The industrial complex is an industrial complex! Today we’ll be talking about the spread of industrial complexes, non-profits, so-called activist influencers, the controversy around BLM Global Network spending, and the whispers around Nikole Hannah-Jones and Kimberlé Crenshaw being problématique.
What’s the Word? Industrial Complex. Popularized by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, the industrial complex refers to the profit-driven enmeshment of the state and private industry in a way that makes it more profitable to perpetuate the problem they claim to solve.
What We’re Reading. “In The Shadow of the Shadow State” by Ruth Wilson Gilmore in The Revolution Will Not Be Funded: Beyond the Non-Profit Industrial Complex. In this essay, Gilmore discusses the rise of the non-profit industrial complex as an industry that takes up “kindness” work for those the state has abandoned and operates to suppress revolution. Her solution is to take the money and run, without fooling ourselves into believing the state or capitalism will give us the keys to our freedom.
What in the World?! In this segment, we discuss our ongoing experience of forming a non-profit, the questionable financial decisions of Black Lives Matter, what Alyssa and Brendane would do if we came into $90 million, whether we really should be putting our faith or support in famous people or so-called “activist influencers,” and why you should stay away from Teach For America.
Zora’s Daughters Podcast: Season Two, Episode 14
Co-Hosts: Brendane Tynes and Alyssa James
Title: Defund the Activist Influencer Industrial Complex
Total Length: 01:25:29
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[00:00:25] AJ: Hey everyone! Welcome back to Zora’s Daughters, the podcast where we share Black feminist perspectives and close read pop culture and other social topics that affect Black folx. I’m Alyssa and I use she/her/hers pronouns.
[00:00:38] BT: Hey y’all, I’m Brendane and I also use she/her/hers pronouns. Today we will be talking about the spread of industrial complexes, non-profits, so-called activist influencers, consultants, businesspeople, the controversy around Black Lives Matter Global Network spending, and the whispers around Nikole Hannah-Jones and Kimberlé Crenshaw being a lil problematic.
[00:01:07] AJ: Problématique.
[00:01:08] BT: Problématique.
[00:01:12] AJ: Before we get into the episode, we would like to give a huge thank you to all of you—our listeners, our supporters, our lovers, and our haters. Whether you love to listen or hate listen, it’s still a listen and algorithms can’t tell the difference. So, as you all know, we don’t advertise brands, so we rely on folks like you to keep the proverbial lights on. If you would like to become a Patron, you can support our work for as little as three dollars per month. Head to patreon.com/zorasdaughters to check out the different tiers and join the community. You all help keep our podcast accessible in all of the different ways that we define accessibility. Now, of course we know some folks don’t have the coin to spare and we understand. It’s a whole pandemic. It’s a pandemic and life is literally so expensive even when there isn’t a pandemic, so we are with you. We stand with you; we sit with you. If you still want to support the podcast, you can just share this episode on social media, you can share it with your friends, your family, your frenemies and definitely be sure to tell people why you liked the episode.
[00:02:33] BT: Yes. And, you know, tell us why too. Give it that little bit of a personal touch. Especially if you’re telling a frenemy. Just be like, “I thought you would learn something from this,” you know. Just a little sprinkle. But let’s get into the episode. Alyssa, what is our word for today?
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[00:02:53] AJ: Our word for today is the blank industrial complex. Really, it’s industrial complex. Which we’ve heard it appended to different systems like the prison industrial complex, the medical industrial complex, the wedding industrial complex, and I think we once joked about the influencer industrial complex. So, what does it mean when we affix ‘industrial complex’ to a system? Typically, it is used to signal the commingling of private interests and public structures or institutions in a way that boosts profitability for both. An industry with an industrial complex operates at the expense of individuals and profit when they proliferate whatever problem it is they proport to solve.
[00:03:40] BT: President Dwight Eisenhower popularized the term in his 1961 farewell speech. He said that the military industrial complex was a threat to democratic government. And in his view, there were three groups with an overlapping interest in war and conflict—so we have the American arms industry, the US military, and businesses providing goods and services to the military. Since the military employs a significant number of people, both directly and indirectly, people are invested in maintaining it. They’re invested in seeing it grow. So, the issue that comes up when this is at the crux of things is that the military’s theoretical goal of peace is actually antithetical to the economy’s goal of profit.
[00:04:26] AJ: Right. So, to put it simply, the military industrial complex—they’d rather start wars instead of actually putting themselves out of business by helping to produce peace, right. It’s too profitable for them to maintain the problem. And when you have an industry that’s highly profitable for people in multiple sectors, it then carries influence over society. Governments begin to make decisions that serve the industry rather than the people. So, this leads to a conflict of interest. The prison industrial complex is a great example of this and if you wanna hear us talk more about it, we read Mariame Kaba’s book We Do This Until We Free Us in season one. So, the state claims that the US justice—or punishment—system is to protect the public and help “rehabilitate” offenders. However, the prison industrial complex benefits from high inmate populations and employs thousands—maybe millions, who knows—including ex-military—which there’s a connection between the military industrial complex and the prison industrial complex. So, there is no economic benefit to actually rehabilitate anyone. At the same time, the state is seeing profits rise so they have less motivation to decriminalize certain offenses or make legislation that would be beneficial to communities the most affected by incarceration and high incarceration rates.
[00:06:06] BT: Right. And one of the things that we talked about today during the Patreon discussion section was actually whether there is such a thing as an academic industrial complex, which people have certainly written about. And, you know, I feel like people really just be casually adding on “Industrial complex” to things as a joke to kind of talk about how that particular thing is all encompassing or the ways that certain industries manipulate our values to sell more things, like the advertising, diet, or wedding industrial complexes. And so, in this way, “industrial complex” is becoming like “intersectionality,” which has its original and intended meaning that is different from the way it’s used every day. And what’s also important to note is that if something doesn’t affect the economy and ideology, it isn’t an industrial complex. If it doesn’t affect how we—how money circulates, how power circulates, if it doesn’t affect how we think about ourselves and each other then I would not call it an industrial complex. I would just say it’s part and parcel of capitalism and how capitalism functions.
[00:07:21] AJ: Yeah, exactly, exactly. But it’s funny you should bring up intersectionality cause we’ll be talking about that later on. But to go back to the discussion section, I don’t think we really came to a conclusion about whether or not academia is an industrial complex. I think that perhaps in the sense, yes, because there is this increasing demand for certification. So, you have, you know, your degrees, your certificates, your diplomas. And the economy is driving an increase in the creation of professional and master’s programs, which of course serve the business interests of the university. And universities all over are doing this, they have a ton of professional master’s programs that are effectively funding the research programs, right. And what the major problem is there is that it’s at the expense of the humanities and the social sciences. So, yes, they’re supporting the masters—or sorry, the research programs—but also those professional programs are paying the salaries of these like inflated and increasing numbers of administrators that have been hired. I think I saw a statistic that said that in the last—I think since 1975 or something like that—the number of administrators in universities has increased by 200% while tenured professors and research positions and things like that have decreased. But that’s just my bad memory so it could be even more, could be a higher percentage.
