We’re giving you notes from the shoal! In our last episode of the semester, Alyssa and Brendane are joined by the brilliant Amber Starks AKA Melanin Mvskoke to talk about blackness, indigeneity, the im/possibility of solidarity, and so much more!
What’s the Word? Praxis. A commonly used (and perhaps abused!) term in conversations around activism and solidarity that we historicize and define as ethical and accountable action.
What We’re Reading. “Every Day We Must Get Up and Relearn the World,” an Interview with Robyn Maynard and Leanne Betasamosake Simpson. In this interview, Maynard and Simpson discuss their process of writing letters back and forth during the early days of pandemic and how that pushed them read and deepen their thinking on what it means to get free, which they call a politics and praxis of rehearsal. Throughout the interview, they reflect on topics like the violence of normality, the politics of recognition and respectability, the issue with apocalyptic rhetoric, disrupting linear temporality, the way state violence is inherently gendered, among others.
What in the World?! In this segment, we have Amber Starks AKA Melanin Mvskoke to discuss enculturation, the hypervisibility of blackness and hyperinvisibility of indigeneity, that “Land Back” does not mean an eviction notice, the ways we can think Black liberation and Native sovereignty together and in community, that the land recognizes the indigeneity of African descendants, and how Black folks risk participating in Native erasure. We also discuss the accusations of anti-indigeneity against Black anthropologists and the piggybacking of other causes onto Black people’s and why Brendane does not believe in solidarity.
Zora’s Daughters Podcast: Episode 8
Co-Hosts: Brendane Tynes and Alyssa A.L. James
Guest: Amber Starks
Title: 40 Acres Ain’t Praxis
Total Length: 01:42:22
[00:00:00] Music Plays
[00:00:28] Music descends
[00:00:28] Alyssa James: Hey everyone! Welcome back to Zora’s Daughters, the podcast where we discuss popular culture with a Black feminist anthropological lens. I’m Alyssa, and my pronouns are she/her/hers.
[00:00:37] Brendane Tynes: Hey y’all, I’m Brendane, and I use she/her/hers pronouns as well. In our last episode of the semester—tear, tear, cry, cry—we will be talking about Blackness, Indigeneity, the (im)possibility of solidarity—the “im” in parentheses as scholars do—and so much more! We will be joined by the brilliant Amber Starks AKA Melanin Mvskoke. And we should also say that we’re recording this episode about a week early, so if something else goes down in the meantime that’s why it wasn’t addressed. So please, don’t DM us [laughter].
[00:01:16] AJ: We wanted a break break. A break-break.
[00:01:17] BT: A break-break.
[00:01:21] AJ: Yes, so we will see you all in February 2022. But in the meantime, here’s something else that we wanted to say—we cannot stress this enough—thank you so much to every single one of you who have and continue to support this podcast. If you’re listening, you’re a supporter. If you’ve donated, you’re a supporter. If you engage with us on Instagram and Twitter, you are a supporter. We appreciate you. We appreciate you. You get a thank you, you get a thank you, you get a thank you [laughter]. Because without you, this podcast would just be the tree in the forest that didn’t make a sound. For information on how to donate, head to our website zorasdaughters.com. If it’s not in your budget right now, you can help us out by leaving us a rating and review on Apple Podcasts and following us on zorasdaughters on Instagram and zoras_daughters on Twitter. And please, for the sake of humanity, put people on to this podcast. Put people on. Share it with friends, frenemies, or play it on the long drive to see your partner’s family in Rocky Mount, NC for the holidays which is what I’m going to be doing the day that you are listening to this podcast [laughter].
[00:02:38] BT: Hmm, well, let me go ahead and speak to the future you, saying the best of luck on that. That drive is going to be a long one [laughter]. It’s going to be a long one. I have driven past Rocky Mount and its country, girl. You ain’t got no cell phone service probably a good bit of the time. Just a warning.
[00:03:01] AJ: I don’t believe you [laughter].
[00:03:05] BT: I do, last time I went, my ex and I were in that area, several blackout moments. I had to practice presence. I hope y’all have an amazing time and that you eat well, because the food.
[00:03:24] AJ: Okay.
[00:03:25] BT: My plans for the holidays are to rest and relax as much as possible before this next stage of writing begins, the next semester begins. I am so tired, but I will be going back to South Carolina to see my family around Christmas and then I’ll spend New Year’s with my other family. I’ll be in North Carolina for a little bit as well.
[00:03:49] AJ: Okay so we’re gonna be in the Carolinas.
[00:03:52] BT: Yes [laughter]. Those are all my plans as of now. By the time y’all listen to this, I will have finished up all of my fellowship applications for the year 2021 so a bitch is retastop [ready to stop]. Instead of retago [ready to go], I’m retastop [laughter].
[00:04:12] AJ: Yes! Grant applications are done. Congrats to all of the folks who finished their Ford applications on time. I’m sure that you also cannot wait for this break, and I hope that you all are not doing that very academic thing of trying to schedule writing over the holidays. Cause you know you’re not going to do it so why disappoint yourself? Why set yourself up for the failure?
[00:04:33] BT: Wow, a word.
[00:04:37] Just take a break alright and own it, live with it. So, since it’ our last episode of the season—or of the semester I should say, this is the mid-season break we’ll be taking—let’s make this a good one. Brendane, what’s the word?
[00:04:55] [Music Plays]
[00:04:57] BT: The word for today is praxis.
[00:04:59] AJ: As praxis.
[00:05:03] BT: As praxis. As you may have heard [crosstalk][laughter]. And while I may not be the word nerd that Alyssa is, I’m going to take you back to the Greeks, where Aristotle posited that humans engaged in three basic activities. So, the first one being theoria which is thinking, poiesis which is making, and praxis which is doing. Praxis, then, becomes the process of an idea being translated into action. Praxis is typically associated with Marxism and the work of Antonio Gramsci, but a variety of disciplines have their own applications for praxis. For example, in education praxis describes experiential learning, while in psychology, praxis can refer to the cycle of action-reflection-action that allows us to integrate theory or lesson into lived experience. These definitions broadly deal with theory and action, but the way they are put into use is very different.
[00:06:00] AJ: So basically, what you’re saying is the disciplines have different praxes?
[00:06:07] BT: Yes, they have different praxes but—at least in my opinion, where I sit—praxis is not necessarily something that’s associated with academic disciplines because let’s be real about it, right, who is “doing” what they’re studying and reading? Who’s doing it? But let me get off my shady soapbox [laughter].
[00:06:31] AJ: Some people are, come on.
[00:06:32] BT: You know, some of us try but typically, when people talk about praxis in social or youth work, or education, they’re often using Paulo Freire’s interpretation of Marxist praxis from Pedagogy of the Oppressed. He describes praxis as “a reflection and action upon the world in order to transform it.” And he argued that people had a responsibility to act in ways that would create a more just world, one that centered freedom. And this can only happen when one is actively interrogating their own values in relation to the values of the world, right? You have to engage the work of other people with whom you’d like to build liberation. So, praxis then becomes a kind of iterative process where you’re constantly checking yourself, checking the world, checking others, right? You can’t simply praxis one time and then be a good social justice warrior, as some of the IG girls would have you believe, you know. It is actually a nonlinear process through which we move ourselves to the world we want to live in.
[00:07:41] AJ: Yes, hold on to that non-linear, it’s gonna become very important in our next segment as well. But since I love a shorthand—I always talk about my shorthands for reading, for being able to move through jargony texts easily, I understand praxis as theory plus practice plus values. And I think values are especially important when it comes to Black feminism. I think praxis is often understood as thoughtful action, a practice that is reflexive, responsive, and theoretically informed. When we incorporate values, we also consider what it is that we’re committed to, specifically how we want the world to change on account of our action. So, how ought the world look on account of my theorizing and my action? Praxis, then, is also ethical and accountable action. To whom are you accountable? These communities may not be the same communities that you are already a member of.
[00:08:40] BT: Right, for example, as a Black queer woman who does radical work, I’m accountable to Black trans communities even though I am not a member of those communities. And I do not believe in allyship for a variety of reasons, so if you ever see me calling myself an ally to communities its because I’m probably trying to get some grant money [laughter]. I understand that my research though and community work doesn’t mean shit if it doesn’t benefit Black trans people. So, that’s aligned with my values that come out of radical Black feminist principles. And you know, in other words, it’s not enough to say that I’m ‘bout it. I actually have to be about it by doing things that are aligned with Black trans self-determination, even if that costs me a privilege or something. I think that aspect of values, as you so astutely brought into this conversation, Alyssa, gets left out in favor of the very academic orientation to separate thinking and doing. It’s why applied academics or activist academics are not considered as “rigorous” as purely theoretical ones—which we have heard time and time again. And purely—although pure is maybe a strong word, you know, since they’re often take their cues from something in the world, right, there’s no such thing as pure theory—theoretical ones are often criticized for being out of touch with the real world. But even Aristotle was thinking of praxis as being guided by values, or a moral disposition to act rightly or in a way that is conducive to “the good life” as he loves to say.
