Abolition is not about your feelings! It’s the long awaited episode where we discuss in detail what it means to be and practice PIC (prison-industrial complex) abolition. In our What’s the Word? segment, Brendane and Alyssa unpack Michel Foucault’s concept of discipline and docile bodies to think about the way power compels us to regulate our bodies and behaviors. Today, we read Mariame Kaba’s new book We Do This ‘Til We Free Us: Abolitionist Organizing and Transforming Justice. We pulled out three important themes that we felt help us understand how we got to a place where we can’t imagine a world without prisons: punishment vs. consequences, transformative justice vs. restorative justice, and safety vs. security. This leads us into conversations about non-reformist reforms, the difference between crime and harm, accountability, gaslighting of Black sexual assault survivors, and the usefulness of hope. In our What in the World?! segment, we discuss the murder of 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant by Ohio police, the ongoing punishment and incarceration of Ashley Diamond, and the cancel culture “crisis” and who really gets cancelled (spoiler: it’s not rich celebrities).
CW: Throughout the episode we make reference to sexual assault and perpetrators of sexual harm. We describe the medical and juridical process of rape cases from 00:57:00 to 01:01:00. Please take care of yourself as you need while listening.
Zora’s Daughters Podcast: Episode Eighteen
Co-Hosts: Brendane Tynes and Alyssa James
Title: Abolition Is Not a Metaphor
Total Length: 01:36:45
[00:00:16] AJ: Hey everyone! I’m Alyssa, I use she/her/hers pronouns. And we are back! We are Black. We’re off break—
[00:00:25] BT: And we’re on the track [laughter].
[00:00:27] AJ: That’s a throwback. So, the quick news, I am officially ABD. That means I’ve completed all the requirements for my PhD except the dissertation. And so, I’m just thankful for the time that we had to rest and to really focus on my schoolwork, but I’m really excited to be back on the mic! Seeing Brendane. How you doing? Wha gwan?
[00:00:55] BT: “Wha gwan” Lemme stop pretending like I know what that means. Uh, hey, y’all [laughter]! I’m Brendane, and I also use she/her pronouns. And yeah, it feels good to be back and Gemini season is coming in/through with a vengeance as well. Lemme just say that. We’re back and it’s also my season, so I guess what else to expect but a little chaos? If you don’t know me, then you don’t know, I am a Gemini. The sign y’all love to hate and I’m finally, glad that we’re like finally able to get to our long-awaited episode on abolition. We’ve got a long one ahead of us, so we’re gonna keep the intro short today.
[00:01:44] AJ: Yes, yes, yes. But before, we hop into it, we want to give a huge thanks to everyone who has donated to the podcast or engaged with us on social media. We were on break, but we were still hearing from you all on Instagram and twitter. Very heartwarming. I’m an Aquarius so I pretend I’m not sentimental, but I am.
[00:02:01] BT: [Laughter] Y’all care about what y’all wanna care about.
[00:02:09] AJ: Yes, but we care about people and you all are people, so care about you. If you would like to donate to the podcast, you can visit zorasdaughters.com. That’s our website. Be sure to follow us on Instagram at zorasdaughters and Twitter at Zoras_Daughters. We actually have some exciting updates coming soon, so be on the lookout! So, we’re gonna saunter, jump right into it. Brendane, what’s the word for today?
[00:02:42] BT: Today’s word is discipline so, you heard it here first. Maybe not first, second or third time but we are bringing back Foucault or Foucky, as I like to call him! And we’re talking about his widely cited text Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison which was published in 1975. In this text Foucault traces the genealogy of the production of the prison. This book has four parts: torture, punishment, discipline, and prison. In this segment, we’re really gonna focus on the Discipline and the Prison section.
[00:03:23] AJ: Okay, I’m gonna take the discipline part. So, disciplinary power as Foucault explains it, is distinguished from absolutist or sovereign power—so that’s, power held by a monarch—and juridical power. This disciplinary power is not perceived by us as oppressive or constraining, like the kind of external, coercive power of a sovereign. Discipline is a force, of course, but it is the internalization of that force to the point that we normalize and accept the systems that are constraining us. Disciplinary power is used to create what Foucault calls ‘docile bodies.’ And these docile bodies are ideal for the military and for the emerging—at the time that he’s talking about—industrialized world because it allows those in power, and it allows these systems to exert power over people without actually taking action. In order to explain what he means by discipline or disciplinary power, Foucault turns to English philosopher Jeremy Bentham and his concept of the panopticon, which he designed in the 18th century? Yes, the 18th century.
The panopticon is a layout of a prison where guards are in a tower in the center of a circular prison, and then they essentially maintain surveillance over all the inmates in this way. But this layout isn’t just an architectural structure, it also in turn structures the consciousness of imprisoned people. So, they can’t see into the guard tower, they never know when they’re being watched and so when they’re at risk of punishment. When you can’t see the eyes, the eyes are everywhere, right? You know, so in that sense you regulate your behavior just in case you’re being watched. So, that would be the difference between an external sovereign power that exercises power over another. Disciplinary power is then the way that you regulate your body and your actions. So as an example, I was a girl once upon a time, it was a long time ago [laughter]—
[00:05:40] BT: Once upon a time not long ago [laughter].
[00:05:43] AJ: It was pretty long ago [laughter]. But I was a girl growing up in a culture where it is considered ‘unladylike’ among other things—there’s some other odd connotations—so, it’s considered ‘unladylike’ we’ll say to sit with your knees apart. And so, I was told not to do that, or I received weird looks if I did. Eventually, no one needed to tell me to stop doing that. And so, it’s gotten to the point where now, I might even be at home, by myself, watching tv, chilling, and if I’m sitting down, I’ll feel like I should cross my legs or keep my knees together, or something. So, I won’t sit like in the manspreading position because I’m like, “Oh, I can’t do that.” So, I will then discipline myself. That’s discipline. I regulate my body because I’ve internalized that policing of femininity and enforce those norms on myself. And that’s basically in order to avoid punishment. And it may not be a physical punishment, but it’s like social kinds like teasing or getting weird looks. And so, it’s something that seems innocuous but it’s actually the way patriarchy exerts power over women in very insidious ways
[00:06:56] BT: Yeah, I actually do the same thing but I just—which kind of goes along with the song that I started but then stopped earlier [laughter]. Which don’t look that song up, but once upon a time, not long ago I was a ho [laughter]. But yeah, like that’s—in church we were taught a lot about how girls/women—because we were always already women—present themselves. And you know, if I didn’t have my legs shut then a prayer cloth was coming. You know, one of the sisters was coming with the prayer cloth to cover my legs, not matter how long my dress was. So yeah, I definitely still deal with that to this day. But we could also say another version, or the modern version of the panopticon is actually like surveillance technology like cameras or even our own phones or emails. So, if you have a smartphone, you have a piece of surveillance technology that you carry around with you everywhere you go. And after Edward Snowden, we know that any of these things could be used to surveil us at any time and we just have to “trust” that the state is not gonna abuse this power. And we know it is, right? Especially if you are Black. So, an excellent text to dive into surveillance and its connections to Blackness would be Simone Browne’s Dark Matters, so make sure you check that out.
[00:08:26] AJ: Yep. Yep. I think it just really goes to show that instead of spending all of this money on surveillance and controlling us, we could actually just spend it on creating communities where harming other people is unthinkable.
[00:08:40] BT: Why do that?
[00:08:41] AJ: Why though? Why, right?
[00:08:43] BT: Why do that when you could make money? I mean [laughter].
[00:08:86] AJ: But it’s just like, the same way that prevention is better than cure, we could be focusing on making people’s lives good instead of keeping watch of people doing things that we’ve constructed as bad. But you know, but again, why?
[00:09:01] BT: Why? When you could make money off of all of those things, right? I think that’s literally it. So, Foucault also analyzes the prison, demonstrating that the prison is actually part of an entire carceral system that’s just not limited to people’s bodies being in a cell. So, the carcel system includes schools, it includes the military, hospitals, factories, the department of social service. And all of them operate best when they are filled with these “docile bodies,” which is what Foucault calls them. So, at the same time that they produce these docile bodies, so they produce the structures that discipline us, they also create the idea of the delinquent. So, this is the person who has to exist in order for there to be a ‘standard’ for there to be something called good, or law abiding. And the delinquent allows for the good person or the upstanding citizen to exist and to be judged by. So, not only are these institutions sites of disciplinary power and punishment, but many of the people in them function essentially as police officers. So, I hate to do it to y’all, and I got friends who are involved in all of these categories. I love you all dearly but doctors, teachers, therapists, social workers, like all of these good occupations are all implicated in a carceral system and are extensions of policing and policing institutions.