[00:08:55] BT: Wow, not two times the people not answering emails or phone calls [laughter]. Wow [laughter].
[00:09:03] AJ: Oh yes, at the very least. At the very least.
[00:09:06] BT: [Laughter] Two times the people not answering [laughter].
[00:09:10] AJ: So those people are just ballooning, which of course, is matching the increase in professional programs. That said, I don’t think it’s really at odds with the original purpose of the western university, which was essentially to educate and train upper-class future heads of households. So, when you have these professionalized programs, they often cost a lot of money and you’re either having people who are going into a ton of debt in order to obtain these certifications or people who can afford to pay for them. Which are typically the upper-class future heads of household, however we may want to define that in the year of our Audre Lorde 2022.
[00:09:54] BT: Right. And I would say—I mean even our university is very expensive. We had a conversation about this the other day. And the woman I used to live with paid—how much did she pay—she paid $93,000 a year to get an MFA in film. So, you know, would I say it’s an industrial complex? No. But is it definitely something that is harmful and should be abolished? For sure. No one should have to pay that much money for school.
[00:10:28] AJ: I literally just saw a tweet that said university used to be free until Ronald Regan saw that Black and other people of color were going to university en masse. [Crosstalk] Just a public service announcement, thank you for coming to my ted talk.
[00:10:49] BT: [Laughter] PSA. Yeah, well if you know me, you know how I feel about Ronald Reagan. Sometimes I refer to him as Satan or Say-tan, sometimes I just refer to him by his earthly name. But that actually just really makes a lot of sense [laughter] honestly.
[00:11:09] AJ: Say-tan and spray tan are the two [laughter]—say-tan and spray tan, they are cut from the same cloth [laughter].
[00:11:22] BT: Well, we don’t have a solid answer about whether the academic industrial complex is a thing, but we would love to hear from you. So, let us know on social media. Hit us up on IG, Twitter. What are y’all thoughts? Is academia an industrial complex too or should we just find another name for it? On that note, we’re gonna move on to our next segment, which is what we are reading.
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[00:11:53] AJ: What we’re reading today is In the Shadow of the Shadow State by Ruth Wilson Gilmore in the text The Revolution Will Not Be Funded: Beyond the Non-Profit Industrial Complex. Tell us a little bit about Ruth.
[00:12:09] BT: Oh, Ruth. Ruthie, who just had a birthday, actually, last week—so happy belated birthday [laughter]. No surprise there, Ruth Wilson Gilmore is an Aries [laughter]. She is also a prison abolitionist and prison scholar. She is the Director of the Center for Place, Culture, and Politics and professor of geography in Earth and Environmental Sciences at The City University of New York—or CUNY. Her first book, Golden Gulag: Prisons, Surplus, Crisis, and Opposition in Globalizing California, which was published in 2007, has since received many accolades. Is genre defining. She did what needed to be done, honey. She has been credited with “more or less single-handedly” inventing carceral geography, which is the “study of the interrelationships across space, institutions and political economy that shape and define modern incarceration.” In 2020, she received the 2020 Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Association of Geographers. Probably way too late considering her contributions but we love y’all anyway. The essay we’re reading today is one that really just kinda spoke to my old organizer sensibilities, so I’m excited to talk about it.
[00:13:39] AJ: I’m just—I have two things that I wanna say before we proceed. And one is imagine getting a Lifetime Achievement Award thirteen years after writing your first book. Hot Damn. And secondly, I really do want to get to a point where I refer to someone that’s lowkey academic famous by their nickname in public. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to a talk [laughter] and heard some professor ask a question and refer to the person that they’re referring to by their nickname or by a more informal name, you know. Like when you’re famous, I’ll ask a question and be like, “I don’t know if you read Brendie’s work, but” [laughter], not that I call you Brendie [laughter].
[00:14:30] BT: That’s fine. If you did, that’d be fine.
[00:14:34] AJ: I don’t know if you’ve read Brendie Tynes’s article [laughter].
[00:14:38] BT: I heard people be doing that to Henry Louis Gates all the time. Calling him Skip.
[00:14:45] AJ: Skip. Interesting. Yeah, I wanna get to that point.
[00:14:52] BT: I know. What is gonna be yours? We gonna pull the middle names out?
[00:14:57] AJ: Maybe. I’m gonna stat since I plan on changing my academic name to Adina, y’all can start calling me Didi.
[00:15:07] BT: Didi! Have you read Didi’s work? Oh, that’s it. I’m actually gonna change your name in my phone now. Didi.
[00:15:14] AJ: Yeah, have y’all read Didi James? [Laughter] Anyhow, anyhow, let’s get into this essay cause there were so many gems packed into what? Like eleven pages? Right? Again, mastery. Mastery. Maestra-y.
[00:15:38] BT: Maestro.
[00:15:38] AJ: No, Maestra [crosstalk] a la féminin [laughter].
[00:15:45] BT: Oh, maestress.
[00:15:48] AJ: Y’all, we’re delirious. We’re both exhausted, okay. So, Gilmore begins with a quote from Ira De A. Reid, who provided what she names as an “incisive analysis” of organized philanthropy in 1944. The first thing he noticed was that both reformist and radical Black groups had become more dependent on foundation funding versus membership dues. Second, the assumptions that donors and the recipient groups had about each other and the possibility of social change actually reinforced the harmful structures the organizers worked to dismantle. This remains true to this day. To this day. Tell me we’re not seeing the same issues. In order for nonprofits to exist, the social problems they “address” have to exist. You have to believe that they will always exist. Charity and philanthropy are based upon the assumption that those that need help cannot help themselves. Though Gilmore doesn’t say this directly in her article, these forms of giving replicate and reproduce white supremacist understandings of saviorhood.
[00:16:55] BT: Right, and so these Black groups and their funders actually enter into these cycles of “dependency and accommodation”—as Gilmore names them—that actually undermine any kind of liberation goal. Because these organizations are dependent upon foundations and the government for their funding, they must accommodate, or weaken, their goals for liberation. In this essay, Gilmore answers the questions: “Is there a nonprofit industrial complex? How did it come into being? How is it powerful?” She also does the amazing task of providing some solutions to the issue, which I believe, speaks to her political commitments.
[00:17:41] AJ: Gilmore goes on to explain the rise of the nonprofit industrial complex by first explaining its connections to the military industrial complex and the prison industrial complex, which we discussed in our last section. What is important to note about industrial complexes is their impact on our thinking or our ideologies. When being tough on communism in the military industrial complex was mirrored by being tough on crime in the prison industrial complex, their reach “compromised all sorts of alternative futures.” We moved from a world without wide scale military and carceral interventions to having “cops in our heads and hearts,” as Paula X. Rojas says. As Gilmore writes, it’s “not that a few corporations call the shots—they don’t—rather an entire realm of social policy and social investment is hostage to the development and perfections of means of mass punishment—from prison to post-release conditions implicating a wide range of people and places.” These industrial complexes leave us with many devastating effects, including the normalized belief that safety can only be promised through violence and aggression.
