I was rereading this essay by Axelle Karera, I was reading it in relation to that book, which is super indebted to Indigenous epistemologies. And epistemologies are, like, knowledge systems or the way that we understand the world. And so, Donna Haraway saying like, “You know, we shouldn’t be discouraged by this impossibility of creating a future without all of these troubles. You know, instead we should think about what it looks like to be truly present and practice living and dying well now, in the present, by making kin with the living and non-living.” And I’m like, “Alright, this all sounds great.” But then you’re like, “Hang on.” This form of Anthropocene ethics, it like really indulges this white propensity to imagine a future where all life is equal while refusing to address anti-Blackness and settler colonialism. And it assumes that, like, all of our lives matter in the same way right now and that anti-Blackness and settler colonialism won’t be reproduced in these futures.
And it (sighs) it especially overlooks the fact that Black and especially Indigenous people are already living in the ruins of, like, the apocalypse. We’re living in this post-apocalyptic world already.
Brendane: We have felt the disaster!
Alyssa: Yes, like, hello! Transatlantic slave trade, enslavement, colonization, genocide, continued cultural genocide and actual genocide. It’s like, this is the, this—we’ve experienced the end of the world. So, why haven’t you acknowledged that. So, she’s just like, “All humans, we should stop imagining a future without trouble and instead live in the present.” But like, the humans that can do that, they’re like curiously un-raced, you know? There’s a presumed whiteness to who can live and die well in the present. So, this concept, it really like—her idea of, like, making kin and all of this and staying with the trouble, it really kind of serves to exclude a large majority of the world, like the postcolonial subject and people subject to anti-Blackness. So, it’s like when Axelle Karera was like, “There’s no end to anti-Blackness, just recalibration.” Or there won’t be one, there will just be a recalibration, I was like whew! Snaps (snaps fingers)
Brendane: Snaps. Stomps. Claps. Prayer hands. Like, I…you know (sighs) Making kin is such an obviously, like, Indigenous and Black practice. So, I really hope—I haven’t read it—but I really hope that [Haraway] gives credit to whom it’s due. But moving forward, Karera argues, right, that this view of the world in which we think about this apocalyptic view of the world and this human where everyone is from the same level, is ahistorical and apolitical, like as you said so well. These fantasies are about this, like, fresh start, which I would add, you know, as a church girl, a former church girl, you know, ring of a certain kind of “born-again Christian” outlook on the world where it’s like, you know, “This is a reset for all of our previous sins and we can now be born again new in this new world and we can start over. And you know, that…nigger that I hated my whole life, now all of a sudden we gotta survive together with the zombies from the toxic waste.” I don’t know.
Joy James talks a lot about this when she talks about “sci-fi values” and kind of the erasure of “the black” in an article. And Karera really points to this kind of preservation of life, which she calls a “vitality.” Like, this “hypervitality” that supposes, or you know, really is based upon this belief that we are all mutually dependent upon each other. And it’s like, this like, “we’re all in this together” kind of ethos that is really and simply and truly not true. (Alyssa laughs) Capitalism—what, like, that’s not true! Capitalism and like other processes of marginalization ensure that those on the margins will bear the brunt of this ecological, social, and political disaster. As we see.
Alyssa: And we are going to talk about that, yeah.
Brendane: Like, as we have seen, as we see now with the, you know, hurricane and all that. So, Karera, and me because I agree with her absolutely, like, we take up a real issue with this kind of “hyperethics,” is what she calls it, that erases histories of violation and domination. And, you know, I was reading this and in my notes on the side of the page, it’s like, “How can I look forward to new world of possibility when the water I already drank is not safe, right, or clean?” And, you know, in my neighborhood now where I live, there’s no grocery stores really, nearby. It’s basically a food desert. And, so what really and truly about this “pre-apocalyptic life” do I want to preserve. Like, when we talk about this vitality and this hyperethics around living, what she’s saying is that like, especially in Anthropocene circles, it’s like, “Oh, we need to revert to how things used to be or revert to how things were or we need to try to preserve the before before there is an after.” And it’s like, but for Black people, why would that be the desire?
Alyssa: Yeah, there’s such a romanticization of some pastoral past or something, you know. And it’s always a pastoral one, you know. It’s like, “Oh, life was just so much better when everybody just lived on farms and made, you know, grew their own food and all this.” And I was like, “Who lived on farms? Whose land are those farms on?”
Brendane. Right. Right, that’s the whole thing about the settler colonialism just being transferred over. It’s like people want to start over, but it’s like you want to start over on land that you stole.
Alyssa: Mm. (Snaps fingers) Snaps for Brendane.
Brendane: How you gonna start over on land that you stole? Like, where is going to be the reset button for that, right? Like, you know, so it’s like this mandate of change that’s implicit in the climate change movement, and in certain circles, in the Anthropocene movement, that there is a before that Black and Indigenous people want to return to that also maintains white, cishetero, capitalist, hegemonic power. Alright, so there’s a before that allows us to be, you know, whoever we were before colonization that also allows white people to still be at the top.