[00:10:42] AJ: That’s not to say that these jobs in and of themselves are bad, right? Like, of course we need doctors. But I think that the role that doctors and teachers have to play, which are often ones of surveillance and ones of required reporting and all these kinds of things, they do then feed into the carcel system. And so, it’s the roles that the state requires you to play and not necessarily your job in and of itself. But all of that to say, society just conditions us to be the police. Like we the police [laughter]. We police ourselves and we police others. And carceral logics are embedded in society, from how students are pushed out of schools to the ways disabled people are excluded from society based on the way that we build—the way that we structure schooling, the way that we structure buildings. Like all of those kinds of things are meant to exclude the “delinquent.” So, in that sense, change is something that needs to change us, right, like we need to see that no one is disposable, no one is expendable. And stop being the police [laughter].
[00:11:58] BT: Period. Also, when I said teachers, professors were also included in that. Even though not all professors are teachers. I just wanted to put that out there [laughter]. Um, the last thing that I’ll say about all of this, which I’m going to use the word “interesting” as a place holder for how I really want to describe this. I think “typical” is more along the lines of what I mean. But Foucky, like many other of his contemporary counterparts, excludes slavery from his analysis of discipline and punishment, which is like typical, right, for the French white men to not think about what they were doing in the colonies or had done in the colonies as something that influences their theorization of things. But there are lots of scholars today who actually connect the plantation and the Transatlantic Slave Trade to the criminal punishment system.
And for me, personally, you know, I’m not gonna say that nobody else has said this but I would go so far as to say that the modern disciplinary practices were actually perfected on the slave. So, thinking about how enslaved Africans were separated by sex before boarding slave ships. And you know we have, our men’s prisons and our women’s prisons, right, that are judged by—people judge by what they think your genitals are before they place you somewhere. Their bodies were stripped, cavities were searched, things were inserted into these cavities. If they did not comply with the orders of their captors, they were placed in solitary confinement and/or killed. And if you’ve ever been to Ghana and been to the slave castles, they actually show you the solitary confinement room that they had, that has no windows, no doors, so they’re no way for air to get into the room.
So, if you did not comply, you died. And it kind of mirrors how solitary confinement functions today. Enslaved Africans were separated from their communities and they were treated as disposable objects. So, they had a value even though they were consistently devalued and dehumanized. And if they made it to the Americas, their bodily autonomy continued to be taken from them. So, if we think about that as a mirror to when people are released but are still entangled in this system, right, where they’re not allowed to get housing, they’re not allowed to vote, they’re not allowed to live their lives. And so, I’m not gonna go too deep into the parallel but we’re gonna have recommended readings for folks to like really dive into this. And I think it’s good for us to segue to what we’re reading today. So, Alysssa, what are we reading today?
[00:14:45] AJ: We are reading [laughter] We Do This Til We Free US: Abolitionist Organizing and Transforming Justice by Mariame Kaba. I am thrilled. I was thrilled to read it, it was great.
[00:15:01] BT: Thrilled. Look, though this is not like a standard academic text, it was lovely to read, so.
[00:15:10] AJ: I think that’s probably why it was lovely to read [laughter].
[00:15:12] BT: Yes. I don’t have to decipher what’s being said.
[00:15:16] AJ: Big facts [laughter].
[00:15:18] BT: Anyway, um, Mariame Kaba is a wonderful person. She is an organizer, educator and curator and has been active in the anti-gender-based violence movement since 1989. Her work focuses on ending violence, dismantling the prison industrial complex, transformative justice and supporting youth leadership development. She studied sociology at McGill University, City College of New York, and Northwestern University and is currently pursuing a degree in Library and Informational Science. She is the founder and director of Project NIA, a grassroots organization with a vision to end youth incarceration and has co-founded multiple organizations and projects over the years. She was a member of Incite! Women of Color Against Violence, and she co-founded and currently organizes with the Survived and Punished collective and is a founding member of the Just Practice Collaborative. She was a researcher in residence on Race, Gender, Sexuality and Criminalization at the Social Justice Institute of the Barnard Center for Research on Women from 2018-2020. She has been writing about her work since 2010 on her blog Prison Culture and is an active board member of The Black Scholar journal.
[00:16:34] AJ: I think just reading her bio, she’s actually done a lot of work with universities, she’s been a researcher in residence and other kinds of positions like that. So that is just to tell you all, just to let you all know, you don’t need to be a professor to be involved in academia or to be ivory tower adjacent of you are so interested. So, just a little highlight, underscore, there for you all. But as a result, this is not your typical academic book or article, and so we’re not gonna read it the same way that we—read it for you all the same way that we usually would. So, we’ve actually pulled out three motifs, they’re essentially terms that we felt pushed us to think more deeply about “x” topic and in particular about understanding abolition.
So, actually in the book, she mentions that she dislikes binaries, but I actually found that the compare and contrast, and trying to parse the nuance of some of these words that we’re juxtaposing, was really helpful for you know, understanding how we get to the heart of like why we’ve ended up in a society where we can’t imagine a world without prisons. Despite the fact that prisons are new. Prisons in the way they exist now are new and they were a reform, right. So, these terms aren’t meant to be definitive, but is just really a way to get you all, the listener, thinking about the terms that we take for granted. But, yeah, first let’s maybe jump in and like explain what she means by abolition. Because, you know, she says we should always identify what kind of abolition we’re talking about, and in this case it’s PIC abolition.
[00:18:37] BT: Right, cause a lot of y’all are out here using abolition willy-nilly! We wanna say up front right, abolition is not based upon how you feel. You know, it’s not based upon what you feel it means, but we’re gonna get exactly to like where you should place your feelings in regard to abolition later. Kaba defines the principles of the prison industrial complex abolition as: one, prison industrial complex abolition calls for the elimination of policing, imprisonment, and surveillance; two, or rejects the expansion in breadth or scope or legitimation of all aspects of the prison industrial complex—so these are things like increasing surveillance technology, policing, sentencing, and imprisonment of all sorts and we’ll get to more examples of that later; also prison industrial complex abolition refuses logics of premature death and organized abandonment, which are the state’s modes of reprisal and punishment. She emphasizes that you can advocate for these things and that’s fine, right. She’s like, that’s y’all over there. But you are not an abolitionist if you advocate for any of these things. If you want to call yourself an abolitionist, you must be committed to the idea that incarceration is never—like, never, never, never—an appropriate solution for interpersonal harm. Even when it’s R. Kelly, even when it’s Harvey Weinstein, even when it’s Bill Cosby. Even when it’s someone harms you.
[00:20:18] AJ: Oh, and that’s tough. It’s tough and she actually acknowledges that, but we’ll also get to that later. But when I was reading all of this, it got me thinking about a tweet that went around after Amy Cooper—if y’all remember last year the Central Park Karen who called the police on Christian Cooper while he was birdwatching—and she was charged with filing a false report. And so, someone tweeted something along the lines of, “Amy Cooper has been charged with a crime that carries jail time, are we still abolitionist?” And I remember feeling so conflicted about it because I thought, I know that a criminal record is harmful, and prison is violent but what other recourse do we have to make us feel like Christian Cooper got justice? And I think Mariame Kaba would say ‘Abolition is not about your fucking feelings.’
[00:21:12] BT: Period. Peri-odd.
[00:21:16] AJ: Like, what we are looking for is emotional satisfaction, right? Like we want it to feel like justice was done because at the time we were angry. And emotional satisfaction is not justice, right. Like Amy Cooper lost her job, that is a consequence. She publicly apologized, she took accountability. People were also at the time making calls to have her banned from the park, which I think, if you’re thinking like okay, she shouldn’t go to jail but she should face consequences that might make sense. But then if you dig deeper into what that produces, and you really try to sit with what it means to not increase police surveillance then that kind of consequence would actually reinforce the idea that we need police and surveillance. Because even if no one called the police one her and she was banned from the park and whatever, people would police the park, they’d police her. At which point you start sliding into punishment instead of a consequence.