[00:18:55] BT: Which, if you listened to our episode where we read—Didi mentioned earlier [laughter]—about Mariame Kaba’s book [laughter]. It’s okay, I used to have a childhood nickname, “Den Den,” so wow and now the public knows this. Okay, so Didi and Den Den.
[00:19:19] AJ: I never had a childhood nickname, people just called me Lys when I was—that’s what my family and close friends called me.
[00:19:25] BT: Lyssie!
[00:19:26] AJ: Just Lys, not Lyssie.
[00:19:27] BT: Oh [laughter]. But as you mentioned earlier, she talks about safety, she talks about community and how all of these things through the prison industrial complex, through policing actually can only be faked. So, when we really think about what causes safety, we have to think about how can we achieve that without violence and aggression? But you might be listening and like, “Okay, but what does nonprofits have to do with that?” There’s not a nonprofit in the world asking people to walk down the street and beat somebody up. We know that. But the nonprofit industrial complex actually comes as a solution to the paradoxical situation that these complexes—military industrial complex and the prison industrial complex–created. Basically, Gilmore goes into depth about how these complexes actually work to limit the imaginations of folks to the point where they cannot think outside of these “aggression agencies,” which is what she names them. They’ve changed the norms of how we handle the social abandonment that is actually necessary to fund the military and prisons.
And so, if we weren’t putting all this money into military and prisons, we probably would not be experiencing the levels of homelessness and poverty that we do in this country. That’s not new. So, what happens is over the course of the 20th century and into the 21st century is that we see the rise of people who act as, what Gilmore calls, the “antistate state actors” who gain state power by denouncing state power. And we see this on all sides of the political spectrum. We have politicians who become famous—well not famous—but actually rise to power by saying we’re going to shrink the state, we’re actually against the growth of the state, we want to put peoples power back in their hands, put people’s money back in their hands, which we all know is not the case.
What ends up happening is that the military, the police, prisons, and other kind of “aggression agencies” are seen as these legitimate forces that either need to be “reformed” with additional funding—which is what the Democrats tend to do—or strengthened with additional funding—which is what Republicans or right-wing groups tend to do—but never abolished. They are legitimate. They’re the part of the state that will stay no matter what. So, the part of the state that actually requires shrinking—or actually gets the anti-state state actors—are the social goods, the social services, education, and other life-giving resources. Capitalism actually supports this by naming those social goods as unnecessary to the economy, right. So, these things are kind of seen as “kind.” It’s kind to have a place to live, it’s kind to be able to buy food, that’s not necessary to the economy, right. You don’t need food to live. You don’t need a place to live in order to go to work. And so, what nonprofits do is they swoop in to do the “kind” thing—provide housing, provide goods, provide education—while militaries and prisons destroy lives and communities.
[00:23:07] AJ: Right and I think that’s where we see this increase in charter schools. It’s the semi privatization of something that is—was once considered a public good and a public service. So of course, all of these things are theory, right? Gilmore says, “The voluntary nonprofit sector can pick up any stray pieces because the extent to which extra economic values—such as kindness or generosity or decency—come into play is the extent to which abandonment produces its own socially strengthening rewards. That’s their ideal, a frightening willingness to engage in human sacrifice while calling it something else.” Whew.
[00:23:51] BT: Right. “While calling it something else” was the part where I was like woah. Yeah. Yeah, calling it making America great again.
[00:24:02] AJ: Preach [laughter].
[00:24:05] BT: And calling it reform.
[00:24:10] AJ: So, instead of attacking the harmful institutions and systems that create the conditions for abandonment, nonprofits take responsibility for the abandoned. They can, and have, stemmed social revolt and uprisings by providing a little something for the poor and under resourced.
[00:24:29] BT: Yes, and this phenomenon has been termed as the shadow state by Jennifer Wolch. The shadow state is defined as the rise of the nonprofit sector that gives direct social services to people that the state used to. And so all of these—the shadow state, the nonprofit industrial complex—is actually emerging as a response on both sides, so both the left and the right of the political spectrum to shrinking the social services and goods that were put in place after the great depression. So, they were like, that thing that got us out of the depression, we’re actually gonna work against it now because you know the state should be small.
These anti-state state actors advocate for nonprofits under the rhetoric of efficiency and accountability. They say that nonprofits are efficient because their budgets are much smaller than for-profit corporations, unless you are a nonprofit like Teach for America [laughter], right. And they can be held accountable. So, governments, politicians, funders, donors can hold these nonprofits accountable through pulled contracts, shrinking the budget if they are not doing desirable things. These factors make nonprofits vulnerable to their donors because if they don’t like what you’re doing, then they just take your money away. And what the nonprofit might have intentionally been set out to do—which is drastically improve the lived conditions of the populations they serve—actually becomes impossible through funding rubrics and restrictions.
So, for those of you who have worked for nonprofits like myself, you know that talk they always give about how “we don’t have the funding to do this” or “we are not allowed to do that because of this grant” or this that and the third. “We can’t pay you more because this grant is duh, duh, duh, duh, duh.” And so, this is actually what makes liberation work impossible within nonprofits. Gilmore notes that while the Right though, they actually fund their think-tanks and nonprofits generously—which in the article or in the essay she wrote, she said they at one point it was a billion dollars of funding given to these organizations. Whereas left-leaning organizations actually receive a fraction of that. And an even smaller fraction of that if you service Black women and girls.
So, Gilmore says, “In other words, although we live in revolutionary times, in which the entire landscape of social justice is, or will shortly become, like post-Katrina New Orleans because it has been subject to the same long-term abandonment of infrastructure and other public goods, funders require grassroots organizations to act like secure suburbanites who have one last corner of the yard to plant.” So, nonprofits especially, left-leaning nonprofits expect people to make—what do they say, get a dollar out of a dime, sometimes a dollar out of a penny [laughter]. We’re expected to solve the social problems with much less money, especially in comparison to the opposition.
[00:28:06] AJ: Yeah. When you said, nonprofits or organizations that serve Black women and girls it of course made me think of Aimee Cox’s book, Shapeshifters—which, though not the crux of it, you definitely see some of these tensions in the challenges she has with funding because in her fieldwork Dr. Cox actually works as the director of a nonprofit. So, you kind of see these difficulties even though the book is not about nonprofits at its core, you see some of these interactions within it. But I think one of the things that Gilmore writes about that I found interesting—which of course applies to the right and how they fund their think tanks and nonprofits, as she calls it, “doubly stolen money.” So first it’s like the money that has been taken from—that are basically the profits from the exploitation of labor through capitalism and then of course, this money is now going to nonprofits which means they don’t have to pay taxes on it. It’s this way that the rich often shelter their money from taxation.
[00:29:25] BT: Oh, I was gonna say and sometimes that money is not just from profits from capitalist labor, sometimes it’s like families who had those huge plantations and then when everything got zipped up, they’re like “oop let me make a foundation out of this, so that my family’s wealth is kept.”
