We’re reimagining Black feminism and fugitivity, y’all! In this episode, Alyssa and Brendane are joined by graduate student and educator Naomi Simmons-Thorne. Together, they unpack fugitivity, bridging the bifurcation in Black feminist theory, the attack on CRT, fugitive pedagogy, and and COVID in the classroom.
What’s the Word? Fugitivity. We discuss the development of fugitivity and debate who and how people can practice fugitivity.
What We’re Reading. “Black Feminist Theory and its Wayward Futures” by Naomi Simmons-Thorne. We’re joined by Naomi to discuss her paper where she maps the relationship between the divergent Black feminist paradigms and offers a bridge that tells us we don’t have to choose.
What In the World?! Together we discuss the attack on critical race theory and what we’re actually witnessing: fighting against antiracism and critical consciousness in education, fugitive pedagogy and Brendane’s experiences as a science teacher to low income Black and brown students, and how the state is sacrificing children for the sake of the profits of the few.
Zora’s Daughters Podcast: Season Two, Episode Four
Co-Hosts: Brendane Tynes and Alyssa A.L. James
Guests: Naomi Simmons-Thorne
Title: Fleeing the Plantation
Total Length: 01:29:28
[00:00:06] Alyssa A.L. James: Hey everyone! Welcome back to Zora’s Daughters, the podcast where we discuss popular culture with a Black feminist anthropological lens. My name is Alyssa and my pronouns are she/her/hers.
[00:00:17] Brendane Tynes: I think you didn’t do record and resume.
[00:00:21] Alyssa A.L. James: That’s okay [laughs].
[00:00:22] Brendane Tynes: Okay. Hello! [Laughs] Hello, I’m Brendane, or Buhrendonay if you’re in on the inside joke. I use she/her/ hers pronouns as well.
[00:00:35] Brendane Tynes: And today we’re talking fugitivity, Black feminisms, and their reimaginations—excuse me, I was gonna say “its”—and resistance with a special guest, my South Carolina soul sister, Naomi Simmons-Thorne. I’m so excited!
[00:00:51] Alyssa A.L. James: Yes, we are doing something very different on the podcast for the next couple episodes. So we hope that you all will stay tuned. But in terms of Naomi, we have mentioned her quite a few times on the podcast. She is brilliant, and so we thought it was time to bring her on the mic, so you all could hear her brilliance for yourselves. But before we get started, we wanted to express our gratitude for our supporters. Thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone who has donated to the podcast or engaged with us on Instagram and Twitter. We would not be doing this without you.
[00:01:26] Brendane Tynes: Period. [Laughter] Period [laughs]. Literally would not have the money to pay people.
[00:01:34] Alyssa A.L. James: We would not, and we truly put the money to good use. As we always say but have not actually brought to fruition, big things are poppin, little things are stoppin. No, but seriously, big things are poppin’, it just takes time and lawyers. So there you go [laughter]. So if you would like to donate, head to our website zorasdaughters.com. We also love non-monetary support, so, if you could, please leave us a rating and review on Apple Podcasts and follow us at zorasdaughters on Instagram or zoras_daughters on Twitter. Also, what we find is that the way most people hear about us and follow us and love our podcast is through word of mouth. So please share a podcast with your friends, your family, or you can just play it really loudly while you’re cleaning on Saturday morning for your neighbors.
[00:02:31] Brendane Tynes: Right? Cuz that’s what I do. The upstairs neighbor knows us [laughs]. And I feel like, you know, neighbors need to learn Black feminist theory as well, right?
[00:02:42] Alyssa A.L. James: Yeah, why not?
[00:02:44] Brendane Tynes: Why not learn it from us?
[00:02:46] Alyssa A.L. James: Spark the fire.
[00:02:51] Brendane Tynes: [Laughter] All right, let’s get into it. Alyssa, what’s our word for today?
[00:02:58] Alyssa A.L. James: Our word for today is “fugitivity.” And I simply have to say that we have been setting up these episodes really nicely because if you listened to the last episode, you may remember that we actually chatted briefly about marronage and fugitivity and why one is more commonly used in the scholarly literature that aligns itself with Black studies versus Caribbean studies. Da-da-da, we weren’t really that sure, but, you know, here we are talking about fugitivity. And so I was—you know, [as] we often do with these words, I tried to do a quick search about the history, trying to find out when the concept of fugitivity came to be used in the way that it’s used right now. It seems like there was a dissertation in 1996, and then in 1997, Samira Kawash had a chapter called “Freedom and Fugitivity” in her book, The Trouble with the Color Line. And so it’s then in the early 2000s where you start to get poet Nathaniel Mackey, Afropessimist scholar Fred Moten, and African American Studies professor Daphne Brooks, theorizing fugitivity as a category of the irregular that escapes easy representation, expression or explanation.
[00:04:10] Brendane Tynes: Exactly. So fugitivity is not just about the ways we flee the plantation, right? It’s not just about being a literal fugitive from a captive place. And we can think of the plantation per our former episode on plantation futures—which you should listen to—right. There’s the historical plantation, the physical place and also the plantation future that is our present and our future. So as Tina Campt explained in the lecture at Barnard College and 2014, “The concept of fugitivity highlights a tension between the acts or flights of escape and creative practices of refusal, nimble and strategic practices that undermine the category of the dominant.”
[00:04:52] Alyssa A.L. James: It actually reminds me a lot of when you said in our episode about cultural appropriation that we as Black folks do not always need to explain our words, explain our language, explain our hair, we don’t need to explain these things to outsiders. These are things that we’ve developed to survive, right? They are forms of fugitivity, particularly when it comes to things like language. And so in that sense, it kind of reminded me of Edouard Glissant’s concept of opacity. So something—he says that we must “clamor for the right to for everyone”—so everyone should have the right to opacity. And so I definitely see parallels with fugitivity and refusal and perceptibility, queering.
[00:05:33] Brendane Tynes: Refusal is integral to understanding Black fugitivity. And I think—and I’ll talk about this a little bit later—but fugitivity now is a term that people have picked up and used in a lot of different cases that aren’t necessarily fugitive, you know, or fugitivity—like, I would not say this is fugitivity because what is central to this is this politics of refusal, this politics of “you don’t get to know who I am, you don’t get to perceive me,” or “the perception of me that you have may not be how I see myself,” right? So this idea of affect—which, if you know my research, you know I am obsessed with affect—and this idea that how we as Black people move through the world might not be the way that we see ourselves moving through it. And some of it can be intentional. And then some of it can just be anti-Black misrecognition. But I’m gonna get off my lil’ thang, my lil’ horse [laughs].
[00:06:35] Alyssa A.L. James: Your little research horse [laughs]?
[00:06:37] Brendane Tynes
My research horse before I tell my whole dissertation out here [laughs].
[00:06:44] Alyssa A.L. James: Well, first what I want to ask ourselves—what I wanna ask you, what I wanna ask myself—are we undoing fugitivity by explaining fugitivity? I mean, even when we think about Afropessimism and things like that, you know, I mentioned—I believe it was in that episode—that there are some scholars who simply say, “I do not want to be understood by the masses. I don’t want my work to be, you know, easily understood and then disseminated and transformed.” They want people to do the work in order to understand. They want people to enter into a particular community or world or way of thinking before actually being able to grasp, understand, and even more so, utilize the concepts that they’re working with. And so—yeah, that may be a question that we need to work with on ourselves.
[00:07:40] Brendane Tynes: I mean—I think there’s lines between, like, defining a word and being, like, “So, here’s fugitivity and here’s how all Black people practice it. There’s, like, step A, B, and C, and then you have, you know, 1-2-3 under A, and you”—which—some people on Tik Tok, when they are like putting it out there about—especially African American vernacular—it’s like, “I’m gonna explain to you all the conjugations and permutations of this word,” and it’s Iike, “Hold on!” It’s one thing to use it but it’s a whole ‘nother thing to literally be, like, “Here’s access to this information” when you already have enough privilege in this world that you can move through without knowing it. Like, this does not add to your toolkit of survival, it adds to your toolkit of domination. So I do think—and we’ll get to that—at the end of this section, I have a little thing to say about fugitivity as we close out [laughs].