Alyssa: Yeah, it’s a no for me.
Brendane: It’s a no. (Sings) It’s a no-no, it’s a no-no.
Alyssa: Is it not wild to you that, like, people are talking about making kin with non-humans and they’re thinking about reconfiguring planetary alliances. But it’s like, “Y’all can’t even imagine inviting Black scholars to a panel unless it’s about diversity and inclusion.”
Brendane: And still I oop.
Alyssa: (Laughs) Like, hello?! Like what?! Y’all can make kin with rocks but you can’t make kin with Black folks. Like, hmm?
Brendane: Yes, they can burn that sage on their altar and practice hoodoo. My best friend and Destiny and I were talking about white practitioners of hoodoo. And you know, grow your own food in your backyard but you literally—a Black person walk past you on the street and you gotta figure out what you gon’ do? Or, I guess in a white liberal sense, you gotta walk up to them and introduce yourself and say that you’re not one of those bad white people. And yes, this is imagination that’s low-key delusion (laughs)
Alyssa: yeah, I think that so much of the thinking about the Anthropocene, it demands a transformation in how we relate to the earth and to the non-human, but not to Blackness or “the black.” So Karera does this really close reading of Rosi Braidotti’s work. And then, like whew, Karera brings it home when she says, “Extinction should not be the only impetus to reconfigure human subjectivity.” So, she really highlights that this is, that it’s only when white bodies and lives are threatened that there’s a motivation to reconfigure what it means to be human. But not when Black people are saying “Hey, we are excluded from the category of human.” And, you know, I think Brendane kind of explained this with the concept of “the black.” Like, if you’re like, “Well, of course I’m human. Just because I’m Black doesn’t mean I’m not human.” It’s, you know, we’re talking about the subject of the human or the genre of the human. So, you know, you were talking about the Enlightenment before and so while Enlightenment thinkers were thinking about rights and human rights, part of thinking about what human rights are is deciding what it means to be human. And so, as they were creating this category, they were excluding Black and Indigenous people from the genre of the human. So that’s why you have this hierarchy, where at the top is “Man” and man is white, male, rational, civilized, and then the Savage and the Barbarian. And then they kind of slotted African and brown people and Indigenous folks into these categories based on, again, arbitrary ideas of civilization and progress.
Brendane: Right, right. And it’s basically, like, when you’re—as you were saying Alyssa—like when you have to decide about human rights, you need to decide first of all, in order for rights to be a thing, right, there has to be a category of people who have them and a category of people who don’t. And so, when you’re trying to figure out “Ok, who gets these rights and who doesn’t?” sometimes the citizen stands in for the human and that’s like a whole ‘nother set of conversations. I think if we want to talk about citizenship/what it means to be undocumented and the ways that that is now wielded in this, like, human–non-human configuration. But I also want to, like, highlight here that “the black/the slave” is at the bottom of the racial hierarchy so that it can serve as a category that is seen as, like, non-human. And this word called “fungible,” which means, when something is fungible, you basically can do whatever you want with it.
Alyssa: It can be exchanged for anything else.
Brendane: Yeah, it can be exchanged for anything else. It’s kind of like a thing that you possess that you can exchange for something for whatever kind of value you want or kind of just make it and your imagination can make it into something else.
Alyssa: So, money is something that would be considered fungible, right? Like, it’s this piece of paper, but you can, it has a particular—there’s an understanding behind this piece of paper and you can exchange it for something, like a TV or bottles of water.
Brendane: Or bottles of wine if you’re living in the quarantine world [Crosstalk] [Laughter]
Alyssa: I just looked at my Brita water filter and I was like, “Or water!”
Brendane: But yeah, so, and when we think about the category of the black or the slave, right, the people who can fill that category’s purpose is to fill the needs of a dominating class.
Alyssa: I wanted to add that, like, it’s very important to think about this as, like—Black feminist thinkers, we’re not continuing this, like, Cartesian binary of “for there to be a human, there has to be a non-human.” Like, we’re trying to break that apart and move completely away from there. So that idea that there’s like—I wanna use the word “dialectic” but it’s like, that isn’t gonna be helpful
Brendane: (Laughs) That’s not, you know, “can you tell that we’re nerds?” kind of thing (laughs)
Alyssa: Yes, exactly. So, thinking in this very binary way of male-female, citizen-non-citizen, all of these things, this comes out of [a] long history of the white Western philosophical paradigm, essentially, which is just like, “We have to think about things in binaries.” And that is not the way the majority of the world things but it’s something that we have now had to be socialized into. And so, I think a lot of Black feminist thinkers are, like, trying to think outside of these binaries and beyond binaries and imagining what a world like that looks like.