[00:29:48] AJ: The things that I have learned. I did not know that Barclays Bank they were originally slave traders and they saw the end of the slave trade coming and they were like, “hmm, let’s switch into banking.” Lloyd’s Insurance in the UK, they used to—it actually started, I learned this through my coffee research actually—that they used to own a coffee shop. And during this time period people used to go to these coffee shops and it was a place to like drink, trade information. Coffee shops are where the magazine, newspaper structures got started because there was a gossip magazine that went around called tattlers—or it was a local news kind of thing. That’s how Tattlers got started. But at the coffee shop—slash, it’s like a bar—they used to bet on ships that would make it to port or not and whoever won the bet would get the money and if the ship sank, so and so would get the money. And that’s how the modern insurance industry got started. Of course, during that time period, what would have been in the ships, not necessarily people but the goods and the money that were gained through, again, the theft of land and the theft of humans.
[00:31:16] BT: Once again, slavery is back.
[00:31:19] AJ: [Crosstalk] It never left.
[00:31:20] BT: Every time, every time. It never left. Word, it never left.
[00:31:25] AJ: Alright, so what should we do? If you are here, sitting there like, “damn, there ain’t nothing to do, this is so all encompassing,” Gilmore suggests that “people put their minds and hands to solving the problems without abandoning themselves.” In other words, take the money and run, as our ancestors and predecessors have done while working towards radical goals with a sense of flexibility. But something that Gilmore says that we thought was very important to underscore here—we love an underscore, we love an underline—is that they never fooled themselves or other people into thinking that winning a loss was the same thing as winning a win. Nothing is liberation but liberation. And liberation takes work, it takes study, it takes organizing, it takes sacrifice. And our oppressors will not teach us or fund us to free ourselves. Only we can do that.
[00:32:29] BT: Only we can do that [laughter].
[00:32:31] AJ: Purr.
[00:32:32] BT: Purr. Only we can do that. And what I thought was really interesting and part of what makes this work really, I think, made sense to me was that she provides examples. And we’re not gonna go through all of them, we wanna leave that to y’all to read for yourselves, those gritty details. But she references several movements, that are leftist and those that are conservative, that actually organized effectively within this complicated vortex of complexes. So, a few things to note from those examples, are that these organized groups had short-term, medium-term, and long-term goals. So, it’s one thing to organize a protest, right, as someone who has organized protests and led protests in the past. But that’s a short-term thing. Yes, a protest, it’s a way to let out your emotions then what next? Most times people just come, show up, sing a little bit, dance a little bit and that’s it, right. The problems are still the same. So, it’s important for movements, especially those that are organized, to have goals and actually work towards those goals over a long period of time.
Some of these groups actually organized to address the social problem, and not really were concerned about the longevity of the organization, and then they ended up actually dissolving when the desired outcome was achieved. And this is something that I think also we have to consider when we’re thinking about activism, organizing, etcetera. Is this about being known, being seen, being the activist tm for the end of your days or is it actually about addressing a social issue that needs to be solved, because if so, that might require you to take a step back. Gilmore advises funders who “want to return their inherited wealth to the communities who produced it”—I wanted to make sure I said it exactly what she said here, right—is to actually reflect on whether their funding practices perpetuate inequality. Are you only funding certain organizations that provide services for certain groups of people with conditions that actually perpetuate their suffering?
Which is what happens with a lot of funders, they say “I need you to prove to me that you’re alleviating the suffering,”—I’m gonna use the example you brought from Shapeshifters—”prove to me that you’re actually improving the lives of these young Black mothers.” Which means they have to hold them to a certain standard that the funders think is improvement, right, and not actually what these girls define as improvement of their lives. Which perpetuates certain power dynamics and structures. And so, finally, something that I believe deeply that I think Gilmore actually put a lot more eloquently than I will, is that grassroots organizers need to resist the allure of chasing “unlikely allies.” What I see, or what I’ve observed is that so much funding is actually caught up in getting violent people to be in conversation with those they violate in hopes that they’ll change. There are so many funding initiatives that are like we wanna create conversations between people who have opposing views and how do you get people who wouldn’t normally be involved to be involved in this work. And I blame Christianity. I always do. And I can talk longer about that, I think, in the next section if we got time. But I agree with Gilmore in that we should be mobilizing likely allies who might not be able to do all the direct political work that grassroots organization are doing because of the constraints of nonprofit but they still can provide support. So maybe you’re a nonprofit that has government funds for childcare and there’s a grassroot organization that’s organizing to shut down a prison. What would it look like to form an alliance or a coalition with members of that nonprofit to get members of the grassroots organization childcare so that they could focus on x, y, and z? Just an idea. And so, I think we really have to think expansively about how liberation will come—because I believe it will come—but one thing for sure is that it, definitely, absolutely will not be funded.
[00:37:27] AJ: Even that’s something that you know, we’ve been asked about is whether or not we will be giving money to other organizations. For y’all who don’t know, we’ll talk about this a little later but we’re in the process of forming a nonprofit [laughter] the irony, I know. But we’ll get into that in our next segment. And I think in the last chapter of the book, The Revolution Will Not be Funded, they actually talk about, Sista II Sista talks about how they’ve had their funding pulled or they had difficulty with their funding because they were providing funds to other organizations that their funders didn’t approve of. So, it turns into this whole—even if you want to do that it turns into this whole situation where it’s like where are you getting your money from, is it okay with them? And all of that to say nonprofits are not gonna solve everything. Because they’re still—as Gilmore was showing us—they are still under the eyes of the state right, they’re still operating within the boundaries of what the state expects.
And I think one of the things that I’ve often said in the pat is that I’m not really big on nonprofits. I’m not someone who’s like oh yes, lets donate to this nonprofit or this one is doing such great work because I think that they’re a result of the failure of the state to provide for the people. And I didn’t know about this term, the shadow state makes a lot of sense. But of course, as I’ve thought more about abolition and liberation, I don’t think the white supremacist capitalist state is at all invested in people beyond their capacity for labor and productivity. Even seemingly “socialist” things like parental leave that’s considered a social good or social benefit we could look at as something that’s supported by the state because it is labor that contributes to the reproduction of the workforce. What I took away from this chapter is that there is no sense in relying on the state or nonprofits to provide, we really have to operate within community. Which brings us into our final segment. Which is what?
[00:39:52] BT: What—
[00:39:53] AJ: What—
[00:39:54] BT: What in the world?
[00:39:55] AJ: What in the world? What’s going on y’all?
[00:40:00] [Music Plays]
[00:40:02] BT: What’s going on? [Laughter] I just—it’s like every week, every time we come back, it’s something new,
[00:40:13] AJ: The world is, y’all always got something. Anyways, okay, so in preparation for this episode I did a quick search of industrial complex on Twitter and a lot of the tweets that came up—and I think it’s obviously because of what’s going on with BLM but some of them were even older than that—a lot of the tweets were about the nonprofit industry and the nonprofit industrial complex. And so, @CrazyCatComrade on Twitter said “The nonprofit industrial complex is the most effective way to crush any progressive movement. Making activists dependent on funds from ‘generous corporate donors’ ensures that all their actions will fundamentally serve capital. Remember all those massive protests against police brutality in the summer of 2020? Now we’ve got Jim Crow Joe and his VP Copmala in office, and a few lucky professional activists got their mansion.” So, I think this speaks to Robert Allen’s book Black Awakening in Capitalist America. It was published in 1969, 25 years after the book that Gilmore cites, and it was an analysis of how liberal white philanthropic organizations, including the Rockefeller, the Ford foundation, and Mellon foundation—yes, the ones that fund research, social science research, and sometimes—
[00:41:40] BT: My research.
