In this episode, Alyssa and Brendane discuss our elders and ancestors of Black feminist anthropology with Associate Professor and President of the Association of Black Anthropologists, Dr. Riché J. Daniel Barnes! Dr. Barnes tells us about how she defines Black feminist anthropology, her journey to and through the discipline, who she thinks of as her unsung Black heroines, and offers advice for the next generation of Black feminist anthropologists. We discuss her book Raising the Race: Black Career Women Redefine Marriage, Motherhood and Community and talk about the importance of care and community in graduate school and academia widely.
Zora’s Daughters Podcast: Episode Twelve
Co-Hosts: Brendane Tynes and Alyssa James
Guest: Dr. Riché J. Daniel Barnes
Title: On the Shoulders of Our Ancestors
Total Length: 01:26.44
[00:00:00] Brendane: I was gonna make a joke of like, you know, I’m sure Rosa Parks is tired.
[00:00:04] Riché: Oh no [laughter].
[00:00:05] Brendane: Like, I’m sure she’s like, “Stop. Stop invoking my presence” [crosstalk]
[00:00:08] Alyssa: [Laughter]
[00:00:09] Brendane: “I have left. I’m an ancestor. Stop invoking my presence.” But, that’s why I was laughing [laughter].
[00:00:30] Alyssa: Hello everybody! Welcome to another episode of Zora’s Daughters, the podcast where we discuss popular culture and issues that concern Black women through the lens of Black feminist anthropology. My name is Alyssa and my pronouns are she/her/hers.
[00:00:45] Brendane: Hey y’all, it’s Brendane and my pronouns are she/her/hers. We have a special episode for you today that brings together Black History Month and World Anthropology Day, which is tomorrow if you’re listening to this the day it comes out! We’re speaking with the brilliant Dr. Riché Barnes, professor and president of the Association of Black Anthropologists, about her research, her career journey, and Black feminist anthropology.
[00:01:11] Alyssa: But before we get started, we wanted to thank Tina, Amber, Sophie, and Zakiya for their donations to the podcast. We really appreciate your support and helping us keep our literal and figurative lights on!
[00:01:23] Brendane: Girl, you actually have no idea. As we always say, we love all forms of support, which can come in the form of sharing the podcast on social media, leaving us a 5-star review on Apple Podcasts, or buying one of our dope ass t-shirts on our website zorasdaughters.com
[00:01:42] Alyssa: I love it! I love it. We’re also very excited to welcome our ZD Intern, Menkhu-ta Whaley! [Cheer] She is an anthropology and sociology major at Spelman College, and will be joining us for this season of the podcast.
[00:01:58] Brendane: She’s great. She’s gonna help us stay on point and we are so thankful to have you with us. So, she’s gonna help us with our social media, and learning more about anthropology research and podcasting as an intern with us.
[00:02:12] Alyssa: Yes, yes, yes. On point. I would have said on fleek, but she definitely let us know that on fleek isn’t cool anymore so [laughter].
[00:02:21] Brendane: [Laughter] You know, we’re learning that there are generational differences now. Oh man, I’m old enough to have a generational difference [laughter].
[00:02:29] Alyssa: Yeah, well what we learned is that you’re on the cusp. I’m a definite millennial and you’re on the cusp, so you know, we have kind of three different [laughter] generations all in one podcast. Yeah, I think, look at us, making mad movements!
[00:02:47] Brendane: That’s what we doing. That’s what we out here to do.
[00:02:50] Alyssa: That’s what we are, but what are you most interested or excited to hear about from Dr. Barnes?
[00:02:56] Brendane: I think I’m most interested to hear about how she got to where she is and who helped her get there. She’s had some monumental people in her life, at least from what I’ve read, so I’m like how did you get to meet those people and how do you know, you know? Like, how do you get them to be on your team?
[00:03:14] Alyssa: Exactly, yes. I love that. I love hearing about the journey and I often find that people’s reasons for choosing their research it says a lot about them, and especially for Black women. So, I don’t know if it’s just the way people narrate it, but it often has this mystical quality, almost like it was meant to be. And actually, now that I think about it, we’ve never really talked about how we got to our research topics so, I don’t know, what got you into yours?
[00:03:42] Brendane: I have a long story and a short story about how I got into my research. And, I think I definitely agree with there being a mystical quality to it. So, the short version is that I went to Baltimore in 2017, in the summer, to work at this—essentially it was a summer camp. And while we were there cleaning up the neighborhoods, I met Freddie Gray’s science teacher. And, you know, just chance meeting, chance conversation, and he said that Freddie Gray still had a vibrant memory in his community even after his death. And I was wondering, because I had been exploring Baltimore and talking to various people, why Korryn Gaines did not have a memory. Then, because I’m a sexual violence survivor and advocate, I would be out and about at these events, and I met women who were very active in the anti-sexual violence movement there and those who were also involved in anti-community violence movements and they discussed how they were also battling the erasure of their own issues within those movements. So, it was like Boom! I’m seeing some parallels here, erasure of Black women’s work, their deaths, their memories, and that was that! I was hooked from that point forward. What about you?
[00:05:00] Alyssa: Interesting, that’s really interesting!
[00:05:04] Brendane: Thank you.
[00:05:05] Alyssa: [Laughter] See that’s why I really like to ask. I actually didn’t know that. I didn’t know that you spent—that you went to a summer camp in Baltimore. I didn’t know that stuff about you though.
[00:05:15] Brendane: Yeah, I was working there, you know and I was working. I will never do that again. I told them take me off the email list. But that’s a story for another time [laughter].
[00:05:24] Alyssa: [Laughter] Okay that’s for another story time. For me [pause] I also have a long and a short story about mine. I will go with the short story. I had been interested in Martiniquen identity and I was trying to figure out a really good way of understanding this relationship—I guess you can call it—between Martiniquens and Haitians that I noticed when I was living in Martinique and I went for a kind of preliminary fieldwork trip when I was doing my masters. I was like, you know, what would be the best way to investigate this and this farmer, who was my neighbor, he was like, “Oh, in farming.” Because all of the Haitians, they work in farming and actually it turns out I’m kind of telling the long story [laughter]. Okay so all of the Haitians work in farming [laughter] and—
[00:06:14] Brendane: [Laughter] I live for the long stories though [laughter].
[00:06:15] Alyssa: —and already you can see that, you know—I’m sorry, you can already see that farming is racialized in a sense. You know, farming and Haitianness are intertwined and so I was like, ‘Okay, farming, cool.” That wasn’t what I was thinking initially but yeah, cool, I’ll spend some time with some farmers in the market and the farms. And, you know, I started noticing this trend of food and identity being really closely entangled. And I thought, oh this is really interesting people really refer to food when they’re talking about themselves. You know, you associate food with different people’s national identities and ethnicities and so I thought that was really cool. And then I took a year off, or I had planned to take a year off between my masters and applying for PhDs and especially because I had no idea what I wanted to do for my PhD and [laughter] I was like, I wanna continue in food but I wasn’t sure what a good entry point would be. And I got—okay so here’s the short story [laughter].