[00:08:39] Alyssa A.L. James: All right. Well then, we will continue moving forward. So fugitivity itself, it exists within a frame of captivity, or what Damien Sojoyner calls “enclosed places.” And so he has an essay, it’s called “Another life is possible: Black fugitivity and enclosed places,” and he understands black fugitivity as “informed by a historical and political trajectory in which the fugitive is the simultaneous embodiment of life, culture, and pathways to freedom on the one hand, and the singular exposure of the state as a tenuous system of unstable structures constantly teetering on the brink of illegitimacy, on the other.” So fugitivity is diffuse in black culture, particularly in music and writing. But that freedom and that escape makes us unacceptable to the mainstream. And so essentially, freedom and captivity coexist when we refuse to shrink ourselves or make ourselves easy to understand. And so, Martha Feldman—and she’s referring to Fred Moten—she explains that it is “only when a Black being recognizes their oppression, victimization, or commodification by speaking, talking back, or refusing to be named and delimited, does fugitivity become a lived reality. Only then does it move in its characteristic temporal arc, bending toward the future, even while haunted by a past that is never past.”
[00:10:04] Brendane Tynes: Oooh, “haunted by a past that’s never past.” That sounds like this brilliant theorist I know who’s, you know, on the mic with me. But, you know, I will—
[00:10:14] Alyssa A.L. James: I did say that in my research proposal, didn’t I? [Laughs] Those aren’t really my words. I mean, that’s—you know, that’s Trouillot, that’s Glissant. You know, “the past that has never passed, the history that is not past” is Glissant. I am simply [laughs] the mediator.
[00:10:32] Brendane Tynes: Right, I think something that was really important in what you were saying is thinking about fugitivity as—what, a political stance, as a type of action—that is contingent on the present situation. So one can’t really look to the past and be like, you know—well actually lemme not say that, lemme pause. I meant to say it’s contingent on the present situation. So one person can practice fugitivity in one space and not in the other. And so I can be fugitivity—practicing—a “fugitive,” right, in the academic space where I choose not to explain myself. But then I might enter into another captive space where I need to be fully present. And so it’s all about what Tina Campt said, those little moments of refusal. And it’s important, really, to underscore that fugitivity necessitates moving outside the confining space, right? So a lot of people—as I was saying earlier, I was gonna come back to, right?—are picking up fugitivity today as a synonym for, like, decolonization, decolonial methods, or even liberation, and fugitivity does not necessarily have to be decolonial or liberating. Sometimes I think we think that survival tactics are liberation and, you know, I don’t want to confuse the two or muddle the two. And also, in my opinion—I will be that person to say this, Alyssa does not have to agree—I don’t think that fugitivity is something that non-Black people can do or really observe in a way that’s, like, “I can call this fugitivity.” So I’m speaking to you, researchers—those white folks in particular—who read about fugitivity in books and then decide one, that they enact it, which—how do you as a white person leave the captive space? We always talk about Black people not being able to leave the captive space, but how do you as a white person leave the captive space? Doesn’t the captive space move with you wherever you go? I want you to sit and think about that. But [laughter] my frustration really comes from, like, people who consider themselves to be liberal or radical educators in spaces who say they do fugitivity in the classroom with their students. And it’s, like, how? You are still contained in the classroom, you still have to grade your students, you are still in a position of power as a teacher. You are still a white person in the classroom doing these things. You’re a white person writing about Black people. How is any of this fugitivity? Some of the responses are, “Oh, I don’t have permission from whoever’s, you know, in authority over me.” And y’all, doing stuff without permission does not mean that you’re doing fugitivity. It just means you’re doing things without permission, like, you know, if it doesn’t move you towards freedom, right, then it’s not a fugitive act. But yeah, I think imma get off my second soapbox of the day [laughter] so that we can get into our next section, which is—
[00:13:41] Alyssa A.L. James: I mean, well, I was actually gonna say, I mean, some—I will say that I think for some, it’s not necessarily about the arrival at that particular place, right? It’s about the movement towards, and so I will push back a little bit on the idea that you do have to completely and always exit the confined space, right? Like, there is fugitivity in the motion towards attempting to exit, right? And so, you know, there are some places whereas of right now, in the world that we live, we can’t. We have to live in this world, even as we’re trying to make a new one, right?
[00:14:25] Brendane Tynes: Yeah, I don’t disagree with you, actually. I think—yeah, your point is a good one. I—and maybe I was being a little heavy-handed in what I was saying. Like, I—because fugitivity to me is not the same as, like—at least how we practice it today, I don’t see it the same as, like, actually exiting or leaving, like, the academy, for instance, right? I think of it as, like you were saying, those practices of not really explaining, you know, maybe I don’t attend the faculty meetings. I’ve never been to a faculty meeting, y’all, I’m just sayin’ that. Maybe I don’t attend these places where I know I’m gonna experience harm. And that can be a fugitive act. I think, for me, the difference I’m trying to make between an act that’s fugitive versus something that’s just, like, disobedient is, like, fugitivity, like you’re saying, moves towards freedom versus something that’s, like, for me, like, some people think—whew, this is when it gets more complicated.
[00:15:32] Alyssa A.L. James: I think what you’re saying—I think what you might be trying to get at is that it’s not fugitivity if it’s still within the boundaries of the status quo.
[00:15:40] Brendane Tynes: Yeah.
[00:15:40] Alyssa A.L. James: Right, okay.
[00:15:41] Brendane Tynes: Yeah. That’s still within the boundaries of the status quo and also just, like, it’s not fugitivity if this is a decision that—I’m just thinking about, really, how white people misuse the word, I’m not really thinking about Black people. I’m thinking about how this word gets taken up in other spaces. Kind of how intersectionality got tooken up and then—or taken up and now it doesn’t hold the same meaning in all the spaces that it used to. So I’m very wary about that. But absolutely, like, if it’s still within the confines of the status quo, like, can it be moving towards freedom? [Pause] No sé. No sé.
[00:16:23] Alyssa A.L. James: [Laughs] Je ne sais pas. [Laughter]
[00:16:27] Brendane Tynes: You know, this is a trilingual podcast, you know [laughs].
[00:16:29] Alyssa A.L. James: Exactly. All right, well [laughs] speaking of tri-lingual, three people… we are going to bring on our guest for our next segment, What We’re Reading.
[16:43] Brendane Tynes: Anyway, as exciting as this conversation has been, let’s get to our next section, which is what we’re reading today. So Alyssa, what are we reading today?
[16:54] Brendane Tynes: All right, so what we’re reading is “Black Feminist Theory and its Wayward Futures” by Naomi Simmons-Thorne. And we are doing something a little bit different for the next couple episodes. Our guests will be joining us for two segments to help us discuss What We’re Reading and What in the World. Today we have Naomi Simmons-Thorne to help us discuss her award-winning paper, “Black Feminist Theory and its Wayward Futures.” Naomi Simmons-Thorne is a graduate student at the University of South Carolina, where she studies teacher education, qualitative research, and foundations/philosophy of education pursuant to a master’s in secondary education. Her work seeks to explore the schooling experiences of Black and postcolonial subjects, Black pedagogical thought and history, social reproduction in schools, and curricular strategies for emancipatory social justice movements. Her work draws on critical social theory, semiotics, cultural studies, post-Marxism, and Black feminist thought. Naomi has served as a fellow at the Department of Education-funded Research Institute for Scholars of Equity, and the Center for Minority-Serving Institutions at the Rutgers Graduate School of Education. Most recently, she was awarded the inaugural Cheryl A. Wall Prize in Black Women’s Studies. Naomi is US-born of Trinidadian descent—more fyah!—and identifies as a Black transgender woman. Welcome to the Zoom studio, Naomi! I saw [with accent] da gun fingas. Okay. [Laughter]
[00:18:24] Naomi Simmons-Thorne: It’s so great to be with you all. Thanks again for the invitation.
[00:18:27] Brendane Tynes: It is so wonderful to have you with us. And, recently, Naomi announced that her article has been accepted to Feminist Theory Journal so when it’s published, you will be able—
[00:18:38] Alyssa A.L. James: [Imitates gun fire]
[00:18:38] Brendane Tynes: —to access it there. [Imitates gunfire] Put the gun—what you say? The guns up? [Laughter]
[00:18:44] Naomi Simmons-Thorne: It has. In fact, I just got that news today, so it’s so serendipitous that the day that, like, I was invited on to, like, discuss the article was the day I got the news that it was accepted.