[00:22:20] BT: Yeah, exactly. I think that’s a really important point. We have to think about ways to get justice or, even if we’re trying to move towards, you know, reform where it is necessary, that actually doesn’t fortify the prison industrial complex. In the book she calls it non-reformist reforms. And I think that she’s referring to Joy James when she names it as such. And for those of you who are not involved in abolitionist organizing, non-reformist reforms are reforms that don’t expand of enlarge the power of police or policing institutions. So, these reforms would be, for example, we are going to defund the police. Alright, we’re going to decrease the police budget and take that money and give it to educational systems or to the public library. Usually, reforms say police are fucked up and here’s what we’re gonna do to solve it. We’re just gonna give them more money to figure it out. And it’s like okay, more money for them to buy robot dogs to terrorize us? I don’t think that’s gonna help. But let me get off my Black Mirror horse here [laughter].
[00:23:35] AJ: Your Black Mirror dog.
[00:23:37] BT: The Black Mirror dog. Which, I thought it was a roach for the longest and then someone was like Brendane, it’s a dog, it’s not a roach. [Laughter] But yeah, that’s neither here nor there. I think when people think about abolition and what makes it really untenable for them, is you know people always ask, what will you do if someone breaks into your house? What will you do about the rapist and the pedophiles and all these other people? And one thing that I would say to all of that is most of the people that you know who do those things are in jail already and the existence of prisons or jails don’t deter them from doing things that harm people. So, let’s start with that. And then let’s also move to thinking about okay, what is an abolitionist response to a question like that. Abolitionists say, we’re not just focusing on deconstructing this prison industrial complex system and leaving a vacuum, right. It’s deconstructing while also building something else.
So, the response to that might be, what can we do as a community to make sure that no one feels the need to break into my house? It might be we might need to have some kind of welfare system or mutual aid system. Or, if someone needs something, who in the community can be able to provide that? And that’s antithetical to a capitalist mindset. Kaba addresses this through another’s words. She says that people think this kind of response is a rhetorical evasion. People are not really trying to answer your question. But it’s actually part and parcel of abolitionist principles, right. That these processes be discussed and decided in community. So, what one community does to address harm might not be, if you go across the street to another community, what they do. And I want to underscore that in most places in the U.S. police are not a part of the communities that they police, especially if you are a Black person and you live in a segregated community. Most, nine times out of ten, that police office does not live in that same community with you and even if the police officer is Black, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re also a part of your community.
[00:25:52] AJ: Alright but I think we’re getting ahead of ourselves a little bit, so let’s talk about our first pair, punishment versus consequences. And even before we get there, where going to parse out the difference between harm and crime. Okay, so harm is the direct result of violence. Everyone harms, everyone has experienced harm. Crime, on the other hand, is something that’s socially and legally constructed and it can be violent. Okay? It doesn’t mean that it always is but it’s just something that has been written into a law by some person who says that this is a crime. Whether it’s violent is up for debate. So, there are a lot of harmful things that can happen that aren’t considered crimes. For example, if I kick Brendane in the shin, [laughter] I’d have to reach down low to do that [laughter].
[00:26:51] BT: Oh, my gosh [laughter]. I’m short y’all. I’m short [laughter].
[00:27:00] AJ: I’m slightly above average in height [laughter]. Okay, so if I kick Brendane in the shin, right, I have committed a violent act that harms her. It does not become a crime unless Brendane charges me with assault. And then there’s this whole legal process about whether my kick will actually be seen as a crime, right. The criminal legal system, sometimes, punishes crime, but almost never addresses harm. The perpetrator of harm can face consequences without being punished and so Kaba does a great job of explicating that. For her, punishment is something that’s extreme, it’s cruel, it reinforces a cycle of suffering and of harm. Punishment is really about inflicting pain. And that can be physical pain, but it can also psychological pain. And so, when you want someone to hurt, that’s punishment. Consequences on the other hand are things that you face as a result of an action that you took. It’s like the logical continuation, the logical result of some kind of action that you took. As an example, Amy Cooper lost her job. That was a consequence. That company, they believed that she should not be in contact with their clients who may or may not be racialized because she inflicted harm on another, on a Black person. Now punishment, on the other hand, would be if the state took away her ability to provide for her basic needs entirely and indefinitely, and that’s something that happens with incarceration.
[00:28:37] BT: Right. So, in line with the example of punishment for Alyssa kicking me, stooping down to kick me, would be me being like, “Oh Alyssa, you know, I’m going to take your foot away,” right? And it’s like, no. How does me taking her foot away address the fact that my shin hurts? There’s no real logical connection there. It would just make me, if I were in that frame of mind, feel better. But I would never do that, right. An appropriate consequence for Alyssa kicking me would be me expressing, “Alyssa, that really hurt me and I’m gonna ask can you buy me some ice to put on my shin so that I can continue to go about my life, right. So, one of the things that we want to continue to underscore here is that consequences are logically connected to the harm. Punishment it is, really truly, has no connection to the harm that’s done.
Punishment also serves as kind of a “lesson” for others. So, when others are punished by the state, it’s seen as oh, other people will observe that this person receives “x” sentence, and they won’t do this anymore. That’s the crime deterrent argument. But it doesn’t actually focus on the relationship between the person or people harmed and the one who commits the harm. So, when we punish people, we don’t actually repair relationships, which are at the heart of what causes harm or leads to harm. Consequences actually teach us lessons, while punishments multiply the harm, and they usually center revenge. And so, I want you all to just close your eyes and take a little thinking exercise here. Well don’t close your eyes if you’re driving but, you know, think about it this, right. Like have you ever sat down and thought about prison sentences? And thought about if they make logical sense. Why would somebody who uses crack cocaine to escape their hellish life—or to cope with the effects of oppression or just to try it because their friend was like try it one time—why would it make sense to sentence that person to seven years in prison?
Why devote resources to forcefully alienating that person with taxpayer dollars when we could divert those same dollars into community-based solutions that alleviate people’s suffering? What they’re trying to escape by using those drugs. Why would someone who does not have the resources to clothe and to feed their children be arrested and their children shuffled into the foster system? Why is that something that we think is logical? Wouldn’t it make more sense to take the resources that we funnel into these systems and give them to the actual families so they can survive? One of the things that this book really highlights is that we’ve been conditioned to believe that punishment through prison and jails is the best solution for “undesirable people” and people that we label as “criminals,” but incarceration and state surveillance are not apt consequences for the effects of living in a white supremacist capitalist ableist world.
[00:32:01] AJ: Yeah, I think those examples are ones that people can wrap their head around when it comes to abolition, especially if they’re Black and have seen the effects of the drug war on their families and their communities. I think that it’s harder for people who are new to PIC abolition to really apply that to a person who robs you at knifepoint, or something. Something like that, that happens on a daily basis in NYC. People get mugged all the time. The mugger [laughter]. Another reference y’all, to a professor of ours, a beloved professor.
[00:32:40] BT: Speaking of abolition [laughter]. [Siren] What’s happening?
[00:32:55] AJ: Alright, there we go. So, people think, well, they’re a danger to society, they harmed me, why should he be out on the streets? I think there are a few angles to respond to that from. One way to approach it is to ask “Well, what is happening at a societal or community level that this person needs to rob and threaten people and how can we change that?” And then another way to go about it is to draw attention to the way that there is a tendency to use the extreme to prove the necessity of prisons. So, people will be like what about serial killers? Well how many serial killers are there? How many police actually capture serial killers and murders?
[00:33:35] BT: How many police officers are serial killers?
[00:33:38] AJ: Ohh ho.
[00:33:40] BT: I mean, but anyway, sorry.
[00:33:41] AJ: Big facts, big facts. But I mean, I think in the book she says that the average police officer will make one, one felony arrest a year. So, the rest of the time, they’re basically just going around ticketing people for like minor crimes, which again are constructed, and things like that.
[00:34:04] BT: Yeah, parking on the wrong side of the street is a crime.
[00:34:08] AJ: Exactly. Like don’t y’all have better things to do? But that’s something that I remember my mom saying like whenever she’d get a ticket, she’d be like don’t these people have better things to do? And the answer is no, they don’t.
[00:34:20] BT: No, they don’t.