Brendane: Yes, absolutely. And, Karera does that work too through her, like, philosophical intervention, where she calls us to reimagine new worlds that tackle the social injustices of the current one. And so, she joins—I’m putting her in the circle. Forgive me if you do not see yourself in the circle—But when I read this, all I kept thinking about was other Black feminist thinkers like JT Roane, Alexis Pauline Gumbs, and others who conceptualize a new world through Black people’s unique way of surviving in this one. So Roane wrote in kind of this like short article, where he talks about Black people “give expression to other formulations for how to build connections, how to configure social worlds according to unsanctioned rubrics that do not inhere to the futures outlined by settler futurity—a relay between the equally destructive fantasy of permanency and total apocalypse.”
So, basically—and the reason why I paused like that, [I] was like, “Oh, I should, I need to break this down.” Because if you’re not me, you’re like “What? What does this mean?” Alright so basically Roane is saying that Black people, we already know how to make connections with each other and with the world, the non-human, the post-human, the et cetera, with the world around us. We have that ancestral knowledge. And we know how to configure social worlds, build worlds that meet metrics that aren’t “legal,” right, that meet metrics that aren’t necessarily approved of by what might be, you know, the powers that be, may say, right? And that we are not necessarily attached to these kind of imagined futures of settler futurity, which, basically, you know, settler colonialism kind of goes back and forth between a world that will always be what it is, right? Will always be in this capitalist rut where people always be at the bottom and the rich will only get richer. Or, this other thing, which is, like, total apocalypse, and “if white people don’t got it, we all don’t got it” kind of thing. And it’s like Black vitality, Black living, we break that open right. We actually express, and I’m gonna paraphrase him and say, like, we express the possibilities against these frames, right? And so, these frames of what he calls catastrophic anti-Black circumstances. And so, Roane also makes a reference to “wake work,” which is something that Christina Sharpe develops and which is about the ways that we are, you know, when we talk about people being “woke,” right, your eyes are open to the world. But “wake work” is thinking about our eyes and our hearts being open to the world and also being able to care for each other through that. So, pushing past this capitalist, white supremacist understanding how we relate to each other to then getting back to ancestral, or even present, forms of Black care and practice. And like, we’ve been doing that, right? We’ve been imagining new worlds, right? We’ve been imagining new ways to have family, we’ve been imagining ways of being that do not perpetuate oppression against other people. We just gotta lean more into it because, believe it or not, y’all, this world is falling apart. Like, believe it or not, it’s falling apart.
Alyssa: Yeah, it is. Yeah, when you were talking about settler colonial studies, or settler colonialism, I was thinking about our Critical Indigenous Studies class that we, you know, we were both in that class, what was it last year?
Brendane: I loved it.
Alyssa: Our professor was fan—she is fantastic. But I think another way that, you know, we can talk about the way Blackness ruptures these binaries or these, kind of like, constructions and concepts is in settler colonialism. So, in settler colonial studies, you know, people are often are thinking about the settler and the Indigenous. And one of the questions that I asked of our professor and that I think you were also thinking about is just like, “Well, where do African Americans fit in in that situation in the United States.” I wasn’t as familiar with Afropessimism. We’re not gonna get into that today, y’all (laughs)
Brendane: It’s coming.
Alyssa: Yeah, but clearly, I was kind of gesturing toward that idea that Black people in the United States, they don’t fit into either category [of settler or Indigenous] and in that case, like, how do you reconcile their existence, right? And, you know, as a result of those kinds of questions, she, you know, our professor, she kind of revamped her entire settler colonialism course in the fall after that class. So, you know, she was reading Tiffany King and you know, they read all these great texts where people are really thinking about Blackness, indigeneity, and the settler, right? And I think I’m glad we could be there to do that (laughs)
Brendane: Yeah, my final paper was thinking about that but thinking about this troubled category or this troubled word, I’m going to throw it out there: solidarity. And, thinking about, for me what I read in some of the texts that we, and I think you pointed out in class, like, one text in particular, where it was like the Indigenous folks were using hip-hop or something as like a revolutionary way to talk about their oppression. But then it was like, they actually treated Black people on the island terribly, right? And so, it’s just like, even within these kind of, even within these different spaces where people are resisting colonization, right, “the black,” like, the category that Black people can inhabit, right, still is operational and, like, anti-Blackness is still present. And so, the question around, at least for a lot of it for me, was like, “How do we find ‘solidarity’ with different groups of people that doesn’t rely on a denigration of Black people or, like, an appropriation of our radical theories without really wanting to invite us in?”
Alyssa: Yeah, I think that Karera helps us with that. She’s like, “Alright, we need to imagine new worlds.” Like, that is, that is it. So, if Black death is the precondition of democracy, then we have to demand transformation, not reformation. Like, there’s no reform to a system that is predicated on our death and destruction. We need to imagine an actualized world where we, you know, where we demand these things and a world that, I think that we need to think about a world that renders these systems obsolete.