[00:18:56] Brendane Tynes: We love the small miracles and the large miracles. And just, again, affirmation of what we already knew about your brilliance. So we love to see it.
[00:19:06] Naomi Simmons-Thorne: I’m sending Brendane a heart but y’all can’t see it.
[00:19:08] Brendane Tynes: [Laughs] Before we get started asking questions and really diving into the article, I wanted to give a quick summary for our listeners cuz I think it’s necessary to understand why Naomi’s intervention is so critical. And so Simmons-Thorne opens the article by presenting the conundrum that Black feminist theory studies—and again, that’s the name I came up for it [laughs]—currently faces that aligns with its tendency to bifurcate alongside two different disciplines, which are women’s and gender studies and Black studies. So typically, what we see happening within women’s and gender studies disciplines is that they use the paradigm of Black feminist theory as critical social theory to help us understand and explain the world and it typically relies on lived experience of people of different identity markers. And so this has been framed as a more practical approach versus a theoretical approach. But it really reflects a lot of what Alyssa and I have talked about on the podcast about Black feminism. So an example of critical social theory that Naomi talks about in this article that we all might be aware of is intersectionality, which was developed by Kimberlé Crenshaw, but we all know also finds its roots in the Combahee River Collective statement. The other side of this Black feminist theory’s bifurcation—but is in no means a binary, right, in our ways of thinking about it—is Black feminist theory as speculative theorizing. So examples of this would be Christina Sharpe’s work, Saidiya Hartman’s work, Hortense Spillers is kind of the exemplar work that shows us how to think in this way. So what Naomi’s article does is it maps the relationship between these contesting paradigms and to help illustrate what she terms as a “Black feminist rupture,” and to also create a bridge language—which, we’ll get back to the bridge that you bring up towards the end—to bring these contesting paradigms together. So we’re gonna unpack some of the more finer points of this article with Naomi today, but I thought that this primer would be necessary. And so, my first question for you, Naomi—
[00:21:25] Naomi Simmons-Thorne: Wait, can I just say before we get started that, wow, that was such an incredible summary of, like, my intervention and what this work is attempting to do. And I really appreciate that, too, because thus far I have—three institutional eyes have seen this paper—the journal that I was accepted at and two different award competitions, one of which I won, the other one we’re not going to talk about it but [laughter]—
[00:21:54] Brendane Tynes: Period [laughs].
[00:21:55] Alyssa A.L. James: That’s all right.
[00:21:58] Naomi Simmons-Thorne: But anyways. [Laughter] But so far, the only eyes I’ve really had on this paper has been institutional eyes and institutional eyes are very different from the way that your colleagues—and, more importantly, your comrades—read your work. And so, the way that you discuss my work feels really true to what my intentions were and also what it was that I believed myself to be saying. And so now that I am contending with my revise and resubmit for this journal, I am having to, you know, really grapple with the institutional desires to, like, frame the article in a particular way, include certain voices that I probably did not emphasize as much as the journal would like to see emphasized and you know, all the politics. So it’s really wonderful to have you break my article down like that while it still exists in that way.
[00:22:58] Brendane Tynes: You know—
[00:22:59] Alyssa A.L. James: That’s so good. I—
[00:23:00] Brendane Tynes: We just got the exclusive version, that’s what that is [laughter].
[00:23:05] Alyssa A.L. James: That we did. And I just—I will say there is a lot of projecting onto your work when it’s read. People want your work to do something particular, even though that’s not necessarily what your intention is.
[00:23:18] Naomi Simmons-Thorne: That was literally the first comment of the first reviewer. I wanted to do blank [laughter].
[00:23:24] Alyssa A.L. James: Yep. That’s academia folks! [Imitates showtune]
[00:23:28] Brendane Tynes: [Imitates showtune] Ratatata! [Laughter] The ghetto that is academia. I’m sorry that they are asking you to shift things I thought this was a very—to me, it was very clear what was going on. But I also am invested in highlighting the work of Black feminists, right, and, like, explicitly. So I can imagine who is expected to be called into your article [unclear]. Yes, so, Naomi, in our communication about this episode—cuz Naomi and I are actually real life you know, friends, family, comrades, we here—you talked about Jennifer Nash’s book, Black Feminism Reimagined: After Intersectionality, being a major, kind of, thinking companion—and that’s my words for it—for this piece. So what about her work would you want to highlight for our audience as we discuss yours?
[00:24:31] Naomi Simmons-Thorne: Yeah, absolutely. So Jennifer—and I actually love that concept of the thinking companion because I think that’s exactly what that book was for me. I remember when I watched the Tony Morrison documentary that came out, like, a year or two ago. I remember when Sonia Sanchez was talking about the first time she read Bluest Eye and she talked about, like, literally fighting with that book and, like, throwing it around the room and, like, that was me and Black Feminism Reimagined. Me and that book fought, like, I don’t know who won, but me and that book fought.
[00:25:05] Brendane Tynes: [Laughter] You won, you gettin’ published! Look, you won!
[00:25:10] Naomi Simmons-Thorne: And yeah—and so, me and that book really, like, tussled and there was so much of—that book pushed me in ways that were really uncomfortable when I first read it, but in retrospect, I know that were really helpful and instructive. And I think that book has lots of fascinating things to say. I think it does really important work. There’s also some things I don’t like about the book all that much and I jump into some of that, too. But, for me—and this also kind of plays a little bit into, like, my inquiry methods—and so, for me, when I do my work—and I’ve talked to you about this before, Brendane—I bifurcate my work between my professional academic work—the stuff that, like, I do for the academy—and then I have my work as an intellectual that I do for me and for my world and my communities, and my scholarship activism. And so there’s text—this paper comes from that right side, the scholarship activism that I do, not my formal academic work and education. And so, for me as an intellectual, and as a philosopher, what I do when I’m generating inquiry, I am not responding to gaps in the literature, I’m not responding to—I’m not weighing in on academic debates. What I’m doing is gazing out at my world, trying to figure out what’s going on and using the scholarly tools I have to make sense of what’s going on in my world. And in my world, when I was making that transition from a PWI that does not have a Black Studies department and received most of my engagements—the limited engagements I did have with Black feminism—Black feminist theory came from a women and gender studies department. And I was making the transition from undergraduate to graduate, where there isn’t—and I’m still at the same university—but at the graduate school, while there isn’t a Black Studies Department, there are Black studies scholars who are in the graduate school who are doing the contemporary work of Black studies. And so making that transition was really difficult for me, because I was, like, my whole citational universe just got, like, pulled out from under me. And I didn’t really understand, like, why it felt like there was, like, these two Black feminisms—Black feminist theories—that existed, and I only knew one of them and only, like, interacted and engaged with one of them. Needless to say that I definitely have a home in Black feminist critical theory because that is just the—in terms of how I understand the world, I find that to be the most useful tool for me in terms of understanding how different forces converge on my own life and making sense of all that stuff. But there’s also lots that I’ve been learning from and integrating into my work from this other Black feminist paradigm that, prior to graduate school, I really didn’t have any exposure to. So, this paper really is about me kind of coming to terms with that and making sense of it, figuring out how these two things that seem so disparate actually interrelate and what their relationship could be because it doesn’t have to be a contentious one.
[00:28:49] Brendane Tynes: Right. And I think—as you’re talking, I’m listening, and I think I hear that rupture when you talk about that move from undergraduate to graduate and that feeling of rupture. And while reading this, it made me think about when I entered graduate school and I used intersectionality, that was kind of like my—and then we’re going to talk about this cuz you contest this in the article within itself—it was kind of, like, the starter theory, right? People kind of refer to intersectionality as, like, this kind of starter theory. And so I was using it as a frame of reference for understanding how Black women move through the world, and I remember being told by a professor that I’ll “grow out of that.” Literally. I will grow out of using intersectionality.
[00:29:32] Alyssa A.L. James: Wow.
