“I’m not Black, I’m OJ!” Today, Brendane and Alyssa are talking kinship, belonging, diaspora wars, and what we need to do to get free.
What’s the Word? Kinship. Kinship studies are foundational to the discipline of anthropology, but in this section we talk about how people are taking up the concept to tell their own stories today.
What We’re Reading. Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Trade by Saidiya Hartman. In this segment, we read the first two chapters to trace Hartman’s attention to kinship and belonging in the afterlife of slavery. What does it feel like to be a stranger everywhere?
What in the World?! We talk about the “intratribal conflict” of the African diaspora wars, the choice of identity and how it’s a shortcut for people to understand how to oppress you, dating tips from our moms, boycotting The Woman King, how ADOS and FBA strategies disenfranchise Black Americans and promote anti-blackness, and Brendane’s personal experience visiting Ghana.
By the way, we’re on break! We’ll be back with episode 5 on November 9th – just in time for the AAA Annual Meeting!
Zora’s Daughters Podcast: Season Three, Episode 4
Title: All Skinfolk Ain’t Kinfolk
Co-Hosts: Brendane A. Tynes (BT) and Alyssa A. James (AJ)
Total Length: 01:33:57
[0:00:00] Music Intro
[0:00:37] Music Stops
[0:00:38] Brendane (BT): Hey, Everyone, welcome back to Zora’s Daughters, the podcast where we tackle topics of interest to Black folks through the lens of academic scholarship and colorful insight. I’m Brendane and I use she/her/hers pronouns.
[0:00:48] Alyssa (AJ): Hey everyone, I’m Alyssa and I use she/her/hers pronouns. So, we have been teasing this episode topic. We’ve been teasing y’all about doing this episode topic, so its finally time. Today we’re talking about the African Diaspora, ADOS, which stands for the American Descendants of Slaves. The anthropological fave kinship, the Woman King, and more. And we’ll be reading Saidiya Hartman’s Lose Your Mother and finally asking some questions about the so-called “Diaspora Wars.”
[0:01:22] BT: Absolutely, so before we give too much away cause, I know y’all are like chomping at the bits or whatever that thing is.
[0:01:31] AJ: Apparently, it’s champing, champing at the bit.
[0:01:37] BT: Champing?
[0:01:35] AJ: But you don’t want to say that ’cause you got to speak to the masses, and they believe it’s chomping. That’s from Billions. For the Billions listeners out there (laughs).
[0:01:51] BT: Well, that’s what I get for trying to be relevant let me stick to my lane. Before we give too much away, we would like just to remind y’all that creating episodes like these would not be possible without the support of listeners like you.
And the best way to support us is by becoming a Patron, where you can access the Zora Daughters community, speak to us personally; like if you are trying to DM us on IG and get us for real, you not about to get us for real.
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But if you’re like okay, becoming a Patron is not for me, another way that you can support us is by leaving a rating and review on Spotify or Apple Podcasts, following us on social media and sharing our episodes with your friends, your family, your students, your neighbors, and that one person at work that refuses to respect your offline hours on Slack. I’m not speaking from personal experience, but I know I’ve heard (laugh) just any, and everybody should be listening to Zora’s Daughters.
[0:03:14] AJ: Exactly! And we are working hard for y’all. I was informed that the last episode, you could hear some chirping some tweeting from the background on my audio. And that is because we were recording very late into the evening. Okay, because we are working hard for y’all. (crosstalk) We are working hard for you! (laugh) So to add to that, please pick up some merch. Please Support us! Help us!
[0:03:47] BT: Please, PLS!
[0:03:50] AJ: I know, I know I’ve seen a lot of people picking up the notebooks and the mugs, so you really did take us up on taking notes sipping tea with us, literally. So, if you’ve forgotten all the links all the information that we just told you. You can just head to Zorasdaughters.com, and you’ll find our shop, our social media accounts, our transcripts, and a bunch of other goodies.
[0:04:13 ] BT: Periodt. Let’s get into this episode today. Alyssa, what is our word for the day?
[0:04:20] Transition Music
[0:04:23] AJ: The word for today is the olde (spelled with an e), cause it’s that old, anthropological favorite: kinship. We mostly don’t study kinship in the same way that we used to, but we’ll give a quick overview.
[0:04:36] BT: Thank goodness.
[0:04:38] AJ: Listen, there’s still some departments out there.
[0:04:28] BT: Stop doing those circle and squares, please.
[0:04:43] AJ: And the triangle, I don’t know. I think I’ve only seen them in books (laugh).
[0:04:53] AJ: But we will give you a quick overview, and then we’ll bring it right around to how anthropologists are thinking through, thinking about kinship today. So, kinship, which I would gloss as the network of social relationships, was originally the way anthropologists would make sense of and analyze political, economic, and social relations in so-called pre-modern societies, which was the purview of the early anthropologist. So, I had a professor who told me she had to learn to create kinship charts in grad school, so she was mapping lineage, affines, cognates, consanguinity, something like that, and so on (crosstalk).
[0:05:43] BT: I know some of them words (laugh)
[0:05:46] AJ: I think affine is someone that you are related to through marriage, and cognates are and consanguinity I believe, is blood relationships. But even those have been troubled in anthropology today, but we’ll get there.
So, I have a vague understanding of what those things really mean. But in the early days, anthropologists would essentially drop into a society, drop into a community. They would record the language, chart social relationships or kinship, and document folklore and customs and then they would also document material culture like art carvings, pottery. And then they would also document anatomy and measure anatomy. If you think about those old school images of people walking around measuring heads. And so this blossomed into the four fields of anthropology which are: linguistic, cultural, biological or physical anthropology, and archeology.
[0:06:34] BT: I was going to say something smart, but then it left my head (laugh), it left my mind just like that. Kinship studies helped anthropologists understand economic structure, particularly lines of inheritance and categorized societies as matrilineal or patrilineal like any major concept. There were different theorists so, descent theorists who posited that kinship systems existed to ensure the political and economic persistence of different lineages, and alliance theorists who emphasized kinship as a system of marriage and incest rules: that is who you can and cannot marry.
And so I should also note that anthropological kinship owes much to Africa since many of these kinship studies were conducted by Africanist anthropologists, and many of those anthropologists, right, were helping imperial nations colonize, so that’s our history that we have to really sit with as anthropologists.
[0:07:36] AJ: Yes, contend with, which people love to gloss as anthology was the handmaiden of colonialism, and then, they say that and like mea culpa, and then they continue to do the same thing. (laugh) You heard it here first. (laugh)
[0:07:56] AJ: Alright, sparked in part by David M. Schneider’s A Critique of the Study of Kinship and exemplified by Kath Weston’s monograph Families We Choose: Lesbians, Gays, Kinship, which I believed was published in 1991 contemporary anthropologists focus more on the symbolic aspects of kinship. Which, although of course is related to cultural turn, and we won’t get into that today. One day, we’ll talk about the turns of anthropology and what that means, but it’s a shift (crosstalk). But basically, it’s a shift in attention and theories that are essentially used to frame people’s analyses of society.
So, today you’ll less likely to find people who are creating kinship charts and more likely to read about them trying to understand what it means to be a relative and how different cultures and communities make kin. While people often assume that there’s little place for kinship in modern anthropological studies. Especially when we’re concerned with more serious, “more serious” topics like politics, dispossession, capitalism, climate change, the ideas and practices of kinship are integral to thinking through race, bodies, and personhood.