[00:34:22] AJ: No, they don’t. So, you know, people tend to use these extreme examples to prove the necessity of prisons and police, when these everyday instances, like me kicking Brendane in the shin—I’ve never kicked Brendane in the shin—but these everyday instances of harm are actually far more common. And so, the question is, do you call the police and try to send people to prison every time they harm you? No. And then once you’re over being angry and like wanting to seek revenge, you know, to hurt the person who hurt you, what do you want then? Maybe you want restitution, maybe you want an acknowledgement that you were hurt and so you want an apology. Maybe you’ll find it beneficial that the person contributes to the community what they have taken from others. And so, it’s not just about this initial angry reaction. It’s about thinking more deeply and trying to see past this idea of revenge.
And so, for me, I’m like ah, I’d feel so violated if somebody mugged me, I’d feel awful. And I don’t think I’d be able to see past the revenge in the immediate but in the long term I’m sure that I’d want something different, I’d probably want my money back. But I don’t think that the criminal punishment system allows for that. I think one of the things that Kaba highlights, and I mentioned earlier, is she very much acknowledges that these politics are hard. Like, it’s hard. We’re so conditioned to desire punishment that it’s just this constant struggle, this constant evaluation of your intentions and your practices in order to be abolitionist. It’s like you have to allow your commitment to these values to override your feelings so that you can center community transformation rather than personal satisfaction. And that’s hard.
[00:36:20] BT: Whew, child. That’s a word! Like, I think in addition to what you just said, we have to let go of the notion that prisons are natural and that they actually separate the “good” from the “bad.” Prisons do not separate the “good” from the “bad.” Like I said earlier, if you think about people who have caused us harm in our lives, the people that we know of that do harm to people, most of them are not in prison or jail. And that doesn’t mean that they should be, right, it just means that the prison does not actually in fact protect those of us who might be considered “good,” right, from those who might be considered “bad.” And in my opinion—and I guess someone would say this is a very afro-pessimist view, whatever—would be that they separate the “to be enslaved,” or the “already enslaved” from the human.
And, if we really think about this system, right, this criminal legal—we’ve used this term “criminal legal,” or “criminal punishment,” and depending on what organizing circle you’re in, you might use them interchangeably—but this system, the criminal legal or criminal punishment system is the manifestation of the white supremacist, anti-black fantasy that’s rooted in Judeo-Christian principles. Let’s be real about it, that there is a “good” that meets a deserved reward and a “bad” that necessitates punishment, eternal damnation, and/or death. But the reality of it is, none of us are wholly good or wholly bad. What helps me really in thinking about my politics when things get hard is how all of these logics are fundamentally created to oppress us.
[00:38:18] AJ: That too is a word. If you all are like, “Afro-pessimism, what now? The to be enslaved and the human?” just check out our episode on Afro-pessimism and it will help. And Afro-pessimist thought, and abolition are like they’re intertwined, like they’ve kind of come u together and Kaba definitely shows that. She does an excellent job with theory. She’s citing Frank B. Wilderson, Saidiya Hartman, Fred Moten, Angela Davis, June Jordan, and like Audre Lorde and all these people. So, you can just tell she’s drawing on a depth and breadth of reading. But she doesn’t beat you over the head with it [laughter]. It’s one of those situations where if you’ve read the work that she’s citing, you can connect the two. But, you know, even if you haven’t read these things, you can still understand what she’s saying, it still will resonate with you and then you can always go back and read those things if you were like, oh I want to know more about the development of prisons or like prisons as a reform. And so, it was really cool to read this and see how theory can be used to inform people’s politics and people’s practices. And of course, this is just one of the characteristics of Black studies theory is that they draw on real world situations. They’re not just some white man’s thought experiment. So, they’re constantly in a cycle of like thinking, doing, thinking, doing, and observing all of those things. So yeah, but I think that’s actually, what we were talking about before is a nice little segue into our next motif.
[00:40:13] BT: Yeah. We’re going to talk about the difference between restorative justice and transformative justice. These are kind of big words now alongside abolition. You know, all of a sudden everybody’s an abolitionist and they believe in restorative justice and transformative justice. That’s my little, I guess, dig for today. But actually, when people use these terms interchangeably, they are muddying up the meaning of both of them, they’re actually not the same thing. Kaba defines transformative justice as a “community process that’s developed by anti-violence activists of color, in particular, who wanted to create responses to violence that do what criminal punishment systems fail to do, which is to build support and more safety for the person harmed, figure out how the broader context was set up for this harm to happen, and then how that context can be changed so that this harm is less likely to happen again. So transformative justice is not grounded in punitive justice, and it actually requires us to challenge our punitive impulses, while prioritizing healing, repair, and accountability.”
Restorative justice is—it can be done kind of in tandem with it, but restorative justice is much more on a smaller level. It’s much more on an interpersonal level where it focuses on repairing the relationship between the person harmed and the person who committed the harm. And this process of restorative justice is engaged with all parties entering with their consent and with a specific end goal in mind. So, you’re not in a restorative justice process indefinitely at the whim of the survivor of harm, you know. This is something that has a specific end goal, and these processes are not arbitrarily decided, like trials, where you kind of bring in juries and they decide “innocent,” “guilty.” Both the survivor and the person who commits harm have to agree to the end point and to the hard process of repair through restorative justice.
[00:42:25] AJ: Yeah and I mean it is hard. That is what she said. She was like, it’s hard and it sucks while you’re in it. She was like, it feels awful.
[00:42:34] BT: Right, it’s never gonna feel like it’s enough, right. It’s not gonna feel like it’s enough because you have to hold a person’s humanity in mind and in heart. So, it’s not just, oh you did something to me, you deserve pain, you deserve hardship. It’s like, not, you deserve to have a full life too. My life was made less full by what you did to me, how can I—how can we restore our relationship to each other and how can I restore—well my relationship with myself, that’s work you have to do outside of that space, but we’ll get to that.
[00:43:14] AJ: [Laughter] Yeah, I mean that, that part of the book really had me thinking about accountability and how we use the phrasing around accountability. We often say that we should hold someone accountable, and then I thought about—and I think language is important. Like I though about the way that that also sounds like it’s embedded in a carceral logics, right? Like to hold can be to detain, it implies a sort of captivity where the person doesn’t have agency. The person being held accountable. And so, I think what I notice at least in her writing for the most part, she talks about people taking accountability. There’s agency in that and there’s a mutual recognition of humanity like you said, in this restorative justice framework. I think people need to live in a world where people are encouraged to take accountability for their actions, rather than incentivized not to. And that’s what punishment does. The possibility of punishment incentivizes people not to admit when they were wrong and apologize and take accountability. And so, I think she also makes that clear, accountability isn’t about being punitive or admitting what you did, but it means acknowledging the hurt and the harm that you caused another person.
[00:44:39] BT: Right and I think, yeah, just to underscore what you said, we live in a world that does not incentivize people to take accountability. And so, a lot of times, people feel forced to hold someone accountable because we live in a world where it’s better to just be like, “Oh, I did that, you know, whatever girl.” But I think that I’ll also like to say too is that you can’t hold someone accountable if they’re not in community with you. And so like, this process of accountability is dependent upon community. And furthermore, taking accountability, this person choosing to take accountability for their actions does not mean that they are involved in a process that strips them of everything they need in order to survive because they raped you or assaulted you or they robbed you even though that’s what you feel they deserve.
I saw this being like a major issue in Black queer organizing circles, when I was still living in New York City, where these were Black people who were organizers, who were activists, who were like they didn’t take seriously the notion that we talked about earlier that activism, organizing, and abolition are not about your fucking feelings. Activism and organizing spaces—and I wanna say this and, you know, if you disagree with me feel free to hit me up—they’re not necessarily healing spaces. These are not the spaces to work out your traumas around abandonment. These are not the spaces to work out your need to feel powerful, so you exert a carceral process over someone who harmed you. If that is a need that you have, and a desire that you have, take that elsewhere. There are healing spaces where you can work through things, right. Abolition requires a decentering of the ego and the self. And so, in my own personal practice as an interpersonal violence survivor, I have to consider in moments where I am feeling very vengeful, why do I see myself on such a high pedestal that I think someone should suffer in an especially cruel way because they harmed me? And then I think, what do I truly want for myself and for the other person after I’ve been harmed. Usually, at the core of it all, especially if I’ve been harmed sexually, in the times that I have been harmed sexually, it’s just that I want to restore my relationship with myself, I want my bodily integrity back. The person who harmed me being destitute, being without friends, not being able to see their family, not being able to do things, does not give that to me. It doesn’t lessen the symptoms of PTSD. It doesn’t help me sleep at night. All it does is compound the harm for them and it doesn’t help them understand how to not reproduce this harm unto others. And so usually, that’s what I want for them, right, is that they’ll not harm someone else in this way. The only way for this to really come about is through a process where they reflect on their behavior and witness the harm that it’s caused me. And a lot of restorative justice processes allow that kind of active witnessing with the repair.