[00:41:42] AJ: Girl [laughter].
[00:41:44] BT: Yikes.
[00:41:45] AJ: Didn’t fund my research, probably won’t be funding any more social sciences undergraduate research [laughter].
[00:41:55] BT: Ooop.
[00:41:56] AJ: If y’all heard the tea about SSRC and the IDRF. Anyways, so those foundations were actually involved in suppressing radical and revolutionary Black liberation movements back in the sixties.
[00:42:09] BT: Which I mean makes sense because if you had to start having to give Black people back their money, where would you be? Or even exist. And so, the last chapter of The Revolution Will Not Be Funded, there is actually a short essay about the grassroots organization Sista II Sista, which became a Brooklyn based nonprofit. And the women that are in Sista II Sista, these are Black and brown women who came together, who noticed actually life is kinda fucked up, I gotta do something about it. And I recommend if you are interested in learning more about organization and also other abolitionist organizations, Revisions of Abolition is an excellent documentary to watch to learn more about them. But in this short essay, they discuss the struggles they had depending on funding from foundations and how it led them away from the roots of their mission as a volunteer-based organization. They found themselves having to espouse values that were antithetical to why they came together in the first place, which is what a lot of nonprofit funding does. So, we’ve talked about—which is not anything new, a lot of grassroots organizations that become nonprofits will kind of sing the same song. And we’ve talked about, on the podcast, the difference between activism and organizing, but here’s a quick little refresher because we’re about to get into it with this BLM stuff. For those of you who this might be your first time listening right, activism is something that happens kind of sporadically, right. I can be activated or become an activist on something after learning that something wrong has happened. The difference between activism and organizing is organizing is a sustained community effort to bring about change for a particular community. In order to be an organizer you have to know the community; you have to know what the community needs, and you have to know how to give them what they need in ways that actually speak to them. So, I could be an activist against—I don’t wanna trivialize it too much but I wanna prove a point—like I can be an activist against pink nail polish. I could learn one day that pink nail polish is something that is horrible, and no one should be wearing it because x y z. I could get on the internet, and I am against pink nail polish and become someone who is known for that, right. I can speak at places and talk about my hate for pink nail polish. But that does not make me someone who is connected to community or someone who is organizing to bring about change. People might be inspired never to wear pink nail polish again but that doesn’t mean I am actually tearing down the structures that brought pink nail polish into being. Organizing is looking at the structure that creates pink nail polish and saying what can I do to make sure that my community is protected from this bad thing. So of course, pink nail polish is a silly example, but I just wanted to highlight the differences because we see the word organizer and the word activist kind of interchanged, you know, kind of thrown around and these are not the same thing. One is rooted in community, and one is more rooted in being seen as a figure that proposes or is a proponent of a certain way of doing things, a certain way of life. So, not the same thing. And I will say that we’re not activists. We’re not activists here but we do a lot of—we do some advocacy work, and we do a lot of education, but we are not activists
[00:46:27] AJ: Yeah, I think that we’ve definitively spoken against that. I know you’ve definitely said that the worst thing that anyone could ever say about you was that you’re an anti-racist scholar or activist laughter].
[00:46:43] BT: Please.
[00:46:44] AJ: And I really don’t think that that’s at all what we’re doing.
[00:46:46] BT: [Crosstalk] That means I’ve done everything wrong in life [laughter].
[00:46:50] AJ: [Laughter] I know you’ve said that [laughter]. So, I think that we haven’t really talked about our future plans with the podcast, with how we’re going to expand our projects. Not the podcast necessarily but just to let everyone who listens here know we’re in the process of forming a nonprofit. As I said earlier, the irony about us talking about how shitty nonprofits are, about the nonprofit industrial complex and we’re in the process of forming one. But what it is is something that will build on and expand the mission of the podcast. So not the podcast itself but the mission, the reason that we started it, which was disrupting hierarchies of knowledge and uplifting Black women and girls. I think reading through some of these essays—we didn’t talk about all of them, but we did read more than just the Gilmore essay—it has been eye opening for us in terms of our approach. I think originally one of the things that we did want to do is target foundation funding but as we’ve seen the podcast community grow and people being really interested and invested in what it is we’re doing, we’re kind of like oh we don’t need to necessarily target or rely on that as funding. We can continue doing the kind of work that we’re doing because our community supports it. That’s where we’re at.
[00:48:25] BT: Yeah, that’s where we’re at with things. And as, of course, when things come into fruition all of you will know. There’ll be a big announcement, al of that. One of the things that we’re also thinking about is, is that strategy right. What exactly can we do in the realm of education, in the realm of advocacy? I feel like we have so much to say and so much to give that it would be a shame for us to leave the podcast where it is at our end date and not continue to do this work in some way. And so, we are not saying that a nonprofit is going to solve any problems whatsoever, right. A nonprofit is not gonna be a liberation vehicle, but it could be a tool that provides some kind of direct service. And so, that’s how were thinking about it in this moment.
[00:49:43] AJ: Yeah, which of course, like us, we’re always learning and that can grow and change. And I think one of the things that I think at least has set us apart as a podcast is that we don’t really seek corporate funding or corporate sponsorships. Generally, that’s what podcasts do. If you listen to a podcast, they have probably three ad reads where they’re giving you, you know, their sponsorship codes or whatever it is that you can get, their discount codes and all of those kinds of things. They get funding, they get paid to read these ads to their listenership. We don’t do that. Right, I think that as you get bigger there’s more and more pressure to start doing that and that’s in the corporatization of whatever it is that you’re doing. And I think that that’s a similar situation that you have with nonprofits, right. So, as they start getting bigger, they start having more donations, you have to start really a questioning how can they continue serving the community when they have to be “accountable,” and I mean in like the sense of accounting because they are getting money from these major companies and institutions that exist to serve capital and are donating that money for one part a capitalist reason—which is as a tax write off. On the other hand, a lot of the time, it’s for PR, it’s to look a certain way, show that they’re supporting certain things. So of course, in that vein, we have to talk about the recent controversy surrounding Black Lives Matter Global Network, BLMGN. For those of you who don’t know, New York Magazine reported last week that Black Lives Matter Global Network purchased a six-million-dollar house that appears to exceed the limits of nonprofits and blur boundaries between personal gain and the mission of the nonprofit. This isn’t the first time BLM finances, particularly for the purchase of real estate, has come under fire. Last summer in July, Black Lives Matter Toronto was facing similar criticisms about having received money from BLM Global Network to purchase real estate in Toronto that was supposed to be used for a community center, as a Black community center. Overall, I think it begins to raise a question about whether these organizations are about liberation or whether they’re just liberal. What do you think about these critiques of activists making money? Because I think there’s also this idea that if you’re an activist or an organizer, you should be living on the poverty line or you should be living in the same situation as the people that you’re organizing for.