We’ve talked about partus sequitur ventrem on the podcast before. We’ve also talked about ungendering a few times, and so kinship is implicated in these conditions and specifically in the condition of Blackness. So, if you want to read some people who are working in a more contemporary sense with kinship, you can read Leith Mullings and Riche J. Daniel Barnes, who we had on the podcast. So, they have done some more contemporary projects on kinship and the Black family. Kinship is also implicated in studies of technology, especially reproductive technology. And anthropological studies of ethics and care. Indigenous scholars are also writing about reclaiming the kinship worldview and what that means for our collective future.
[0:09:54] BT: So much great work is coming out about kinship trying to, I don’t want to say reclaim but bring it back to more Indigenous knowledges around it. And as I’ve said before in the podcast, as a Black queer woman. I have my own practice of family or kin practice, which differs from the traditional ways of understanding kinship through these kind of biological or blood connections or marriage. And so, the people I make family, I make kin are my friends, right we don’t have any blood relation, but they’re the ones that I would call kin call closest to me. Right, we’ve also talked about on this podcast like as a practice of kin-making. That by naming ourselves daughters of Zora right, we are bringing our academic aunties, our academic ancestors, into the conversations with our own experiences.
[0:10:52] AJ: We’re also being academic, we are academic aunties now.
[0:10:59] BT: You know it’s a good place to be. I like being an Auntie honesty.
[0:11:04] AJ: I thought I was still a cousin, but (laugh) I’m just I’m out of the times. I’m behind the times.
[0:11:16] BT: Naw, do you want to be behind them or in front of them? I don’t know, but (crosstalk)
[0:11:27] AJ: I would like to be with the times (crosstalk, laugh). You know what, that’s a good question. I feel that Zora was ahead of the times, and so she was before her time, and I think that’s okay. I think that’s great. Cause really, you know what? When you are a man, and you are ahead of the times or whatever you are before your time or whatever the case may be, you get called a genius. But when you are a woman, especially a Black woman, and you are ahead of the times; then you get Hurstoned
[0:12:03] BT: You get Hurstoned. Or you get Korryn Gainesed. You know what, I’m not even going go down that road today, not going go down that road today (crosstalk).
[0:12:17] AJ: So, without us even meaning to, we are also, you know, calling forth our own anthropological roots. With this kinship stuff, you know. But today, what we really wanted to talk about is the fracturing and the impossibility of kinship relations that made the slave and that are foundational to the position of Blackness in the United States. So, let’s move on to what we’re reading!
[0:12:45] Transition music
[0:12:47] BT: Today, we are reading Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Trade by Saidiya Hartman (crosstalk). Dr. Saidiya Hartman is university professor and professor of English and comparative literature at Columbia University. She earned her Bachelor of Arts from Wesleyan University and her Ph.D. from Yale University. Hartman’s major fields of interest are African American and American Literature and cultural history, slavery, law and literature, and performance studies. She is on the editorial board of Callaloo. Andshe has been a Fulbright, Rockefeller, Whitney Oates, and University of California President’s Fellow. She is also,
[0:13:34] AJ: You cannot forget her MacArthur genius award!
[0:13:37] BT: Cannot forget the MacArthur genius award. It’s so fabulous that it is not on her university bio website yet. (laugh) For some reason,
[0:13:49] AJ: We know, we were there; we were at the celebration.
[0:13:50] BT: And yes, and beyond well deserved. Professor Hartman is the author of Scenes of Subjection: Terror, Slavery, and Self-making in Nineteenth-Century America; Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route; and Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Social Upheaval, and she has published essays on photography, film, and feminism. And she is beginning a new project on photography and ethics. Which I’m very excited to see how she’ll change the world again! So, it’s just an honor and a pleasure to read her work today. So, for today’s episode, we read the prologue and the first two chapters of Lose Your Mother.
[0:14:44] AJ: So, Hartman takes us on quite the journey throughout the text, and really this is just going to be a quote heavy what we’ll reading because how much can little us really add?
[0:14:55] BT: Who else can say it better than (crossover), honestly
[0:14:58] AJ: So, in Lose Your Mother, she poses and attempts to answer the questions: “What was the afterlife of slavery, and when might it be eradicated? What was the future of the ex-slave?” She starts with the alienating experience she had in Ghana, marked by the way Ghanaians referred to her as obruni or stranger.
[0:15:18] BT: And obruni is actually really interesting, and we’ll talk about this later, but I’ve been to Ghana twice, and they never called me an obruni, but that is really a word that they use or are reserved for white strangers or nonwhite strangers who appear white. So, when you’re called an obruni or bruni, that is a kind of marker of race. But sometimes, they just use it for Americans in general.
[0:15:45] AJ: Interesting, and I think you know we, got to think about the timeframe as well. Because I believe she wrote that she was there in 1996, and I think there’s been a lot more, there has been this resurgence of the whole Back to Africa, back to Ghana descendants of I believe that even Jamaicans now they can go to Ghana without a visa. Now it’s the decade of African descendant people. So, I think there’s been like a resurgent and change in mindset. So, that would be an interesting anthropology project, for anybody out there. (crosstalk) For somebody, not us, but that would be an interesting one. In any case, she remarks that their calling her obruni disrupted any fiction of kinship that she might have imagined.
She says, “As a ‘slave baby,’ I represented what most chose to avoid: the catastrophe that was our past, and the lives exchanged for India cloth, Venetian beads, cowrie shells, guns, and rum.” obruni forced her to admit that as a Black American woman, she was a stranger everywhere. Kinship is intimately connected to belonging. But what is belonging to the descendants of the enslaved?
[0:17:01] BT: Right, and so she really, like, dives deep into this question throughout the book, but We want to start with just that idea of kinship and trace it through these first couple of chapters. And in thinking about the inheritance of dispossession which all of the descendants of the enslaved faced, but particularly for those in the United States. Right there is a sense of alienation. That sense of belonging nowhere so that you are a stranger everywhere. And this is what remains “after” slavery. And so, this book actually one of the first places we Hartman defines the afterlife of slavery. Which is a term that we hear people throwing around now; a whole bunch of stuff got afterlives (laughter). But Lose Your Mother was actually one of the first places where Hartman defines it. And she says: “Slavery had established a measure of man and a ranking of life and worth that has yet to be undone. If slavery persists as an issue in the political life of Black America, it is not because of an antiquarian obsession with bygone days or the burden of a too-long memory, but because Black lives are still imperiled and devalued by a racial calculus and a political arithmetic that were entrenched centuries ago. This is the afterlife of slavery–skewed life chances, limited access to health and education, premature death, incarceration, and impoverishment. I, too, am the afterlife of slavery.”
And so, in that quote right, she is not just positioning the afterlife of slavery that something that happens economically or financially or interpersonally right but is something that is actually marked on the bodies of Black people, and I think that is something that is very important for us to underscore as well.
[0:19:03] AJ: Throughout the text, Hartman explores kinship and belonging for descendants of enslaved African people. She questions for herself and for the reader what is useful about the myth of an African utopia “The vision of an African continental family or a sable race standing shoulder to shoulder was born by captives, exiles, and orphans and in the aftermath of the Atlantic slave trade. Racial solidarity was expressed in the language of kinship because it both evidenced the wound and attempted to heal it. The slave and the ex-slave wanted what had been severed: kin. Those in the diaspora translated the story of race into one of love and betrayal.”