[00:07:32] Brendane: [Laughter] I was like, “yes, I’m getting the long one.” I’m enjoying this because I feel like we haven’t talked about—we really haven’t talked about this as precisely. Yeah.
[00:07:41] Alyssa: So, I would get the daily kind of email—what are they called—the daily newsletters from the Martiniquen newspaper. I would get them in my email and sometimes I would read them, a lot of the times I would delete them. And I just opened one that had been in my inbox for probably a month or something—and this was in February, so it was after all the deadlines had passed and I was still like I don’t really know what I’m gonna do—and there it was, Martinique is reviving the colonial coffee production, it’s in partnership with Japan and I was like, “Woah, that’s crazy, that’s hilarious, boom, there is my project.” It just was in my inbox.
[00:08:29] Brendane: You know, and I think that is it though. Like, we hear a lot about the arrival stories of anthropologists—O.G. anthropologists who “happen to find themselves on islands that people didn’t know existed with people that they didn’t know how to interact with.” But I feel like we really did just find our projects going about our day, living our lives.
[00:08:52] Alyssa: Yeah, I think definitely and it was being a part of these networks and connections and communities that brought us to our project. It wasn’t like, “Oh, I read this in a book and lemme go and see what’s happening in this place.” [Laughter] It was very much because we were engaged in those communities already
[00:09:08] Brendane: You know, for real, for real though. No tea, no shade, to those of you who are reading books and interested in other places.
[00:09:18] Alyssa: Of course, of course not. Well that was super interesting so let’s get to our chat with Dr. Barnes. Brendane could you introduce our wonderful guest please?
[00:09:34] Brendane: Riché J. Daniel Barnes is an Associate Professor and chair of Gender Studies at Mount Holyoke College and a fellow at the Yale Center for the Study of Race, Indigeneity, and Transnational Migration. She is an award-winning sociocultural anthropologist whose research focuses on Black women and Black motherhood in the U.S. South and the Black Diaspora. Her book, Raising the Race: Black Career Women Redefine Marriage, Motherhood, and Community, won the 2017 Distinguished Book Award for the Race, Gender, Class section of the American Sociological Association. Dr. Barnes has also received awards in recognition of her scholar-activism, teaching, and mentoring. She has been active with the Movement for Black Lives, #SayHerName, and the Black Girls and Women Research Group, convened by the African American Policy Form. She is currently the president of the Association of Black Anthropologists and co-founder of the Association of Black Anthropologists Mentoring Program. Thank you so much for joining us today, Dr. Barnes!
[00:10:33] Riché: Thanks for having me.
[00:10:35] Brendane: Yes, yes.
[00:10:36] Alyssa: We’re so excited [laughter].
[00:10:38] Riché: Thank you, I am too [laughter].
[00:10:41] Brendane: Um, so we’re gonna go ahead and get started with our first question for you today, Dr. Barnes, which is—how would you define Black feminist anthropology?
[00:10:50] Riché: Yeah, so, this is a great question, right? Obviously. Because Black feminist anthropology, right, is bringing in to the existing—our existing understanding of anthropology bringing into it an understanding of Black feminism, right. Which we could argue many of our foremothers in Black anthropology were already doing Black feminist anthropology before we even had a terminology for it. Zora Neale Hurston, obviously, would be one of them. But when I think about what—like if I break it down to Black feminist anthropology I think the teacher in me wants to say, “let’s talk about what anthropology is, let’s talk about what black feminism is,” and then also, “let’s talk about what is means to put them all together.”
And so, what I teach my students when we’re talking about Black feminisms—because I teach in a gender studies department, so not everybody coming to my classes is an anthropology major. So, I teach them about Black feminisms, I bring in—obviously, because I am an anthropologist—an understanding of Black feminist ethnography and Black feminist anthropology, but I always start them off with the foundations of like, what do we mean by Black feminisms. So, I lean very heavily on Beverly Guy-Sheftalll and her work and I also lean very heavily on Patricia Hill Collins just to give them that kinda foundation, right? And so, Beverly Guy-Sheftall talks about how there are—Black feminism isn’t monolithic and it’s not a static ideology and there’s considerable diversity among people who consider themselves Black feminists. But there are certain premises or tenets that are constant and she names five of them.
She says Black women experience a special kind of oppression and suffering in this country, which is racist, sexist, and classist, because of their dual racial and gender identity and limited access to economic resources. This was published in 1995 and so obviously, at this point, because we’re not static, we would add other ways of thinking about the oppression that is specific to Black women, Black femmes, gender non-conforming folks who align themselves with Black women’s issues. So, I wanna make sure that I’m clear that this is expansive. Guy-Sheftall goes on to talk about how there’s a triple jeopardy that Black women are concerned about which is different from and brings up different concerns and problems then we would have for Black men and white women.
And of course, again, the timing right was about this divide between Black women and white women, and Black men and Black women. But obviously we would have to make that more expansive and talk about other ways in which Black women have concerns, problems, needs that are different even from other women of color, right. And then Black women must struggle for Black liberation and gender equality simultaneously. And fourth, she says there’s no inherent contradiction in the struggle to eradicate sexism and racism and all the other isms which plague the human community. And then finally, she says Black women’s commitment to the liberation of Blacks and women is profoundly rooted in their lived experience.
And of course, we know that is where Patricia Hill Collins roots Black feminist thought, in this understanding that Black feminism is centered on Black women’s standpoint and Black women’s self-defined understanding of their own oppression. So, she too talked about the components of Black women’s standpoint talking about Black women’s political and economic status that provides them with a distinct set of experiences. Talking also about the experiences of Black women’s material reality that gives them a different understanding of Black feminist consciousness. She goes on to talk about and expand on standpoint and really rooting the understanding, even of coming up with a theoretical perspective for Black feminism in Black women’s epistemological understandings of their own relationship to resistance and oppression. So, even Black women’s philosophy even our ability to theorize is developed experientially, developed in community and dialogue, and then grounded in an ethic of care and personal accountability. Which, I really love that. Those three things in particular, I think, really ground the way that we think about—or at least the way that I think about Black feminism.
Combine that with anthropology and the fact that anthropology is the wholistic study of humans, we know that we had to do some work on that definition. Anthropologists—of course, you both know this—have a four-field approach. We do cultural, we do biological or physical, linguistics, archaeology and then we have all the subfields. Um, and I think what’s key about that, and what brought me to anthropology, was this notion that we could understand the human existence from all these different perspectives. And when we put a Black feminist lens on that, we’re talking about Black feminism going into each of these fields and creating a wholistic understanding of humans. That is powerful.