[00:10:27] AJ: He does, he loves the good life. He’s the original good life, talking about that stuff.
[00:10:35 BT: He’s the original dreamer.
[00:10:36] AJ: Yes. At least is the modern western philosophical paradigm [laughter] he’s the original. So, another part of the concept of praxis that I wanted to take up is the idea that it’s responsive, or iterative. So, it says to me that it should be attentive and attuned to context so it can’t necessarily be operationalized. So, there’s only so much you can really—I think that we can say in this small segment about praxis, but our theory influences our practice, but context also contributes to the way we understand theory. Which is why it is so important to interrogate these hegemonic theories that emerge from Western Europe. We cannot take these theories outside of their context and apply them to our current situations as is. That’s how you get communist movements that exclude the needs of Black and Blackened people around the world. We must examine when, how, and why they emerge and then ask ourselves if those conditions have produced a theory that is translatable to the present. If not, how can we lean on theories created by marginalized people that bring us closer to liberation?
[00:11:51] BT: I think that’s an excellent question and also an excellent transition to our next segment. So, Alyssa, what are we reading today?
[00:11:59] [Music Plays]
[00:12:01] AJ: Alright, so today we’re reading something a little different. As you may have noticed, we’ve been experimenting with form, so in this episode we’re reading an interview featuring Robyn Maynard and Leanne Betasamosake Simpson entitled “Every Day We Must Get Up and Relearn the World.”
[00:12:21] BT: Which, let’s talk about titles honey [laughter]. Robyn Maynard is a Toronto-based writer and scholar. Her wide-ranging body of work on policing, abolition and Black liberation has received a number of prominent nominations and awards, has been translated into multiple languages, and is taught widely across universities in Canada, the US and Europe. She is a Vanier scholar and the winner of the SSHRC Talent Award and holds a Faculty of Arts & Science Top Doctoral, FAST fellowship at the University of Toronto where she is studying transnational Black liberation and borders. Ohh, I’m acting like I never heard the word transnational before. Maynard’s most well-known work is Policing Black Lives: State violence in Canada from slavery to the present, a national bestseller. It was named “best book of the year” by The Globe and Mail, The Walrus, and The Hill Times, shortlisted for an Atlantic Book Award, the Concordia University First Book Prize and the Mavis Gallant Prize for Nonfiction, and is the winner of the 2017 Annual Errol Morris Book Prize. Like, whew.
[00:13:34] AJ: Come prizes, come up.
[00:13:35] BT: Come through, come awards. Hopefully they all came with some money, yes [laughter].
[00:13:40] AJ: Leanne Betasamosake Simpson is a Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg scholar, writer and artist. Her work breaks open the intersections between politics, story and song–bringing audiences into a rich and layered world of sound, light, and sovereign creativity. She holds a PhD from the University of Manitoba and has worked for two decades as an independent scholar using Nishnaabeg intellectual practices. She has taught extensively at universities across Canada and the United States and has twenty years of experience with Indigenous land-based education.
She is the author of seven previous books, including her new novel Noopiming: The Cure for White Ladies, which was named a best book of the year by the Globe and Mail, and was shortlisted for the Governor General’s Literary Award for fiction. As We Have Always Done: Indigenous Freedom Through Radical Resistance was awarded Best Subsequent Book by the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association. Simpson and Maynard’s new book, Rehearsals for Living is forthcoming from Knopf Canada and Haymarket’s Abolition series in 2022.
[00:14:46] BT: So, this interview actually gives some insight into their forthcoming book, which was produced in the epistolary form. Maynard and Simpson wrote letters back and forth, pushing each other to read and deepen their thinking on what it means to get free–a politics and praxis of rehearsal. So, I thought that rehearsal’s such an animating concept, we’re gonna spend the bulk of our time with rehearsal today. Throughout the interview, they reflect on topics like the violence of normality, the politics of recognition and respectability, the issue with apocalyptic or “apocacryptic” [laughter] rhetoric, disrupting linear temporality and the way state violence is inherently gendered, among so many other important topics.
[00:15:35] AJ: Yes, yes. And they have it all, they have all the subheadings for you, it’s great. It’s very straightforward. So, I really want to commend the interviewers Hannah Voegele and Christopher Griffin because their questions were hitting. They were really hitting. They were really thoughtful and showed that they had engaged deeply with Maynard and Simpson’s work and the work of other Black and Indigenous thinkers. The interview also did a really good job of showing how Black and Indigenous ways of knowing overlap with each other, despite having different genealogies. And so, just off jump, off rip, they got me thinking about what normal means and what normalcy have we really lost structurally during this pandemic?
There’s no denying that we’ve lost a sense of normal when it came to our interpersonal lives, but the wheels of capitalism kept on turning. Especially for people who could easily work from home and for those deemed “essential” workers. Maynard points out that racially uneven catastrophes of this moment “are disasters that follow racial and gendered logics that were put in place long ago.” I think the reason this moment has been read as abnormal is because it affected the global North, right. These kinds of things have been happening in the global South and to people who are in the global North as well but are not part of the majorities. According to them, our task is to interrupt this normality and “dare to invent the marvelous” which Maynard takes from Robin D.G. Kelley. And this concept of rehearsal is the way they do that.
[00:17:15] BT: They draw the title of their book from Ruth Wilson Gilmore’s words “abolition is life in rehearsal” which for Maynard is a reminder the liberation is not a destination but an ongoing process, a praxis, as they say, as we say [laughter]. As praxis [laughter]. For Simpson and Maynard, rehearsal takes on different registers depending on the context. Rehearsal is study, it is building life-affirming institutions, and it’s overall a “generative life-expanding practice” in and of itself. Simpson is a musician, and she sees rehearsal, as opposed to performance, as the place where imaginative possibilities can happen.
So, as you’re rehearsing, if you make a mistake, you’re able to say, “well how can I do this better?” But a performance, all the stakes are on the table, and it can become a win-lose situation. Practicing life as a rehearsal of the theories and values that one prioritizes is what actually brings us closer to liberation. It’s not just the performances, right, like the direct actions, or the political lobbying, or the literal performance of a law being passed where the liberatory action is short-lived. Rehearsal is where we spend most of our time. It’s the practicing how you’re going to engage in abolitionist politics with your neighbor who stole your package, or you know—
[00:18:57] AJ: Did that happen to you?
[00:18:59] BT: No, um, well yes, but I got my money back so it’s fine [laughter]. This section of the interview was so enlightening to me. I really thought about what life could be like if I didn’t think of each action as kind of this final performance where there was no room for error, but as an opportunity to rehearse my values. As someone who is not really a perfectionist TM but I like to be perfect if you understand the distinction there. What kind of grace can I give myself and others with that frame of mind? How can I give myself the ability to practice liberation as a set of possibilities versus this kind of angle? That was really generative for me.
[00:19:47] AJ: Yeah, I really like this section too, thinking about that concept of rehearsal versus performance. And this might be—y’all might roast me for this, Brendane you can roast me for it now so everyone can hear the rebuttal [laughter]—but it got me thinking about the way that we criticize people, “allies,” for being performative. I just watched Sex and The City: And Just Like That, and of course there’s a whole scene about the white liberal wokeness and Miranda trying to perform it and her just embarrassing herself in front of this Black law professor at Columbia of course. All of the New York shows are in Columbia [laughter]. And she just keeps trying to say the right thing, but it comes out as the wrong thing, and she was like “I know I sound so performative.” And I was like—maybe this is too generous but in cases like that, you know, what if we stopped criticizing that as being performative and started to understand it as coming from a genuine place, as being a rehearsal. They are also rehearsing for like this—for treating people in different way or creating this new world as well. But I think that we tend to just be like “Man, that’s just some performative allyship, she’s just trying to use the right words.” And obviously at the same time, I do think that is has to come with particular actions that demonstrate that you actually believe what it is that you are saying, not just being like, “Oh yes, I absolutely agree that Black people deserve to be—that their lives matter. I believe that.” It has to come with actions that show that you do believe that and you’re trying to make that world happen. So again, I guess it comes back to praxis [laughter].
[00:21:41] BT: It does, I think. Yeah, I mean—
[00:21:45] AJ: That was really rambling but [laughter].