[00:47:58] AJ: Yeah, I mean, and this text really got me thinking about so many things, like not just the themes that we’re talking about for the episode, but also just broadly what justice means. People often conceive of capital punishment as justice because it rebalances the scales, right. The literal, like justice is often represented by the blindfolded woman holding scales and a sword, I think. And so, it’s like this idea of capital punishment or other kinds of punishment rebalancing the scales, an eye for an eye, a life for a life. But it’s like, in what way is balance restored when a child is taken from her family because she’s having difficulty in school? How is it just that a person who steals food from a grocery store loses their connections or ability to make a living. And so, these ideas of punishment, vengeance, and retribution are so ingrained in us that a lot of the time we can’t even see when it actually contradicts our values and beliefs. This meting out of justice, it doesn’t to create just conditions, it doesn’t create a world in which violence is unthinkable. That’s the real balance that the scales of justice should be seeking. Justice should mean creating just conditions so everyone can live happy, safe, lives. And that’s not what prisons do y’all, that’s not what police do
[00:49:37] BT: It’s not, it’s not. And also, if we think about this through a racialized lens, right, and we think about capital punishment. If we, okay, wanna say this person killed someone and deserves to die, right, but if we think about how capital punishment is exacted through our current system where a disproportionate number of Black men are killed and then after they die people are like, “Oh, wait we did some DNA tests and we found out he was innocent.” And everybody’s like oh well a miscarriage of justice, the system is broken, we need to fix the system. And it’s like no, capital punishment as a form of punishment was perfected through slavery. You know, like these extreme forms of punishment where if you steal you have to lose a part of your life, that was perfected through capitalist forms of extraction but also slavery. And we have to really think about that when we think about reform. Prison is the reform for slavery.
[00:50:44] AJ: Whew. That is [pause]—
[00:50:50] BT: Yeah, how we gonna keep reforming slavery y’all.
[00:50:55] AJ: They found a way. They found a way. Then people think that life sentences are more “humane” than capital punishment and it’s like [pause] that’s reform too.
[00:51:06] BT: Right.
[00:51:08] AJ: That’s the reform. You’re keeping someone in prison for the rest of their life, you’re keeping them from other people, from human connections for their entire lives. And it’s not just folks don’t think that it is just people who have committed atrocities, okay?
[00:51:32] BT: Right, cause that’s not the majority of people who are imprisoned.
[00:51:33] AJ: That’s not the people who are in prison and those are not the people who are facing life sentences. I was just hearing about, who was it? I forget the woman’s name but Donald Trump actually like granted her clemency [laughter] but she was a great grandmother who had a drug charge and because of how the laws around sentencing work, she was sentenced to like forty years in prison, but she was already say seventy-five years old. I’m getting all the details of this mixed up but it’s like you get sentenced to like sixty years in prison and you’re seventy-five years old and they’re like, “Well, that’s just standard.” But that’s a life sentence. That person is going to be in prison until they die and that is essentially capital punishment. Anyway, y’all think about this. Think about the way this like criminal legal system’s rhetoric works in order to make us think that they’re keeping us safe and secure, when they’re actually just trying to kill people for profit. Which is weird.
[00:52:40] BT: Big weird [laughter]. Speaking of safety and security. I think that was one of our next big set of terms that we wanted to talk about and something that we thought was really important to stress.
[00:52:54] AJ: Yeah, I actually heard Mariame Kaba talk about this on a podcast, and it just really, really got me thinking it. I was thinking about the way we conflate safety and security, or really, we confuse security for safety, right. Like security is something that is tied up in military and carceral logics. They are something that you do. They’re the things you do to defend yourself, and in particular to defend your property which is, you know, what a capitalist society loves. They love personal private property. So, security is things like the locks on your doors, the pepper spray that you carry, the police who patrol the streets. But the irony is that if you need these forms of security, it’s because you’re not safe.
[00:53:48] BT: Period.
[00:53:49] AJ: Right. The majority of us don’t live in places where we experience true safety, because true safety would be not facing these threats, not having to carry pepper spray around. And so, we think that the police are making us safe, but they don’t. and Black people in impoverished communities, in segregated communities absolutely know that the police do not keep you safe and, in most cases, they put you in danger. They put you in danger. And so, part of that is just like the way capitalism and white supremacy has just produced this idea of what’s mine is mine. Whereas in the past, villages, communities, tribes, they shared everything. There wouldn’t be this idea of “theft” if everything was communal. And so, she has this short story, this like little, short story, short piece of fiction that I found really instructive. It was all about imagining what this world could look like if we centered safety instead of security, right. And that conflation of safety and security actually limits our imaginations. So, we should be asking ourselves—and I keep saying the same question in different ways, but like—what can we do to create a society where people are safe and where people don’t require security? And so, what we know is that for a lot of people, police presence doesn’t do that, it doesn’t make their community safer, it makes it more dangerous.
[00:55:27] BT: Absolutely. And like, and again security is something that as long as we have these other forms of oppression, like white supremacy, capitalism, anti-Blackness, ableism, etcetera, we’re going to need security in order to create conditions of safety. But again, I don’t think that safety and security can really coexist in some ways. And yeah, the short fiction piece that Alyssa was talking about in the book is called “Justice: A Short Story,” and I was like, “Yes! I love this.” And just cause I’m a nerd [laughter] I love the way that fiction allows to imagine. And this is like I’m gonna create a world, the world that we want and the world we want to look towards and actually ask the question that people ask when it comes to abolition, “What happens when someone dies? What happens when someone is murdered?” And think about a world that deals with murder. And to your last point, I think about how people justify police and policing institutions with the cry “What about protecting survivors of violence?” and it’s often because they spend hours watching Law and Order: SVU.
[00:56:57] AJ: I feel attacked. I’ve watched every episode [laughter] of every season.
[00:57:03] BT: You know, I mean, cop shows also help legitimate the police. So, I don’t know. For me, I can’t really watch shows like that. I used to watch CSI, I think, for the science but SVU I couldn’t get, I couldn’t get with SVU because I’m like these are real stories, you know they pretend like they’re not. So yeah, the reality of it is that police and policing institutions actually do not make survivors safer. They often compound harm. So, if you are raped or assaulted, you have to first prove that that shit happened to you. You are poked, prodded, scraped, and handled in different forensic and police examinations. Then you’re questioned by police officers who are often abusive themselves, who are often people who violate themselves. Or if you are, there was a case of a few years back, a fourteen-year-old Black girl who called the police because she had been raped and the police officers on the scene raped her. That was in New York City.
Most of the time, what happens is, you’ll be told there is not enough evidence in the eyes of the state to make you a victim of a crime. If you are one of the few who your case gets taken up by a district attorney and gets moved to trial, you are forced to retell what happened to you repeatedly. You do not get to determine how the “perpetrator” is punished. You exchange your own power and autonomy over your own body and how you address your healing for what’s “best” for the State. The person who harmed you most of the time will receive no consequences or punishment. If convicted, they will be subjected to the cruel, inhumane conditions of incarceration with no guarantee that they won’t harm someone else. We’ve been taught though that this system is best, and that it makes the most sense, but truly ask yourself, does it? Really, truly, does it make sense? I’ve witnessed many Black women survivors who reported their violation only to be gaslit and told that the shit they experienced wasn’t harm.
Like, “Oh, aren’t you used to this? Isn’t this just what happens?”
[00:59:28] AJ: Oh, my goodness.