[00:16:45] So, for me, I guess I draw on Irma McClaurin’s definition from Black Feminist Anthropology, that Black feminist anthropology constructs its own canon that is both theoretical and based in a politics of praxis and poetics, again situated in Black women’s experiences. And it also seeks to deconstruct the institutionalized racism and sexism that has characterized the history of the discipline of anthropology. So Black feminist anthropology is not only dealing in understanding black feminism as it is constructed, as it is operable, but also how it is working within our discipline, right. So, I just wrote this article that seeks to build on and expand into a Black transnational feminist praxis, which would be another way for Black feminist anthropologists to think about the way in which we theorize and engage. This article is going to be in the Cambridge Handbook for the Anthropology of Gender and Sexuality. We’re just like—
[00:17:52] Brendane: Okay, we were getting ready to ask.
[00:17:55] Riché: We’re kinda finishing it up. We’re at the point where we’re doing the final edits and all that kinda stuff. In the article I’m really trying to foreground this idea that Black feminist anthropologists right now, contemporary Black feminist anthropologists, are really and definitely, like we’re always building on our history, the theory, the work that has been done before us. I’m building on this idea that Black feminist anthropology is, because we are doing work in other parts of the world, we have something particular to say about how institutionalized racism and sexism have been historically deployed throughout the diaspora. And we need to have ways to articulate that, right, to be able to talk about that.
Also, because we are interested in transforming the discipline, we have to be also concerned about making sure that the Black feminists throughout the diaspora are—their voices, their standpoints—are being foregrounded as well, right, so that it’s not just a U.S. centric focus. Even if we’re the ones going into the field, it shouldn’t just be a U.S. focus understanding of Black feminist anthropology. It should be one that is being developed out of the diaspora, right, that is being fueled by the experiences of Black women in Africa as well and throughout the diaspora.
[00:19:41] Alyssa: Yes, I think you’ve just given me so much to think about and so much that I want to respond to. I mean, first of all, you know talking about—I think what was really powerful for me reading Faye [V.] Harrison and Patricia Hill-Collins, um Audre Lorde as well. Something that Audre Lorde said, or wrote actually, has really stuck with me, which was in the kind of white western philosophical paradigm the phrase is “I think therefore I am” and Audre Lorde said “I feel therefore I can be free.”
[00:20:16] Riché: Yes.
[00:20:17] Alyssa: That struck me. That was just a way of elevating Black women’s ways of being in the world, the Black diaspora and the ways we think, see, and feel. And that being valuable as an epistemological framework was so important for me.
[00:20:32] Brendane: Yeah, I think a lot about diaspora too in, not necessarily in my work but just in general, in thinking about yeah like, how do we draw the line. And then, even thinking about that Black feminist methodologies workshop that we had where she was explaining that a lot of African scholars are rejecting feminism based off of its whiteness and the ways that gender under white supremacy can look a little differently. And so, what does it mean to claim feminism if the right to work doesn’t mean anything to you, right? Or like, you know, just other things to think about when we’re thinking diasporically and as we’re thinking about building. At least for me, I’m thinking Black feminist anthropology always has a purpose, a political purpose, and think about building power for Black people. And so, if we’re thinking about doing that globally and we want to be “feminist” what does that mean in dialogue with other people who might not understand feminism to be the same thing we do. Or might not see it as empowering. So, I’m interested to read your article and see how you’re bringing that in because it is something that I think about a lot, for sure.
[00:21:46] Riché: Yeah and Gwen Mikell wrote a really good book, I don’t know if y’all have seen it. It’s um—well she edited it but it’s a little bit old now but I think the conversation is definitely still relevant. It’s called African Feminism and there are chapters throughout that are written by women on the continent who are talking about many of the things you were saying, Brendane, about what is wrong with the way that we understand feminism because we have been rooted in this kind of western ideology. Even though we have pulled away from it, right, by establishing Black feminism, we’ve found ways to make it fit our experiences. There are, you know, obviously, there are ways in which we, because we’re in the western context and we have been disciplined by these westernized disciplines, there are things that we still do that we need to be careful of. There are ways in which we created imbalances of power and things like that even in our desire to be politically involved in a way that’s going to be beneficial.
[00:22:55] Alyssa: You know, speaking of discipline and disciplining, you are an anthropologist. I think people are always curious about how folks actually end up studying anthropology, because not everyone is exposed to the discipline, especially sociocultural anthropology. People might be familiar with archaeology but they might not hear about sociocultural prior to starting university. So, you know, we prepared for this interview, I saw that your early degrees are in Political Science and Urban Studies, so we’d love to hear about your journey:what brought you to anthropology for your PhD and who was influential for you?
[00:23:34] Riché: Yeah. I have to scream Johnnetta Betsch Cole’s name from the rooftops for the rest of my life. [Laughter]
[00:23:42] Riché: I would not be—not only wouldn’t be an anthropologist, I don’t think I would even be the woman that I am without this woman in my life. She was president of Spelman when I was matriculating and she periodically taught an anthropology class which I did not take because anthropology was not on my radar. At all. I was planning to be an attorney. I had a scholarship that was from the Atlanta Journal-Constitutions. So, I spent most of my time either writing from a journalistic perspective or preparing myself to go to law school. So, I was editor of the student newspaper, I did SGA stuff, these were all the things that were getting me to law school. But because I was editor of the newspaper I was in the leadership cabinet and Dr. Cole would have meetings with us periodically. And so, I had built a relationship with her where, you know, I felt like she was a mentor, right.
And it was my junior year and I—the summer between junior year and senior year was the year when you had a scholarship with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution where they actually made you a reporter. So, you became a staff writer, you went out and you were part of a team of writers and you would go out and do, you know, different stories. And that year I was part of a team that was going to do a series on the young people who had died of violent deaths in that year. So, this was May/June, and we were starting from January and just looking at, you know, which under eighteens had died violent deaths over the course of that year to that point. And I was sent out to interview families and it was so devastating to be in the situation where I was capturing people’s trauma essentially. I mean, I didn’t have the language for it then but basically watching people, mostly mothers of course, recount what had happened to their young person, tell stories of the young person.
You know, of course, I was going to their home so they had pictures, right? It was really, really, difficult for me to be in that space. And I wasn’t sent out with other journalists. I was doing this by myself but then, writing up my notes, and then we were doing the series, right. And at the end of it, when It was published and I had my byline and I was all excited I was also like, now what? We just reported on all of this and what? What are we supposed to do now? I felt a very deep sense of frustration and when I looked at where journalism might take me it also made me look at where the law might take me and I wasn’t seeing either one of them as ways for me to do the kind of—what I thought. I always thought I wanted to do something for my community, I always felt like I wanted to make a change, right? We’re so idealistic. I wanna make a change in the world, right? [Laughter]
[00:27:12] Riché: And you know, I’m looking at these two pathways and I’m like, “eh, this isn’t it.” And I really felt like I had kind of a crisis of what am I about to do with myself when I’ve been telling anybody, the whole world, that I was gonna be an attorney and a journalist. That was the way I was constructing myself and I remember—I can’t remember how I got in touch with Dr. Cole or when exactly—but I remember by the time it was time to start senior year fall, I had had a conversation with her and I had decided. She had actually suggested that I take a sociology course and an anthropology course because I was saying I wanted to learn more, do more in the Black community and I knew I didn’t wanna go to law school. And I thought I might want to be a professor but I didn’t know what I wanted to study and I didn’t know how I wanted to make an impact. And I took intro to sociology and intro to anthropology and went to intern in anthropology and it was—y’all, I don’t know if it’s. Intro has changed enough, I think, since I was in intro that you all didn’t have the kind of nonsense happening in your class that I did.