[00:21:46] BT: No, it wasn’t really rambling. I’m trying to figure out how to respond in a way that isn’t going to be too telling of my militant beginnings [laughter]. But um yeah, I think there’s a way to think about rehearsal as something that—cause I was thinking too, okay, well if I think about life as a rehearsal than do I have to extend that to people who are part of communities that historically have rehearsed and performed violence and the answer for me, I came to the conclusion no. And I [laughter], what helped me come to that conclusion was thinking through community, right. So, it’s one thing to engage with someone—and I think a lot of abolitionist principles too is rooted in community and in order for me to be in community with you, I have to know who the hell you are, right. I can’t call myself to be in community with people I don’t know. So, if I have questions around whether it’s sincere, whether it’s coming from a place of change, then we’re probably not in community with each other which means that I might not feel obligated to see your stumbling or your attempts as rehearsal. But that would be my response to that. On a personal level, I’m just like, you know, what would it mean for white people to really take the time to sit with themselves and be like, you know, I’m not gonna speak until I really know what the hell I’m talking about. Because some people are given the privilege and the power to rehearse in a sense, to make mistakes over and over and over and over again. And some of us don’t have that opportunity, right? We literally cannot mess up in some aspects of our lives. And so, I think, yeah, it’s complicated but I like that you brought that up. I have not watched Sex and The City or Just Like That, I’ve just seen people talk about it. So maybe I’ll do that over my break.
[00:23:58] AJ: I don’t know about that. I don’t know if it’s worth it. We’re getting off topic, but I was quite disappointed. There was a lot of telling instead of showing and I was just like, this is what happens when there’s too much hype. There’s so much hype and there’s all of these expectations and they just overdid it. Anyways [laughter] we’re gonna get back, but that was me thinking about other ways of being generous and, you know, as I am wont to do because I’m still a baby radical [laughter].
[00:24:40] BT: It’s okay. You come over this side and you be tired, so [laughter].
[00:24:48] AJ: But on that note, I was writing a whole bunch of notes and just thinking about other ways that we spend a lot of time in rehearsal in our life and for example, in academia we spend a lot of time in rehearsal because we’re always reading, we’re thinking, we’re discussing, we’re not always necessarily producing and writing. So, when you do finally put that writing out there that’s almost like your performance. And you’ve spent a lot of time, I mean twelve years in school, four years in undergrad, two years of a masters if you did that, then five to seven to nine years in a PhD before you write a book like that. That’s a lot of time [laughter].
But yeah, so I was thinking a lot about how rehearsal and praxis are or could be connected. And praxis is very much this constant cycle, where theory, practice, and reflection are all influencing each other. Rehearsal, I think for them, is generative, a space of possibility that allows us to simultaneously practice and make real the world we want to live in. Simpson talks about life being circular, the consequences of which there is no performance, there is no grand stage, there is no final big moment, right. So, our rehearsals are always responsive to the ways that life is unfolding.
[00:26:09] BT: Which is important. I talked about practicing presence earlier and just maintaining being in the moment and acting from that is especially important in praxis. And if we think about this, theories don’t have to remain fixed in time or kind of plotted along this white supremacist logic of linear progression, which kind of reminded me of our conversation with Naomi earlier this season. These can also be seen as places to return, and to refine, and to continue to practice if needed or let go, which Simpson refers to as moments of foreclosure, right, if it no longer applies. As Simpson says: “[Abolition is life in rehearsal] offers us, in my interpretation, a way of inhabiting our world with intention, as organizers, as theorists, as people in extended communities, based in attunement. An attunement not only to the unfolding disaster of the present, but to the unfolding experiments in living differently, to the more liberatory ways of organizing human and earthly life that are being seeded, in real time, all around us.” All this to say y’all, liberation is a community project, a community process, a community practice, community praxis that actually requires our presence in the present.
[00:27:38] AJ: Yes, all of these practices call our attention to the ways Black and Indigenous liberation requires a restructuring of how we experience time and how colonial logics dictate time. We, like everything else on this earth, experience time in cycles. Indigenous communities around the world organized their lives in respect to the Earth’s timing. Colonialism disrupted that. Western hegemonic knowledge teaches us that time moves forward linearly and towards progression. The disconnect becomes apparent when we attempt to apply Western logics of time, that justify settler colonialism and anti-Blackness and reorganize their violences, to our movements. The gag is that Western power structures tell us that progress is happening because time has passed while they participate in the cycle of reorganizing the same old violence under a different name. For example, the Abolition movement in the 19th century did not abolish slavery but made it legal as a punishment for crime. Now, we must read mass incarceration as a point on the cycle set by an economic system based on chattel slavery.
[00:28:47] BT: Yeah, I think that thinking about life as a rehearsal then allows us to practice fighting back against these systems—against these logics that tell us things are changing when they really ain’t—as an iterative process that incorporates, as Maynard says, “freedom work, care work, and love work.” And I love how she puts the words work after because these things are not just things you do, right, these are things you practice, you work at. And we recognize in fighting back that we mustn’t settle for stopgaps that are things like state recognition, passing laws, maybe someone squeezes a little bit of funding over to your community, right. These are things that only bring temporary solutions to a major problem. We have to embrace that creating new worlds requires both the destruction of what’s already here and building something new.
One of the ways we can do this is through generative refusal, which Simpson describes as rejecting state recognition while building new worlds. And so, they kind of—let me step back for a second. So, in the interview, this section is politics of recognition and respectability and so they kind of posit politics of recognition as an Indigenous way of moving about the world versus politics of respectability is something that a lot of Black communities are familiar with. But as I was reading it, I was thinking about how actually there’s no clear delineation right. It’s not like only Indigenous people vie for recognition and only Black folks abide by politics of recognition [respectability]. So, I like to think of these things as refusal, as kind of like the bucket that all of this fits in or can be placed under. And so, Simpson is talking about recognition as recognition of the state and rejecting that while building new worlds that don’t require it.
And Maynard actually refers to what I was reading as the age-old fugitive practice of stealing away where you know—again, my words—which involves diverting resources from an entity whether that be the government, a non-profit, your job, you know [laughter] wherever—to meet one’s needs or the needs of one’s community without reproducing respectability politics. So, the story that she tells about a friend who accepts the shoes for the kids who need the shoes but doesn’t give the anti-Black speech that they’re supposed to give as they’re handing out the shoes, so I think of that as like a practice of stealing away. And thinking about refusal as enacted by Black and Indigenous communities is very important for movement work. So, we have to think about these things together, alongside each other in order to move forward in our respective liberation sovereignty movements.
[00:31:49] AJ: Yeah, I think one important point that Maynard brought up was about how despite all there is to critique about Black Lives Matter and the way it’s been commodified by different organizations and companies, particularly after 2020, people’s lives were still transformed by it, right. She was like there’s never been a time when this many young people have been saying abolish the police and talking about it, being proud of it and being able to come out and say that. She was like, we can criticize the co-optation, but we can also be proud of what people can now imagine as possible.
[00:32:35] BT: Yeah, I thought that was a really good point and I think there are nuanced ways to appreciate and still hold a critique, but that’s not for this episode [laughter].
[00:32:47] AJ: And some people don’t think that. There are some people who are like it has to be one or the other, right. Like things are very black and white [laughter] in a lot of people’s minds.
[00:33:00] BT: Which is a core tenet of white supremacist culture, you know. If you’re curious about that just google Tema Okun White Supremacy Culture and you can read all about it. The last thing I wanted to highlight from this interview was the connection that the interviewers bring up and then kind of Simpson runs with it, between Anishnaabe thinking and Mariame Kaba’s ideas on abolition. And both think across the kind of magnification of harm across scales. So, we have different places where people can experience harm on the level of the individual, on the level of interpersonal, on the level of institutional, and also globally. These scales are interdependent on each other, and they show our interdependence on each other, and they also highlight that there is no such thing as “individual” liberation. So again, even though the IG girls might say if you drink water and pray and write on your sticky note that liberation is coming, right, you cannot liberate yourself. You cannot. It is not something that you can just hope to do. We can only experience liberation in community, in relation and in connection with each other. Black and Indigenous thought is not new to that right, they’ve always been deeply concerned with the struggles that are taking place in other parts of the world and in communities other than our own. I think the difficulty, or the stickiness or things get a little rough [laughter] comes in when we attempt to hierarchize and translate this kind of incommunicable experience across communities. And for me, my personal stake is when I see Black radical theory as a springboard for the ascension of other racial groups at Black folks’s expense. Because then again, it’s that cycle. We’re not doing anything different; we’re just replicating the same old anti-Blackness just with different groups of people.
[00:35:16] AJ: That is a read—as praxis.
[00:35:22] BT: As praxis [laughter] reading is a praxis. But let me not get ahead of myself because I know we’ll talk more about it in our next section.
[00:35:32] AJ: Which is? What? [in unison] What in the world?
[00:35:39] [Music Plays]
[00:35:43] BT: Hi Amber! Hi kin [laughter].
[00:35:45] AJ: Hi.
[00:35:46] Amber Starks: Hi.
[00:35:47] BT: Not quite sure we said that earlier but hello. It is a pleasure and honor to bring you to our space today. If y’all don’t know who Amber is, y’all better get to know her quickly. I mean, Amber Starks, aka Melanin Mvskoke, is an Afro Indigenous—African American and Native American—advocate, organizer, cultural critic, decolonial theorist, and budding abolitionist. Period. She is an enrolled citizen of the Muscogee Creek Nation and is also of Shawnee, Yuchi, Quapaw, and Cherokee descent. Her passion is the intersection of Black and Native American identity, and her activism seeks to normalize, affirm, and uplift the multidimensional identities of Black and Native peoples through discourse and advocacy around anti-Blackness, abolishing blood quantum—period—Black liberation, and Indigenous sovereignty. She hopes to encourage Black and Indigenous peoples to prioritize one another and divest from compartmentalizing struggles.