[00:29:36] Brendane Tynes: Which is, like, you know—as you note in your article, right, Black feminist critical theory is often considered to be Black feminist theories past tense, right? It is the—and the quotes that you use when you when you’re talking about, you know, girls feeling grown, right, it is the girl, the less sophisticated version of this kind of more abstract, “sophisticated”—and I’m using air quotes for—cuz y’all can’t see us—but I’m using air quotes, right—form of theory that speculative theory can be. And so I think you really insightfully characterize this view, this kind of move from the start, right—the child to the grown woman theory, if we’re going to use that that language, right?—as a type of temporal consciousness, which you frame as a reconfiguring of Paulo Freire’s critical consciousness. And so you define temporal consciousness as a “heightened sense of reflexivity concerning black feminist theory’s institutional migration, historicity, and futures.” So Alyssa and I are very much into temporality in our work. We think about time all the time. And I think it’s really central to understanding—this type of temporal consciousness is central to understanding the contestation between the paradigms. So could you explain how you came to develop your understanding of temporal consciousness? Like, what—and you can even talk about the process if you want to, or just even for this article, like, how did you come to develop this for us as readers?
[00:31:13] Naomi Simmons-Thorne: Yes. So as I began—and also, I should point out that this paper is also very informed by my position as a philosopher, because philosophers are concerned with how thought traditions are organized and what their relationships are to each other and breaking down taxonomy. And there’s not a lot of that that’s done in Black feminist theory to our detriment. And so this was really important for me to understand. And so when I’m looking at two different thought traditions, I’m considering: What are the epistemological structures that I see? How can I outline those epistemological structures? How can I organize them? How can I map them? How do they relate to each other? What is the genealogy of this thought? And so as I am reading across different Black feminist theorists who are working in this speculative paradigm, I am noticing that like, you know, temporality is a major theme. It’s this reoccurring epistemic theme that I’m seeing across these different works. And it’s really interesting, because while that’s happening there, on the other side, there’s also conversations that are happening about the ways in which intersectionality—which typifies the black feminist critical theory paradigm—how intersectionality has been transported from one place in the academy to the next, how it’s being vacated of meaning, how the edge is being dulled because of the intentions of specific political actors who are intentionally trying to do that. And so there’s these interesting conversations going on—not together, but around each other—around temporality. And so when I’m thinking about the specular paradigm, specifically, I’m thinking a lot about this emerging, like, concept and discourse around Black feminist futurity and what it means to have Black feminism to step into the future. What does it even mean for Black feminist theory to have a past? What is that past? What is that future? I’m thinking about the ways in which futurity implies a novelty and—
[00:33:41] Brendane Tynes: Progress.
[00:33:41] Naomi Simmons-Thorne: All the narratives, right? When you progress, all the narratives—development—all of those narratives. And so a futurity implies some kind of rupture with some kind of thing that is antiquated now. And what is that thing that is antiquated? And so whereas in previous discussions about, like, Black feminist futurity, Black feminist theoretical development, and maturation, it’s never specifically said that what Black feminism is moving past or moving from or developing from is Black feminist critical theory, but it is implied methodologically. It’s implied through the engagement with Afropessimism. It’s implied through the new citational practices. And Jennifer Nash gives us the first opportunity to actually put this conversation on the table and say, “What are the stakes? Who are the actors? And how can we actually facilitate this discussion,” because this conversation has been happening around each other, but not with each other. And so this notion of temporality, which I refer to as temporal consciousness in the article, really just kinda denotes this desire and this compulsion—if we want to think about the political economy of intellectual work, under the academic—under the jurisdiction of the academy, there’s a political economy. And that political economy necessitates development and progress, and I will say that the value of a thought tradition, the value of my body of scholarship, is not contingent on when it enters the academy, because the academy is suppressing all of this knowledge. So when one—
[00:35:42] Brendane Tynes: Oop!
[00:35:42] Naomi Simmons-Thorne: —manages to rise to the top, or manages to rise above the surface, is not necessarily indicator of how useful it is. It’s more so an indication of when an inflection point happened, a contradiction in the academy happened, and emerged the possibility for a certain kind of subversive knowledge so that Black feminist critical theory’s introduction to the academy in the 70s and 80s was not about its utility, it’s about the contradiction that existed at that time.
[00:36:16] Brendane Tynes: Wow.
[00:36:16] Alyssa A.L. James: Mind blown [laughs].
[00:36:17] Brendane Tynes: [Laughs] Look, I have so much to say. I’m gonna give Alyssa an opportunity to ask a question so that this is not just me and Naomi chit-chatting on the mic.
[00:36:27] Alyssa A.L. James: No, wow, I—my follow-up question is so basic now in comparison to what you just said [laughs]. But I think, you know, one of the things that we do is helpful to understand, right? And, you know, what I’ve noticed is that you’re talking about—you’re saying paradigm, right, you’re talking about these Black feminist theoretical paradigms. And, you know, in our episode when we discussed intersectionality, we talked about the various waves of feminism, right? I think that’s how a lot of people learned about feminism, particularly white liberal feminism.
[00:36:59] Naomi Simmons-Thorne: Absolutely.
[00:37:01] Alyssa A.L. James: You know, in university if they managed to get that far [laughs]. And so, you know, we kind of learned a lot about the waves—the first, second, third wave—and now, you know, in the episode, we mentioned fourth-wave feminism, which is apparently a thing now. But you say that that kind of spatiotemporalization of feminism is not adequate for the historiography of Black feminism. So could you walk us through the idea of the paradigm for describing the changes in Black feminism and what kind of work that does to think of them in that way?
[00:37:36] Naomi Simmons-Thorne: Absolutely. So this is question is really connected to this notion of temporality. And in traditional liberal feminist historiography, we have the historiography of the wave. So we are told that feminism has at least three waves—according to which, some scholars, we are still in a third wave, and according to some scholars, we are past that. I don’t really know because I don’t think that’s a really useful way of thinking about feminist theorizing, feminist thought, and feminist movement-building. But this concept and history on the historiography of the waves has also been imposed onto Black feminist theory, within the past 10 to 20 years, as this kind of high incidence of institutional reflexivity is developing. And so there’s a wide enough body of scholarship now. And I also do wanna be very specific that when I’m talking about Black feminist theory right now, I am specifically talking about its maneuvers in the academy, which is not to say that its maneuvers in the academy are more important than its other iterations and the other places that it exists. But it is to say that this is just one conversation, and this is just the conversation I just so happen to write about in this paper. And so, with that being said, within the past 10 to 20 years, there just has been a greater scholarly interest in how to periodize and create a historiography around Black feminist theory. It’s kind of an epistemic imperative in the academy—in the western academy—which, you know, it could—not to say that it doesn’t have its problems, but there’s also things that are useful about thinking about periodization and histories and historiography, because it also helps us link things, it helps us organize things. And so there’s, of course, its benefits, advantages, and also its cost. There has not been that critical of a maneuver around how do we actually create a unique historiography for Black feminist theory. The closest that I can think of: Farah Griffin does some good work there and also Benita Roth, she does some—also some really good work around that, too, and has done some really good work around that. But there hasn’t really been a lot of historiographical debate [around] the importation of the ways historiography has just found its way onto the trajectory of Black feminist theory. And the reason why that this is problematic and doesn’t work, at least in my conception, is one, because Black feminist theorists have been speculating for quite some time, way before the 80s with Hortense Spillers—I’m thinking specifically about Marita Bonner back in the 1920s, that’s really one person that I would point to. Of course, Octavia Butler is doing things. And also, we will never, ever stop needing Black feminist critical theory, ever. We would not have a space to even have this discussion without Black feminist critical theory. So Black feminist critical theory is still needed, and black feminist specular theorizing did not just start. And so a wave historiography really advances both of those misconceptions, and I also just don’t find it to be accurate or helpful, nonetheless because it implies that—once again—that when something enters into the academy denotes its utility. And that’s just not the case.
[00:41:30] Alyssa A.L. James: Yeah. I think—yeah, that’s such a good point, that makes so much sense. I think I just wanted to throw out there—you were talking about how there’s always this desire to periodize history, right? And something we were talking about earlier in terms of fugitivity is the way that people are often trying to instrumentalize fugitivity. So Brendane was saying, you know, people would be like, “To be fugitive, you can do this, A-B-C and then under that you do 1-2-3.” And—[Laughter] and then, you know, you’re practicing fugitivity. And so I think—
[00:42:08] Naomi Simmons-Thorne: Fugitivity industrial complex.
[00:42:10] Alyssa A.L. James: [Laughs] So I just find it interesting how we’re all, like—how, you know, how is it that we come up with these concepts, but also, it’s hard to keep them out of this, like, academic space where we’re required to—
[00:42:25] Naomi Simmons-Thorne: Exactly.