She is, she is shaking the table, she’s shaking the table and disrupting our assumptions about the continuity of Black experience across the diaspora. She contextualizes her presence as a researcher. So, often, Black Americans go to Ghana or another African country in search of that royal history, right? We’ve all heard it; we were kings and queens (laughter), we were pharaohs, and so on. You know the pyramids were built for us by us. [unclear]
[0:20:19] AJ: However, (crosstalk)
[0:20:21] BT: It wasn’t the Greeks and the Romans who taught the Egyptians how to anyway
[0:20:31] AJ: I thought it was the other way around.
[0:20:33] BT: It definitely was, but that is the other flip of the history.
[0:20:39] AJ: Instead of going in search of this like royal lineage right she was determined to find the history of the commoners, the discarded, “the unwilling and coerced migrants who created a new culture in the hostile world of the Americas and who fashioned themselves again, making possibility out of dispossession” There’s that word again dispossession last week’s episode.
So, this theme. I think is something that contributes, that like continues throughout her work in Wayward Lives as well. She is kind of looking; she is looking at these stories that have gone untold. She is trying to tell these stories of young women and girls who have just been disappeared to the archives or whose lives were not worth saving or being told or being written about.
So, I think it was really cool to see that progression. I was like, oh, this is, you know, Wayward Lives is kind of this progression of what she was talking about. Her interest is like a progression of the interests she was talking about in Lose Your Mother.
[0:21:46] BT: Yea, I think how much of my fan girl do I want to display? So having read, I guess almost everything that she’s written. I would say that’s been like a method of hers from the beginning, especially in Scenes of Subjection. Scenes is about that kind of finding the terror of slavery in these kind of small insignificant moments; right so that instead of looking to the spectacular to say, oh, this is violent, right to say, what about these kind of ordinary interactions. That is a very poor summary of Scenes, so there are people here who will ride for Hartman, and I understand I did not do a good job of summarizing it, but I just want to say that like it’s definitely been a fun and exciting to read how the focus shifts throughout her career. Like you say. Kind of like, but she’s always had a feminist focus which is really amazing. Yea, and I think, buts what’s really important to note about what you say is she talked about this kind of the person that is written out of the archive or missing or disappeared or funeral. Right is that what makes her retrieval of kinship and belonging. What makes Lose Your Mother such an original like intervention right. It was the fact that she was looking for those in the archive that don’t get written about. As opposed to kind of trying to, as you say, trace our royal lineage right
[0:23:40] AJ: And I mean, she does talk about how that started quite early. It’s from her own experience seeking kin right. She was looking for, I believe it was her great-great-grandmother. She had found a very brief quote from her in the archives. And when she went looking for it again, she couldn’t find it. So, there was, at that point, there is a slipperiness to this archive. That I can kind of mine for more information and for a theory of Black life and the afterlife of enslavement.
[0:24:21] BT: Yea, and that’s like. So, if you haven’t listened to her talk about her method, just google her, watch some YouTube stuff. I think she’s one who explains her method the best. I would not even try to summarize it.
In this work, Lose Your Mother, What I thought it was really interesting to note is that she’s not there to recover an African past that supplants her American experience. So, what we normally encounter right, when people go “home” to Africa right is they are searching for this history that can somehow exchange for the shame of being a descendant of an enslaved person.
And so what Hartman really does is push back against this idea of that even being possible. So, she really puts pressure on this kind of pan-Africanist descriptions of the present and the past that ignore the reality that there was no uniform Africa before colonization. Right, so when we’re even reaching back. What are we reaching back to, and who are we reaching back for? And as you mentioned, this other kind of pan-Africanist but it tends to be more masculinist view that we are all descendant from King Tut or whoever and a lot of that has to do with these right wanting some ancestorial claims to power and authority that then they can transform into these kind of patriarchal claims for power and authority over Black women, Black non cis men, Black children. And so, on page 40, she says, “I knew that no matter how far from home I traveled, I would never be able to leave my past behind. I would never be able to imagine being the kind of person who had not been made and marked by slavery. I was Black, and a history of terror produced that identity. Terror was ‘captivity without the possibility of flight,’ inescapable violence, precarious life. There was no going back to a time or place before slavery, and going beyond it no doubt would entail nothing less momentous than yet another revolution.” [Like Daniel Kaluuya as Fred Hampton] Revolution, Revolution! (laughter)
[0:26:53] BT: That just made me think about Kirk Franklin, and when the people were like making that meme, like do your bitch ass want a revolution?, and it just made me think. Maybe we should ask Black people, do your bitch ass want a revolution, but
[0:27:07] AJ: Listen, there are so many reasons. Like, are we ever going to be free?
[0:27:14] BT: That’s Afropessisim episode 2 actually. That is what we’ll talk about.
[0:27:21] AJ: Excellent. Yea, I think what you were saying is really interesting because Hartman, she briefly reflects on how Maya Angelou talked about staying as far away from the slave castles and other memory sites. So, Angelou said “…although I let a lie speak for me, I had proved that one of their descendants, at least one, could just briefly return to Africa, and that despite cruel betrayals, bitter ocean voyages and hurtful centuries, we were still recognizable.”
Hartman responds: “A lie was the price of kinship, which, as the émigrés discovered, was much less inclusive or elastic than they had anticipated. Kinship was as much about exclusion as affiliation. As it turned out, eluding the slave past was the prerequisite to belonging.”
So, all of this begs the question, what do descendants of enslaved African people have to lose in assuming an African identity? These losses underscore violence of colonization and chattel slavery. This is also, I mean, who does this go back to exclusion and inclusion? Those are like key to identity, and I think we are going to talk a little bit about identity, which is one of my preoccupations; and you have an interesting theory about it, so I look forward to hearing that.
[0:28:40] BT: Yo, I think that people are going to dislike me, but (crosstalk). We’ll see the gays might have something to say (laughter). Right so to get back to these losses that are that actually really again show us violence of colonization, chattel slavery. This book is such a generative book, and we there’s like no way that we would be able to do this complexity justice in our little know what you’re reading segment. So y’all are going to have to read it for yourselves. It’s a beautiful read to right, so definitely reads like a novel, almost which is one of Hartman’s gifts. But, one thing that I found interesting was Hartman’s insistence that slavery is the vehicle that made us an us. So, this idea that actually we need to sit with the fact that without slavery, Black people as a category right Blackness as a category would not necessarily exist. So, the violence of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, the centuries of dispossession, this feeling of being stranger everywhere is actually what makes Black Americans us. And for Hartman distinguishing between kinship and race has critical stakes in understanding the role of slavery and our dispossession.
So, she says, “In Ghana, kinship was the idiom of slavery, and in the United States, race was. The language of kinship absorbed the slave and concealed her identity within the family fold (at least that was the official line), whereas the language of race set the slave apart from man and citizen and sentenced her to an interminable servitude. But, as I found out, the line between masters and slaves was no less indelible, even when it wasn’t a color line.” Which that we going to come back to in our next segment. The line between masters and slaves cannot be erased even when there is not a color line. So yea, the set of questions that I’m leaving for us to think about, and I’m thinking about right, is: if kinship is about connection, whether it be real or imagined right, how does it serve the descendants of the enslaved.
Hartman asks what connection had endured after four centuries of dispossession. The question of before was no less vexed since there was no collective or Pan-African identity that preexisted the disaster of the slave trade. Were desire and imagination enough to bridge the rift of the Atlantic? And I think that’s something we all have to think about.