[00:28:29] Brendane: I doubt it. I doubt it [laughter] and I went to Duke, so I think that says enough about what intro was like [laughter]. And I made a C, like I made a C in intro.
[00:28:42] Riché: You were just checked out. You were like this is not for me, I am not doing this.
[00:28:46] Brendane: I think it was—well partially checked out because I was very confused about all these different theories and then I would write in my essays, like, “this is not true about Black people.” Like I was that student that was like, “yeah we read this and this is what the reading said but this is not true.” And so, I would lose points for disagreeing [laughter] but it’s not about me, let me remove myself.
[00:39:10] Riché: No, you’re good, you’re good, right? Because it’s that, right? It’s the problem with intro that I’ve written about, I’ve talked about, I’ve tried to change when I have had the opportunities to teach intro. But, yeah, it was just rooted in being the most ethnocentric, just biased nonsense. And we used to read the monographs—I think that’s what they were called—the little books that were about a particular tribe, they probably got rid of those by the time you were in intro. But we had these little books that were about particular tribes or groups of people in different parts of the world the Yanomami, the name it. [Laughter] There was almost like a [unclear] trek book about them, yeah.
But despite that, what I saw in intro was a way to understand Black culture, right, and that was what I wanted to do. And to do it from their perspective, our perspective, talk to our people, because I had the benefit of having an instructor—even though intro was problematic, my instructor gave us some good readings. Like we read John Gwaltney’s Drylongso [A Self-Portrait of Black America] and I remember reading that and just being like, “oh wow, you can actually go into communities and talk to people, and find out what they’re experiencing, and write about it and that can be the way that we make changes.” In the same way that you’re saying Brendane, it’s the understanding that you can say this is how it actually is, what you’ve been saying it is, is wrong, all these stereotypes, they’re wrong, here’s what’s actually happening in the Black community. And that really excited me, made me interested, made me want to learn more and how to do it and all that kind of stuff. So, you know, I’m a senior at the time my parents are going to kill me if I say I’m trying to change my major [laughter]. I could barely get them to be okay with me not going to law school. My parents were like, “yep, you are climbing that social class ladder, you’re gonna be an attorney, your gonna make money,” and you know. And when I said I’m gonna be a professor they were like, “what?” [laughter]
[00:31:34] Brendane: What do professors do again? [Laughter]
[00:31:37] Riché: Right and you’re gonna study what? [Laughter]
[00:31:43] Brendane: And you’re working with them bugs and bones and stuff? Yeah [Laughter]
[00:31:47] Riché: Oh, I got so many of those, right? [Laughter] Oh, you wanna be like Indiana Jones? You wanna go dig? No, that’s not actually what we do.
[00:31:56] Alyssa: We definitely, we do some digging though. We do some digging in a social way [crosstalk]
[00:31:57] Riché: [Crosstalk] We do some digging but it’s very different, [laughter] it’s very different, very different [laughter]. So yeah, I was coming to the game late. I took a year off and then I applied to grad school and I actually started at City University of New York with Leith Mullings, she was my advisor—
[00:32:18] Brendane: Oh wow.
[00:32:18] Riché: —yeah, when I first got there. But then I needed to leave New York for a lot of reasons so I took a leave of absence, went to a master’s program in urban studies at Georgia State and then went to Emory for a PhD in anthropology.
[00:32:37] Brendane: Yeah, we actually haven’t had the opportunity on the podcast to address the passing of Leith Mullings on December 13, 2020. And her work we read for a previous episode and it has been an inspiration to us as Black women anthropologists and we would like to take a moment to honor her and say, thank you Leith Mullings for your contributions. We know you can hear us on the other side with the ancestors, rooting for us, making the way easy for us. And I know that she was also a significant mentor to you. If you feel ready, could you share with us how her mentorship has influenced your development as a scholar and your own commitment to mentorship?
[00:33:17] Riché: Yeah, so, gosh. Johnnetta Cole told me to apply to City University of New York Graduate Program to work with Leith Mullings and I did because I do pretty much everything Dr. Cole tells me to do [laughter].
[00:33:39] Brendane: I mean, can you—honestly, it’s like, can you disagree? [Laughter] [Crosstalk]
[00:33:44] Riché: I can’t, no, I can’t. I don’t think. I don’t know. I would feel like I was gonna be struck by lightning if I disagree with her. But yeah, and when I decided to leave I called her and was like, “So, I’m feeling like—” [laughter] because I needed her blessing. I went to work with Leith and the biggest impact Leith had for me was continuing that tradition of letting me know what was possible within anthropology. So, when I went to Emory—and part of the reason why I got the masters in urban studies was because of Leith. Because when I decided to take the leave of ab from CUNY Graduate Center, I had missed the deadline for all other PhD programs and needed to do something with myself while I was waiting to apply to a new program. And I had decided to go to Emory because Dr. Cole was going to Emory.
She and Ida Susser were doing urban anthropology which psh [makes sound] I didn’t, you know, I didn’t know that was possible. I didn’t know that was a thing. So, I took urban anthropology from Ida Susser and I took a course—I can’t remember the name of it right now, I would have to look up the syllabus. I still have all my syllabi. I took a course with Leith that was basically about—it must have been something like Black Women’s Ethnography or Women in Ethnography or something like that. Anyway, put the two of them together, this urban anthropology and this understanding of feminist ethnography or understanding Black women’s lives. I knew that, when I went into Emory, I knew that it was possible for me to do that kind of work. I also knew that I could do U.S. based work and I think if I had not had that experience with Leith, I would not have known.
I would have gone to Emory thinking, like I was being told by many people, you go out into the field, you go away and then you can do something in the U.S. when you come back. But you have to go away, you’re not an anthropologist if you don’t go anywhere. And it was from learning, it was from being in their courses, it was from learning from the projects that they were working on. Ida Susser had been working on homelessness in New York, Leith had been working on Black women broadly but then started working on Black women in Central Harlem and started working on a birth project. And so then, if I’m remembering the timing well, I think either the African burial ground was happening at the same time or had just happened. So, like I was aware of all these ways in which you could be doing work on Black folks and work on Black women in ways that were hard, right?
It wasn’t easy work, it wasn’t easy to understand and work on these issues but it was work that was meaningful and it was pushing us towards making significant changes in people’s lives. And going into Emory with that knowledge really made it such that I could stay and I could develop the project I wanted to do and that I could make it through that project. And then along the way, because I wasn’t Leith’s student anymore we would have periodic check-ins. So, she was like my mentor from afar, like I wasn’t her student. She didn’t, she wasn’t guiding me through my program. She wasn’t helping me out my kinks. But I used her as kind of a, almost like a north star, right, of knowing where I wanted to get, of knowing what I needed to read.