[00:52:52] BT: Yeah. I think there’s that. There is that sentiment that people think that if you do a social service or a social good, unless you’re a doctor [laughter] right, then you deserve to be paid next to nothing. Because the goodness of the work that you do should feed you, right? It should put food on your table, it should make you feel good. And we all know that that’s not how life works right? Just cause I’m kind don’t mean that I’m gonna have food to eat. And iit really helps prop up the gross pay inequities that we see, like there are people who literally structure the stock market—I mean I don’t know about the stock market—but they structure the stock market, and they get paid all this money. And it’s like but how is what you’re doing actually benefiting the lives of the descendants of people who built Wall Street? And most of the time it’s harming. It’s harming them. So, in the case with like—like at first, with BLM, we don’t know where the money is going. I knew someone who was in philanthropy who was like, “well you know, they can’t disclose everything because that’s how you get infiltrated.” That’s how your movement gets thwarted. And now, as more purchases come out and it’s like, okay six-million-dollar house, okay people in the family being paid to “clean” the house [laughter]—but are they cleaning the house? People you know, a lot of—what they call it nepotism? I think.
[00:54:37] AJ: Mm hmm, yeah.
[00:54:37] BT: Or like a lot of that happening, a lot of money kind of being funneled through that. And yeah, now it’s starting to look like what Sabrina Fulton and other mothers were saying, which is like “you all are literally living off of our dead children.” And so, it’s really a gross misappropriation of power. And I am all for one for people to live the life that fulfills them but a lot of time our values—if we don’t check ourselves—our values are really, really, really entrenched in capitalism and really entrenched in having the kind of life that actually looks just like our oppressors. And if we’re not careful, you know—just because I’m a Black woman doesn’t inherently make the shit that I do revolutionary. I don’t know who told y’all that but that’s not the truth. It’s not the truth. It’s not the truth, right? I could [sigh]—lemme not say that. But I could be a bad person. I could oppress other people or be in positions of power where I’m allowed, like I’m able to oppress other people. As we move forward and start thinking about these “likely allies” and “unlikely allies” and how we improve our movements, we really have to be thoughtful about what values we have. Because if it were me that got ninety million dollars—I think about winning the lottery all the time. I’m like if I won the lottery yeah, I would buy my house but then the rest of that money, it’s whoever needs it, it’s going to. Didi’s getting a text, all of my close friends are getting a text message and it’s gonna be real quick, “quit your job.” And that’s when you know what that means.
[00:56:40] AJ: That is what I said. I was like, if I won the lottery, I’m retiring all my friends and we’re gonna go live our best lives.
[00:56:48] BT: We wanna live our lives.
[00:56:50] AJ: It’s gonna start in the community. I mean like what’s the point of having all of this. Say you won ninety million dollars right, what’s the point of having all of that money if you’re alone?
[00:57:02] BT: Right. Or it’s just like it’s you, and your momma, and your sister in a six million dollar—I mean, well I’m gonna speak for myself and just say that is not my dream life. [Laughter] For a variety of reasons. But one of my dreams is to win the lottery and buy homes in Baltimore and fix them and give them to people. Like not rent them out, not sell them, but actually, literally, give them away to people who need homes. And that’s not the most profitable thing, but I feel like that. If I have all that money, I’m not gonna spend it and the earth bout to blow up anyway, right? So, maybe that’s crass but you know.
[00:57:49] AJ: No, for real.
[00:57:50] BT: Why hoard the wealth for future generations when we could improve the world, we can do other things to improve the world?
[00:57:58] AJ: I’ve said the same thing. Like I said the same thing about Harlem. Cause you know it’s just a hotbed of gentrification. And I’ve said the same thing, I would wanna buy homes and give them to people too, who are in need, right.
[00:58:15] BT: Wow. You get a house! You get a house!
[00:58:16] AJ: [Crosstalk] You get a house!
[00:58:17] BT: See that’s—yo, support us and we’re giving away houses. [Laughter] That’s it [laughter].
[00:58:25] AJ: Just send us ninety mil, just send us ninety mil!
[00:58:25] BT: [Crosstalk] That’s where your money’s going [laughter]. Please.
[00:58:31] AJ: Um, I mean, I was also defending them at first because I hadn’t read the New York magazine article. But I remember when all the stuff came out about Patrice Cullors and the homes that she bought or the house that she bought. We had talked about it and it was like there’s such this idea that if you’re an activist or if you’re an organizer you shouldn’t be making a ton of money. But why shouldn’t she be comfortable if she’s getting the money based on media deals and other kinds of labor that she’s doing. However, she parlayed this, you know, the BLM project into her own kind of work. Like good for her. But whew, then I read the article, and was like, okay hang on a minute. You know, this is messed up, I was like, “oh, shit L-O-L.” [laughter]. Damn, there’s a lot going on. But then I just thought, you know, am I even surprised? Like, when you get to be a certain size, it’s like how are you even still in touch with community? And then the second thing I started thinking about is their mission. Because we’re going through this process now where we have to define what our mission is and actually write out how it is that we’re going to accomplish it. And so, I started thinking, how do you make Black lives matter? We were talking about this in our discussion section. Because of what we’ve had to discuss, I don’t understand what their mission is. So, if you have like Prison Industrial Complex abolition, that has a very clear goal. Whereas Black lives mattering, in like a very practical, material sense, that doesn’t necessarily have a clear goal. And in some ways, it’s—what is it like—it’s not a paradox but it kinda like counters itself, I guess. I think someone made the point that this is the problem with the movement and the foundation sharing a name. The foundation itself is not really in touch with what’s happening on the ground and the movement for Black lives—which if y’all have been paying attention, people will talk about the movement for Black lives rather than Black Lives Matter because of this conflation. But yeah, where is the money going? What’s the money doing? And of course, like you have to save for the long term, you have to think long-term and not just like throw money out there if you’re thinking about the longevity of the organization rather than actually achieving a goal. But at the end of the day, what is the money for when you have people whose children, whose family members are dying, and they have to fundraise for funerals?
[01:01:25] BT: Right. And you’re [laughter]. I saw someone say they were watching a YouTube video of her tryna like learn pole dancing and they think that the video was shot in that house. Look, as a former person who tried pole dancing, you know get it how you living, girl. But not in the name of activism. Not in the name of activism.
[01:02:00] AJ: But that’s the problem with these “activist influencers.” I think we should be wary of people whose livelihoods are dependent on being popular. Which is what we have with Black Lives Matter because they’ve gotten so big, they have to continue being big and being seen. And then it’s like you kind of lose sight of what it is that you start out the whole project for. And because of that you have to continue appeasing different groups of people. So, you’re never going to get radicalism from people who are dependent of popularity. You’re never going to get radicalism from AOC, or Shaun King, or whatever. The media might spin that progressiveness as radicalism, but it’s not. It’s not radical. Like I remember—I don’t remember if we said it on the podcast or if I just asked you what is radical, and you were like it’s outside of the bounds of our political framework. So, if AOC is a representative, she’s not a radical, she believes in the system.