So, I heard Hortense Spillers speak. Oh yes, Hortense Spillers. (Laughs) You can listen to us talk about her text “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe” in a previous episode (laughs) But she did a talk a few weeks back and she said that the end is not THE end. So “the end” means making space for new worlds. And you know, people often say that “the past is present,” but for her, she was like, “The future is always present because we are continually trying to create it.” And it just shows that Black feminist futurity is a different type of temporality compared to white Anthropocenean thinking. I got it! Anthropocenean!
Brendane: It rolled off the tongue too! I was like, “Yes!”
Alyssa: I don’t know why I drew attention to it. (Laughs) So, I think that, you know, Black feminist thinkers, you know, we commit to a different ethical now rather than a better more just future, right? So, and then that future will come.
Brendane: It’s got to. It’s got to. [00:53:55] So, I think that just, like, brings us to this better, this different, ethical now. Like, let’s talk about this now.
Alyssa: So, like, we’re talking about, so our final segment, our favorite segment: What in the World?!
Brendane: What in the world.
Alyssa: So, our “What in the World?!” is the world.
Brendane: Literally, the world.
Alyssa: It’s the world today.
Brendane: Um, yo, okay, as I have said before, the world is basura en fuego. Like, we might—and actually, parts of the world are on fire right now.
Alyssa: Literally. Yeah.
Brendane: And, you know, back then I was being a little sarcastic, but it’s like, “Oh no, like whew shit.” Like, we here, like, this is it. The world is on fire and so today we’re gonna talk about global warming, these rising sea temperatures that are bringing sharks to New York. So watch out! Watch out. And the whole, just, dumpster fire that comes with everything that’s going on.
Alyssa: Yeah, it’s just like, the fuego really is here in all of these different ways. And one of them was like in a New York Times article that they published last week. It was an interactive piece, and they were demonstrating the connection between redlining in US cities and global warming and, you know, race and the death of Black people of course. So I had, you know, learn more about redlining and what that is cuz (sighs) I sit on my Canadian—I just, you know what, have a different genealogy in that I always feel bad that I don’t know these things and then I’m like, “I come from a different genealogy.”
Brendane: Literally. I’m glad that this is not part of your lived experience.
Alyssa: Oooh. So, that’s what I’m telling you: Gilead escape plan! (Laughs) But redlining, for those who aren’t familiar with it, this is a practice that started in the 1930s—
Brendane: in Baltimore.
Alyssa: In Baltimore, where neighborhoods would be rated to “help” mortgage lenders decide, like, which areas were risky investments. So, of course, racism for 500 Alex. The neighborhoods that were considered hazardous—and that was literally the word that they used, it was “hazardous”—they were mostly populated by Black and immigrant people. So, this kind of diverted a lot of investment away from these neighborhoods. And so, what the New York Times did was they overlaid the redlined areas with surface temperatures today and they found that these former redlined areas are hotter than other places in the same city. So, it’s mostly because they have, like, fewer trees and more pavement. And, so it’s important today. “Oh yeah, ok well, surface temperature, that’s, you know, that’s not that big of a deal, it’s fine.” But actually, it’s really important to note that extreme heat kills more Americans than any other weather-related disaster. So, yeah. So that’s pretty crazy and then I read this tweet that was like, “We shouldn’t think about this year as the hottest year in a hundred years. We should think about it as the coolest year for the next hundred years.” So, if already you’re seeing these discrepancies where neighborhoods of Black and brown people are 12 degrees hotter than white neighborhoods. Hm, what’s that gonna look in fifty years? Yeah so in some cases, I think it was Portland, Portland has like the highest discrepancy and I think it was around 12- or 13-degrees difference. Which is a (sighs) okay.
Brendane: That’s literally a completely different day. Like 80 [degrees Fahrenheit] versus 92 [degrees Fahrenheit], right? That’s 70 [degrees Fahrenheit] versus like 83 [degrees Fahrenheit]. Like (sighs) Yo, that is truly an example of environmental racism. And, I don’t know if y’all knew about this before—
Alyssa: Wait so, what—how would you explain environmental racism, because you know people are probably like “(Scoffs) Another kind of racism!? Like, I’m still on racial capitalism, like.”
Brendane: (Laughs) Yo, okay yes, so, as y’all know, racism manifests in all these different ways. It’s not just “Oh, I don’t like somebody because they look a certain way,” right? So, environmental racism refers to the ways that “minority” neighborhoods are disproportionately burdened with environmental hazards. So, this is neighborhoods that are built on top of old toxic waste sites or might be next to a sewage plant or a landfill or power stations. So, it’s a form of systemic racism that Black communities especially face at high levels where we have high levels of pollution and toxicity. A lot of these neighborhoods, right, they tell you “Do not drink the water.”
Alyssa: Yeah, and it’s not just by chance. Like, it’s not by chance that people who contribute the least to climate change and to pollution are the ones that are the most affected by it. And that is something that you can see within the U.S., you can see that globally, around the world. So, people in the global south, in the Pacific, people who live on islands, are deeply deeply affected by climate change and they contribute the least to it.