[00:59:29] BT: You know, I’ve heard a survivor tell me that’s what a police officer was just like, “Well, I mean don’t you work at a strip club so like isn’t that kind of something to be expected?” And when you think about that’s who everyone tells you to run to when stuff happens to you, what do you do? There is no reform for that. There is no reform for that. There is no reform for Baltimore police in which they did a federal investigation and one of the outputs was that there needs to be training on how to get officers to treat survivors of sexual violence like human beings and question them less than they question suspects. There’s no reform for that. There is no training that can teach a police officer how to properly address the needs of survivors of interpersonal violence. This has got to be abolished. And one of the things that I appreciate about Mariame Kaba’s writing is that she is very clear. She tells us that we have to think about policing as “an entire system of harassment, violence, and surveillance that keeps oppressive racial and gender hierarchies in place.” Policing is about social control. Period. It’s about managing bodies and property without consent or community. Policing is violent, robbing us of the autonomy to determine how we show up and move through this world. Abolition as practice, as political strategy is us taking back our responsibility to care for ourselves and for each other. Abolition is reclaiming our power.
[01:01:11] AJ: [Snaps] Love that. I love that idea of it’s like us taking back our responsibilities to each other. That’s what folks need to hear, need to know, need to recognize.
[01:01:23] BT: Instead of saying, “Oh the state is going to take care of me,” or “the state is going to make sure that things are good,” it’s like, no, we keep us safe. We keep us safe.
[01:01:33] AJ: Yep. So, those were our three themes! I think that there were so many things that I liked about this book! I think you can really see how widely and deeply she reads. I think another thing that I really like and that’s very clear, is that this is not one of those ‘reactionary’ books [laughter]. Reactionary might not be the right word.
[01:01:53] BT: A hot take.
[01:01:54] AJ: Yeah, it’s not a hot take. Exactly. That’s exactly the word I was looking for. It’s not a hot take that someone wrote in response to capitalize on a particular historical moment. She’s been writing for years and that shows the repetition of our society but also because a lot of her stories are familiar. She might have been writing about something that happened seven years ago but you’re like wait this happened again, this is still happening. So, it definitely shows that there’s like these repetitions in society but also the persistence of these ideas and the importance of these ideas. And then, I think another thing that I really liked about this book is that it’s an invitation. She’s firm, but she does this really good of questioning the things I take for granted. Reading this was like the time I learned in undergrad that gender was a social construction. I remember having that same like, “What!?” moment, like [imitates explosion] [laughter] mind blown. So, I’m really taking the time to reflect on how to incorporate these ideas into my relationships, into my teaching, and all of these things. And I think that’s a god first step, but to change society we have to change ourselves. So, we must be changed, and we must be changed by it, right.
[01:03:24] BT: Right. To change society, we must change ourselves. I think so much of the hot take are things like you said are reactionary right. It’s so much of a reaching out and so much of abolition as she makes clear in this work is that it is reflective. Constant state of reflection. And I think this book is powerful and it’s approachable for everyone. I even think for folks like me, who’ve been practicing abolition for a hot second and thinking about how to really put these things in our communities, will still learn a lot. To that note, I wanna say that Kaba tells us that nothing is worth doing alone. You cannot practice abolition, or really any other political cause, in isolation. You must be connected to a group. I can assure you that there is no problem under the sun that people are not already organizing under. And if you don’t know who’s doing the work, you better find out, honey. Find a political home and do the work, and you will fail. You will fail, you will fuck up inevitably, but learn from that and keep going. I love the way Kaba framed it where she says, changing everything might sound daunting, but it means that there are actually so many places to start. I love that. I was like yes, turn it around, turn it around for us.
[01:04:55] AJ: Love to see it. I, it was a really good book, I enjoyed it. She also talks a lot about hope, and I think we’ve talked—I think you’ve it on the podcast, we’ve talked about it before, but I remember you were kind of wrestling with something that Joy James said about the usefulness of hope. Mariame Kaba calls herself a deeply hopeful person, she says, “Hope is a discipline” and it is something we have to practice on a daily basis. And so, one of the things I’m understanding now is that for change to happen people have to really believe that it will happen. It’s not just that oh, I’m working towards this and whatever. You need to really believe it and if you don’t believe it then why is anyone going to believe in it, right. It’s a conviction. It’s a conviction, that you know we will abolish the prison-industrial complex. Otherwise, you’ll just settle for reforms and accept change and, you know, let the state tackle these low hanging fruit and you’ll be fine with that. But if you truly, truly believe that abolition will happen, you won’t settle for those kinds of things. Anyways, after reading this, I was just thinking about what you were saying about hope and I was wondering if you could you explain a little bit about what Joy James said—I think you said it was at talk—and then where are your thoughts on hope now?
[01:06:20] BT: Hmm, umm.
[01:06:22] AJ: I’m interviewing you [laughter].
[01:06:24] BT: Oh, well, uh, yeah. I’m trying to think about what I remember. I don’t want to misquote the great Joy James. Girl, if you ever hear this, I’m sorry if I do misinterpret what you said. And also sorry for calling you girl like that, my bad [laughter]. But I think she was referring to hope as this inactive stance that people take where they say, “I hope that the world will be a better place,” but they don’t really do anything about it. Kind of really along the lines of what you were saying. And this practice of hope that also valorizes reform as the only way that societal change can happen. So, hope is an expression of a limitation of imagination, I think. Which is like, is it really—yeah, like is it really hope if all you can see is what’s already here. Um, what’s already here but maybe hasn’t reached your community yet, which I think is interesting. I agree with Kaba that hope for a better world is a discipline in the sense that if this world is going to change, then you have to do something about it. We talked about discipline earlier as a kind of, you know, how we are disciplined but a discipline in itself is a set of actions pushing you towards a goal or something like that.
And Kaba also says this, where we can’t be optimistic and ignore the realities of where we are thinking that’s going to get us to where we want to be. We have to work for what we want to see in this world. And I like what you said about it being a conviction. I think that that aligns with more of what I’m thinking about. I think for hope—
I think people define hope in the way that I would define faith. In the bible—because I grew up in the church, y’all—faith without works is dead. And so, I think about faith as something that requires work, that requires attending to, and an active engagement with the present in order to believe that the future will bring something better. So basically, what she thinks about hope being a discipline, I actually am like, that sounds more to me like faith. And what this work can look like is decolonizing—God knows it’s a fraught term now—but decolonizing the mind, and the spirit, and body. Divesting from these systems and structures that perpetuate our own oppression and the oppression of others. And we have to think about building structures in our communities that address harm that do not expand the power of the police and policing institutions.
[01:09:03] AJ: Yeah. I think it’s interesting that you say you align it with faith because actually she said that she heard a man say that phrase, that hope is a discipline. I think we should just take that point and just move to our next segment which is What in the World? What? What?
[01:09:28] BT: Truly, what’s going on? [Laughter] So many awful things. I know we mentioned in our last episode—we talked about and we honored Ma’Khia Bryant. And so, I thought it would be good for us to circle back to talking about her story and the conditions that led to her death. We also will talk about Ashley Diamond and her case and we’ll close out with cancel culture. So Ma’Khia Bryant was killed by Columbus, Ohio police and actually on—people will say dramatically—moments before the George Floyd decision was released. So, a time when, you know, officers are being convicted for killing this Black man, a Black girl is killed by the police. And for those of you who aren’t aware, Ma’Khia was forced to participate in what I’m calling the neo-slavery institution that is normally or commonly known as foster care. And that is what led to the conditions of her death.
There are a lot of stories out there about the “facts” of the police confrontation that led to her murder, and also the confrontation that she had with those two women in which she needed to protect herself by wielding a knife. But we do know the truth of the matter is that Ma’Khia’s foster family did not protect her or her younger sister. This is very common for many kids in foster care, especially Black and brown kids, queer and trans kids. And a little background—a little short lesson on the foster care system right. The foster care system is a part of the Prison Industrial Complex through the social services division, if you want to think about it as a complex has divisions [laughter]. And it has roots in Indigenous genocide and slavery. Indigenous children were kidnapped from their families and taken to “boarding schools” or “adopted” by white settlers in early colonization days throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. And even today, you can adopt—
[01:11:46] AJ: Up to the 20th, up to the 20th.