[00:36:56] AJ: Period [laughter].
[00:36:57] BT: [Laughter] She ultimately believes the partnerships between Black and Indigenous peoples and all people of color will aid in the dismantling of anti-Blackness, white supremacy, and settler colonialism, globally. She earned a Bachelor’s of Science in General Science with an emphasis in Biology and Anthropology from the University of Oregon.
[00:37:16] AS: Thank you.
[00:37:17] AJ: Welcome, welcome to the Zoom studio [laughter].
[00:37:20] AS: Y’all seriously I—this is the biggest honor I feel like being on Zora’s Daughters means like you made it [laughter] because I have been [laughter]. For real, you guys don’t know how many times I have been at streetlights, at a stop light listening and just had my whole world shook, you know. Like actually, I get so much of my political education from you guys that I’m just very much grateful to you, both of you, for just illuminating such dark spaces. And I think a lot of our listeners, I’m not trying to speak for all of them, but I know just as someone who is a very dedicated listener how very much, I’ve been changed. And so, being on the show is like “What!? What in the world!? [Laughter]
[00:38:10] BT: What!?
[00:38:11] AJ: Oh, thank you. Thank you so much. That means so much coming from you. And actually, the way that I first found out about you was from Code Switch, so I was like, “Wow, she’s cool!”
[00:38:23] AS: Oh, for real?
[00:38:23] AJ: Yeah [laughter], I’m an avid listener of Code Switch and I was just like, “Oh, she done—she be doing some things to be on Code Switch.” Like that’s NPR, that’s public radio [laughter].
[00:38:35] AS: That is hella great, for real.
[00:38:37] AJ: We are also honored and thrilled to have you on the podcast. So yes, as I do, because I’m a nerd, I did some research, read up about you, read up on some of the pieces that you wrote. And in an interview, you had this really beautiful statement and instead of me trying to oddly summarize it, I will just read it back to you so everyone can hear what you said. You said, “I grew up enculturated as a Black woman and I am kind of on a reconnecting journey to learn more about what it means to be Muscogee and also navigating my Blackness and my Indigeneity as a whole person, versus compartmentalizing those identities and showing up fully as both Black and Native.” One of my closest friends, she’s also Black and Indigenous and she once shared with me that connecting with Metis traditions was like coming home, she felt like she found a part of her that was missing. So, could explain a bit for our listeners what you mean by enculturated as a Black woman and then tell us what prompted your journey?
[00:39:44] AS: Yeah. So, for me, enculturation means, you know, the peoples I grew up with, right, the community who taught me, you know, what it means to be who I am. I very much am a Black woman, you know, racially. Like when people look at me, I’m racialized as a Black woman, but I also grew up within community with Black folks who, yeah, who very much invested in myself, my wellbeing, my, you know, all that I am. You know, I always tell people that who I am is very much a culmination of the people form my community, my teachers, my family, you know, extended relatives, folks who saw me as a kid and saw my potential. And so, I learned not only what it means to be Black physically and culturally, but also politically, right. I, you know, understanding my Blackness and even my position in the world but not necessarily as a way to be like, “You only belong here.”
I think I was taught that you get to be Black how you are Black, right, from other Black people, right. And so, I think I learned that my Blackness is more than sufficient from my community, from the people who were around me every day. Yeah, and so, I think that’s why I differentiate between being enculturated as a Black person and then reconnecting as a Native person. So, I from as long as I could remember my dad made sure that I knew that I was Muscogee or he’d say Creek, right, and we’d always have these little things around the house to remind us that we’re also Creek or Muscogee Creek. And my dad would try to teach us what he could but being geographically separated from my peoples, my reservation in Oklahoma, I think that there was always this longing. Like what does that really mean and am I really Native? You know, like I always doubted that I really got to be Native and so as I grew up, I think the first time I went home to Oklahoma I think I was eighteen and it was for a family reunion, and we were on my grandmother’s family allotment.
Which, if folks don’t know about allotments, around the late 1800’s federal government broke up reservation land and privatized it, gave it to each Native person in an attempt to steal land and also to break up community. And so, a lot of folks have lost their allotment land just because of the way settler colonialism and white supremacy has worked, and capitalism. And so, but my grandmother who’s been able to [unclear] my great grandmother’s land and so I think that is when it became really real for me. And also, being around, you know, folks we would say are visibly Native, I was like oh my gosh, this is really a real thing, these really are my people. And you know just having this kind of moment of like, “Oh.” And then I think later on, understanding how important that really is to be around community, right. I can’t imagine what it would have been like to not grow up in a Black community and then be like “Can I be Black? Am I really Black?” Which a lot of Afro-Indigenous folks who grew up in Native communities then have that reverse struggle.
So, for me reconnecting is, you know, as your friend said, walking home, you know. I see my journey as my Native ancestors, my Muscogee and Cherokee and probably my Shawnee relatives were forced on the Trail of Tears from Alabama/Georgia, which are traditional homelands, to Oklahoma. Forcibly walked on the Trail of Tears. And I think that I kind of see my journey the opposite way, right, like I’m walking home to my homelands, to my cultures, to my peoples. And so, there is a very huge learning curve, there is a lot of patience, there’s a lot of learning, you know. How to do it respectfully, understanding protocol, like all those things that still oftentimes make me feel like, “Am I doing this right? Am I authentic?” But then also coming to the understanding that this is my journey. My journey wasn’t to grow up on the reservation.
I try not to long for what could have been, instead I try to honor that this is where I’m supposed to be and that I used this path to learn. You know, this is my time now to be enculturated also as a Muscogee woman, as a Native woman. And yeah, it’s been a really beautiful process for me. I have a lot of Muscogee relatives who have been so very amazing pouring into me, who see me, who look beyond what the settler state, what white supremacy would say, you know, “You’re not worthy of this because you didn’t grow up here and because you’re Black,” right. The way that we’ve been taught who is and who isn’t a Native, who is and who isn’t Black is very steeped in some of our understandings of Blackness and Nativeness.
And so, I think walking home for me is a challenge to those ideas, is a challenge to the fact that I don’t get to be fully Black and fully Native. I try not to see myself as half and half, or part this and part that. But when I’m in mainly Black spaces I remind myself, “you are fully Black and fully Native,” and when I’m mostly in Native spaces, I’m fully Black and I’m fully Native. I think that that takes practice. It’s not like I go in and do a moment of remember who you are, I just try to live it. I try to show up whole because I think that not doing so is a disrespect to both of my ancestors. And so, I try to honor them in the work that I do but just in my everyday life, when I’m not on. I don’t wanna perform Blackness and I don’t wanna perform Nativeness. I just wanna exist as the whole person I should get to exist as, right?
[00:46:56] AJ: Mm hmm. Yeah.
[00:46:57] BT: Yeah.
[00:46:58] AJ: Picking up on that thread of what people see—which is as you said, they see a Black woman, when you were a child, a Black girl—I wanna talk a little bit about what you said about the hyper-invisibility of Indigenous people and the hypervisibility of Black people. So, people see your Blackness and they don’t necessarily see your Indigeneity. So, what do each of those positions mean for you and what kinds of challenges or opportunities do their combination provide for you as an Afro-Indigenous woman committed to liberation.
[00:47:37] AS: Yeah, so I think under settler colonialism, the goal of settler colonialism is to remove and replace the Natives and usually through genocide, right. So as a person who’s Afro-Indigenous, my Indigeneity or my Blackness is supposed to be genocided—or my Nativeness is supposed to be genocided. And I would say this for Native relatives who are not also Black but in general we are supposed to be genocided and erased. And so, when I show up as a Black and Native person it feels like a contradiction. It feels like I’m not participating in the system as I should be. Which I’m okay with, right? Like Good. I’m not going to perform, like I said before. But I feel like, um, so when I stand in my Nativeness I think it confuses folks, especially folks who have an idea of what they think Nativeness should look like and be like and what I’m supposed to wear. I think a lot of times we think of Nativeness as like plains Indians—or plains Natives, you know—headdresses, you know, breastplates. Like there’s these stereotypes about what Native people are supposed to look like as a form of fetishization.
We don’t want Native people to show up how they really are, in the diverse ways that we do show up with our diverse cultures and our diverse nationhoods. We have an expectation under these systems that Native people exist a certain way. And so, when folks delineate from that it boggles the mind, right [laughter]. And oftentimes people will then reject your Nativeness like it’s insufficient, it doesn’t line up. So, when I talk about the hypervisibility of Nativeness or Indigeneity, I’m talking about the intent to genocide the Native. The intent to remove the Native from their land, their identity, just so that the settler state can be legitimate. If there’s no more Native people, if there’s no more Native bodies, then this becomes our land. The Native folks are still here, we are living breathing cultures. And so, in living and breathing we complicate settler colonialism, we complicate the project—the ongoing project of settler colonialism.