When I think about what Irma McClaurin says about Black feminist anthropology builds its own canon I think about the way that I had to construct my reading list on Black women and Black feminist ethnography. And how it was, it was difficult. But I knew that I could do it from both working with Leith and also from working with a Johnetta Cole. They shaped me and then they made sure, both of them made sure that I was looped in to the Association of Black Anthropologists. And then I got to know Leith’s students both from being there for that year, but also from being engaged in the Association of Black Anthropologists. So, Dána-Ain Davis is someone who continues to be a significant mentor for me, even though we were at CUNY at the same time, for me she’s like my big sister. And Ana Aparicio who is at Northwestern, Raymond Codrington who is in more of an applied approach to anthropology now.
There was just a bunch of us there at that time who, I say they were like my siblings and it was like I could go into Emory already knowing that I had support and that I could do the work that I was trying to do. Even if there weren’t gonna be folks at Emory who were gonna guide me. And I say that because by the time I go to my exams, Dr. Cole had left. So, I had to reconstruct my committee and, you know, face those challenges. But knowing that I had those folks and that experience beforehand that was really helpful for me. It stabilized me. And then Leith was just a touchstone. Periodically it was just, you know, an email or a phone call or a quick check in at ABAs, right. I wouldn’t say she was always—she wasn’t reading my work, she wasn’t, it wasn’t that kind of mentoring relationship. It was a, I don’t even know, it’s hard to explain and I honestly didn’t really realize how devastated I was or how much of a connection I had to her until I was so devastated by the loss.
[00:40:15] Alyssa: It sounds like she just really affirmed you and your work and what it was that you were doing and wanted to do, and I think having people like that in your life and, especially, as an academic is so, so, so important.
[00:40:28] Riché: Yeah, she also challenged me because there are times when—I mean, my book is on Black middle-class women right, so when I’m working on different women. You know, she was working more with women who were lower income and dealing with those types of challenges, and I was looking at middle class Black women and elite Black women in the south. And you know really different populations, if you really think about it right. And so, she was challenging me on you know who are you talking to, right [laughter]. There were times when I was just like, hmm [laughter].
[00:41:11] Brendane: Yes, I heard that she is the woman who asks the hard questions, a lot of the time in the spaces that she’s in and I tend to be that kind of person too in spaces, so I was like, I can really resonate with that, even though I never had the opportunity to meet her before she passed. I remember Lee Baker was explaining to me the different mentors and, you know, you have like your brokers, to introduce you to people who help you do things and then you have like your mentor mentors who do a lot of like emotional labor for you and there’s another type too I can’t really remember off top my head, but it sounds like she just served a really special space by sometimes brokering you but also challenging you and your work and being thoughtful about that. And that’s really, I think that’s really wonderful and yeah, Leith we miss you. I probably shouldn’t call you by first name, but you know we miss you [laughter].
[00:42:16] Riché: I don’t think she would mind [laughter]. We’re doing a special issue of Transforming Anthropology, it’s our regular issue but we’re holding space for articles that are about how Leith’s work tied into ours, and you know, one of the things that I talked about, that I kind of lay out like how she challenged my work. And she was definitely one of those people who, you know. She was, like she was not the warm fuzzy [laughter]. But she had this little, you know when I wrote my comments about her for when we were trying to let everybody know that she had passed away she just had this quiet, just this little package that was like I’m coming for you, right. I’m gonna challenge you, I’m gonna—
[00:43:10] Brendane: I resonate with this.
[00:43:12] Riché: Yes [laughter]. I do miss her. I do. I miss her presence. I miss knowing that she’s here, that she’s in the world and doing the work that she’s doing. Yeah, it’s hard to—the world just feels different without her.
[00:43:32] Alyssa: I think that one of the things that she showed us is how and that it’s possible to take black women seriously as theorists of their own lives and of the world generally. And you alluded to this a little bit earlier, but you know in social science research, Black women are often pathologized, rendered as the ‘poor Black mother,’ or they have us playing into these tropes or archetypes of Black womanhood. And we did an episode on this, if there are any folks who are like what are you talking about with these archetypes it’s episode two, Ain’t I a Woman. And so, as you were saying, you know, your research it elevates Black womanhood, specifically middle-class Black women, as a site of knowledge production. Could you tell us how you arrived at this scholarly project?
[00:44:20] Riché: yeah that was [laughter], in a lot of ways it was by mistake. I went into grad school or like, I guess when I started really trying to formulate my project I was always interested in class. And I was always interested in class from the south. I was interested in U.S. south, I was interested in class divisions. And when I was looking at it, I was initially looking at gentrification in Atlanta, and I was interested in how black folks were doing it, and if it showed up the same way as white folks doing it, and if so, in what ways. And I’m glad I switched because Mary Pattillo came out with a book and the would’ve just psh [makes sound] “We don’t need your work Riché because we got Mary Pattillo’s.”
I got married and had all three of my kids while I was in grad school. With my first I was taking her to story time—so, I was just finished coursework and I was preparing for my qualifying exams, and it was summertime and I taking her to story time. She was born in June and I was taking her to story time at the local library. And I met all these Black women who were, in the middle of the day, in the middle of the week at story time with their little kids. And you know, you can peep out, we know this, we can be honest about this. You can peep out class differences, right? So, I’m looking at these women and I’m like, these are professional women. These are women who would be at work, would be at career work, right, not wage work. They would be at salaried work and I was hanging out with them. They were repeats, I was repeat because I was in grad school, and they were repeats, and you know, we just started getting to know each other. We started having kind of, even when we weren’t at story time, we were doing these play groups together with the kids. These were happening during the week in the middle of the day. And I just got interested in, huh, what were like, are you a stay at home mom, are you on maternity leave? Like what are you doing [laughter]?
[00:46:37] Alyssa: I love when projects kinda just seem to come together. It’s almost like magic sometimes. It just—something happens, something clicks and I love that.
[00:46:47] Riché: Seriously so, you know, I’m asking questions, whatever, and it turns out that they are career women and they’re not on maternity leave. Some of them have kids that are big. You know, when I say big, they’re like two. But, you know, so I’m asking them questions like, how’d this happen or like, what’s up, did you quit? What’s happening? And they’re saying things like, “I’m home, I don’t know for how long,” or “I’m, you know, I thought it was important to do this, so I’m doing it, whatever.” It was just very kind of—but also the undertone was, but I know I’m supposed to be, right. There was this undercurrent of, “yeah, I know I’m supposed to be at work” or “yeah, my family gives me push back.” The way that I start the book, I think. Or like one of the chapters, I talk about one of the women who says that every time she talks to her dad he’s like, “Um, why aren’t you at work, you need to go, like, what are you doing?”