[0:31:53] AJ: Yea, what you said actually got me thinking about the shame about trying to replace the shame of slavery with this African identity we can say. But is there is the shame really about slavery, or is that people just don’t want to be Black.
[0:32:17] BT: In so many ways it we take the Afropessimism™ route, one could ask the question, well is there a difference? Is there a difference between the condition of the slave and the condition of the Black? If we take the Black life approach, which fundamentality sees there is a difference between the slave and the Black, I don’t know why I’m saying it like that today, but I’m gonna lean into it. (laugh) The Black, maybe I’m feeling real southern today. Then you would have an interesting way to answer that question. I personally (pause) we will talk about it when we get to Identity. I don’t want to give too much away. (laugh)
[0:33:09] AJ: We are almost there. We are just going to talk about some of Hartman’s final words from chapter two, which I think will lead us perfectly into the next segment. She writes, “In Ghana, slavery wasn’t a rallying cry against the crimes of the West or the evils of white men; to the contrary, it shattered any illusions of an unanimity of sentiment in the Black world and exposed the fragility and precariousness of the grand collective we that had yet to be actualized.”
[0:33:38] (crosstalk emphasis)
[0:33:41] BT: So, here we are and what, what in the world (background what in the world) What is going on?
[0:33:50] Transition Music
[0:33:53] AJ: What is evident, I’m like stretching. I’m getting ready. (laugh) Alright so,
[0:34:00] BT: Because we made it through the other two sections, we got some time here we got some time here
[0:34:05] AJ: Cause we got lots to say this is what we are doing now this is what we are doing now. Okay, we are going to go back and forth in time, back and forth in place. Time is a construct; but if you need to go back for some refreshers on some of the terms we have been using. You can check out Season one episode seven, Holy is the Black Woman, we talked about the word diaspora season one episode 15, Bish Better Have My Money we defined reparations and we talked a little bit about ADOS and season two episode nine Separate but Equal Month there we talked about the 1619 Project, ADOS and the diaspora wars but those were very brief conversations. So, this is not a new topic, it’s an evergreen topic.
We are going to go a little bit more in depth. So, what the heck are the diaspora wars? What is that? So early anthropologists would call this “intra-tribal conflict” (laughter, BT: They really would though) I’m sure there is an article out there, or some could write a very factitious one about it. I would actually love to see a satire written by the right person. Even that could be considered a misnomer because, as we learned from Hartman, the connection of universal Blackness is a tenuous one.
But, essentially, this diaspora wars it’s a clash of ideals among different cultures within the African Diaspora. A cross-cultural conflict if you will. So, I think one of the events or moments that illustrated this recently, was the drama around Adele wearing the bathing suit with the Jamaican flag and her hair was in chiney bumps that’s what we call them Jamaicans, other folks call them bantu knots. So, Black Americans were like cultural appropriation, that’s appropriation, and Black Brits were like [imitates London accent] calm down bruv! (laugh) That’s stay calm stay calm bruv. That’s cultural appropriation and mind your business.
[0:36:21] BT: Yea (crosstalk) and go. Yea, diaspora wars. I as a Black American person who is historically a Black American even though my grandmother’s father immigrated from the Bahamas, I learned, actually, Jafari Allen told me that Bahamian people come to the US and they are the fastest Black non-us group to come to kind of accumulate. So like their Bahamianess, not that they lose it, but basically look more like Black American people faster than others. So they might not hold on to their immigrant Identity as long.
So, yea, I just know what it means to be Black and Southern. My friends Zakiya and I we call ourselves Afro-Carolinian folks, and I actually, so I guess I will just say what I need to say. So, I’ve been thinking about lately Identity just in general, and this might seem controversial to folks, but I really do think that we, in some ways we, choose who we are. Right, and so, like me calling myself Black, I’m choosing to fall under this kind of identity marker that means that I experience oppression in certain kinds of ways. Right, and so when people who don’t look like me. Right, who may be lighter complected, have different hair texture, have different whatever whatever, call themselves Black right choose to call themselves Black right they are also calling themselves into a history of oppression that they themselves might not experience right which is where we get a lot of issues around you know colorism and featurism and things like that. And so, I think by working within these kind of identity markers of like race and ethnicity right which were given to us right it’s not like we as “Black people” got to choose the word Black and say this is what it means to be Black right.
That we there are certain assumptions that are made then that we share, like experiences of oppression. Because we fall under this label of Black, and while there might be a shared experience for a lot of us, for some of us right, we don’t necessarily have that experience (pause). I’m like, whew, I’m just thinking about the folks who are going to be like gurl, don’t tell me I’m not Black; you can’t tell me I’m not Black. I’m just leave it like this right Identity is a shortcut to understand how to oppress people. That is what I’ve come to.
So as someone who is queer right, I had to make the choice to be queer and to be out about that. I could have made the choice to not be out and to basically pass or whatever the fuck you want to call it as a straight woman and benefit from that right, but me choosing to be queer like I chose queerness right. I might not necessarily choose the people I’m attracted to, but I can choose this Identity of queerness if that makes sense. Like I’m trying to separate Identity from behavior and also Identity from this also biological or other things that we assume Identity covers right like just because someone is Black doesn’t mean that they have the same genetic makeup of as the next Black person next to them right. But we assume that because both of us are Black that we have similar experiences under that racial identity marker right that we both choose.
So that’s not exactly clear that’s because I’m like trying to figure out how to say this in a way that doesn’t make people.. make people hate me but,
[0:40:59] AJ: But I don’t see why people would hate you. I think that makes perfect sense that we; that we effectively what you are saying is Identity, as you’re speaking about it, is a label, and therefore we choose the labels that (Right-BT) Or I should say we choose to no I was going to say maybe that’s true about something like queerness and maybe that’s true for something like for someone like Meghan Markle, who can pass or something like that. That you can choose the labels that you operate within, but I don’t know if that’s always true of Blackness. It can be, but I don’t think it always is.
[0:41:50] BT: Yea, so I don’t—
[0:41:52] AJ: Don’t always get to choose whether or not I’m Black because its imposed.
[0:41:57] BT: No, and I’m not saying so there’s different definitions of Identity mobilizing here, right, so there’s the like Di, which is what I was what I was saying the Identity being a shortcut to for people to understand how to oppress you right that is outside come in right; I have no control of over how other people know me right or choose to classify me or what identities they assign me.
Like I told you about that time that I was like doing some teaching lesson, and I said that I was queer and this white woman was like, I would have never said that you were a queer person, right. So, me choosing to tell her that I am queer right, in that moment shifted what she understood about me. It shifted how she would interact with me. If I had chosen not to say it, then she would have went on the assumptions. Whatever her assumptions were about, maybe the wig I had on whatever that made her assume that I was straight right, and so like there’s different things that are working in tandem.
But the main reason why I want to open up, open folks up to the idea identity being something that we choose is because I really want to highlight that is something that is socially constructed and if we’re trying to think about world in which we are going to be free, right. We might need to think about these “labels” or identities that we give ourselves and the assumptions that are held within right. So, the assumption that me as Black person because I meet another Black person, I’m going to automatically be in solidarity with them because we share this identity of Blackness even though we have completely different experiences. And the things that they do actually aid in my oppression right that is actually detrimental to a freedom project.