And then, you know, I think about Blackness being hyper visible. I hear this a lot, “Black folks are everywhere, you guys have Black Lives Matter, you have all the attention, like why do you need more attention?” And I think about it in terms of the way we are supposed to be hyper surveilled. There were supposed to be more of us because that was the project of the plantation—is that we need more Black bodies as capital, as merchandise, right, to steal labor from. And not just steal labor, [crosstalk]. Yes, stole whole lives, stole generations of folks, right. We inherit our enslavement, it’s not something we become later in life. It’s like if our mothers were Black, we were automatically enslaved, and I would even argue if your father was but that’s a different conversation.
[00:51:48] BT: That’s a, that’s a [laughter].
[00:51:58] AS: That’s a, yeah, you know, “Birth of a Nation” kind of situation. But you know, like, I—so the hyper visibility of Black folks, Black bodies, Black lives, is a form of surveillance, it’s a form of commodification, it’s a form of also normalizing our oppression, normalizing our pain. You see Black folks getting lynched online and folks are like, “Aw that’s really sad, it’s just another Black person,” right. We’re normalizing Black folks being destroyed, yeah, constantly, and so I don’t necessarily see the hyper visibility of Black folks as justice. I definitely feel like there are ways that we tell our own stories and I feel like that is brilliant and that is what Black folks do for ourselves. We have always been our own liberators; we have always been abolitionists. That is our lived experience—is abolition. And so that is different than the hyper visibility done by the state as a means of commodifying us, as a means of making sure we know our place in this society, in these systems. And a reminder that no matter how many people see us, the system kinda gets to decide how people see us.
[00:53:27] BT: But something that I was thinking as you were talking and talking about this visibility and its connection to surveillance. And I think a lot of people—really as you talk about it that kind of goes past it. How do we know what we know about these different communities, right? And it’s through how they are surveilled.
[00:53:47] AS: Yes.
[00:53:48] BT: As a researcher in gender-based violence, the two communities that are always told that we have the most amount of violence are Black and Indigenous communities. And I had a really interesting conversation with an older Black woman who helped me reframe how I was thinking about this. She said, “Are you sure the Black men are five times more violent than white men or is that just what you know from what’s being reported to you?” And it wasn’t on no, you know, pick me shit. It was on some, like, think about this—the statistics, the stats, what we are able to see, how much of that data is influenced by police presence, or governmental presence or surveillance on reservations and things like that. How much of that information is reported and then how much of it in these other communities like white, Asian, non-Black Latin communities are actually just not reported. And then it got me thinking, right, like yeah, that makes absolute fucking sense. How is it that—lemme go, lemme figure out—the descendants of European colonizers are then marked as people who are not violent in their own homes. That doesn’t make sense, right?
[00:55:12] AS: Right.
[00:55:12] BT: And so, I think that helped me reframe thinking about surveillance and its connection to visibility, right. As you say, right, people also, I think because of social media, mistake visibility for some kind of justice in a sense and I blame the Civil Rights Movement for that. But that’s neither here nor there [laughter]. Representation and visibility, I blame the Civil Rights Movement for that, for sure. But all of this to say or really get to what I’ve been thinking about just inspired by your work but also my own research and thinking is how do we bring these two communities that are always seen as the most marginalized, or the most this, the most that, that then reinforces what I would say is a lie—that there needs to be more government intervention or more surveillance because we are the most X,Y,Z. How do we build movements around what is then, as white supremacist, anti-Black, anti-Indigenous logic would tell us, are two separate things, right? Which is Indigenous sovereignty and Black liberation.
[00:56:22] AS: Yeah, um, so I wanna start by saying that I differentiate these two things as separate technologies of resistance to speak to very specific issues in our communities, in our respective struggles. But I always see them having commonality and understanding that we have a mutual oppressor, and that the destination is the dismantling of the systems that harm both of us. These systems are not separately, like, you know—the goal isn’t different, it’s all the same, to destroy both of our peoples. If you can’t commodify us, destroy us. So, I separate these out not as a means of saying this doesn’t happen to Black folks or this doesn’t happen to Indigenous folks because I think we have a lot of this same shared struggles.
But I think that when I say Indigenous sovereignty, I’m speaking about Indigenous nations who have the right to self-governance as in the ways we did prior to contact, prior to this project of settler colonialism, white supremacy, and racial capitalism. Which I see as a triad. I try not to separate those three out because I think they work in a tandem, right? So, I speak directly to the ways that those three programs—whatever you want to call them—are harming Native folks specifically. Genociding us to steal our land, to in-authenticate our relationship to the land and to the land of our ancestors, to one another. And so, when I think about Indigenous sovereignty, I’m think about us as being stewards of our ancestral land, having the right to self-determination and autonomy on our ancestral land, and to remind folks that this is still Native land.
Native people still exist, and I want to remind folks that we are the rightful heirs of this land, not as owners. I would say for the most part, most Native people don’t see ourselves as landlords, we’re not trying to own the land in order to then make people pay rent. This is a genealogical relationship to this place in that no settler project has the authority to take that away. And so, when I’m thinking about Indigenous sovereignty I’m thinking about “land back” and I know that that is a tagline and some people think, see it as an eviction notice but really, it’s a reclamation of identity and a reclamation of this as our ancestral home. And so, this settler project sits on top of the bones, and the histories, and the traditions, and the cultures of our ancestors. So, I’m trying to point out that we need to respect that Native folks have the right to self-governance, self-determination and autonomy, right.
And when I’m talking about Black liberation what I also want to say is Black folks are the descendants of Indigenous peoples of Africa. You know, I try to really when I speak about Native people, say Native people instead of Indigenous especially when I’m trying to compare struggles because I don’t want to discount the fact that Black folks have Indigeneity to the land of our ancestors in Africa. So, I try to see Native versus Indigenous but Indigenous sovereignty is also a global phenomenon. I’m thinking about it as Indigenous people everywhere have the right to refuse settler colonial institutions and projects. That includes Black Africans or Africans in Africa have the right to refuse settler colonialism. So, when I’m speaking about Black liberation, I’m speaking to the ways in which the settler state and white supremacy and racial capitalism views our bodies as product, as merchandise, as items to be commodified and used and destroyed to their liking, right. That we have the right to refuse that and to resist that and to be Black however we choose to be Black.
Our Blackness is for us, and that it’s not connected to health outcomes, poor health outcomes, socio-economic standards of living, maternal death rates. All of those things that—you know, like you were talking about Brendane—are these statistics that get pointed out like, “if you’re Black then this, this, this, and this,” right. And it’s usually not in celebration of Blackness. It’s usually the ways in which Blackness is failing. The ways we are failing as Black people or Black bodies because we haven’t been able to figure out how to thrive or exist under a system that’s very anti-Black and very detrimental to who we are, and that erases our cultural connections to the lands of our ancestors but also to the culture we built here in spite of. The ways we refused systems in spite of. Black liberation for me then is us getting to be Black how we want to be Black. And yeah, and not just surviving, thriving beyond this. But it also is about autonomy. I think there’s also a level of self-governance and there’s also those same things, like I said—talk about it with Indigenous sovereignty. But I think it’s specifically about resisting anti-Black racism because Black liberation also has to happen within Indigenous communities, right.
Like this is, you know, and Indigenous sovereignty, us as Black folks have to think about the ways in which we participate in the erasure of Indigenous people, right? These are things that, even between our communities, that we have to talk about. None of these projects, anti-Black racism or Indigenous erasure happen outside of a vacuum. This is all happening under this system, right? And so, as someone who lives at this intersection it’s like I can’t fight for one and not the other. And I can’t—one can’t—my Black liberation can’t come at the expense of my Indigenous sovereignty and vice versa, right? If I choose one over the other, meaning one at the cost of the other, I’m still replicating the various systems that I’m saying that I’m trying to dismantle. So, for me, there really is no choice but to fight for both at the same time, but again, that’s because both of these systems are about the destruction of Nativeness and Blackness. Yeah.
[01:04:11] BT: Yeah, I think. Well thank you for explaining and really just bringing it together so beautifully. There are lots of things sitting with me from what you said. I think this is when you talk about genocide, “genociding” peoples and how settler colonialism is a project that does that to Native folks. And I appreciate you also defining Native and Indigenous for us and like in your use of them. I’m going to use it in the way that you did. Unless yeah, so, like “genociding” Native folks and Black folks, but through different projects like the project of settler colonialism and chattel slavery. And then also incorporating Indigenous people, or attempting to incorporate Native people as family or, you know, that’s in air quotes for those of you who can’t see, listening to this, [laughter] right? And then marking Blackness as failure.