[00:42:26] Alyssa A.L. James: —understand them in this, like, deep and instrumentalized way. I dunno. We’ll talk about that a little bit after though.
[00:42:33] Brendane Tynes: Yeah, we’ll get to it when we talk about fugitivity in What in the World. But I think, in line with thinking about your rejection of the wave metaphor—and then also, what it does, too, is kind of set up these adversarial time logics that you talked about in the article. And as I was sitting there reading this, I was just like, “Yeah, that makes a lot of sense, right?” When you set up a story of progress where you say, “This is how it used to be back in the day. This is how we used to think,” and say, you know, maybe that’s not as sophisticated or maybe it’s more “primitive”—we want to use an anthropological word, right?—primitive [laughs] [crosstalk]. But what it does then is set up people who still say, “Well, actually, I find something useful in this,” or “I find this to actually be how I still come to understand the world,” right? “Maybe I’m not accessing Freud, I’m not accessing the psychoanalytic literatures to understand X, Y, and Z” or whatever. That puts them in a position where, as you talked about in the article, right, there’s this kind of this tension—there’s the defending that’s happening on both sides as they kinda square-off against each other, and for me, it made me really sit and think about how this logic is really an incorporation of these Western colonial logics around time, right? And so what does it mean for us as Black feminists who practice many Black feminisms to think along these lines? What does it mean to have a professor tell me that I will grow out of intersectionality when I need to understand intersectionality to understand how people might perceive me, you know? And also this just gets to this whole thing about theory needing to be sophisticated or novel and also just other things that when we talk about the academy and those things that you’ve artfully mentioned, that really get us caught up in these kind of white Western, colonial understanding of things. I like what you say, though, about thinking about intersectionality in particular, but also Black feminist critical theory broadly does not have to be considered the discipline’s past tense, right? There is a way to sit and think with all of these. And so you offer this—what you call a translingual meeting space, a bridge language—which, also—okay, sorry, this just—in my mind, I’m like, “Oh my gosh, so many things I wanna say.” One of those ways that I think you so artfully bring it in, in the beginning, is when you talk about, you know, young girls, people saying, “Oh, you actin’ womanish,” right, “You actin’ and “grown” and thinking about temporality, you’re thinking about this relationship in that sense, where in that moment, yes, she is a girl. But she’s also acting grown right? She’s also moving towards this kind of womanly-ness. So the way that that comes in the beginning and then you bring it back in the end, I thought was very artful. So, you know, I wanna just give you all the compliments. Anyway, so [laughter]—
[00:46:01] Naomi Simmons-Thorne: [Unclear] really quickly, just a really quick comment about that. I always say before I was an academic, I was a writer, and I was a writer before anything else. So there is a [unclear] of that. There’s also a connection between this notion of time being cyclical and not linear. And yeah, and I’m really happy that you picked up on that, because that was something that I was trying to denote in the paper.
[00:46:31] Brendane Tynes: Yeah. Well, I read it loud and clear. You weren’t trying, you did it. You definitely did it.
[00:46:37] Alyssa A.L. James: Yeah, it’s like that womanhood, that womanishness is always within us, which, you know, we can talk about as well, thinking about the adultification of girls and things like that, right—of Black girls specifically.
[00:46:50] Naomi Simmons-Thorne: Absolutely.
[00:46:52] Brendane Tynes: And, yes—but to get to the bridge language—and I think this will round out our discussion of the article to move on—I think we have one more point and then we’ll move into What in the World—but this bridge language, this politic of letting go, this politic of surrender, where we say, “Hey, actually let’s resist the politics of the academy in which we have to typify ourselves, periodize ourselves, do all these things? Why not get back to the roots of Black feminism?” Period! Okay, period, right? [Laughter] I was wondering, and you talk about this in the article, I think I just want to hear you talk about it—this language of bridge. What does that do for you—as a philosopher, as a theorist—as opposed to—you know, people have “coalition,” “solidarity”—like, all these other ways of talking about people coming together. What does bridge open up for you?
[00:47:53] Naomi Simmons-Thorne: Yes, so, a coalition to me implies mutual interest, where as a bridge denotes mutual exchange. So people go back and forth between a bridge. People don’t go in and out of coalition. So, like, when you are in a coalition, you are in your group or your group is in coalition with another one. When you have a bridge, there is constant movement back and forth of the actual constituents of the group. And that’s what I wanted for this article, that’s kind of what I wanted to argue, is that we don’t have to—as—and I should also point out, too: one of the things that I know I’m bouta, like, really bump heads with when I am revising this article is that there is a generational—and it’s funny to bring up time again—but there is a generational divide between the perception of my article among junior scholars and the perception among senior scholars. And so for junior scholars—which, this article is meant for junior scholars, it’s not really meant for senior scholars. And so when I’m telling junior scholars—and particularly Black feminist scholars who are coming into the academy, who are doing the work, who are moving through the matriculation process and up to, like, their seniority and all that good stuff—is that we don’t have to do exactly what our fore-peers did before us. We don’t have to debate should feminism be called—[feminism] for Black women be called Black feminism or womanism. We don’t have to debate whether, like, intersectionality is of the past or if it’s in the contemporary moment. This is all about tradition, it’s all about heritage, and we can draw from any part of this rich resource that advances our project. And so, if by project means I, in a modular way, take some Spillers and some Lorde, if I take some Nash and some [bell] hooks, like, however you wanna, like, mix that up, however you wanna combine it, you know, you get to do that. And there’s nothing about these paradigms that is necessarily exclusive. And there’s nothing about our projects as Black feminists that disallows us from drawing from all of these resources that we have available to us— yes, these two paradigms that are visible in the academy, but everywhere else, things that are not in the academy, things just that aren’t in the North American academy, you know? And so, that is kind of what I’m getting here by a bridge. By a bridge, I mean there are people who have a home somewhere, but they travel back and forth between this place and another location. And that’s what I wanted to see. That’s kind of the work that I wanted this article to really solidify for Black feminist theorists, particularly Black feminist scholars who are junior scholars right now who, in their dissertation committee and, like, through the politics of, like, you know their mentor and their professors, feel like they have to choose between one or the other. And I don’t believe that’s the case. I am—even though, like I said, like, I fought with Nash’s book. And although I don’t necessarily agree with Nash around—I don’t necessarily agree around the utility—what she sees as the lack of utility in Black feminist critical social theory as a theoretical paradigm in the present moment. But there is so much in Jennifer Nash’s scholarship—and even in that book—that, you know, really informs how I approached this work and how I’m approaching things, like, moving forward. And so I really want us to disavow the notion that we have to have a binary between these two paradigms. I really want us to disavow the feeling that we can’t draw from all of the traditions that we have access to. Yes, these two paradigms, but things that are outside the academy, things that are not in the western academy, and so on. And so, yeah, I think that’s what the bridge means to me. The bridge means that we can set up our homes anywhere we want to, and we can have that bridge to travel anywhere we want to.
[00:52:38] Alyssa A.L. James: That’s lovely. I think, you know, the follow-up question that we were going to talk about is whether that’s fugitive and how does that help us realize Black feminist futures. But I think we’ll leave it to our listeners. I think we’ll leave it to you all to decide because that bridge is the way that we move forward from the whole idea of opposition and difference as being the most productive way to have intellectual discussions and intellectual growth. So, let us know what you all think. Is the bridge fugitive? [Laughter] So let’s move on to our next segment, our favorite segment, which is what in the world?
[00:53:23] Brendane Tynes: What in the world is going on? What’s happenin’ [laughter]?
[00:53:26] Alyssa A.L. James: What—I dunno.
[00:53:31] Alyssa A.L. James: So we have mostly given editorial control of the segment to Naomi, so even we are gonna be surprised about what we talk about [laughter].
[00:53:41] Brendane Tynes: We pitched the episode to Naomi and was Iike, “Girl, whatever you wanna talk about, let’s talk about.” And so we are going to talk about this whole thing about these Republicans and their friends who want to end critical race theory, right? So we was talkin’ about critical social theory and Black feminist theory, and so we’re gonna talk about that. Naomi also wants to talk about fugitivity and resistance strategies, right? So, like, how do we do this? How do we practice fugitivity? And no, we’re not going to give you the 1-2-3, A-B-C on fugitivity [laughter]. But we are going to talk about, you know, some ways that it can happen. And, again, I want to underscore: we’re talking about Black people [laugh]
[00:54:27] Alyssa A.L. James: As if that needs to be said anymore [laughs] on this podcast.