And so, what would it mean for us to say that politically Blackness does something, maybe interpersonally, Blackness does something so, I can lay claim to this identity Black because this is how other people see me, this is how they oppress me this is how I move through the world. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that’s who I am. I can determine who I am, but that’s part of I think of a larger imagination around free. I’m thinking that people like there are folks who will say well, no because other people see you as Black, then you are Black. Point blank and periodt.
And it doesn’t matter how you see yourself. But that comes with assuming this kind of European defined identity for what it means to be Black and like how do we and then, we constantly have our wars trying to figure out how do we move outside of this predetermined condition of Black that means right skewed life chances. You know, inadequate access to resources and things like that.
[0:44:59] AJ: And I think of these intra-racial conflicts if that’s what we want to call it, and I think that these conflicts exemplify that, really well. We don’t always a have an agreement, even though people would assume we would. On what, first of all, what qualifies as Blackness these days anyone can be Black—
[0:45:27] BT: Just get you the right spray tan and the right perm
[0:45:29] AJ: If they want to. We don’t agree on what the limits are and what the boundaries are of Blackness. If we are to have them and we don’t agree on things like, what is cultural appropriation? Who is appropriating? Who is disrespecting our culture? And I think that is kind of that’s where some of these conflicts come about is this lack of agreement which, of course, then originates from these differences in experiences, right. We all don’t have the same experiences, but we assume that we do. We assume that Black British people and Black American people are going to have the same experiences and therefore see the world the same way. That causes a conflict rather than being how can we bridge this? And how can we work together to get free. Like in the end, we’re all affected by white supremacy.
Like whether or not some people are affected more, some people are affected less if we’re working together. If we’re working in a like Black feminist and radical through a radical framework. Then we are working against or working towards the dismantling of the thing that affects the thing that is affecting those that are worse oppressed, right? So, I think that’s where we need to be focusing our attention and not necessarily Adele.
[0:46:58] BT: Yeah, I think I agree; I mean, I’ve been gave up on trying to figure out what white people are doing; no offense to y’all, but I really have. I’m like, that’s not a project I am no longer invested in; maybe my youth, I could be a little more.
[0:47:19] AJ: I think I’m actually more interested in the conversation that it sparked. Yeah, it is kind of like, wow, that really happened over a white woman.
[0:47:29] BT: Yeah, you’re saying it is more about trying to figure out where these kind of cultural lines can be drawn. But it’s like yeah, its arbitrary because we’re all trying to find ourselves and understand ourselves under an identity that was created to figure out who would be enslaved and who wouldn’t. So like, and I think that piece of being Black is something that we really have to hold true and say yes, okay we can do.
We can take, not to minimize, we can take a Black life approach and say that even though in the past being a slave meant death that doesn’t mean that we have to live that way now. As a Black person, we have joy; we have this, we have that we have life not just death. I think that’s kind of way of understanding Blackness does try to minimize the violence of what it actually means to be Black right like.
People don’t want to not be Black because there are so many other things you can be right. People want to not be Black so they can have access to economic opportunities. So, they can assume to live longer than 65 or whatever the age expectancy is for Black folks. So, they can know they can go to the doctors’ office and someone is going to listen to them, or they can have a baby, And someone is going to attend to them right. It’s not necessary that people want to be somebody else just because they want to be somebody else. It’s not like a costume thing (laugh) I just be want to be, you know, a green person today. You know it’s literally about I want better life chances and better choices for my life, and the only reason why that is the case is because Europeans decided a long time ago to tie people’s life chances to the way they fucking looked.
Right, and so yea so I think personally for myself like, I do not in my journal and in my life as I move through the world, I don’t call myself Black to myself. But I use the identity Black because I know that’s the easiest way for people to understand who I am and like might a have a sense or semblance of my history.
Right, but to myself, I see myself as like a displaced Indigenous person. So right, I don’t, I don’t know. The term Black doesn’t really do it for me anymore on a deeply personal level. But on a political level it does things for me. On a cultural level it does things for me. And so, I think that’s like, a very complicated way to hold Blackness.
But yeah, you’re right about, like the Diaspora wars at the center of it, at least for me as a Black American person looking or observing these conversations, is that people don’t want to be Black American or be lumped in with us because there is an assumption about our experiences of slavery. And our experiences in the afterlife of slavery. Right, so we’re not well-educated people, we’re not ambitious people, we’re lazy people, and that’s still being kind of like, the feelings of about what it means to be a descendant an American descendant of slaves.
And even in our department right, I faced that issue as being marked as the only real Black person. And so, when it comes to like the Diaspora wars, I guess my question is why do we, as Black people globally, assume that just because we are all oppressed by anti-Blackness possibly in a similar way possibly; that there is a sense of solidarity should be there. Like, why is that the assumption? And why do we think that Black people don’t need to earn spots in our movements just like others.
[0:52:05] AJ: I do not think I have an answer for that.
[0:52:13] BT: I wasn’t just Alyssa, you have to answer (laughter) (crosstalk)
[0:52:20] AJ: I don’t know. I’m going to have to think on that one. I mean, what you were saying about those stereotypes about Black Americans is definitely something I’m very much aware of being first generation Canadian of Jamaican parent’s right, some of these diaspora war things are very relatively innocuous, harmless, right. I joke about Jamaican oxtails and Jamaican food, in general, being far superior to Black American oxtail to (laughter) with my fiancé. I came up with, I was trying to figure out, like why is y’alls food different, like why is it different and I was like you guys season your food, but we spice our food. And that is the difference. So, I made those jokes.
But other times, I think those ideas can, they betray this kind of internalized anti-blackness. Right, growing up, I definitely heard that common immigrant critique of the lazy Black American vs. the bootstrapping hard-working immigrant right, and that really didn’t take into account the structural barriers of being multi-generationally, I don’t know if that’s a word but multi-generationally impeded by anti-blackness.
[0:53:44] BT: Yeah, cause I don’t want to like diminish the multi-generational obstacles, oppressions, all the things that Black people face everywhere right? It’s like because of the way Europeans designed chattel slavery and anti-blackness in the way that the rest of the world continues to participate, including we ourselves right. Like, everyone has those struggles. I don’t know who I was talking to about this I can’t remember, and I’m sorry, gurl but (crosstalk I just be talking to a lot of people, I guess) we were just talking about just like this kind of specific anti-black American hate that I guess gets proliferated online it’s just the things that you see, and then.
Oh yes, cause I was watching this housing show where this Black American woman who might have been Afro-Latinx, they never really unpacked that, but she was trying to she’s “in a relationship” with this Nigerian man and for those people who have been in relationships with Nigerian men you know why I say quote and quote (laugh) Like his mom did not approve of her; even though she was like a successful business woman she renovates and flips houses for a living. And his mom was just like so you really think that you are in a relationship? That’s literally what she asked her (crosstalk, AJ: I remember when you posted this on Instagram). And she’s been with this man for two years. And like, you really think that y’all are together or at a place in your relationship where you can live together; and oh yea, so my friend and I were talking about the kind of differences with African moms and how they view Black American women, particularly, some Nigerian moms think that it’s better for their sons to marry a white woman than to marry a one of us.
Right and so this whole like the welfare queen. The laziness, but also the shame, I would say the shame of slavery, like they would rather their son be with the descendant of colonizer than to be with a descendant of an enslaved person. And so is that internalized anti-blackness, probably. But that also, I don’t know has to be something else, something else to it; and not to make Black Americans super particular y’all, but just to say like it has to be something else.