[01:03:19] BT: Yeah, and actually does work to like prop up the system. Which I think is also something that’s important too. Today we were talking about in the discussion section, on a theoretical level, the phrase Black lives matter—or the sentence or whatever, right. Black Lives Matter actually undermines itself because if you’re life matters you wouldn’t need to affirm it. And then the question is who am I affirming it to. I remember in 2012 [pause] Trayvon Martin in kind of the first wave of Black Lives Matter. I remember living in South Carolina and hearing—when George Zimmerman was acquitted, hearing people shoot fireworks in my neighborhood. And so then going to college and Michael Brown was killed my senior year of college and then that kind of being the huge uptick for Black Lives Matter and being involved in organizing and protests and things like that around racial justice.
And even at the age of 21 struggling with the white students on campus calling us monkeys, calling us niggers, etcetera, as we’re marching and we’re crying because Duke police is asking niggas for their IDs at the bus stop while we waiting on the bus to go to the other side of campus. And knowing that that is just like a small level form of anti-Blackness, it’s violent, what people would call microaggressions but it’s still part of a system in which we’re constantly reminded as Black students that we don’t belong on a campus that Black people built. When you talk about people and moving away from it, it makes me think about how all these movements—like the Black Panther movement, the Black power movement, civil rights movement—all these movements were infiltrated by individuals who saw profit or connection to the federal government as something that would ensure longevity of their name, longevity of whatever pay, whatever. Even just the promise of life, which was eventually taken from them anyway.
Now I wonder, what is the promise to exploiting—really exploiting people. What is the promise now? What is the hope? Is the promise a six-million-dollar house? Is it worth is? Is a six-million-dollar house worth it? Is having a vacation home worth it? Is having an influencer home worth it? Is having the Black joy campaigns, videos of Black people enjoying themselves that still bring certain companies profit, that people still profit from. It’s still exploitation. Is it worth it? I think about all these things sometimes. But definitely the activist influencers. It gets to a point where if yeah, like nonprofits, right. If you solve the problem, they don’t have anything to get on TikTok, or Instagram, or Twitter to talk about. So, then their identity is staked in that, and they can’t move from there.
So, what you said is really important right. It’s important to have connection to community outside of the work that you’re doing, so that way it doesn’t become who you are, and you’re not invested in in the problems continuing. And so yeah, you’re not invested in getting a profit because it’s like, oh, how am I gonna eat? It’s like, “oh, actually there’s this job I do, this occupation that I do to make sure that I eat, but I’m working towards making sure that, like, nobody has to work or whatnot.” Whatever. Yeah, but we have definitely had our run ins with activist influencers. We are not activist influencers. We have actually, in one of the worst rebrands in history, we have seen Nikole Hannah-Jones. At some point I feel like if you have the means and the funds to do so, delete Twitter off your phone. Hire someone else to tweet for you and then have them—
[01:08:23] AJ: [Crosstalk] Don’t even do that, you don’t need to be there.
[01:08:23] BT: You don’t need to be there but if you need to promote something, just have somebody get on and promote. “Oh, I got a new book coming out. I’m so excited.” Like, yo, we’re like girl, sis. But then again, she in her Twitter bio, she did call herself a “mulatress.” So, there are certain things, I think, people are coming to the realization [laughter]. People are like, “Oh.”
[01:08:47] AJ: I just think why? You have all of this influence—if you want to call it that—you have all of these people who see your tweets, who are interested in what you have to say, and you also have people who are going to spin what it is that you have to say. So why? Why pick on? Why pick on people? Why pick on Black women? Why be transphobic? Why be, you know, just why? Just don’t do it. I think that. You know, I don’t even want to blame. You know what, I retract that. The problem is not—I mean, they are the problem. But I think that we as “consumers” of this kind of content need to divest from the activist influencer and just understand that we’re not going to—we don’t need to be learning from somebody who’s going to make a thirty second TikTok, and somebody who’s going to write a 280-character tweet. Like read the books, read the texts, listen to talks that are given, join your community organizations. If there isn’t one, start one and start reading the texts together, right. Like I think that a lot of abolitionist texts, a lot of like the more radical texts, I think they should be right in community. I think they should be read others. And do that. Like we just need to. I think we need to divest from this whole thing. Like we’re going to learn from—what’s that account called now? They changed their name from @SoYouWantToTalkAbout I think, to I think it’s @So.Informed, or whatever. Like, don’t rely on those on those kinds of people to learn about social justice.
[01:10:45] BT: Absolutely.
[01:10:46] AJ: I think that’s key. No one is perfect. I think that’s important to say. Even if somebody, even us, we are not perfect. You know, we’re—as we always say—we’re still learning. And you may be learning from us, but we also want to learn from you. We want to hear what other folks have to say and we want to all learn together. So, we never say that we’re teaching per se. Uhm, and I think that that’s kind of the attitude that we need to—that everyone needs to take towards people who are these “influencers.” The point is not to be popular. The point is to liberate ourselves. And so, if someone is popular, I’ve got questions about whether or not you’re really doing the work.
[01:11:37] BT: Exactly. Or you’re doing some work, but it might not be the work that you think you’re doing.
[01:11:42] AJ: Or the work that other people think you’re doing.
[01:11:46] BT: I—no, I agree with everything that you said, and it actually reminds me of what Ruth Gilmore said, and it was like, you know, if incarcerated people can get together in the constraints that they have, then what are the excuses for those of us who are not incarcerated? Right. And I do think that. I don’t know if this might sound kind of conspiracy theory whatever, but I do think that part of the long-term goal of these groups that have been organizing for a long time—and I should pause here and say, if y’all think that Republicans, the right, the evangelical right, do not have it together and they are not funding their own people, and they’re not doing the learning, you would be sorely mistaken, honey. That is how that is. Why their movements have been as successful as they’ve been.
And so, we, I think those of us who don’t ascribe to those kinds of logics right—who might see violence as something that is not a useful tool for our goals etc.—kind of believe in an inherent benevolence that does kind of read to me as like naivete and also like laziness in a sense right. Like, oh I don’t necessarily have to do this thing or be vigilant about my way of life because you’re not actually really going to try to kill trans people. Or you’re not actually really going to try to disable a large portion of the population through improper public health tech, like no one’s actually going to do that? And then there’s all this shock when it actually happens. And it’s like, oh, but wait, aren’t we all, you know, whatever land of the free home of the brave, whatever. So, I do think that part of that organizing has been passing these laws that weaken public education systems so that we are actually creating generations of people who rely on other people to give them information because they have not developed the capacity and skills to interpret it for themselves.