I think what’s really sticking with me is your insistence through your lived experience and also through just the work that you do, the theory you produce, your praxis, right, how you move through the world, right? That these are things that actually have to be thought together. And I think the Western academy, intellectual thought, is always—it’s about distinction, and it’s always trying to kind of break things apart because it serves a settler colonial project, right? If we believe that Native people having their land back is an eviction notice—which I thought that was also [chef’s kiss *muah*], you know, I’m just going to amen over here, I was like yes, bring in the violent tool of this state which says you no longer have the right to live here, right? Right? Like yes, bring it in, right, the eviction notice.
And actually, what I think really the struggles that I’ve observed as a Black person with Native ancestry like, is that kind of tangle. Well, if we give the land back, then what about us? And it’s like, well, have y’all thought about the fact that maybe people don’t operate like conquistadores? [Laughter] Maybe people—maybe this could be a conversation that people who are committed to being in community with each other, which I think is very important, right? That that’s very important. People were committed to a kind of liberated community could have a conversation about what living together looks like outside of ownership of land as constructed by.
[01:06:59] AJ: Yeah. I don’t have a place in this conversation necessarily, but I think the question always becomes what about our forty acres? And then it’s like, well, what? What do you then become if you did get that forty acres, right?
[01:07:12] AS: Yes, exactly
[01:07:13] AJ: So, it becomes a really complicated conversation to have within the Black community.
[01:07:20] BT: Yeah.
[01:07:21] AS: And it is a number one conversation. It’s probably the number one thing I get from folks like, “Okay, if Native folks get land back, then what happens to us? And what about the fact that Native people enslaved Black folks?” So let me address both [laughter] really quickly [laughter].
[01:07:37] AJ: Oh! Amazing [laughter].
[01:07:40] AS: I say really quickly but this is like an ongoing conversation, you know as Brendane had said, if we are going to build solidarity. First of all, I want to say that our oppressor is not our mediator, we don’t need them to decide what kind of future we want ourselves.
[01:08:03] BT: Somebody say it, somebody underscore.
[01:08:04] AS: We don’t need permission to decide what kind of future we want together as Black and Native folks. That’s just something we have to decide if we want or not, right? So, when it comes to the idea of forty acres, I want to remind folks that this land was never the settler states to give away in the first place, right? Like you didn’t own the land even when you thought you did, even as you still think you do. And so by then saying we will give you Native land, I think that Black folks we have to think about then the ways that we then validate that this is actually the settler state land, right? I think we just, if we’re going to say we’re going to be in solidarity, let’s first think about that, right? But I also want to point out, yes, there were Native tribes that did participate in chattel slavery, and when you think about the tribes that did—so the Cherokee, the Choctaw, the symbol of the Muskogee Creek and the Chickasaw—these are all tribes of the South, right. And as the project of chattel slavery was ongoing, you couldn’t have these oases of like Native communities that acted as like places of freedom for Black folks, right? So, the settler state—the government had to find a way to get Native folks to co-opt the system in order that folks wouldn’t run away and find refuge, find maroon spaces, amongst Native folks.
Because Black and Native folks since the beginning of this project, since we’ve met, we have been in community with each other, platonically, romantically, politically, all of those things. And I wanna point out that we haven’t always been buddy-buddy. We haven’t always fought with each other. There’s definitely been places of conflicts. But what I do know is that Black folks and Native folks do what other folks do when they get together, right? Like there is relationship, things happen, right? And so, you didn’t want these places—the settler state when I say “you”—didn’t want these spaces of, you know, these oases where Black folks could run off the plantation and build community and then fight the system. Like the system understands what happens when two oppressed people get together and wanna fight. There is just disruption of the plan. And so yes, five tribes did participate in chattel slavery, and yes, it tended to be the more prominent members of the tribes. And there were tribes’ tribal members who refused, and you know, disagreed with the system.
But we also have to understand that even though there were these powerful people who did participate in it, the whole—all of the tribes then gained from that participation. And so, as I’m thinking about it now, it’s like now there’s a lot of conflict within tribes around the freedmen and their belonging in our nation. And so, I think that that’s something we have to address. So, I want to make sure that we understand that that is a real thing, like the enslavement by the five tribes. But when we’re talking about forty acres, that forty acres is not the state’s to give away, not the settler state’s to give away. And so, what I ask Native people to do is to when we start thinking about Black folks being connected to the land, to under[stand] that is our responsibility as Indigenous peoples to recognize the Indigeneity of other Indigenous peoples. And that if we’re talking about being in relationship with the land, please recognize that the land recognizes the Indigeneity of Black folks, right? And so, it is our responsibility to be in kinship with folks who have also been displaced—who have been forcibly displaced by the very same system, right?
Cause a lot of us are not on our traditional homelands. Oklahoma is not my traditional homelands. So, we should therefore then extend that same kinship to Black folks in understanding that it is not by force. We, Black folks are not settlers. Black folks, as Brendane said, didn’t come over as conquistadores, right? [Laughter] Like we were products. We were trafficked, you know. We were sold like this and also Native folks also were enslaved, right? I remember a professor telling me the ways in which some Native peoples who weren’t Black, their Nativeness was also genocided and they became Black folks under the system because they looked quote “Black,” right? And so, we have to understand that under the system, both of us have had to deal with the displacement, both of us have had to deal with enslavement, both of us have had to deal with racialization of our bodies and our identities. We have some unique struggles, but realistically this project has been about the destruction of both of our peoples.
And so, I want—I’m asking non-Native Black folks to really think about, when we talk about forty acres and a mule—or whatever in addition you want to that forty acres—to remember that this is Indigenous land. This is Native land first, and then like I said earlier, we can build community by having conversations with one another without our mediator. We don’t need to follow that recipe of how we as Black folks get what we need. We can talk to one another and that’s not, that’s not gonna be easy. I say that and I understand how complex this is, but I think there’s a starting point for us to recognize one other, to see each other, to learn about each other outside of what we learn from the settler state, from white supremacy, and from racial capitalism, right?
We can talk directly to one another, and we can start talking about the future we want that isn’t dependent on what we’ve been “promised.” Quote promise, because we’ve been “promised” a lot of stuff from these institutions. And where are we? Anything that we have is because we did it, right. Like I wanna remind us that we have been geniuses. We have been the ones who have figured out how to get free, right? Not these systems, they will co-opt Black Lives Matter; they will co-opt the civil rights movement; they will co-opt anything in order to stay relevant. You know what I mean? And so, I think that it is us who makes those decisions. But we gotta put on our big kid pants. You know, we gotta start are having like these really intense and sometimes really painful conversations.
[01:15:12] AJ: Yeah, there’s so much that that has just brought up for me. Thank you so much for giving us that elucidation. I mean one of the things is what you just said in the article that we read for today. Robin Maynard, she talks about how the abolition of slavery was not the end of violence, right? It was actually a way that it actually prompted a reorganization of that violence globally, so from the abolition of slavery came the scramble for Africa. I think a lot of people are like, “Oh yes, abolition, yes, communities and us creating community together,” and they don’t—they think about it in a very like intramural sense. Which leads to this kind of like, “Oh, Black people are getting this,” or “Indigenous people are getting this.” Yeah, “they did this to us and they’re not doing this.” You know things like that, it creates this kind of like competition. And so I think I want everyone, listeners, to just sit with what you, and what Brendan had said about, not everybody is going to act like a landlord, right? Like not everybody wants the land to be owned where you’re gonna start paying rent or something like that, It’s like how could we live in community together and share this land and that will come from a conversation.
[01:16:40] BT: Yeah, I was gonna say to underscore what you said.
[01:16:45] AJ: We all underscoring [laughter].
[01:16:47] BT: To affirm each other. A virtual hug circle [laughter]. Yeah, I—it’s important to go back to what Amber said earlier, which is thinking about these things as an interlocking set of institutions or systems that move together right? It’s like we cannot dislodge Indigenous sovereignty from Black Liberation and specially in U.S. if we’re thinking in a U.S. centric context. Because those are settler colonialism, chattel slavery, anti-Blackness, racial capitalism, they all move together, right? You cannot have the plantation without the forced remove, right, the genocidal actions that include incorporating Native women into your families. And so, I think it’s so important for us to think about this together, and I thought about it earlier. You know I did. I was like, “Whoa was I one of those Black people that I mentioned I have a Native ancestor,” but I realize I should explain that. So, my father side he’s of Choctaw and [pronounced incorrectly] Chicka-see.
[01:17:59] AS: Chickasaw
[01:18:00] BT: Chickasaw. I was like, Chicka-see, who’s that? Chickasaw.
[01:18:06] AS: [Laughter] That girl over there, Chick-a-see.
[01:18:07] BT: Since his passing, I’ve been learning more about that piece of his ancestry. But I think about it to growing up in South Carolina with other Black folks who always claimed, you know, the “I have a Cherokee grandma” story and how that too is really a parodying of white supremacist anti-Indigenous logic, which is to kill and or incorporate the Native [unclear] through. Those are both a genocide.