But I also know growing up that, like my mom and my grandmother, they told me yeah they were just like when it came time that’s who you are going to date talk I had a different talk for each kind of race of person that they imagined. I could be interested in. It was very strange. And so, it was a talk for (cross taking I have a talk). You had the talk?
[0:57:12] AJ: I didn’t have the talk there were just comments that I can recall about different groups of Black people. That is what we will say.
[0:57:22] BT: Oh my gosh, I’ll share mine; well, mine was like my mom was hitting all of the anthologist of classifications of race with hers. So, I’ll just share the one with about white men in particular because there was this imagination that I would be with a white man which again, woah but she was just like you know you got to just wake up in the middle of the night like 3 am. And pull a knife from underneath your pillow and just start waving it around and screaming and being like it you ever hurt me, you know I will use this knife. And I was like, mom I’m like 17. I think I’m like, mom wut?. She’s like that’s how you have to do because you know how they are. You know that was her refrain after you know how they are. (laugh) And just to protect yourself to keep yourself from what did she. I don’t know if she made a reference to the serial killer or not, but she was basically like, you never know.
[0:58:32] AJ: Wake up at 3 am brandishing a knife that is…
[0:58:34] BT: Yeah
[0:58:37] AJ: That is hilarious
[0:58:29] BT: That is how you make it through your relationship with a white man; according to my mom, I don’t know how, if she studied this or tested it out or not but that was her staunch recommendation.
[0:58:54] AJ: Well, I don’t have anything to contribute that should be made public on this podcast (laugh). On that font. Well, actually, what I will say is cause my mom she lived in New York for a little bit maybe six months or a year something like that. In her early 20s, she just said that she was like Black American men; they just [Jamaican accent] them all just want to get married. She was like they’ll always treat you so good. I was like, oh really. And Haitians, that is what she said. She said they will treat you really good but be careful because they might do voodoo (laugh), and I was like, um?
But that’s yeah, that is another one of those things that was one of the things I studied in my, for my master’s research here in Martinique, is that you know those stereotypes about Haitian people because here there is quite a bit of discrimination against Haitians. But at the same time people would all people would say to me you know they would be saying all this stuff about Haitians as group Haitians immigrants who come to Martinque and then at the end of it, they would kind of but be like you know speaking French “nous sommes tous venus dans les mêmes bateaux”. So we all came in the same boat we all arrived in the same boat. And I’m just like, umm, hmm, that’s interesting.
They would call they would refer to Haiti like the big sister right because Haiti also used to be a French colony Dominigue was a colony before the revolution. And so they would kind of refer to Haiti as big sisters you know we feel for them they are just like us when they were far away but when they were close when they were actually on this island when they were in Martinique it was like a completely different attitude about Haitian people and all these negative stereotypes about them so I was thinking about how one constructs one’s identity in this oppositional relationship so through this exclusion but also inclusion so I was thinking about Martinique and identity through that lens but all of this to say is;I think that people often have these completing truths or these completing ideals. So Haitians, our big sisters they got free, we too can be free. But when they’re here, it’s a completely different thing, and we don’t want anything to with them. So yes, we arrived on the same boats, but we made something different of our lives and therefore there is a hierarchy if there is a difference.
[01:01:46] BT: Yeah, and even that kind of mode of thinking of this kind of, like yeah we don’t want to associate with them is not paying attention to the history of dispossession. That Haiti specifically experienced having to pay back France and It’s not like Haiti is the way it is just because. Like this shit does not just happen just because not like you know people are Black just because, you know, and Black people experience.
[01:02:18] AJ But people think that, especially Caribbean people, I will say they think that all of the disaster and underdevelopment of Haiti was actually, is because of like voodoo and because of I’ve heard people say like there just wicked people.
Like wicked as in Jamaicans like wicked as in evil because of their religious practices right, and so that’s like God smiting them for all of the wickedness that they do, and they’ve done in the past. And all of these things you can see the way like these stories if you read Silencing the Past right the way that these stories of revolution and freedom get turned around and they get spun. And told to people in order to dissuade them for revolution right. They’re like these people are actually evil. They are unchristian, they’re ungodly, and if you’re like them, you’ll end up like them.
[01:03:24] BT: Yeah
[01:03:25] AJ: If you revolt, if you rebel, you’ll end up like them too.
[01:03:31] BT: Yeah, and I guess that is really interesting to me and the Gemini “devil’s advocate” let me figure out how to flip this person in me it’s just like okay well if God is smiting them with freedom you know then what is God smiting you with on the other side you know. On the other side of that.
[01:03:56] AJ: It’s not with freedom; it’s like what people say like after the earthquakes and after the all the natural disasters, and things like that you know every time, they are just about to recover something there’s some kind of natural disaster it has nothing to do any of that. The island is literallyon a fault line. (laugh)
[01:04:20] BT: The island is on a fault line.
[01:04:22] AJ: But there’s these little ideas these little ideologies that get spread and get believed in order to you know, colonize. Decolonize your minds y’all.
[01:04:34] BT: Decolonize your minds, y’all, and yeah. Like I understand, you know, this is God’s punishment for whatever But it’s like, but the blessed countries are the ones who are polluting the water and polluting the air doing the and so (crosstalk agreement). What does it mean to be blessed and what does it mean to be cursed under that kind of thinking?
I guess it’s what I was really thinking about but to bring it back to ADOS because we did say we would talk about ADOS.
ADOS is a particularly radical kind of, like if I were to put it on a scale of some sort of Pan Africanism is a like a belief that all African descendant people have a shared kinship right and that we should have familial or cultural relationships that reflect that right. ADOS is a much more kind of like radical, not necessarily opposite end of the spectrum, but getting there these are the American Descendants of Slavery or slaves, depending on who you talk to, who would have a very vested interest in, you know, Black American people. Particularly those who are the descendants of enslaved folks getting their economic due.
[01:05:55] AJ: That’s reparations. That’s hashtag tangibles. If you look that up, you will see some of their rhetoric. One of the things that’s interesting, and I don’t want to say that I don’t necessarily agree with their rhetoric and the way they go about this, but I do think there is possibly something to the idea of them having of ADOS and not necessarily that term but having You know having their own they support this having your own racial category on census forms, college applications, I’m kind of like okay I can see that.
Especially you know, if we are building on what you were saying earlier. I can see that. But I don’t agree with is like the whole anti-immigrant sentiment that they have right. They don’t want to be lumped in with other Black people, especially Black immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean. That part I don’t agree with, but I can (pause), this is just me being my typical Aquarius, I see both sides (laugh)
[01:07:13] BT: I know I’m like… I get it.
[01:07:15] AJ: When it’s not harmful to anybody like (laugh)
[01:07:19} BT: There’s a limit to it, and sometimes, I’m willing to chase to a harmful end to someone depending on what it is, of course; but yeah, that’s an air sign gift to be able to see all sides. So as a Gemini who went to college in the US who went to Duke University, which as for southern university, an elite university southern university the time that I attended, had one of the higher percentages of Black students per class. It was about 10%. And the time that I matriculated, our class was the largest amount of Black people that had ever attended like in a class at Duke, we were about 10 percent of the incoming class, which is about 115 people or something like that.
And so then meeting Black people and we had our different kind of student groups that were mostly aligned culturally. So, we had a group for Caribbean students, we had group for African Students, and we had the Black Student Alliance. And there were several many diasporas, many diaspora wars between them simply because the university acted like the money; the pot for money was just so small for us. And so that created a lot the competition, but I will say that like one of the things when I did interview older Black students, from Duke was they did remark on how Duke kind of in the late 90s early 2000s had matriculated a lot of Black American students.