[00:54:31] Brendane Tynes: I just feel like—
[00:54:32] Naomi Simmons-Thorne: Right!
[00:54:33] Brendane Tynes: It’s just—I just feel like sometimes you have to keep saying—
[00:54:36] Naomi Simmons-Thorne: Can’t say it enough! Can’t say it enough, right?
[00:54:39] Brendane Tynes: And then we’re gonna talk about the situation with the panoramic [pandemic] and schools and K-12 and just the preventable tragedies that are there, but also its relationship to fugitivity. Naomi works at a school, can give us some tea on how can we navigate these complex situations, these complex worlds using Black feminist critical social theory. So you wanna start with CRT [critical race theory], you wanna start with the fugitive pedagogy? Where do you wanna start?
[00:55:17] Naomi Simmons-Thorne: Alright, so let’s start with CRT. And thank you for that transition. So while we are transitioning, I’m also making a transition. So now I’m transitioning away from my scholarship activism more to, like, my formal work in education. So with that being said, I’m sharing what everyone has been seeing, all of these different news stories that are coming out about the war on “critical race theory,” which is really fascinating. It’s such a misnomer, what the phenomenon actually is and what’s actually going on. But this whole crusade against critical race theory that we—”critical race theory”—that we see sweeping different legislatures, a lot of them mostly in the South and the Midwest. But it’s really fascinating how these developments are really shaping up and it remains to be seen what the outcome and impact of this is going to be. So, I guess I will just start. I mean, there’s so many different ways to approach this topic and there’s so many different—there’s so many pieces in this and it’s all moving because this is, you know, this is all happening, like, day-by-day. And so what I kinda wanted to do was just kind of take a step back and let’s kind of, like, move beyond the news headlines and kind of discuss this as a structurated instance of politics. And to kind of think about, like, what is the actual maneuvers that are actually, like, happening here? What are we witnessing? And so, earlier this year—well, last year, I started this paper, and I finished it earlier this year, but I just finished a paper around March. This paper is called “To Mold People into a Common Intellectual Pattern: Power, Knowledge, and the Curriculum Culture Wars.” And it looks at the longue durée of struggles over the curriculum stretching back from the early 1900s up to the present day. And when you take that longue durée, you see that this is not—this is just a flashpoint in a very long history of struggles for the curriculum, and it has precedents, it has—we have lessons that we can learn from that history. And it also gives us that lighter glimpse of what’s actually going on here. And so, really quickly, I think it’s really important to note that, right now, like, you know, we’re talking about critical race theory, and both critical race theory and also Black feminist critical social theory, and also Black postmodernism—which I’m writing a book on right now—all fall under this tradition of Africana or Black critical theory, which is also related to the capital C, capital T, critical theory from the French school and all that good stuff. That has its problems, but we’re not gonna go there [laughter]. And, you know, it’s really interesting that we’re in this moment where people are saying that Black feminist critical theory and Black critical theory, and critical theory in general, is so outmoded when no one’s telling students not to read [Sexton?] or telling students not to read Crenshaw and [bell?] and all these critical theorists, so it’s really interesting that that’s happening. And with that being said, it’s really fascinating how, in education, specifically, conflict exists beneath the surface. It doesn’t exist on top of the surface. So no one’s saying in these debates pretty much that what we’re doing is trying to ideologically consolidate knowledge such that we can minimize the number of people who are accessing critical consciousness through these forms of subversive knowledges that are finding their ways into education. And so this notion that, like, we’re crusading against critical race theory is really fascinating, cuz we’re really crusading against not critical race theory, but anti-racism in education. And that’s a very different fight. We’re fighting anti-racism in education and not critical race theory. And no one is ever gonna come out and say, you know— no one’s ever gonna say like, “We don’t want anti-racism in school.” What they’re gonna say is “We don’t want critical race theory.” And so it’s really interesting, like, how conservatives are so successful at shifting the Overton window over to their side, dominating the language of discourse and in public conversation. But yeah, so what’s going on right now is a struggle against anti-racist and other forms of critical conscious education. And I’m borrowing critical consciousness from Freire right now, but anti-racism, feminism, queer theory, Marxism— you know, all of these different critical theories that, you know, have found their ways into schools, in the various struggles that they represent. So anti-racist struggles, struggles for gender justice, and so all of these are operating in our schools, but these are not operating in the sense that, you know, there’s very few teachers—and I can attest to this, working in schools—there are very few teachers who even know what critical race theory is to even act like they wanna instruct it.
[01:01:16] Brendane Tynes: Period.
[01:01:17] Alyssa A.L. James: Right.
[01:01:17] Naomi Simmons-Thorne: But there are brave teachers who do believe that education should be anti-racist, and so it’s really fascinating how this is shaping up. It really does remain to be seen what the impact is gonna be, mostly because on one side we have conservatives who are so good at dominating the language of discourse and then on the other side we have a whole industry of “progressive” academics that are pretty much making an industry of trying to explain what critical race theory is [laughter]. So I’m just like, that’s not opposition. That’s not opposition.
[01:01:58] Alyssa A.L. James: Yeah, I think the idea—
[01:02:00] Brendane Tynes: Ooh, tea!
[01:02:00] Alyssa A.L. James: —of the misnomer, like, that you said—you know, this is a misnomer—is so important. I think that this whole moral panic around critical race theory is very much part and parcel of this whole fake news idea, right? Like, I heard someone say or someone write—they were like, “Words mean what we want them to mean.” And I think, actually, in this context they were defending gender-neutral pronouns or something like that, and I was just like, no, words don’t really mean what we want them to mean, they have a meaning. And language and words and meanings can evolve but words still mean what they mean. When they say critical race theory in the news, particularly conservatives, they’re not talking about critical race theory. And I think people use this idea that “Oh, language, language evolves,” and you know, “Look at how we’re using language today and how it changes”—they’re using that as a way to say whatever they want about things that they don’t like or using it to mean other things. And so I think if you actually look deeper into the legislation that’s actually being passed and they say this is against critical race theory, the legislation itself never actually says critical race theory in it. It says things like, “You cannot teach history about slavery.” Like, things that are actual, factual [laughs] things, is what it actually says but the—sorry, but like critical race theory itself ends up being, like, a distraction.
[01:03:39] Naomi Simmons-Thorne: No, and you’re so right about that. It is a distraction and a misnomer. And to your point about, like, what these policies are actually saying, I think one of the most ridiculous, outlandish ones I saw actually came from here in South Carolina where they said you cannot [laughs]—you cannot teach that race is categorically responsible for anything. And I’m just like, “What does that mean?” [Laughter]
[01:04:06] Brendane Tynes: Ooh, that’s South—I mean—
[01:04:07] Alyssa A.L. James: Uh, you can’t teach white guilt? [Laughs]
[01:04:08] Naomi Simmons-Thorne: You can’t teach race is categorically responsible for anything.
[01:04:14] Brendane Tynes: Yeah, that’s interesting. I think South Carolina is a trendsetter in a lot of horrible ways. But also in a lot of you know good ways! I think the Black people who flee, who—practice fugitivity and leave [laughs]—I’m just kidding!—produce a lot of great things. But yeah, I think—just listening to you two and it just made me think about, like, what you’re saying exactly, right? This misnomer of critical race theory really being a flashpoint for— because we’re not really talking about race, right, we’re talking about Blackness, right? It’s not about everybody who falls in certain markers of difference, right? It’s in particularly an attack on Black, and a lot of times Indigenous people, depending on the state that you’re in.