Brendane: In the class that I TAed for, we read articles about Pacific Islanders who contribute, like, less than 0.001% of carbon emissions, right? Because they’re tiny islands, maybe five miles across, but the rising sea levels are actually flooding their homes and like flooding their places. And they’re called “climate refugees.” And it’s like, these are people who have to change their entire ways of life because those of us who live in the West world, right, you know, have done—I mean different levels of environmental harm—but, like, you know, we are complicit in harms of these Indigenous peoples. And they’re trying to relocate and there are places, like it’s difficult for them to relocate. New Zealand has a bunch of “climate refugees” from that area.
Alyssa: Yeah, and I mean, even you can see it in the Caribbean as well with the rising sea temperatures it means that a lot of people who live on the coast, live in coastal regions in general. This is the case in Florida. People are losing their livelihoods as a result of this because sea temperature goes up, fish move away, coral reefs die, and it’s all just like, it’s all just a cycle where Black death just becomes the byproduct of mostly white people living their best lives.
Brendane: Right, right. Of like, modernization and “progress.” Yeah, oh and the little fishies, I think about Nemo. Yeah, I know, you said “reefs” and that made me think about Nemo and you know
Alyssa: Yeah, I mean, we went kind of like around. I mean, you were talking about, like, toxic waste and sewage works and you know.
Brendane: Yeah, toxic waste. So, there’s actually a term for toxic waste sites that have been identified by the Environmental Protection Agency as “superfund sites,” which are sites that are like national priority sites for the levels of toxicity they have. And so, superfund is the colloquial name for the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), which was passed in—
Alyssa: Whew. Mouthful.
Brendane: Yeah, mouthful. But hopefully it stands up to it being comprehensive. But, anyway, passed in 1980 after hazardous waste was discovered to be disposed of in poor neighborhoods around the country. And so, the superfund was basically Congress giving the EPA money to clean up these sites. And so, they have developed plans for these sites. There’s over 1800 of them and they have the comprehensive plans for clean-up and that’s definitely long-term.
Alyssa: I mean, one of the, so the thing that I find wild about this—and also, shoutout to Marisa Solomon. She was the one who gave me the—I kind of consulted her about this episode and she was like “superfund sites.” I was just like, “Oh, okay.” So, thank you.
Brendane: Thank you, thank you.
Alyssa: She’s a new professor at Barnard so shoutout to her. I’ll be working with her as part of the Black Atlantic Ecologies Working Group. Very exciting stuff (laughs)
Brendane: Ok, slight flex on us real quick.
Alyssa: You always say I’m flexing, I’m just providing information (laughs)
Brendane: No, I’m just saying, flex. I mean, might as well, if you not full of yourself, who will be? I believe in it.
Alyssa: So yeah, I mean, so she was the one who was like “prisons are built over superfund sites.” So, they are like making money off of enslaved prison labor and then they’re also making money from the site clean-up. Like huh? Huh??
Brendane: On top of just, you know, attempting to continue the disposal of people. It’s, you know, this shit is ridiculous. So yeah, like, where I’m at now, Baltimore City, has two superfund sites. One is a landfill and the other is like a waste disposal site. There are five in the county and the first—so shoutout to all the listeners in South Carolina (laughs)—if you’re from South Carolina like me, I was surprised but not surprised to find out that the first major settlement, so the first use of the superfund was actually given to a South Carolina waste disposal plant off of Bluff Road. So, if you’ve ever driven by Bluff Road and been like, “Oh, this smell funny.” That might be part of the reason (laughs) And this was done in 1982. And, my other little funny but not funny joke, is that my home state is always leading the way in the wrong things. Like, first the slavery shit and now this? Like, South Carolina, we gotta do better.
But, as I was doing research on superfunds, and like, really trying to learn more about it, shortly after the person who’s currently president became president in 2017, the superfund taskforce—and you can look them up and you will not be surprised by this once you see what they look like—set out a new initiative that aims to “revitalize” and “redevelop” these toxic waste sites. And also encourage private investment. So, kind of similar things to what’s been happening with prisons, where, you know, they converted themselves—or, they were converted from these government entities into these private entities. Now we see an expansion of capitalism by turning revitalization projects into private investments. And we know that means they’re gonna gentrify these areas.
And so, essentially, like, all of this environmental toxicity and, you know, “revitalization” etc., is going to lead marginalized and poor people to a slower death. And so, Rob Nixon is a theorist who coined the term “slow violence” and “slow death” to describe the disproportionate impact environmental racism has on poor people. So, it’s not the quick death, right, of, you know, racism that might be police violence. It’s being in these toxic environments your entire life and dying slowly, dying earlier. The Black life expectancy rate is much shorter than it is for, like, white people or other non-Black people. And so, the ways that all these things accumulate over time to kill us slowly is what that article talks about. And we’ll link it for y’all if you’re interested.