A lot of but that demographic really shifted in kind of the mid-2000s, 2010, and they started accepting more kind of acceptable Black people as the label I’ll give right. So more African first-generation African students and Caribbean students. And so that did cause a rift among some students, because again the university pretended like resources were so tiny. And so, I can see the utility in, like, in having a separate ethnic category for Black American people because we’ve seen this, I mean we could see this for jobs, right people are like oh yeah, in movies we were talking about earlier like you know as long as the actor has the skin color it doesn’t matter what their ethnic background is. We have Black British people playing important Black American historical figures like Martin; well no,
[01:10:16] AJ: Fred Hampton, Harriet Tubman,
[0:10:21] BT: The man who played Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma is Nigerian, but he’s not. I don’t think he’s from Britain or the UK so
[01:10:29] AJ: Harriet Tubman
[01:10:31] BT: Harriet Tubman, Cynthia Erivo yea and even Nina Simone playing, I mean, not Nina Simone, what’s her name, That woman they had put in Black face to play Nina Simone that was like an ethnic issue.
[01:10:47] AJ: Zoe Saldaña
[01:10:52] BT: Oh Sse (laughter), I’m like, Wow! When I blank people out of my memory, I’m like, what is her name Avatar, right it’s (crosstalk)
[01:11:00] AJ: I went to the University of Toronto, and we had similar diversity of “Black student” groups right. We definitely had the African students; we definitely had the Caribbean students association. And then, there was an umbrella of Black students’ association. I didn’t really go to any of them I think I went to one Black students’ association event.
[01:11:25] BT: Yeah, the BS events be where the popping off tho be honestly
[01:11:31] AJ: Oh, it was a really good one. It was actually about the politics of Black love, and whewww! Okay y’all
[01:11:37] BT: Maybe this is where—
[01:11:38] AJ: These Twitter Conversations, these Twitter conversations
[01:11:40] BT: This is what we’ll put on Patreon because I have a Black love story, too (laughter)
[01:11:51] AJ: The things that people have been saying on Black twitter. Listen, y’all I graduated in, I’m about to age myself, I graduated in 2011, so we’ve been having these conversations for a long time a long time
[01:12:03] BT: A long time.
[01:12:04] AJ: The politics of Black love what an event that was epic. (laughter) But how did it really work? I mean I don’t think I ever went to the Caribbean student’s association, and I feel like I want to say it wasn’t diaspora students. I think it was like immigrant students, and so it wasn’t other people. It wasn’t really people who were born in Canada with like Jamaican parents. I think it was the same thing for the African student association and so.
Then you end up in this like Black Students association, where most of the Black people at the University of Toronto are generally of Caribbean descent. Because of like similar, I will say similar structural impediments that Black Canadians as in like if we want to go into the whole foundational Black American foundational Black Canadians aren’t usually… I don’t think I know one person—my best friend is, her mother is from Nova Scotia. Yea, we don’t really get very many. Most of the people there are Caribbean; let’s just put it that way. That’s how I would say that.
Foundational Black American, let’s explain that. So that is a group that is aligned with ADOS. It was created by a Youtuber I believe an influencer named Tariq Nasheed (crosstalk) So they both, both groups they identify as descendants of the enslaved. However, the FBA folks, the Foundational Black Americans they, believe that the origins and the history began of foundational Black Americans, I should say not just Black people, foundational Black Americans began in North America in 1526, so they actually deny the 1619 project. And they believe that their history began in 1526 when they were brought over from the Caribbean by a colonizer. This is from their website so, named Lucas Vázquez de Ayllón. In the rebellion, the captives escaped, and then they formed maroon communities with local Indigenous tribes. And so those that’s like what there. That’s what their origin story is.
So, they also support reparations. They don’t believe in Pan-Africanism, and they believe they are unique ethnic group separate from Black African and Caribbean immigrants. So, I think that, I’m just like not with the anti-immigrant stuff, and I think the other thing is like. This both of these um groups they will end up disenfranchising what are foundational Black Americans in the end because a lot of them demand proof. They demand like slave papers. Well, you have to prove that at least one of your parents was an enslaved in the United States, and it’s like a lot of people don’t have that kind of documentation. Who’s going to be able to access that documentation. Not everybody, only some people.
So if you’re tying reparations, or you’re tying certain benefits to that not everybody is actually going to benefit from it. So, I think that there’s something flawed in their logic and in many ways, it kind of, it advances these like very right wing and white supremacist agendas. And I think that’s one of the main problems with their rhetoric. I’m cool with the idea of, as an identity as a label that’s cool. But I think that when it comes to the advocacy and there; the way that they are going about it, I think that’s where we have the problems.
[01:16:14] BT: Yeah, I think there’s a way to nuance this. That doesn’t like, that doesn’t make us have to resort to these anti-black kind of, this anti-black logics of like blood quantum and things like that. And I’ll say, like, I think there is definitely a case to be made for having distinct ethnic groups because people have experienced different experiences. I think that alone is enough reason to think about people differently.
The sticking point, though, comes to when to like resources, and it’s particularly like economic advancement in this country and when we think about like. I think about it a lot as someone who was premed, right the way that someone with the last name that might be recognized as a West African last name might be able to enter into rooms that I wouldn’t be able to enter into as a Black American person.
Does that person, who may or may not be first generation right, US citizen, or whatever Does that person should they lay claim to the wealth or repatriation of wealth that my ancestors took part in? That their ancestors did not take part in. I would say, on a personal level, I don’t think that’s fair. Do I think that people should face, like I’m, these groups are very extreme in the way they argue for these things, and they are very extreme in the ways they view their differences between folks from the Caribbean and Africa. I don’t think there is like a fundamental biological difference or fundamental like, we are just fundamentally different people. I just think that we have different experiences.
But, I do think that there is something to be said that Black Americans are pushed to fight for everybody, but if we move to Ghana, or we move to Jamaica, or we move to Haiti, or we move to, you know, Brazil or we move to Argentina right our expectation is the expectation, or we move to Canada is the expectation that Black folks there are going to take us up too and say well we’ll include y’all too in our reparations project. And I have not I have not seen that kind of reciprocation that is often asked of us as Black American people.
[01:19:16] AJ: I think that’s a good point, but I think it also goes back to what we were talking about with Deborah Thomas and our reparations episode, which is the reparations strategy; the fight it needs to be something that is collective and demanded not just from a single government but broadly a variety, a lot of places benefited from slavery. It’s not just like the United States white people benefited from slavery; there’s Africa, there is a whole fuck load of Europe benefitted, so it’s not a necessarily, it’s not a one-to-one relationship that where we need to be like we are just focused on this place. We are just focused on this place, and I think that collective action would be more effective. As long as we had a very specific plan for how to actually enact it within the boundaries of the nation-state.
[01:20:24] BT: And that’s the thing I want to say that would require us to actually be against the nation state. And I don’t know too many niggas that are ready to think that way, not just put it like I don’t know too many.
[01:20:37] AJ: Definitely not the ADOS ones (crosstalk) pro state pro everything
[01:20:44] BT: I was going say even the idea of, like African states right. That African was “carved up” by Europe, and then it split different tribal groups, split ethnic groups across national borders right. So even the way we understand the nation-state would have to transform for us to really truly have a more expansive movement, but you know me, I’ve been like F the nation-state we could if we just got rid of the nation-state we would not have these conversations about immigrants, undocumented, citizenship all these things that causes issues
[01:21:25] AJ: It’s not about. The nation-state does not factor into kinship, right? That is not one of the things we need to determine whose kin but I think and this actually came up quite a bit in the conversations around The Woman King there were calls from ASOS and FBA to boycott The Woman King.