[01:18:39] AJ: I’ve always thought of it as a being more of a like internalized anti-Blackness thing to be like, “my hair looks like this cause I have a Cherokee grandmother,” or something [crosstalk]. And so, I think yes, and I think that—I mean Brendan and I took a class, Critical Native and Indigenous Studies. And so, we you know, we’ve read many texts and we read Native American DNA. And Kim Talbert talks a lot about the way that white settlers incorporate the Native into their ancestry but doesn’t really talk about what that looks like for Black Americans, and why that happens. Of course, that was not her project, but I think that is something interesting and there’s a different tenor and purpose to it, I think. Which is, just like based on very preliminary observation and reading and understanding, is more of a “I’m not fully Black,” more so than like, “I belong to this land.”
[01:19:47] BT: Yeah, and I think so. And also, to back get back to something you said in connection to that earlier Amber when you talked about Blackness being marked as failure.
[01:19:56] AS: Yes.
[01:19:57] BT: I think. Also, in a sense, what makes this other colonial project animate—or what animates it—is also positing like Nativeness, um, Indigeneity is also a failed project. Or one that is like a fixed project in time, or a primitive project and then we move forward. And so, I’m thinking about these, kind of, as polls that Black people who may or may not have Native ancestry, because some folks their ancestors did run off the plantation and did build these communities. It’s not everybody, you know. Some of us need to realize that too. I’ve had lots of conversations with Black people, especially southern Black people, I think. The project is like, well, yeah, I’m not all the way Black because I don’t want to be marked as a failure, right? Or I don’t want to be marked as a purely Black person, whatever that means, because then what does that mean for me in my life and my purpose. I’m just spouting thoughts at this point, but [laughter].
[01:21:03] AS: So, yes. Yes, to both of what you said. I do think, you know, again with Black folks and Native folks being in such close proximity, there’s bound to be so many of us who do have Native heritage, right? But I think that we have to be mindful of the way we participate in Native erasure when we just say, “Oh, I’m Native too.” It’s like being Native isn’t just like an idea. It is like connection, it’s knowing your peoples, being connected to your peoples, and trying to stay connected to your peoples. And I know for Black folks a lot of our Nativeness—a lot of folks who maybe are Native did have their Nativeness genocided, especially when it came to census records and things like that. Where, you know, we were just—it was our phenotype that decided who we were and weren’t. And so, there are these family stories and I think Alyssa like you said with Kim Talbert, the reasons were different.
And so, they could be one, some anti-Blackness. Two, there could be authentic stories of, like you know, connections to families and identities that got lost along the way. Like intentionally like genocided along the way. And then there are just some people who are just extremists right? Who just seeing Black folks are the Indigenous people of everywhere, right? Like we have these people who are just pretty awful. And so, I think for Black folks there is like kind of this plethora of ways in which we have relationship to Native identity. Whereas I think when it comes to whiteness under this project, it is really about the destruction and the replacement of the Native. And so that’s what complicates the situation. When we start talking about anti-Blackness in the Native community, we have to like really speak to like well what’s your motivation around not seeing Black Natives as authentically Native or Black folks who are descendants—which is something we do differentiate, like being of descent.
So that’s why I say I’m Muscogee and then I’m descendant of Quapaw, Yuchi Shawnee, and Cherokee is because I’m an enrolled citizen of one nation. I have connections to that community and that culture. The others, I know my ancestors, I know my lineage, but I don’t really have connection to my peoples. But I don’t discard that connection, right? Like that’s still valid. And so I think for anybody who knows their Native ancestry but maybe doesn’t have relationship or hasn’t done a reconnecting journey, I think it’s fine—and this is me, I’m not giving, the tribe is not giving you permission, like you know this is Amber saying that—I think it’s okay to say you’re of descent, but I also think it’s really important to do the work. I don’t think that people should just be walking around like, “I’m this,” and it’s like okay but, you know. I’m also a Scottish descent, but I don’t really walk around being like, “I’m Scottish,” you know [crosstalk].
[01:24:07] BT: I mean, and you can’t, [crosstalk].
[01:24:12] AJ: Just don’t be Elizabeth Warren. Like, just don’t do it [laughter].
[01:24:13] AS: Right, no, like [unclear] I just think we should have respect. It doesn’t mean that Black folks are necessarily lying. I just think that if you don’t know but you have these stories, you have to do the work if you’re going to then claim communities that you say you come from. So, I just wanted to distinguish, you know, make sure there was a distinguish between like white theft of Indigenous identity and Black, you know.
[01:24:43] AJ: And I definitely mean to discount—
[01:24:45] AS: Oh, you didn’t.
[01:24:45] AJ: Someone’s stories or anything like that. So this episode was actually prompted by interaction at the AAAs, the America Anthropological Association Annual Meeting. And this interaction has actually been ongoing. So, we filled Amber in a little bit, [laughter] but we will give you the Cliffs Notes version. Dr. Faye Harrison, she gave a distinguished lecture and in it she spoke about and had photos depicting Black and Indigenous or Native solidarity during the 2020 uprisings. I think she also had a photo of the Dakota pipeline protest—which we’ll talk about that another time [laughter]. So, an anthropologist asked a question/critique, saying that Faye Harrison did not cite any Indigenous scholars and he asked when the caricatures and tokenization of Indigenous people would stop. Dr. Harrison responded that in her longer piece from which the speech was derived and, in the lecture, she did cite Native and Indigenous scholars but as a Black woman whose commitments are to Black people, she chose to amplify the voices of Black scholars. This was followed up by a series of tweets about the lecture, that was like “no, I don’t know why you thought this lecture was so great. It was terrible,” you know. She actually responded to some of the critiques that he made.
[01:26:12] BT: She created a Twitter. She created a Twitter—
[01:26:15] AJ: She created a Twitter for it?
[01:26:17] BT: —to respond. The tea on the streets is that Faye Harrison created the Twitter to respond [laughter. Not sure of that’s the true truth, but I was like that’s um—gotta love dedication to truth.
[01:26:30] AJ: Yes, and responsibility [laughter]. Coincidentally the theme at this year’s AAA’s. Looking at his feed, there is a lot of pitting Black and Indigenous Native people and our causes against each other. It’s almost as if the cause of eliminating white supremacy is not one and the same. That we don’t share that cause. So yes, there [sigh] I don’t even know if we should go over what he said but there’s been like, you know. He said that “Black Americans deny American Indians the ability to exist apart from Blackness” and the way that that happens is a new age genocide. He says that Black countermapping erases Indigeneity, that Black America fetishizes Natives in their ancestry. And then recently he said that we shouldn’t even be praising the 1619 Project because there are no other counter-histories of the United States. But actually, that’s not true. Last month, the historian Kyle T. Mays, his book, An Afro-Indigenous History of the United States came out. So, you know, I think our struggles are interlinked and prioritizing one does not negate the other unless it actually does. Which is what I think he’s doing; he’s negating the struggles of Black Americans. So, like, he’s actively being anti-Black. And it’s like, I find it odd and very uncomfortable.
[01:28:21] BT: It’s giving I see you’re relevant, I’m trying to make myself relevant energy, honestly, truly. But I think he does, we talk about caricatures and tokenization, I think he does in his response—or like the way that he frames Black struggle does the exact thing that he’s critiquing of.
[01:28:41] AJ: Yes.
[01:28:42] AS: I was just thinking [crosstalk][laughter].
[01:28:26] BT: Like making, you know. So, I think it really goes in line with what we’ve been talking about in some of the conversations that we’ve had with Amber off the mic about thinking about solidarity in movements. And how solidarity truly—I mean, I said this before, I don’t believe in it, I think we can practice coalition. I think we could practice alignment with movements, but that really just comes grounded and in community. And so, it’s obvious that this person does not see himself in community with Black people, TM and period. And for me it really brought up feelings of—as being someone who did organizing and observes movements and studies movements—of when people will literally ask Black people. Non-Black people will ask Black people, “Well, why didn’t you put us on your back as you’re trying to run to freedom?” And it’s like hold on [laughter].
[01:29:43] AS: I’m not your mule.
[01:29:44] BT: You know? Wait a minute [laughter]. But it’s been really causing a buzz, in the Black Anthro community because we’re like, “Okay, well, you know, what do you want us to do? Do you want us to put your needs above ours? And is that not the same anti-Blackness that we are trying to fight?” But it’s so important to think with these logics of white supremacy and anti-Blackness together along. Like it’s just so important.