Alyssa: Yeah, exactly, and I mean, I think that that is definitely something—the “slow death” and the “slow violence”—is something that we definitely saw with Flint, Michigan where lead contaminated water for six years. And so, part of the reason that we’re like, this is a good time to do this episode is they actually just reached a financial settlement for the residents of Flint. But then it’s like, “Ok.” The question remains: Is the water clean though? Like, have you cleaned the water? And like, even if the government came to you and said, “Ok, we’ve cleaned the water. Like, sorry, here’s some money, but the water’s clean,” would you trust it? I wouldn’t trust it. I’d be like, “How could you trust any institution again?” You just can’t.
And so, it really brings home this tweet that Tre (@trefromtheblock) on Twitter, what she wrote. She said, “Are you familiar with urban farming? Do you know how to naturally purify your water? How strong are your first aid skills? Can you navigate your environment without a phone? This country will starve you and pollute your resources before it shoots you at close range.” I mean really, she’s talking about the ways that people, the country, institutions, are enacting these slow violences and slow deaths on Black people. And so, what is it that we are doing to counteract and escape that and build our own communities. So she, you know, she also goes on to talk about, like, the ways that people are very quick to romanticize taking up arms. And she also is like, “I’m not trying to minimize the Black radical tradition or the Black Panther Party and like the work that they’ve done. But after the revolution, what are you gonna do if you can’t grow your own food? And I think that Flint also shows that, like, guns sure as shit didn’t help anybody get clean water.
Brendane: I mean, maybe if they pulled up on the right person (Alyssa laughs) and asked for clean water maybe that would’ve changed some things.
Alyssa: Do some John Q stuff, are you recommending (laughs) some Denzel in John Q stuff?
Brendane: No, oh my gosh, no, absolutely not! (laughs) But yeah, I would say that, like, speaking of the Black Panther Party and thinking about arming folks (sighs) Arming men in particular, right, because that’s the images that we have and are shown is that we need to arm men and it’s like, when we think about Black people and violence in Black communities, right? Uhhhh, arming men, is that gonna solve the problem of protecting women in our own communities? And so, I believe that we should exercise our second amendment rights, but it’s not revolutionary when those same weapons are used against Black women, especially Black trans women and Black trans people.
And so, I think that we need to prepare for the apocalypse in all of the ways. We need to prepare for it in all of the ways. So, if you do know how to grow things, cuz I had a succulent and I had to leave it with my roommate, because under my care
Alyssa: What succulent?
Brendane: It was (pause) (sighs) See, and this is why I can’t do this plant stuff. I don’t even know the name of it but it had, like…I guess it was…it had, it was not an aloe plant but it was green (Alyssa laughs) Okay, that’s such a horrible, okay (laughs) It was green and it had these little broad leaves that was, like, and they were kinda thick, broad leaves. And I’m going to probably leave this episode and go look it up and be like, “Alyssa, can you edit over?” And be like [Crosstalk] But no, it’s got these little broad leaves and under my care, it was dying. But my lovely Cancer roommate brought it to life and so it’s now her child.
Alyssa: I have some plants. I have a tamarind actually. So I was—my mom, so we eat these treats called tamarind balls and it’s basically just the flesh of a tamarind and you ball it up and then you sprinkle sugar on it. And so my mom brought some for me when she was last visiting. And I was like, “I’m gonna try to bust these seeds.” So, basically—okay, “bust” I (laughs)
Brendane: Buss it wide open
Alyssa: (Laughs) I knew this man from St. Vincent when I was in Martinique and that’s what he would say, you just but the seeds. But it’s, I mean germinate the seeds. So I tried to do that. I did it. I had, like, seven. I gave one away. And so it was growing really well and I was getting really excited. I was like, “This is literally my baby.” I grew it from a seed and it’s been closed for the last week so that the leaves they kind of close up and it’s been closed for the last couple weeks. So I think it’s dying and I’m really sad. But I have grown food when I was in Martinique. Grown some vegetables and such. So, I have a little bit of experience there.
But I think, what I was also thinking about, besides the arms because, you know, again, as a Canadian (laughs) I am not pro, I am anti-weapons, like I’m anti-gun. So I’m just like, “Second amendment rights, like, what is it even for?” But (sighs) You know, I’m not really into the whole gun thing. And then, so when, you know, when we were thinking about this episode, someone on Twitter, @theglamacademic, she recommended the work of Minna Salami. So since I’ve been reading Sister Outsider, Minna Salami’s work really connects with, like, Audre Lorde’s work on feeling and affect, especially “Poetry is Not a Luxury” and “The Uses of the Erotic.” So I think that, like, there is this idea in men that the revolution is about domination. Whereas, like, if we’re thinking and talking about Black feminist futurity, that’s really rooted in care and community, right? So Salami’s book, it’s called Sensuous Knowledge, she, like Audre Lorde, really, like, values and has us think about the embodied. So the poetic, the erotic, you know, spiritual and emotional intelligence. And then, you know, she contrasts that to what she calls “Europatriarchal knowledge.” And so, in that type of knowledge, there’s like a creation of hierarchy among humans and nature. Also, within humans. And so, in this, like, white Western, capitalist, patriarchal, philosophical paradigm, there is an emphasis on domination of the feminine and of nature. And nature is, of course, understood as feminine. Whereas, if we think about, like, sensuous knowledge or about, you know, the erotic and feeling, then you know, focusing on farming, growing food, and, like, connecting with, or reconnecting with, the land and with nature. It was something that, like, really drew me to my research, like when I would talk to farmers in Martinique, you know, they would really talk about this sensuality with the land. Like, they loved putting their hands in the earth and growing things, you know. Having things grow out of the land, like, almost seemingly from nothing. And so, I think that the world would just be a better place if we stopped thinking with this, like, revolutionist domination and really started thinking more about revolution as like interconnection and feeling and sensuality. That’s just me.