And what you understand and what I understood from my own situated knowledge was for smart Black girls you’re supposed to have a career and you’re supposed to be doing good things for your community, right. And part of your good things for the community is having your career, right? Because that’s setting an example, it’s, you know, it’s the whole lifting as you climb rhetoric. And so, a lot of them were getting that kind of communal push back that was like what are you doing. You know physicians, engineers, marketing, you know, working in your business, industry as marketing executives, you know so on and so forth, right. Like what are you doing? You’re supposed to be doing things for the community. And then also the other undercurrent was, and you’re dependent on a Black man? [Laughter] You sure you wanna do that? [Laughter] I’m just, I mean, I’m being real. I’m just being real right?
Like if you’re a Black girl growing up in the U.S. and I would venture to say much of the diaspora there’s kind of an understanding that you may be on your own raising your kids at some point in your life. Right? So, the idea in that context is you’re never gonna put yourself in the position where dependent. You’re supposed to be independent, you’re supposed to be ambitious. So anyway, I did a preliminary study kind of, with these women, mostly with this group of women, to see. I developed a set of questions and asked this group of women to see what were some of the questions I needed to be asking in a bigger study. And also, is this something that’s researchable.
And that question came from Leith. The question of whether or not I could do this project actually came from Leith Mullings because Leith Mullings said there are not enough Black women who are in a position to be able to make a decision to be at home moms for this project to be sustainable. And what the way in which she challenged me on this project was to say what do we mean by making a decision. Who’s making a choice? Who’s able to make a choice, when is the choice operable, right? It was—I hadn’t been engaging in that way before she asked that question. It wasn’t a question about there aren’t enough people. Of course. Of course, there are enough black women who are in careers and could make a decision to be at home. But is it a choice. What is that decision—I’m doing quotes for decision. What is the “decision” and who are the “decision-makers?” Who is contributing to that decision? Or even, what is contributing to the ability to make that decision and is it an ability? Should we see it as an ability or is it something else? So yeah that’s how we got there. [Laughter]
[00:51:14] Brendane: Yeah, I would say you kinda lay out these frameworks for thinking about the tensions between being Black, being a woman, agency and choice. And for me, I’m from South Carolina, my family’s low-income background, and I struggled reading parts of the book, because I have a different practice of family. Or my friends would probably say, kin practice, as a Black queer woman. And so, I was like trying to reconcile with these thoughts make as someone who’s never really—I didn’t know that there were black elite people until I went to college and university. What was enlightening was thinking about this neo politics of respectability which you lay out in the book. And to me politics of respectability and also respectability politics—which I’m now understanding are two different things—demonstrate the ways that racism fails to accurately encapsulate Black experiences.
So, you talk about this struggle in the book with these women who see you their staying at home as something that resists these racist depictions of Black women as head of their households. But that logic, you talk about this tension, that logic also kind of incorporates these anti-Black strategies of refusal, so one can resist racism by practicing anti-Blackness. Which is why I think anti-Blackness is a better way to think about Black experiences but I know other people would probably argue me down about that. Um I wanted to say that, like so, and to be more clear about it, like these women often saw their choice at home to be a refusal of racial stereotypes of poor Black women, but then these choices kind of reified this patriarchal structures that still, in my opinion, called for the Black woman to decenter herself. I see that too as an act of anti-black violence when we are asked to put other people before ourselves, particularly children and men. And you name this bind as “constrained choices.”
For those of you have not read the book, Dr. Riché Barnes really just kind of lays it out for you well this framework of “constrained choices.” And I wanted to ask thinking about it’s been a number of years since you’ve done this research and publish the work. And I’m wondering about what are the stakes of “constrained choices” now as we’re in kind of this, I would say more emboldened movement for black lives as it continues and do you still do research with middle class black women? Do they still see these neo-politics of respectability as a pathway for Racial liberation or for their own individual freedom? You talk about in the book right, how they instruct their children about dealing with the police, dealing with laws and things like that. So, I’m wondering if that has shifted in the years since you’ve written it.
[00:54:14] Riché: Great set of questions and definitely. I mean I think, you know, one of the things that I have learned or am learning since I finished the project and since it’s come out is there are definitely things about—like if I were to write the book now, like if it was my second book, instead of my first, I think I would’ve challenged more. You know, I don’t really challenge anything until the conclusion. And then it’s still not as much of a challenge as it probably should be about, you know, just really diving into the ways in which these women are responding to neo-liberalism, they’re responding to and engaging in anti-Blackness. And I think you’re right Brendane. And that’s part of the reason why I prefer to look at the way things are happening and have always happened, right, as anti-Blackness. It’s not that we need more diversity, it’s not that we need more equity. It’s y’all got a problem with blackness and let’s name that.
[00:55:19] Brendane: Let’s talk about it. [Laughter]
[00:55:21] Riché: You know, and that’s the world system right, it’s not even just in the US, which I think is why it’s so powerful, because it means to get at as, our also dearly departed elder Audrey Smedley talked about, these world systems, right, these world logics. And she talked about racism in that way and definitely, I think, that she would see in today’s language, anti-Blackness as the thing. You know respectability politics, politics of respectability. So, the way—and I actually heard Evelyn Higginbotham talk about the way when she developed the politics of respectability no one had really been talking about respectability. And then, after her book came out she’s like there was this whole cultural shift to everybody talking about respectability politics, right. And it was a different framework then what she identified as the politics of respectability, as you were kind of hinting at Brendane. And the reference that I’m making to Evelyn Higginbotham is to her book Righteous Discontent, where she lays out the politics of respectability.
So, when I pick up on the neo-politics of respectability basically I’m using her framework to say that these middle-class elite women are thinking in, you know at the turn of the 21st century, are thinking that they are doing some of the things that was happening at the turn of the 20th century with the Black Woman’s Club Movement. While they’re not in the movement, while they are not, and this is the part that makes it the neo-politics of respectability, they’re not actually engaged in large scale activist movements, but they’re seeing their individual decisions as ones that are going to be positively reflective of the black community. and that’s kind of, you know that’s the way they were articulating many of the things that they were deciding to do. Especially as it pertains to being married, and having children and making sure in their language, making sure that their children were not falling into some you know social class decline, right?
For many of the women, I don’t know if you got a chance to look at the table in the back of the book that actually lays out how many of them women had grown up in poor households, how many had grown up in middle-class and elite households. I tried to lay it out so that so that you could kind of follow which of the women were aspirationally thinking that they were reaching a middle-class position or an elite position and which of the women were already situated there and so as a result, felt like they had a different degree of freedom. There’s a chapter that didn’t make it into the book that I would love to turn into an article but I think it might be too late now because I would have to update that data. But it basically was kind of laying out the women who were from kind of poor working-class backgrounds were much more attentive to these strategies, then the women who were clearly situated within upper middle-class elite families of origin.