You see on Twitter all the time people are like, “Oh no, reading comprehension is gone,” and it’s a joke, but it’s actually not a joke. And I, from my time as a teacher, just sitting with students who are really struggling to do what I saw as basic things and seeing, yes, this is really and truly how you create an underclass of people who cannot free themselves. You make them dependent on you for all these things. And so, not to knock the people who are like, “I’m trying to make information accessible through my TikToks, or through my Instagram page, through a podcast,” right? It’s like not to knock it, but to say that we have to start thinking proactively within our own communities about how we’re going to educate ourselves and prepare ourselves. Because it’s not like the people who are doing oppression have kindness. And I mean that seriously. It’s not like they’re going to oppress you with kindness or they’re going to see that you’re the exceptional negro so maybe you’re going to not experience all of this violence, right? That’s not the case.
So, I think that like, I again, I absolutely agree with you there. There is a kind of intellectual laziness. There’s just an even unwillingness to see truly how much hard work has gone into—that goes into organizing and movements. Because we’re fed the information that we read about the civil rights movement was that there were two, maybe three, extraordinary men who had all these great ideas, and they set up on podiums and led the people to freedom, right. And we don’t see all the women who work behind the scenes. All the children that were sacrificed so that segregation or desegregation could “happen” right? We don’t see all the hours of labor, right? All the reading and all the education work that people were doing to actually do the movement, right. We just see the movies that glamorize it. So, I think there’s so much work to be done. And so, it’s really frustrating when you see these kinds of problematic tweets from people like Nikole Hannah Jones or Kimberlé Crenshaw. Where they’re kind of affirming dominant power structures, right? They’re kind of affirming things that we’re fighting against, and it does make it hard to have heroes. But I would say don’t—let the hero thing go. There are no heroes in liberation.
[01:17:00] AJ: Everyone is fallible. Everyone is. No one is perfect spokesperson, activist, liberator, all of those things, right? Um, yeah, I think so many things that I want to address in what you said. One of them being if we think about the Black Panther Party, one of the most significant projects that they had was the breakfast program and feeding the community and feeding communities through those Food for All programs. And all of that because they knew hungry people can’t organize. And so, food has always been a way of controlling the underclass, of controlling Black people, particularly in the United States. And who was at the head of those breakfast programs? Typically, women. But what we hear about, of course, are the rallies and the gunfights and this and that. When really, the thing that radicalized most people in those times was the breakfast program and the education programs. So, there’s that.
[01:18:20] BT: And given them something they needed [crosstalk]. So, parents won’t have to work so hard. Cause like we only working cause we gotta eat, gotta keep a roof over our heads. And well, that’s only reason why I’m working. Some people like to work, which if you like to work—you are a Virgo, Virgo placement and you like to work—more power to you, honey, I am not. [Crosstalk]
[01:18:41] AJ: But I think and then the second thing I was going to say is that that’s why we don’t think of the podcast as the be all end all. Like we don’t think of what we do as everything that you need. We think of this as a starting point and at some point, we’re going to have an end to it as well. And the nonprofit, the project that we have in mind, there is, is to build on that and to open that up and to start providing more tools and different kinds of ways for people to spark the change that it is that we need to see. So, we’re not here to like this. Even though we’re talking about all of this and you’re like, hey, but you guys are popular, this podcast is popular. I mean, we’re not that popular [laughter]. But like I know people do listen to what it is that we have to say, but we always think of this as a starting point, which is why we give you all resources to continue digging deeper. This is just like a place where we open doors. We’re not here saying this is the entire house.
[01:19:53] BT: I watch a lot of cult stuff, be aware. You gotta be aware of the leaders who say, “I know all. Follow me,” cause usually they lead you to your own death and destruction, right? And so, for me, especially in the work that I do—like the healing and empowerment work, whatever you want to call it with survivors, counseling work like—I’m not the, “I want you to be dependent on me for your healing.” It’s always “I want you to recognize the power that you have within yourself.” Right. And so much of movement work has really gotten away from that. It’s gotten—our focus is on changing the government, right. This place that actually we’ve given our power away to, right. When you’re a citizen you give your power away to the government, that’s old political theory, whatever.
A lot of the work especially for revolution, for liberation, is really people coming back to themselves and saying yes this is the way things are, but that doesn’t mean that they always have to be this way. But the only way that it will change is if I recognize like my role and my power in it. And it really is. It’s a really fearful process to recognize how much power you really have. And I think maybe one day we’ll have a off-podcast conversation about that, right? Like it’s actually scary to say, “oh, wait, I can take responsibility for myself and for my community, I can be, I can hold myself accountable. I can hold other people accountable. I can build these relationships without them being like fractured through—well not fractured but refracted through like all these different prisms of capitalism and sexism, and this that and the third. I can determine for myself who I am and what I want to be, and we can do that in community. Wow, that’s kind of scary.” It’s kind of scary, actually, but that’s part of the work and so.
You know, I always have to dig it in when we talk about nonprofits. There’s one nonprofit that I want to encourage everyone to stay away from, and it is Teach for America. I was hoodwinked by Teach for America in college and thought that it was a place for me to grow as an organizer, as someone who was interested in justice and liberation and quickly found out that Teach for America operates a lot like other kinds of social justice nonprofit ventures in which they actually perpetuate the problem that they’re trying to solve in order to increase their size and their power and their influence. And so, I strongly discourage people, especially Black people from doing Teach for America just because they will use you much more than you think you’ll be able to use them. And if you wanna learn more about my personal experiences with Teach for America it’ll come out in my memoir and I’m just kidding [laughter].
[01:23:09] AJ: No, you’re not. I hope you’re not. I hope you’re not. Cause I’m trying to read all of it. I’m trying to read every chapter from high school to Graduate School, fa sho [laughter].
[01:23:19] BT: Oh, wow. Honey, so much to say.
[01:23:22] AJ: You know, I’m trying to read that chapter.
[01:23:28] BT: We’ll have to have a conversation about it another time. Yeah, we here at ZD, we do lots of thinking about liberation, about freedom and we know that that’s something that we can only do with special attention to ourselves and to our communities. Outside of that, honey, we not we not changing nothing, we just keeping the same old wheels turning just with different names on it. That’s not what we’re trying to do. That’s not what we’re trying to do.
[01:24:05] AJ: As always Brendane, Brendane with the mic drop [laughter]. Take us out. Take us out. Brendane, take us out.
[01:24:12] BT: Well, okay, yo, that’s all we got for y’all today. Thank you for listening. This episode was produced by Alyssa “Didi” James and Brendane “Den Den” Tynes and distributed in partnership with the American Anthropological Association. This season of the podcast is generously funded by a grant from the Arts & Science Graduate Council and donations from listeners just like you.
[01:24:41] AJ: Yes. Thank you all for your support! If you like this episode, please share it by social media, WhatsApp, or e-card.
[01:24:49] BT: [Laughter] E-card?
[01:24:50] AJ: 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, visit our website zorasdaughters.com. And if you’re like, wow I could not write all of that down fast enough, everything is always, always, always in the show notes, so just check it out there.
[01:25:17] BT: And last but not least, please, please, please, please, remember that we must take care of ourselves and each other. Bye!
[01:25:27] AJ: Bye.
[End of Recording]