Brendane: Yeah. I mean, I wouldn’t say that’s just you. I think for me I think these things have to come simultaneously. Like, especially when you face an enemy that will stop at nothing to kill you. And so, you know, I don’t go to protests anymore because that was something of my youth. But I see these people out there marching on the streets and it’s like, you know, we were taught in the civil rights movement that nonviolence was the best thing because it was tied to respectability politics and like being a part of, you know, a certain type of integrationist movement that I have my own set of theories about but I’m not gonna say that on here.
But yeah, so just like that set of politics that prioritizes non-violence. But it’s, you know, Fanon talks about violence as a tool of decolonization, right? And, like, colonization was such a violent process that, as you mentioned right, divorces our bodies and our ways of knowing from our ways of feeling and how it’s important for us to get back into that, thinking about care and community but also for our own bodily safety. So while you may not personally, you know, want to wield a gun, it’s okay. You just get with people who do know how to do it and who won’t shoot you, right? And like [Crosstalk]
Alyssa: They freak me out though. Guns really freak me out.
Brendane: I mean, as they should. Like, they’re weapons, like, and they are created to intend to kill. So, I guess definitely not something to play with. But I do think that we’re entering into a period that we have to think about all the different ways that we need to protect ourselves. And so, even if you have to pick up a bow and an arrow, a hatchet, you know, something, then
Alyssa: I think I could maybe get behind a bow and arrow.
Brendane: Okay, bow and arrow. I always wanted to do archery, I always wanted to be—not Katniss, though. Not, never that. But, yeah, just like, something because who, I mean, who knows honestly what’s gonna happen. We already have seen examples of people who literally just in the last few days have been killing folks at these protests with impunity. So, it’s just, the world is so scary.
Alyssa: Well, he has actually been charged with murder. The young, 17-year-old minor boy who was cleaning graffiti hours before—oh God. I don’t even want to talk about, like, the representation.
Brendane: I will say what I mean by impunity is you just took lives. And I don’t believe in this little criminal legal system, I’m not like, arrest people because, you know, abolition. So, to me, it’s like, “What does arresting you do when you’ve already taken a life?” right.
Alyssa: Another Black man, Jacob Blake, was shot by the police this week. (Pause) He lived, he survived. We wish him healing, him and his family healing. But I just saw too many tweets and comments that were saying things like, “America can’t stomach this anymore! We can’t take anymore of this!” And the first thing that popped into my head was “How could you stomach it before?”
Brendane. Period. Oh my gosh, period. Like, mm.
Alyssa: I don’t know. It’s like, Emmett Till was nineteen fifty—his open casket funeral was 1956. Rodney King was beaten nearly to death on tape in 1991. Y’all still need evidence? You’re only getting sick of this now? So, and then, so there’s that that was just going through my head. But then when they were saying “We can’t take anymore of this,” it just implied that that “we” is a white person. And it kind of reinforces this idea that Black Americans are not truly Americans. Like, Black folk been tired. Ok, we tired.
Brendane: Been tired.
Alyssa: Tired. And so, in thinking about how they can, you know, how they can stand this or how they can stomach this, when I read Axelle Karera’s quote—or she quotes Saidiya Hartman—and Saidiya Hartman said in an interview that the white bourgeois family can actually live with murder in order to reconstitute domesticity. Whew. So you’ve read more, like, more of Hartman’s work than I have, like, so you know, what do you make of that? What does that mean?
Brendane: You know, in my imagination
Alyssa: And I know you love Saidiya Hartman.
Brendane: I love her. In my imagination, we’re like best friends. And I hope that, you know I hope she never hears this, but anyway so (Laughs) In other news, her first book, Scenes of Subjection, which if you have encountered this book, it’s dense, it took me about three years and like five read-throughs to really understand it. But she really talks about the ways that whiteness uses “the black”—the black is back again—slash “the slave,” to reconstitute itself. And so this fungibility that we mentioned earlier, Blackness, which makes it kind of an everything in this, it’s all-purpose kind of thing and also simultaneously allows it to exist as nothing, is what makes violence against Black people legal. It’s what makes it fathomable, which is like people can even think about it, right? And also justifiable, where we can have people in journalism write articles saying that Breonna Taylor’s ex-boyfriend was arrested for drugs so that justifies why Louisville, Kentucky police needed to shoot her in her sleep. The spectacle, right, of death, of torture, of the rape of Black people reaffirms these racial hierarchies. And Hartman argues, in her book, [the spectacle of death, torture, and rape of Black people] is actually a source of pleasure for white people. And not pleasure in a sex—well, can be in a sexual way, I’m not gonna exclude that—but
Alyssa: In the erotic way, it’s erotic.