[01:11:47] BT: Also 20th century. I read something about how you could adopt Indigenous children. Enslaved children were taken from their families and sold. The foster care system is rife with sexual violence, as is the prison system, as was slavery, as was Indigenous genocide. And I don’t think that we talk enough about the harm that the foster care system causes many families, particularly those who are Black and brown. Research reports have cited that kinship care, which is placing children in the care of their family members when they are in crisis is actually much better for the, than shuffling them through foster care. And so, in the case of the state of Ohio, Ohio actually places children in foster care at a rate that is 10 percent higher than the national average. In Ma’Khia’s case, her grandmother wanted to house her, but the state did not allow for her to intervene and provide a safe place for her granddaughters because she had been evicted from her home—her previous home.
And so, the state is directly implicated in Ma’Khia’s death not only because of the police murder, but also due to her and her siblings’ forced estrangement from their family. If we had adequate community structures and support for Black families, Ma’Khia’s grandmother would not have been evicted. Ma’Khia and her siblings would not have been in foster care. If Ma’Khia were not in foster care, she would be alive today. And as a quick caveat, I will say that foster care has provided some support for children who are in especially precarious family situations, where staying with family members can put them at extreme risk for harm. So, I’m gonna acknowledge that but ask, what are societal level and community-based supports that we can create so that children don’t need to be displaced from their homes in the first place.
[01:13:49] AJ: I’m just thinking about the way—I read Matthew Desmond’s book Evicted and eviction is something that’s cyclical and that, of course, it effects Black people and Black women especially at exceptionally higher rates. And so, the fact that that has played into this entire situation—and the other thing that I think about when it comes to foster care is that these families are paid to house these children. And it’s like why are you taking children away from their families because they can’t afford to house and feed them and then giving the money to other people to house and feed them. Like, make it make sense.
[01:14:34] BT: It can only make sense through the logics of slavery. Like it only makes sense if you think about it as an extension of slavery. Then you’re like, “Oh, yeah, of course.” It’s ridiculous.
[01:14:45] AJ: But I don’t wanna. I just, I don’t wanna. Just a young girl died. I’m also now just thinking like I’m so hesitant about making it political even though it is. It’s just awful. And I think the thing that really gets me is that people are actually out here on these innanets saying that she had a knife, and the police officer had no choice. Like, what?! People were trying to hurt her, and she was defending herself and so she deserved to die? She deserved to be shot? Do you really think that cop actually gave a shit about the other girl that he claimed Ma’Khia was attacking?! No, he was a cop with a gun who wanted to exercise his power, and what he and all cops are empowered to do is kill Black people, Black women, Black girls, Black trans people with impunity. And so, you will never, never, nobody will ever get me to believe that Ma’Khia Bryant’s murder was justified. I will never agree with the people who seem to believe that she should have paid for the sins of the state with her life and that continue to shit on her name even after she has been buried.
[01:16:25] BT: Black cis het men out here outraged about other Black men, Black boys, but then could turn around and be like, “Well, I mean she shouldn’t have been out here fighting,” you know. Or the stuff that I saw which was horrendous, of like these Black men talking about, “well, you know, the officer didn’t have to kill her, maybe he could have just shot her in the leg, or shot her in the arm,” and it’s just like no, police officers—we pay billions of dollars to all these police officers, you know, police departments all over the country, to train them on how to deescalate shit.
[01:17:12] AJ: And then you have a schoolteacher disarming a girl, by taking a gun out of her hand, who had shot people in school.
[01:17:25] BT: [Laughter] I saw that. And I was like—
[01:17:29] AJ: They were like, “How did you disarm the girl?” She’s like, “She gave me the gun.”
[01:17:33] BT: But the conditions that make that possible—because I guarantee you that teacher had a relationship with that girl. I guarantee you that she knew what to say to that girl to say, “You know what, this is not okay, hand me that gun.” Police officers are not members of our community, they’re not trained to teach people who do harm, commit crimes, right, and to see them as members of the community that can be spoken to unless they’re white men doing horrible things. It’s like police officers are not members—when I say police officers are not members of our community, that’s what I mean. A police officer cannot have a conversation with me based on a relationship. Like, that’s not happening. Like, that’s not happening.
[01:18:18] AJ: And that’s not to say, oh we think police officers should be trained to be part of the community they’re having a conversation with. No. That’s not what we’re saying. We’re done.
[01:18:29] BT: We’re done. Been there, done that. And because of how policing is constructed, there’s no way to do that through reform. Just abolish it and let’s make something new in its place. Let’s take all these billions of dollars and change the conditions in which people live so that we can do something new. So again Ma’Khia, we just lift your name, we honor you, and we are going to honor you, we’re gonna stand against people who are tryna continue anti-Black violence against you even after death. Another person I wanted to bring to our listeners’
attention is the pressing case of Ashley Diamond. Ashley Diamond is a Black trans woman, activist, and organizer who is currently incarcerated in Georgia. One of Ashley’s most famous contacts with the police was in 2012, she was incarcerated in Georgia prison without access to her hormones and she was frequently assaulted by other incarcerated folks and prison guards. And after three years of enduring that violence, she sued the Georgia Department of Corrections for equitable healthcare access and the US Supreme Court decided that hormone therapy would be treated like other medications in prisons. So, the winning of her case allowed for trans and intersex incarcerated people to continue to access their hormones while incarcerated. So, when we say Black women be breaking down doors for folks, that’s what we mean.
[01:20:09] AJ: Doors.
[01:20:09] BT: Doors. Especially Black trans women. Unfortunately, in 2019, Ashley was re-entered due to a technical parole violation. So now she is in captivity at a men’s prison in solitary confinement. Because she is a woman in a men’s prison, she is in extreme danger and is particularly vulnerable to sexual violence. So, Ashley needs your support as she and her legal team fight for her release from prison. Please donate, write letters of support, and sign the petition that we will have linked in the episode description. And I wanna say this to all of us, right, not only are prisons and jails violent places just in general for society at large, but they are especially violent for trans, intersex, and gender variant people. Often people are placed in prisons that do not align with who they are, based on whatever sex they were assigned at birth. Policing reinforces white supremacist notions of gender, rooted in slavery and colonialism. If you wanna read more about that, Andrea Ritchie, in her book Invisible No More: Police Violence Against Black Women and Women of Color, explains in great detail—it’s a really clear book too—exactly how prisons and policing are inherently transphobic institutions.
[01:21:39] AJ: I mean, I just look at the dates. 2015, she sued the Department of Corrections and 2019, four years later, she’s re-entered into prison. I don’t know why she was incarcerated in the first place, that doesn’t matter, but the fact that she has been on parole or on probation for all of this time is just like exacerbating the harm, it’s exacerbating the imprisonment. People think that your contact with the prison system is over once you get out but it’s not. It’s not. Like people will—you have your probation officer, and then—or your parole officer—and you have to check in with them. And the police can drop by any time that they want to and check up on you and make up a violation or find a violation just to throw you in prison. So, getting out of prison doesn’t end your contact with the police and the fact that she was—that this was something that she was still facing years after the fact should just like show to you how unjust the system is. People are like, “Oh, it’s just one year in prison, it’s just two years in prison,” it’s two years in prison but then it’ five years of probation and ten years of being harassed by the police. It’s a long time. Even a year is a long time. Everything is a long time. It’s a long time.
[01:23: 10] BT:Nobody should be in prison, like any amount of time. And again, in thinking about the expansion of police power right, abolishing prison is not just saying, “Okay let’s shut down these jails and give people ankle monitors and that’s how we’ll keep people safe.” It’s like no, no, no, no. That is an expansion of a system. That is an invasion of people’s bodily autonomy and their lives. So, we have to get more creative. Like, if we’re addressing harm, let’s do that. Let’s not continue to punish people for long after they have suffered, right. Because everyone suffers in prison. I don’t care. Everyone suffers.
[01:23:56] AJ: Well, on that note, I think we wanted to discuss the issue that’s often kind of discussed in regards to abolition: cancel culture.
[01:24:09] BT: Whew child!
[01:24:10] AJ: [Laughter] The crisis of cancel culture. [Laughter] The cancel culture crisis. Um, it’s not a crisis y’all. Cancel culture is not a crisis. Um.
[01:24:25] BT: But if you ask Fox News, which I was forced to watch the other day—
[01:24:30] AJ: Oh no [laughter], cancel culture and critical race theory taught in schools is a crisis.
[01:24:29] BT: It is. This guy, the announcer was really just like, “Eventually it’s gonna get to the point where white straight men will not be allowed to speak at all. If we keep following wokeism,” that’s what they called it, wokeism.