[01:05:03] Naomi Simmons-Thorne: Absolutely. And that’s also, I don’t know why like this, people don’t realize this, but this is also about protecting American exceptionalism. We can’t—we don’t want to teach that this country is fundamentally racist. We don’t want to teach that this country is sexist. We don’t want—you know, we don’t want to teach that there’s inequality, that meritocracy is a myth. We don’t want these ideas circulating and so this is also very much so about protecting American exceptionalism, which obviously, we know is very core to advancing the notion that everything that America does, both domestically and on the world stage is benevolent, benign, and always justified because of the goodness of our American intentions, right? So yeah, this is very much so protecting what scholars for a very long time—stretching back to, like, the 30s, with the Miseducation of the Negro to the 70s with Schooling in Capitalist America—that, you know, our schooling system is very much so designed to baptize students and the youngest members of our society into all of the American mythologies that are needed to sustain and reproduce our imperialist, white supremacist, capitalist, you know, dot dot dot, society. And it’s absolutely the case. I mean, that’s fundamentally what’s being argued here, is that—yeah, you can’t do counter-ideological work in education. You can’t teach kids that these myths that prop up and reproduce our society are exactly that, myths.
[01:07:01] Brendane Tynes: Right? Because if you did that, then who would join the military? On that note, since we’re talking about education, I think maybe we could transition to the Fugitive Pedagogy and Black Education book that you’re really excited about [laughs]. And we could talk about, yeah, fugitive pedagogy, Black education, knowing that we are entrenched in these systems that, as you say, are trying to present a certain type of ideological baptism. Like, I’m writing that down here, because that’s—Naomi says—when I talk about it, I’m gonna cite you [laughter] [unclear], right? Yeah, so what do you think are examples of fugitive pedagogy? If you want, we can go that route, or we can just talk about the book a little bit more closely. Wherever you wanna take us. Let’s go.
[01:07:57] Naomi Simmons-Thorne: Yeah, I just really quickly say about this book, because right now it is pretty much the foremost book in the present moment in Black pedagogical and educational studies and for good reasons. I don’t think there’s a more appropriate time for us to be thinking about the longue durée of Black anti-racist education and what those precedents are, what the struggles were, and how we have continuity with those struggles and what is our new challenges in the present moment. And so, Jarvis Givens, the author of Fugitive Pedagogy, does at least two really important maneuvers in my personal opinion. One: Givens provides a Black studies revisionist interpretation of the Miseducation of the Negro written by Carter G. Woodson in 1933, which is really important because that book has not been really theorized—I would argue ever, really—but it certainly has not been taken as a serious theoretical project in a very long time. And the last real Black thought tradition to really look at that book as a theoretical source was, like, the Black nationalist movements of the mid- to late-1900s. And in those movements, you know, that project is very different from what Givens is doing. So that’s, like, one important thing that Givens does with this book, but also secondly, Givens also provides a framework for understanding what makes Black, anti-racist education fugitive and what have Black teacher—and here, we’re specifically talking about teachers, not professors—what have Black teachers sacrificed in order to provide this insurgent—what Stuart Hall refers to as the globally contrary knowledge? Like, what have Black teachers sacrificed from Anna Julia Cooper being fired as a principal of a public school in the 1930s/1940s, all the way up to now where we just had another principal fired just last month at a school board meeting for doing the same thing. And so, what do Black school teachers sacrifice in order to provide and integrate this education and what are the stakes today? So definitely check out Fugitive Pedagogy. It’s a great book and I think it speaks to so much of what’s happening in this present moment with the war on Black, anti-racist education.
[01:10:59] Brendane Tynes: Just listening to what you’re saying, I think one thing also to highlight about fugitivity, right, is that it requires a sacrifice, right? And so, like, we talked about it earlier, like—I think what I was really trying to get at earlier, right, is, like, you can’t be fugitive and still be kinda all up in and these systems, right? That is actually the opposite—
[01:11:19] Naomi Simmons-Thorne
What does Moten say, “to be in, not of”?
[01:11:22] Brendane Tynes: Right, and so, can you be fugitive and be the headliner for an academic conference, right? Can you be fugitive and lead all these different things or do several things? I dunno, I just—I think that was really important to talk about, like, that sacrifice, right? If we’re fleeing this anti-Black oppressive system, that means we can’t be everybody’s favorite, right? And that means we can’t be seen as at the top of things, but that’s it. That’s all I had to say, Alyssa, you can finish your—
[01:11:53] Alyssa A.L. James: No, no, well, I was just gonna ask you a question about your own experience with teaching.
[01:11:58] Brendane Tynes: Oh! Yeah, go ahead! You can ask me. Anythang.
[01:12:01] Alyssa A.L. James: That was it, what was your experience of teaching and teaching and particularly having to serve lower—like, serving lower income Black students? Even though you were teaching science, did you find yourself incorporating—we’ll call it anti-racism—pedagogy?
[01:12:19] Brendane Tynes: Hoooo. Ooh, how much am I willing to tell on myself?
[01:12:26] Alyssa A.L. James: You are past that time [laughs].
[01:12:28] Brendane Tynes: I am, I am, and, you know, there’s nothing people can do to me at this point. All my students are grown. Grown grown. And hello if you’re listening, I miss you and I love you.
[01:12:38] Alyssa A.L. James: Hi, Ms. Tynes! [Laughter]
[01:12:41] Brendane Tynes: I miss you and I love you so much. So, yeah, I think one of the things about teaching that Teach for America never told me was that nobody’s gonna like you if you are the person that’s like, “Oh, hey, that’s racist!” like or, “Oh, that’s anti-Black! Why are we doing this?” Why are you telling the kids they can’t wear sleeveless things because their families don’t teach them how to wash? Why are you saying that girls can’t show certain parts of their body but boys can? And so I was that teacher that did not enforce certain rules in the classroom, right. So I was like, “I’m not gonna police what you wear. I’m not gonna police how you talk,” because that was also part of the school code was kids can’t cuss. And I was like, “These are high schoolers,” like, they gon’ say what they’re gonna say. And so I was like, “As long as y’all are not using defamatory language, and you’re not talking to me, and you’re not talking to each other any kind of way, say what you need to say, you know. Do you, you almost grown, like, I’m gonna give you this independence because I trust that you are a human being who—within parameters right—can work with it.” So I was not the favorite teacher, speaking from personal experience in. And, actually, what ended up happening was that the administration attempted to fire me, even though I was the best science teacher that they had, right? I had the highest scores that they had ever had at the school. And so they found reasons to try to fire me, one of them being that I didn’t have the right date on my board one time when they came into my classroom. And so—which, you know, North Carolina, South Carolina schools are not very different from each other. So I would say, like, as an educator, a lot of what I did was fugitive. There were lessons that I had where we had to learn about genetics, but I turned that into a lesson on eugenics. And we talked about sterilizing Black and Latina women in prison. I had several moments in classes where I had to sit there because my students were so distracted and so unfocused, and so I had to have a conversation with them, and I was like, “Hey, I hope y’all understand that, like, this entire system was made this way so that you would be so disengaged with this material that you would score so low that you would not be able to move on in your life and you would have to work at McDonald’s. Or you would have to work at a factory—or you would have to work for Amazon, now—or you would have to do all these things.” And there’s no shade the people who work there, of course, but I’m just saying that these systems are created—like, our education system is created to create an underclass of people, like, that—and my students, I had to help them understand that as they got older, yes, they started manifesting this disinvestment in their education, but it started with teachers that believed that they were not worthy of high-level education. And so that’s what I told them, I said, “I am so sorry that your former science teachers did not believe in you. I’m so sorry that they did not see you as a person and they did not value you enough to actually teach you the things that you need to know to progress in life. ” And I think we really do Black kids a disservice by telling them, “Oh, go to college! Oh, aim high, aim this, aim that!” and we know that we have school systems that actually literally prevent them in every step from actually being able to do that. So we have kids—I’m talking ’bout my babies, right?—in their early 20s who are so disillusioned because when they were in fourth or fifth grade and they needed particular reading or science skills, their teacher did not do that, for them, she just played a movie. And so now they’re 21 and they’re trying to understand why they don’t understand certain things in college. Like, I had kids who were 16-17 years old in science class who didn’t know what plants need to grow. Right. And it’s like, we were talking about critical race theory under siege, and, like, all these things, it was really heartbreaking for me as a teacher to see then, when I would try to teach them these things, like—as an anthropologist, and I’d tell them, “I’m an anthropologist, I’m not really a science teacher like that.” I’m an anthropologist, so I’mma tell you the global things, and then I’m gonna teach you the science behind it as well, but I want you to understand that, like, you’re not supposed to know that this is how the system was created. So I do think part of the retaliation and trying to get me fired, especially in my second year—when I was already on my way to graduate school—was that I was teaching the kids things that made them a little less compliant at times with rules, like, wear shirts with sleeves or don’t show your stomach, or, you know, stuff that doesn’t matter [laughs]. But that’s that on that. Yeah, but I—so those of you who don’t know, or this just might be your first time listening, I used to teach high school—so tenth, eleventh, and twelfth graders—back in the day. And I can’t imagine what it would be like to be a teacher in the classroom now, right? Like, teaching in COVID, teaching online, or really, truly in-person depending on where you are. And so I think our last thing that we’re gonna talk about today is the COVID K-12 situation. And, Naomi, I know you had a few things you wanted to say about that, so I’m gonna open up with you.