Brendane: Right, it’s erotic, it’s this—and what [Hartman] means, at least what I interpret that she means is that it’s pleasurable because it reaffirms [white people’s] constructed humanity and also the ways that they’ve constructed that they are actually unable to be violated. And so, what do I mean by that, right? So, on one level, thinking about these circulations of videos of Black death actually brings a sense of pleasure to white people on, like you know, a psychological, psychoanalytic level. It reaffirms that these systems that they created to horde power and resources work and actually protect them. So, when I see these posts, right, that say, “Never again,” it reminds me that actually, the act of saying “Never again” and also the active killing of Black people sustains white life. So, it’s like, the act of being like, “Never again, this is horrible, this is deplorable violence” allows them to feel good about themselves on, like, a conscious level and then also subconsciously that death allows them to feel good about being white because they feel exempted from that.
Alyssa: Yeah, I mean, in response to that I think that Karera she pulls these quotes from Christina Sharpe’s work, which is called In the Wake, which you know, you were just talking about earlier. And they really resonated with me and this, like, question of Black death. And so, Christina Sharpe, who is quoting Joy James and Joao Vargas—whew, talk about six degrees of citation!
Brendane: Citational politics on point (laughs)
Alyssa: So they ask, like, “What happens when instead of becoming enraged and shocked every time a Black person is killed in the United States, we recognize Black death (and slow death) as predictable and a constitutive aspect of democracy?” And also, another question was “What will happen if instead of demanding justice we recognize (or at least consider) that the very notion of justice produces and requires Black exclusion and death as normative?” I would love to talk about that in an episode cuz you did just mention, like, abolition and we’ve had, like, some really interesting discussion, debates about, like, voting and abolition. And I remember when people were like, “Alright so, you know, this Central Park Karen is about to be charged. Are y’all still abolitionists?” And I was just like, “I’m struggling with this, I’m struggling with this.” And I know that, you know, you’re there. I’m getting there and I think that that would be a really good conversation to have, and you know, to think about, like, police and prison abolition. Especially now that we know that these prisons are built on these toxic sites and, like, incarcerated people have been hired out to risk their lives to fight wildfires. It just again brings home this idea of committing to a new ethical now and imagining transformation.
And one of the things that I also, we didn’t get to because this episode is running long, but, you know, we did want to acknowledge that, like, environmental racism is hella connected to colonialism. There are First Nations reservations in Canada. Part of the land we occupy, Turtle Island, that do not have access to clean water or other natural resources. We can witness this, like, corporate land acquisition issue with the Dakota Access Pipeline and the battle of the, the kind of NoDAPL Sioux battle, and the Wet’suwet’en protests against the Coastal GasLink Pipeline. So, we just want to, like, also acknowledge and address that for Indigenous communities, environmental racism is both a physical health issue but it also contributes to this cultural erasure beyond what they’ve already experienced. We’re trying to wrap up, but just wanted to make sure that
Brendane: Yeah, we want to make sure that we speak to the struggle and also just, like, this horrible thing that’s happening where now the climate change evangelists, as I will call them, are like, “We should turn back to Indigenous ways of knowing.” So they turn to Black Indigenous people and Indigenous people and say, “How do we repair the earth now?” And it’s like, the caucasity of it all! Like, we do not exist to save you all. But I wanted to bring us to our little wrap-up and thinking about the imaginative work that we are doing. Like, we are in the process of changing our world, right? It’s not something that we’re getting to, it’s happening now. And I want to say that each and every time we get together to celebrate ourselves, celebrate our lives, our breath, each other, the times of affirmation we have sitting here looking at each other on Zoom, on this podcast, ayy. We imagine new worlds in which we can care for each other and so these Black feminist anthropologists here, sitting here talking to you now, look forward to growing and glowing with you from the end of this world to the beginning of the new one. And we believe that we will win.
Alyssa: [01:26:47] Thank you all for listening. If you heard something today that made you laugh, helped you rethink something, or made you question yourself or the world around you, please leave us a rating and review on Apple Podcasts and let everyone know that you love Zora’s Daughters.
Brendane: And if you’d like to follow us on social media, start a conversation about this episode, or send us ideas for future episodes, you can find us at zorasdaughters on Instagram and zoras_daughters on Twitter—I have to say it like that. Head to zorasdaughters.com to find transcripts for the episodes, our bios, contact info, and ways to support the podcast.
Alyssa: Alright, thanks y’all. Be kind to yourselves. Bye!
[Outro music ends] [Recording ends]