[01:24:50] AJ: No, not wokeism.
[01:24:50] BT: And [laughter] white straight men will not be able to speak at all and I was sitting there like I mean—
[01:25:00] AJ: [Laughter] But the thing is like, y’all, they really just see things through their lens. It’s like, actually that’s not at all what like Black feminist principles would be about. Not at all. But because that’s how society would be if the tables were turned in your, in like the way you’ve structured a society, then yeah, that’s what would happen. So come on over here with us.
[01:25:21] BT: I mean, what else. And then the other question is, what else do y’all got to say, like [pause] [laughter]. That was my response, what else do you have to say. What haven’t we heard?
[01:25:35] AJ: I’m here trying to intellectualize and your [crosstalk]—
[01:25:36] BT: I know, I’m like what else do y’all have to say. But I’m being cheeky though. I’m clearly being cheeky.
[01:25:43] AJ: I know you are [laughter]. I would like to be more cheeky. Cheekier? I don’t know, I’ll have to look it up. Speaking of looking things up, Merriam-Webster defined “canceling” as a means to “to withdraw one’s support for someone such as a celebrity, or something, such as a company publicly and especially on social media.”
[01:26:05] BT: Wow I didn’t even know it made it to the dictionary.
[01:26:09] AJ: Oh yeah, of course.
[01:26:10] BT: Wow
[01:26:10] AJ: If they’re talking about it on Fox news, [laughter] it has to be in the dictionary. Y’all, okay, consequences is not cancelling. If you use your social media platform to harm people, then being de-platformed that may be a logical consequence of that abuse of power. We need to set boundaries around what people are able to use said power for, and accountability to your community is part of having that power. And so, taking away a platform that you abused is not a punishment, it’s a consequence. I think that there’s more nuance to that. Obviously, I’m not saying that that’s always a hundred percent the case because then there’s the question of am I taking away someone’s ability to make a living, to feed themselves. However, when most of these celebrities and politicians and companies say they were “cancelled” they were not. Critique is not cancelling. Consequences is not cancelling. Critique is not cancelling. And there’s a video that we posted, the source is eluding me right now but, the creator of that video she was like, saying that you’ve been cancelled is actually a technique to mobilize your fans and bring more attention and more money. Sarah Silverman did it. Kevin Hart did it.
[01:27:45] BT: Steve Harvey did it.
[01:27:45] AJ: Steve Harvey did it. And what happens is that these people, they bounce back. They bounce back especially when they hold power. Power in terms of class, or gender, or race. This whole concept of “calling out cancel culture” is actually just being used to silence and trivialize critique by and abuses against marginalized people. And so, you know what, let’s talk about what really cancels people. What really cancels people, Alyssa? [Laughter] What really cancels people is not having the financial resources to support your family. [Pause] What really cancels people is being imprisoned, because you’re in prison and now you’re permanently trapped in a cycle of interactions with the state where all roads lead to incarceration.
White supremacy and colonialism literally tried to cancel whole cultures. It’s genocide. What is assimilation? What is enslavement? What is resource extraction? But trying to cancel people. So, all of this to say, just like, miss me with your “I was cancelled because people on twitter were calling me a TERF.” Like, no. No. Have you lost your connections with your family and your community? Did you lose the ability to earn an income and provide for your basic needs? If not, then GWEHHHH!! GWEHHHH!! If you were cancelled, we’d never have heard from you again and in most cases the people who say that they’ve been canceled, I kind of wish that we wouldn’t. Like, instead you’re doing an interview in the Guardian and calling yourself canceled. Make it make sense. Make it make sense.
[01:29:52] BT: I think if we’re being for real cancel culture is not a thing. Black cis het men who make music. I mean, Chris Brown, people still holding on to Chris Brown for dear life. Holding on to R. Kelly. And they think it’s contrarian to play his music and they’re like you know, “Yeah, it’s PC to not listen to R. Kelly so we’re gonna be contrarian and continue to play his music.” And it’s like, um, I don’t think it’s PC to—anyway, you know that. All that aside, I think cancel culture, what it does, in fact, if we think about how that term—people who have power use it to silence marginalized people. I think on the flip side, when a marginalized person is the one that you point to, to be canceled, particularly thinking about Black trans people in general and thinking about Black trans people who are accused of doing different types of harm, who are then canceled, who actually do lose community, the ability to earn income, the ability to provide for themselves, and then get caught up in these carcel systems as a result of being canceled. That is when cancel culture works. Cancel culture works when we’re throwing it at the people who are already canceled by society. That’s when it works. That’s when it really compounds the harm. But cancel culture as a form of “wokeism”—I’mma reclaim that term from Fox News—[laughter] as a consequence of “wokeism,” for sure is not a real thing.
[01:31:35] AJ: But yeah, I mean, you’re completely right. I’m thinking recently about what happened with Darkest Hue on Instagram. Uh, that was an attempt to cancel someone, a very young person, who has a very important platform. A platform that is very important to a lot of dark skin Black women. And someone who has a variety of privileges in terms of aesthetics, we’ll say, attempted cancelation in the form of having followers report Darkest Hue’s account and trying to get the account closed down.
[01:32:17] BT: And it’s like, because this person, called you out and said, “Hey, you’re colorist,” and then you go and prove them right by being colorist. And that’s why we talk about feelings and emotional reactions when thinking about punishment, right. Circling back to that, how you feel is not enough reason to cause harm or to compound harm. Your feelings is not enough. Especially if you’re in community with this person, however you choose to construe community. Just because I am angry, doesn’t mean that I need to get online and tell everybody about Alyssa kicking me [laughter] and then, you know, and then everybody’s coming for Alyssa, you know. Y’all know, Alyssa has never kicked me, it was just a silly example that I came up with. But like, that doesn’t justify the response if I had tens of thousands of followers and I get online and say I weaponize them essentially. Like people weaponize people. And that’s not abolitionist. It’s not. Now I won’t say, if we’re thinking about different power differentials, like if a Black person comes online and says this person who’s not Black harmed me, that might be a case-by-case thing. That might be a case-by-case situation. But, for the most part, cancel culture does not work to protect Black people, especially Black women, especially Black trans people. And so, I wanna make sure I underscore that.
[01:34:00] AJ: Yes, I think the idea of there being some kind of—I think that’s the problem with laws right, is that there’s some kind of universal applicability. And the whole idea of the university—of the university [laughter], that too—the whole idea of the universal—
[01:34:17] BT: [Laughter] Oh, subtweet.
[01:34:17] AJ: The whole idea of the universal is tied up in white supremacist culture. Though we know that you can’t have one law or one situation and have it apply to every person in every situation. It’s always a case-by-case basis. And what we have to stick to are our values and our principles.
[01:34:42] BT: Punto.
[01:34:44] AJ: Mic drop [laughter].
[01:34:45] BT: You know, mic drop [laughter]. Right, our values and our principles are so important, so we want to thank you all for listening in line with our values and principles. We are so appreciative that you are here with us and you’re rocking with us still. This episode was produced by us, Alyssa James and Brendane Tynes. Our intern is Menku-ta Whaley and the podcast is distributed [music starts] in partnership with the American Anthropological Association. This season of the podcast is generously funded by the Racial Justice Mini-Grant Program at Columbia University which is funded through a partnership with the Office of University Life, the Office of the Vice Provost for Faculty Advancement and the Institute for Religion, Culture and Public Life. Further funding has been provided by grants from the Office for Academic Diversity and Inclusion and the Arts & Science Graduate Council, and donations from listeners just like you!
[01:35:46] AJ: Like you. Thank you all for your support. Another thing that we appreciate from you, ratings and reviews on your chosen podcast platform. It helps them know that our podcast is fire, so they recommend us to more people. You can also head to zorasdaughters.com to find transcripts for our episodes, our bios, contact info, and ways to support the podcast. I can only do one patois word per episode so that’s why you didn’t get fire in the way that I did it last time [laughter]. But follow us on Instagram @ZorasDaughters and on twitter @Zoras_Daughters. We’re working on some really cool social media things so just keep your eye out for that.
[01:36:31] BT: Yes, yes. And until next time, remember we must take care of ourselves and each other. Bye.
[01:36:39] AJ: Bye. Muah, muah muah [laughter]
[END OF RECORDING]