And that difference Higginbotham also lays out. That difference is in this idea that that to have social class mobility, you have to fit into these ideas of respectability, right, you have to. And you don’t realize that that doesn’t help you until you’ve already been there, until you’re already at that point, and then you can say that that’s not doing anything for me, that’s actually making my situation more tenuous and more precarious. And so, in terms of like are these women still doing these types of things, for the for the women that I interviewed that I’m still in touch with, absolutely. Because their kids are, you know, coming into adulthood at this point. Many of them are, you know—I’m trying to think of everybody. I mean, I think the families I’m still in touch with, the ones that had the oldest kids, their kids are out of college at this point. The ones that were younger are middle school and high school. So yeah, an even more heightened sense of protectionism but also recognizing.
I mean sadly, there is one family where those fears around keeping children from being involved with the wrong folks and doing the wrong thing, you know, that social class decline. They actually experienced that one of their kids who ended up in bad shape with the law. But are starting to understand that it’s a difficult process because there’s so much unlearning that has to happen within the Black community. They’re just starting, the mom in particular is just starting to understand that there are systems in place that are making this so. But the dad is still like, “what are you doing, we didn’t raise you to be this way, and we make sure you have this and that, and you didn’t need to do this, you didn’t need to make this decision, you had options, we made sure you had options, you had a good life, you had a home you had both parents.” And so, yeah, I think that it’s something that happens for all of us as we get older. As we seen more of the world, as we understand more of the systems, as we educate ourselves more, because no one is doing it for us, we become clearer about the ways in which systems are operable.
[01:01:29] Alyssa: So, this research that you were doing, of course, it culminated in your monograph Raising the Race which is, you know, the work that we’ve been talking about. And we mentioned in your bio that it won an award from the American Sociological Association, even though you’re an anthropologist and your work is anthropological. And so, this isn’t you know—of course we’re not critiquing your award here, and this isn’t a criticism of the award being given, but I think this is a question that emerges from conversations that Brendane and I had that we have with other Black colleagues in the discipline. And it’s a question of does our discipline recognize Black people as legitimate sites of knowledge production, particularly when we, that is Black people, are the ones doing the research. And so, I said before we are trying to with this podcast give people the tools to have conversations, to join conversations that are often had about us, without us. So, what do you think?
[01:02:29] Riché: Yeah so first of all I have to say an award, is an award, is an award, and I am so happy [laughter] that the American Sociological Association [laughter] saw fit to award me, even though I am not a sociologist. So, I really appreciate that and also the race, gender class section. I’m in this strange space of you know, because of the disciplinary divides that we’re all so aware of, I was not easily read by in anthropology. My book was put up for some awards in anthropology and didn’t win. I was up against some steep competition that year, though. Aimee Cox’s book Shapeshifters came out too and so um yeah. So, I’m really happy that her work got some acknowledgement, but we were up for some of the same awards in anthropology. And not to say I—I don’t know that I would have gotten them but I know that just from a couple of conversations I had with people, it was a steep competition year, the year that my book came out.
You know, because of what we’re talking about before this kind of go somewhere else and come back and do U.S. work. I think some of that still exists within anthropology and so there’s that piece. There’s also the piece, and I think this is what worked well for me in sociology, there’s the piece that anthropologists don’t really do Black family that’s really a sociological concern. You know, there were a few ways in which the way that I was situated wasn’t easily recognizable for anthropology and was much more recognizable for sociology, American studies, you know so on and so forth. And I do think, if I’m understanding your question right, I think that we are still in a position within anthropology, where the exotic other Black person is still much more interesting, valuable. And I think part of that comes from the issue that anthropology has been facing of late, and that is the talk back. The fact that our participants, our respondents are educated and engaged and can be engaged in talking back to our research. I think anthropology as a discipline still likes the idea of the natives not talking back and [laughter].
[01:05:33] Alyssa: I mean, I think that’s what I think I was trying to get at is you know when we’re doing the research with other Black people it’s sociology, but of course you can get your Alice Goffman’s On the Run that was creative—
[01:05:47] Brendane: That was creative fiction work [laughter]. You know, creative fiction [laughter].
[01:05:53] Alyssa: But, but you can, you know, you can get white folks going to hang out with the Blacks in, I don’t know, Sierra Leone or the Blacks in South Carolina and then that’s anthropology because, you know, they’re just so different. We’re so other that that contrast makes it anthropological and it’s almost as though our discipline requires that.
[01:06:22] Riché: Yeah, we still have that divide about you know I mean, I’m sure you can imagine how many times I was told that I was studying myself when I was working on my project. Especially if they heard that I was married and I had kids. It was like, “oh, you’re studying yourself, that’s great.” No, I’m not actually. I’m not studying myself, that would be called autobiography.
[01:06:48] Alyssa: Brendane relates [laughter].
[01:06:50] Brendane: I feel you. I feel you.
[01:06:52] Riché: Yes. Yeah, so we still have some work to do on really developing, you know, establishing Black Americanists working in the U.S. being you know completely engaged in U.S. work being seen as serious anthropologists, as serious theorists. It is still a struggle and I will say it still, it’s still such a struggle, you know the job market bears it out in in many ways. It’s difficult to find a Black anthropologist who do didn’t work in the US in an anthropology department period. Like no joint appointment, no. Just, I’m an anthropologist. I think that says a lot, right?
[01:07:44] Alyssa: Yes [laughter].
[01:07:45] Riché: Or you have to be so prolific right, you have to be John Jackson [laughter]. You have to be John Jackson!
[01:07:45] Alyssa: But that says something as well. John Jackson is what? And I think that there’s something about Black men and research that allows them more leeway than Black women.
[01:08:05] Riché: I think that’s right too. I think—
[01:08:06: I’m not saying that specifically about John Jackson.
[01:08:07] Riché: No, no, no. I mean, John’s one of my mentors so no, I don’t have anything negative to say. He’s amazing, he’s an amazing mentor. Like amazing, amazing. He understands it, right? And Lee too. Lee Baker is one of my mentors. Like, they understand what’s going on in the discipline and so there’s no shade to them. The shade is to the discipline, and the discipline does reward certain people for doing certain types of work in very specific ways.
[01:08:37] Alyssa: And that’s the word. [Laughter] Actually, this was a perfect segue—
[01:08:42] Brendane: Yeah, I was about to say.
[01:08:43] Alyssa: Since it’s Black History Month, and we know that the month is often spent lauding the achievements of Black men and a select few Black women, so we wanted to ask you: Who is one of your unsung Black heroines?
[01:08:55] Riché: Okay, when we say unsung? You know I’m an academic, when we say unsung, what do we mean? [Laughter] Do we mean my nana or do we mean Alisha Winn who is an anthropologist, an applied anthropologist. Who do we mean?
[01:09:14] Brendane: So, I am open to all of it, all the things. Nana is a hero, as well as Alisha Winn, who I’ve met and I think that she’s very nice. And just was very open about talking about doing applied anthropology and her life outside the Academy, so I am interested in all of it. I love all of it. Alyssa, I don’t know if you also agree, but yeah, I love it.
[01:09:44] Alyssa: No, I agree, we want to hear your interpretation as well. I think that, you know, when it comes to Black history month, of course there are names that people can and will rattle off, so to speak, and so I think that there are a lot [laughter] Brendane’s laughing [laughter].