[01:30:19] AS: Yeah, I remember your critiques of solidarity. I remember some of the situations and, you know, that kind of brought up like, “Is solidarity dead? Is it a real thing?” And I will have to say that it definitely has given me pause to think about is solidarity a real thing. So, I would say that I don’t think it’s realized. I do think it’s a notion, and I think it’s something that we can work towards, like coalition building. But I think that solidarity is about agency, political agency between, you know? Yeah, I think solidarity just kind of acts as like sites of disruption. You know, maybe I don’t see it as like we’re always in solidarity, like every time, all the time. But it’s like there are these sites of times where we are in solidarity and it kind of is up to us to kind of maintain. That it’s like this ongoing thing. It’s not we’ve arrived, right, or, you know. Will we ever arrive? I don’t know, but I think that choosing to be in solidarity is about rupturing the status quo. Like we are. Yeah, I don’t want it to be like a metaphor. I think solidarity has to be something that we practice and maybe, like you said, maybe that’s the word isn’t solidarity. It’s coalition building. But yeah, it has to—maybe solidarity could be [sigh]. Yeah, I think that your critiques of it always kind of give me pause [laughter].
[01:32:11] BT: I think it’s interesting to hear you talk through it, because—
[01:32:17] AS: Yeah.
[01:32:18] BT: —it is so complicated. But I love what you said about it being something that has yet to be realized. cause you know, my brain is very much so, I mean, “it’s not doing what y’all say, it’s not giving what it’s supposed to have gave.” So, I think we need to do something else. I like how you open it up to a possibility. And I think those, as you’re saying, those possibilities though, come with conditions. Those conditions are like the juncture. What’s happening right now? Can we even really be in solidarity around this issue at this point in time? Or is this something that we just, you know, our groups of people have different goals, different aims and we can’t work with? But I think people fixate on solidarity, and I think people fixate on the solid part which feels less like stuck. We’re in it, it’s permanent, and I’m like I don’t know. I don’t know if that works for all of us. I think it might work for some of us, but not all of us. And so yeah, I like how you, kind of, are thinking through it and we can continue to trouble over this forever, cause we will.
[01:33:29] AS: We will.
[01:33:29] BT: We will. I think what you spoke to too is also a major theme of what we talked about in today’s episode, which is rehearsal. We talked about kind of this idea of practice and the interview that we read was talking a lot about rehearsals as a way of a generative life practice. Where we’re not just quote “performing” our values, right? We’re actually practicing them each day and like that as a way to think about freedom work and to think about liberation. It’s so nice how you align without even really knowing what we talked about. It’s just like you kept bringing back to practice and kind of thinking about things in that in this kind of process or iterative way which, I mean, just speaks back to your brilliance Amber.
[01:34:21] AS: Thank you. Man, you know, I just want to be free, and I want other people to be free. And I just think that we have the capacity to be more brilliant than our oppressors, but I also think we have the capacity to replicate our oppressors. And I think it is a choice that we have to daily make. And I think even if we got land back and liberation tomorrow, if we haven’t dealt with the oppressor in our mind, if we haven’t dealt with like the socialization around white supremacy and racial capitalism and settler colonialism, we’ll replicate the various systems because we’ve been taught that we’re valuable the closer, the more proximate, we are to either of those systems. And so, if we don’t lean in and realize that there are alternative routes to living together, to getting free, to all these things. Like if we’re not envisioning and then trying to practice, we will just continue to practice what we know.
This is not to be like “kumbaya,” I just think this is really hard work and I don’t discount what this is gonna take. But I think that where we are today is just a culmination of other people’s ideas of where we should be right. And so, I think then we have the obligation to then think differently, to envision differently, right? And so, I kind of see my work as reaping the fruits of the people who came before us. Like my Black and my Native ancestors, who came before us while simultaneously planting new seeds. But then it’s also my responsibility, while I’m planting seeds to, and prepping fertile ground for my descendants, to make sure that I’m weeding, right. I have to weed the things that the oppressor has also sold. Because if I don’t, that’s going to be incorporated with my seeds and the land that I’m, you know, been passing down to the generations that come after me. And so, it’s daily work, it’s hard work. There are times that I’m like, “Why couldn’t I just be like an interior decorator?” Not that interior decorators don’t—
[01:36:33] BT: No, I have that same dream. I have that same dream, I watch HGTV and I’m like, “Why? Why not me?”
[01:36:39] AS: You know, and it’s like, well, you know this is who you are. Your ancestors are refusing to let you just be like, “Well, whatever,” you know “I’m gonna go be a billionaire.” [Laughter]
[01:36:49] BT: Literally, literally. Foot on neck [laughter].
[01:36:53] AJ: You have actually wrapped up this entire episode with that last statement. You wrapped up this episode perfectly. I think in the essay, Maynard and Simpson talk about how sowing the seeds of the future is a collective practice and you know it comes together with the title every day we must get up and relearn the world. And so that means every day we get to decide who it is that we are going to be. We want to be. And who we will be. Look at that. I love how things just aligned. Just aligned. Okay as the last thing we’re gonna ask you is—this is random, I just decided to ask you—but who or what are you reading right now?
[01:37:38] AS: Oh man.
[01:37:40] AJ: Our listeners, need—you know they just need reading lists for the time when we’re gone n[laughter].
[01:37:50] AS: Because I have like six books I’m reading, but the one that I’m currently—two that I’m currently reading, Becoming Abolitionist by Derecka Purnell and then The Racial Contract by Charles Mills—I think that’s his name.
[01:38:00] BT: Yeah.
[01:38:01] AS: Yeah, so those are the two books that I’m actively reading right now. And I will say also The Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon which I like pick up and take pause. Some of it is like so dense. I’m just like, “Oh,” so those are the three books that I’m currently reading. But I’m always reading. I’m a pseudo academic, you know, I’m always on JSTOR.
[01:38:26] BT: You’re a real academic. You’re more real than—okay let me hush [laughter]. Praxis. As praxis.
[01:38:34] AS: Or looking for articles to read too, you know, cause political education is a part of also, I think, a part of my lived experience. But I’m also just very much a thinker. I like to just sit and ponder and so I need material to be like, “Oh yeah,” you know?
[01:38:56] AJ: That makes you an intellectual. That makes you intellectual and academic. You don’t need [crosstalk] the university. You don’t need the stamp.
[01:39:03] BT: Cause you gotta think about it, some people [clears throat] literally sit and think about their own thoughts, so. And then they’re like, “Oh, this is a translatable experience.” [Laughter]
[01:39:17] AS: That’s funny [laughter].
[01:39:21] BT: Some people are self-informed intellectuals. I was gonna throw some shade at this rapper, but I decided not to [laughter].
[01:39:30] AJ: Oh, come on, are you talking about—
[01:39:34] BT: J. Cole.
[01:39:34] AJ: Oh okay, I thought you were talking about no name. I was like—
[01:39:39] AS: I could hear you were talking about J. Cole, and I knew you were thinking no name [laughter].
[01:39:34] BT: Wait, why would I? I would never disrespect the no name, sis said I will diss you in under a minute and 30 seconds and move on with my life.
[01:39:52] AJ: In less than 130 characters, okay? [Laughter] Alright Amber, can you tell everyone where they can find you?
[01:40:00] AS: Yes, I am usually on Twitter or Instagram. I technically use Twitter to post to Instagram, but you can find them, you know, under the same handle @MelaninMvskoke and Muskogee is spelled in our language. So, M-V—as in Victor—SKOKE. Melanin Mvskoke.
[01:40:24] BT: Great! Yes, we love to see you. We love having you here. Uhm we’ll have to talk to you again soon.
[01:40:33] AS: Yes. Thank you.
[01:40:35] BT: My heart is so happy.
[01:40:36] AS: Mine is too, you don’t know. I’m like trying to like you know, cause I’ll be fan girling all the time. And then you know I’m like these are two people I look up to. I gotta make sure I bring it you know [unclear].
[01:40:50] AJ: Oh, it has been brought.
[01:40:53] BT: Broughten. We are sitting at your table. Sitting at your table, thank you.
[01:41:00] AS: Thank you.
[01:41:01] BT: That’s all we have for y’all today and this semester! Thank you for listening. We’ll be back in February 2022, no sooner [laughter]. This episode was produced by Alyssa James and Brendane Tynes and distributed in partnership with the American Anthropological Association. This season of the podcast is generously funded by a grant from the Arts & Science Graduate Council and donations from listeners just like you.
[01:41:32] AJ: Thank you all for your support! If you like this episode, please share it via social media, WhatsApp, or handwritten letter if you wanna be like those we read today. We would love to hear what you have to say about this episode, so be sure to follow us on Instagram at zorasdaughters and on Twitter at Zoras_Daughters. For transcripts, syllabi, and information on how to cite us or donate, visit our website zorasdaughters.com. Good luck getting through finals, the holiday season, the end of the Gregorian calendar year, whatever it is for you. Love you all.
[01:42:08] BT: Yes. Last and not least at all, remember that we must take care of ourselves and each other.
[01:42:16] AJ: As praxis.
[01:42:18] BT: As praxis [in unison] [laughter]. Bye!
[01:42:20] AJ: Bye!
[01:42:21] AS: Bye everybody!