[01:18:26] Naomi Simmons-Thorne: Sure, I’ll also be really brief cuz I know we don’t have a whole lot of time. And, oh my god, like, where to even start and or/end. But I ‘ll just say really quickly that I am positioned in a really unique space, in terms of how I am interfacing with and understanding the whole school reopening—the 2021 school reopenings. And that positionality is being in a combined middle and elementary school that is a public charter school in the state of South Carolina. So there’s a lot there. I’m dealing with the youngest students, I’m in the South, and I’m dealing with the students whose parents took them out of the district school because they felt like they were not getting a quality education. So these are parents who desperately want the kids to be educated. And so my school is majority black. And my faculty is majority white. And it’s really interesting, you know, how risk is registered or not when it comes to the lives of Black students at a public school in South Carolina. And so, it is such a grim situation because I’ve had whole classes get quarantined. Whole entire classes get quarantined. Whole grades have been quarantined. Nationally, kids are dying at a rate of three a day from COVID. South Carolina refuses to allow a mask mandate in public schools. Majority of public school teachers do not want to wear masks—we are in the South, don’t forget that. And majority of public school teachers nationally, but especially in the South, are white women. In South Carolina, it’s about 77%, which is a little bit higher than the national average. So it is a thing where, you know, there is no protections statewide and there are no protections for a lot of students in a lot of districts. Some districts have decided to go against the governor’s orders and institute mass mandates anyways. So, Brendane, your old district is one of those districts.
[01:21:07] Brendane Tynes: Not [Richland School] District Two showing out! District Two!
[01:21:10] Naomi Simmons-Thorne: So Richland District Two in Columbia, South Carolina and also all schools in the City of Columbia also have decided to go against the governor’s mandate and institute mask mandates. But that’s not the case across the board, and it’s not the case at my school, unfortunately. And so it’s a really grim situation because the youngest among us cannot be vaccinated. And the those of us who have the most personal responsibility to get vaccinations don’t wanna be vaccinated. And so there is so much risk right now for students, not to mention that, like, there’s a whole mental health crisis that’s associated with the nonresponse that students experienced last year with the whole immediate and abrupt restructuring of their, like, entire schooling experiences to being home. Some students being forced to spend additional time with abusers. Some students, because of not being able to be at school, losing out on important lunches and breakfasts. And so all of these factors are, like, playing into how this failed school reopening moment is happening. And it really is a crisis. And, unfortunately, both the Department of Education and every single—or the Federal Department of Education and everything down—even though the federal Department of Education postures a little bit better in terms of how they say that they are integrating the best practices that are coming out of the research literature and the CDC and others. But the fact of the matter is both at the federal level and at all of the state levels, there is just the belief that kids can be sacrificed so that US Foods and College Board and all the contractors can get their money. And that is the case. We believe that students are sacrificiable so that the SATs can still be administered so that the contractors that can still, like, you know, provide the school lunches, and it really is sad. And it’s a really grim reality that our youngest and most vulnerable are being sacrificed for the profit of a few education industries that profit off of schooling and education. But that is the case and I think that—well I know that—by the end of the academic year, I really do believe that people are gonna see that this was the wrong decision. And I just am really sad that so many children have to perish in order to prove that point.
[01:24:20] Alyssa A.L. James: Yeah, I mean, it’s so that the education—so that the education-adjacent industries can run, but also so that their parents can go back to work. I mean, a lot of these decisions are coming down to economic ones, and it’s to the economic benefit of the state. And I just think it’s funny how they’re like, “Oh no, we can’t police whether or not students wear masks,” but they can police whether or not students are wearing sleeveless shirts or crop tops in class. It’s like, make it make some sense. And then on the last thing—
[01:25:00] Brendane Tynes: The math is not mathing.
[01:25:00] Alyssa A.L. James: —being here in Martinique has been eye-opening in terms of the way that they’ve done the reopening. They, too, have reopened with the college students. They’re doing kind of hybrid situations here. But for—sorry, did I say college students, I meant high school students. It’s—middle school in French is collège, things are getting mixed up in my brain. But for the primary school students, they basically have class on TV. So on the public networks that everyone who has a television has access to, they have all of their lessons for the day. I believe it’s, like, a national-level lesson. And then, I think they’re doing the rest of their work online with the teacher so that they do have someone to, like, talk to them and instruct them more than just the homework that’s on TV, and it’s like, “Why? Why could—how did they sort this out over a summer—over the span of a year, as well”, because there was a lot of time to prepare for the 2021-2022 school year. So how is it that they here managed to figure that out in France—this is like a French system—and yet, in the US, they were like, “We’ll just send them all to school. And not change anything.”
[01:26:26] Brendane Tynes: You know what they say about American capitalism. It’s a death trap, it’s a death trap. And we are all being hurled towards the fire and at varying distances, in my opinion. Because even those at the top of the pyramid cannot escape death.
[01:26:46] Naomi Simmons-Thorne: Welp, that I think—I think that is a really good capstone for the imperativeness of fugitivity.
[01:26:57] Brendane Tynes: Yeah, we have to resist these systems in the ways that we can. And, yeah, should we close out, is this—should we end it?
[01:27:06] Alyssa A.L. James: Yes! Thank you so much, Naomi. This has been fantastic.
[01:27:10] Brendane Tynes: Yes!
[01:27:11] Naomi Simmons-Thorne: Thanks again for having me on. It was such an incredible honor. And I’m just happy, like, yeah, we got to do it, finally.
[01:27:18] Alyssa A.L. James: Yay!
[01:27:19] Brendane Tynes: Yes, we’ve been—I’ve been, like, texting Naomi for a long time, like, “This is happening, it’s happening!”
[01:27:26] Naomi Simmons-Thorne: It happened at the perfect time. At perfect time.
[01:27:29] Brendane Tynes: True.
[01:27:30] Naomi Simmons-Thorne: And, I mean, it’s so perfect, I literally just got my, like, notification today that my article was accepted, so, like, literally the perfect time.
[01:27:39] Brendane Tynes: Yes. The universe is shining upon you. So that is all we have—
[01:27:44] Naomi Simmons-Thorne: That’s just this highlight.
[01:27:45] Brendane Tynes: [Laughter] Oh, ‘scuse me!
[01:27:48] Alyssa A.L. James: Okay, okay!
[01:27:49] Brendane Tynes: She said I have the universal highlight is poppin’ today.
[01:27:54] Naomi Simmons-Thorne: Thank you, thank you.
[01:27:55] Brendane Tynes: You know, poppin’.
[01:27:58] Brendane Tynes: Well, that is all that we have for y’all today. Thank you all for listening. This episode was produced by Alyssa James and me, 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 and Science Graduate Council, and donations from listeners just like you.
[01:28:24] Alyssa A.L. James: Thank you all so much for your support. If you liked this episode, please share it with your friends, family or frenemies. We would love to hear what you have to say about the episode, so please be sure to follow us on Instagram at zorasdaughters and on Twitter at zoras_daughters. For transcripts, syllabi and information on how to cite us or donate, visit our website, zorasdaughters.com. And if you want to get more of the wonderful Naomi, you can reach out to her on Twitter at naomiedu.
[01:28:56] Brendane Tynes: Yes, we love to see the support, we love to see the engagement, and last but not least, especially not during this mercury in microbraid sipping Gatorade, hunny [laughter]. We must remember that we have to take care of ourselves and each other. Bye!
[01:29:17] Alyssa A.L. James: Bye! [Pause] You can say bye, too.
[01:29:20] Brendane Tynes: You have to say it Naomi, you have to say “bye.”
[01:29:22] Naomi Simmons-Thorne: Oh, bye everyone! [Laughter]
[END OF RECORDING]