There were also conversations about how this was not historically accurate, not even just in the storytelling, because I think that this is a kind of genre of fiction. I watched this film as a historical fiction. So, you know, it’s based on true events or real people but the story itself is fictionalized, but at the same time, people were talking about the music, for example. Or the outfits and things like that not being accurate to the actual place, right they were like Dahomey may not exist in name today, but it is now the kingdom of Benin; there were a lot of like contemporary people and information that could have been drawn on, but it was more of like this I was going to say Pan African but like this broadly African kind of storytelling.
[01:22:53]BT: Kind of like Black Panther, how they had all of these different accents, and people were like, that’s not—
[01:23:01] AJ: Oh my God, the accents were terrible
[01:23:03] BT: And yes, in the Congo then (crosstalk)
[01:23:08] AJ The accuracy of the story was one thing, but in terms of the boycotts, people were just like, why would we be celebrating and supporting, you know, the stories about the people who sold our ancestors into slavery. You know, the film kind of downplays the role that Dahomey played in the Atlantic slave trade I wouldn’t necessarily agree with that latter point. I mean, there was a lot of, like I’m going to say that it was white saviorism. Because I do, I was told that the script was written by a white woman. There was a lot of like [Viola Davis in The Woman King accent] “We should not sell our people. We should be a kingdom that loves its people, all African people,” and I was just like, okay, that’s not me doing an accent, an African generalized accent, that is me imitating Viola Davis, okay. (laugh) Just wanted to throw that out there, and yes so, the whole like we should be for all African people.
There wasn’t an all-African people at that time, right like Saidiya Hartman makes that very clear. The film also makes that quite clear because there are these different tribes, and they are warring with each other. So, there wasn’t this idea of Africa, this monolithic place. There is no one single home, but I wanted to know what was your experience like in Ghana, and then we’ll wrap up.
[01:24:38]BT: I went to Ghana; yes, I love Ghana. Ghana reminds me a lot of South Carolina. I was going to say home, to South Carolina, and so the first time I went both times, I went to Ghana I was with my ex who is gender non confirming. And so we had to pretend that we were not in relationship with each other so that added a layer of like complications going there just because you know the queerphobia, the homophobia and stuff and we were just trying to make sure that we wouldn’t be targeted. But outside of that experience which I think is what I would never say that Ghana felt like a homecoming, but I would say that I felt a sense of belonging walking through the slave castles.
Which is different from what I would say Saidiya Hartman’s experience. I think my sense of belonging was like standing in the cells where they held the to be enslaved folks that they classified as “female” right, and sitting in that dark room with no windows, knowing that my ancestors could have come through that door could have bled on that floor for a variety of reasons right. And had to make do with that life was something that was very moving and powerful to me. But also, when we were at the slave castle. There was a Black man there with his white queen, and she had her hair braided, and she had on her, what do you call it the fabric there’s like a specific (crosstalk)
[01:26:44] AJ: Kente?
[01:26:44] BT: No, it wasn’t kente cloth. It was some other kind of fabric, but she had her African “outfit” on. And he was kind of parading her around the slave castle, but the good thing.
[01:27:01] AJ: There is so much to be said about that, it’s an analysis in and of itself.
[01:27:05] BT: And there was a Black woman there, with her white husband, who was crying and he was comforting her, so that was one scene, But then there was this Black man who was just like yes white queen with her box braids and “African clothing line” and part of the tour where the tour guy who was a Ghanaian man, he was like so this is the grave of some white woman who was a wife to the person who built the fort had died, and she got bit by mosquito got malaria and died.
And I was like, wow, the fact that this white woman is not scared of getting bit by a mosquito and getting malaria and dying. But also, is that something I should be praying for is that ancestral justice? But then I saw the ancestral justice was coming in the back of her head, cause she was starting to develop a rash from the raid, so I was like, okay, it’s coming somehow. She will regret this trip to Ghana for sure.
Outside of that, I felt though I think that my experience was very different from Saidiya’s for sure because I look Ghanaian and it wasn’t until I opened my mouth and then when I opened my mouth people just assumed that I was Ghanaian person who was born in the United States. Everywhere I went, people just assumed I was Ghanaian and so they didn’t try to like they didn’t try to like, do the rip me off or anything like that. They didn’t try to like when I would say no, they would listen to me. When my ex say would say no because my ex looks like a broni so when my ex would say no, they would be like Uh uh, we know you could afford this but I would just be like uh uh, yea so and I like to call myself a faux Ghanian sometimes
[01:29:11] AJ: And that goes back to what you were saying even people who might share the same external or imposed identity have very different experiences. One of the questions I had did people, because she writes in the book that people around in the area they really didn’t know what the castle was what it was once used for, Is that still the case?
[01:29:30] BT: Uh uh.
[01:29:32] AJ: Because I feel it’s more of a tourist or a place where people take pilgrimages we could say. So, I wonder if even that has changed where people are more aware of what the castle is for and whether that changes how people interact with that place or if just more like we know we can stand here to sell tourists water bottles or something
[01:29:58] I think people yea, understood what the castle was there for. There was also some people she mentioned Labadi Beach in the chapters that we read. Labadi Beach is actually interesting, it’s still a trash still trashy maybe not to the same level because all of the touristy things and stuff but definitely still trashy but something that we talked about a lot like my ex and I their family that lived in Ghana was just how afraid of the water Ghanian people were.
So they wouldn’t necessarily be swimming in the ocean or swimming in pools and things like that. So even if it’s not like a voice memory of the violence of colonization and slavery there is a definitely a kind of embodied memory of staying away from the water and that is what I encountered while I was at Cape coast which was people who would go to the beach walk to the edge, but no one would get into the water. If you were in the water, you were in a boat, you weren’t swimming.
So, I think that’s one thing and then, but people are still selling stuff outside out of the slave castles for sure. And one person was kind of marketing it as like you know: you came all the to Ghana you came all the way to Africa why not leave with a piece of it and you know that had me thinking, like well don’t I already have apiece don’t I already have a piece of Africa?
And we got into a conversation on one of the merchants and he was very adamant about not being Black I’m African, I’m not Black and so I think that as a someone who other people would identify as African American I think that’s really interesting and we think about how complex it is to lay claim to a place that may not want to claim us in those same ways so.
[01:32:05] AJ: I’ve definitely heard that (crosstalk). Alright well, the water is the rift of the Atlantic that separates us. Well, I think we will wrap up that note. My final note is beware of false prophets, y’all, and also, I know that again you probably hear the saccades in the recording; that’s because it’s late. I am tired. I will be editing this right now, so on that note, that is all we are going to do for you today.
Thank you all for listening. 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, the Heyman Center Public Humanities Graduate Fellowship, and donations from listeners just like you.
[01:33:17] BT: Thank you all for your support. If you like this episode, please share it via social media, WhatsApp, or even you know broken telephone! We get the message out, hunny! 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 become a Patron to access exclusive content, visit our website zorasdaughters.com.
[01:33:47] AJ: Last but not least, remember to be kind to yourselves. Bye!
[01:33:52] BT: Bye