[01:10:05] Riché: Brendane is laughing. [Laughter]
[01:10:06] Brendane: I’m laughing because I was gonna make a joke of like, you know, like I’m sure Rosa Parks is tired.
[01:10:14] Alyssa: Oh no [laughter].
[01:10:14] Brendane: Like, I’m sure she’s like, “Stop. Stop invoking my presence” [crosstalk]
[01:10:18] Alyssa: [Laughter]
[01:10:18] Riché: She really is tired this time [laughter].
[01:10:19] Brendane: “I have left. I’m an ancestor. Stop invoking my presence.” But, that’s why I was laughing [laughter].
[01:10:25] Alyssa: Well, there you go [laughter] [unclear] that’s, not to say that we shouldn’t continue to appreciate—
[01:10:34] Riché: Yeah, yeah [unclear] we have that little space.
[01:10:35] Alyssa: —and sing their names, but also, there are a lot of Black women who are doing really great work, who have done really great work and they don’t get spoken about as much because of perhaps class issues, colorist issues, and the way that society wants to hear certain words and certain ideas from certain women who look a certain way.
[01:11:01] Riché: it’s so hard to like name people, because there’s so many people, so many people who have been so important to my life, and to my work. I guess, when I think about me personally, you’ve already heard me talk about Johnetta Cole and her role in my life, my work. My nana, that is my grandmother and she’s 92, almost 93.
[01:11:27] Brendane: Yeah, you posted a picture of her on twitter.
[01:11:29] Riché: Yeah, she’s amazing.
[01:11:30] Brendane: She’s so cute. [Laughter] I’m like, she looks, she is so cute. Those pictures, I was like wow, I see all the genetics poppin’ off between the two of you.
[01:11:40] Riché: Thank you.
[01:11:41] Brendane: You’re gonna look good in your nineties.
[01:11:41] Riché: Thank you because I think she’s beautiful so if you see that, please bring it on. I tell her all the time, I wanna be just like you when I grow up Nana. She, she’s amazing. I’ve just started interviewing her to hopefully be able to tell her story. She migrated to Philadelphia, so she lives in Philadelphia now and raise my mom and my mom’s sister in Philadelphia, divorced my grandfather, became a nurse and just did all the things. So, I’m just really inspired by her. And it took some time right, this could be another podcast but it’s, you know, it’s one of those things with Black women, especially, I think, especially from the South, especially from the U.S. South, the history of the violence of racism and how it impacted people’s relationships with their maternal kin. Mothers and grandmothers because they’re so hard. They’re so hard on you because they know what you’re up against and you don’t know that while you’re being raised. It’s not until you’re older, they’re older, that you’re like, “oh that’s why you were like that.”
So yeah, it’s definitely a situation that has evolved over time, and so I’m excited to talk to her. She’s excited. It was so funny because when I told her that I wanted to interview her, I was kind of you know, telling her why. Like there’s the great migration and then you, you know you became nurse and so you’re a part of this Black women becoming professionals and you were raising my mom and Aunt Spring. And I’m going through all that and I’m just like, you know I want to really talk about that with you and just learn your story and everything and she’s like, “oh, you’re telling me stuff I didn’t know.” [Laughter] And it’s so funny to kinda think of her as like—like this is the way it is, right, as Black women, right, like you’re just doing the things. You’re just surviving. And it’s not because you’re a part of the great migration, you’re a part of this, you know this, the opportunities that opened up, you we’re able to send your kids to integrate school because Brown versus Board of Education was passed. You’re not paying attention to the history, the historical moments that you’re a part of, you’re just trying to survive.
[01:14:15] Brendane: And you’re the ones making the history.
[01:14:17] Riché: Right, exactly. So yeah, she wasn’t getting that. So, it’s exciting. It’s exciting to talk with her, she’s excited, it’s really fun. So yeah, she’s an unsung heroine for sure. I guess in terms of my academic life, I would have to say, it would be so hard to name all the people who have been so important to me, who have been heroines for me, but there have been times, particular times, where because of our discipline, because of the academy, there have been people who have really stepped up for me. So, I would have to say Bianca Williams, Lynn Bolles, Faye Harrison, Alaka Wali. I think, you know, just so many of our elders who have just, I think, because they established the Association of Black Anthropologists, are just so in tune with all the things that we need to be able to make it through. To make it through all of this and be able to thrive through it too. It’s not just making it, right, it’s also doing it in such a way that you feel loved and cared for and supported. So, that was part of the reason why I wanted—I was happy to be a part of the Association of Black Anthropologist and to run for President and all that stuff. It was because I wanted to be able to make sure that the community that was there for me was there for other people too.
[01:15:51] Brendane: Yeah. I think that all of your work and, of course, the work of our elders in the discipline has really shine through now in the type of community that we have in the Association for Black Anthropologists and I remember going to the 2017 Triple A [American Anthropological Association] meeting and sitting in in the mentoring session and feeling like it felt like the first time like, “Oh, there are other Black people who do this and like who want me to be successful,” because I had already had a rough start at our graduate program and I was just like “Okay, is this even something Johnetta B. Cole and Yolanda Moses and Lynn Bolls. And I remember, there was a circle, it was like this power elder circle—
[01:16:40] Riché: Yes, yes, yes, that was the way it arranged. That was the year we did the wisdom circle.
[01:16:46] Brendane: Yes.
[01:16:47] Riché: Oh, I didn’t say Irma McClaurin, definitely Irma, for sure.
[01:16:53] Brendane: And like everybody just, they were just like here’s all the gems, you know. And I’m like okay I gotta write these down and so yeah, I just would say that we are just so appreciative of your work and, as we are like winding down here we just wanted to ask you what advice would you give to up and coming Black feminist anthropologists.
[01:17:15] Riché: That’s a really good question. Hold that thought. Because when we were talking about unsung heroines I needed to say also Cheryl Marea. So, advice for Black feminist anthropologists? circles of support and collaboration. I was fortunate and I’m so glad the two of you have each other to do this work. I feel like you’re unsung heroines, because this is, just like such a powerful platform. And I know it’s a labor of love. Like you’re not, I mean as far as I know, you’re not getting paid for it. Yeah, that is a Black feminist praxis in action, right there, right? That you would create a space in Zora Neale Hurston’s name and make it about having these conversations that are about the discipline, that are about Black women, that are about all the different things that we need to consider, be engaged in, be thinking about, be pushing ourselves on, be accountable to. So, I also think of Christen Smith and the Cite Black Women project, that has just been amazing also.
So, I think in terms of like—I think the biggest advice is you already know. If you’re a Black feminist anthropologist, you already know the work that you’re committed to, the tradition of work that you’re committed to. What you need after you know about that commitment is support, is collaborative support, and I know when I was in Grad school there were six. There were six of us in the anthropology PhD program at Emory at the same time, but in staggering years. So, we weren’t all in the same cohort but we were there at the same time. And we get together for dinner, we would get together just to talk, to hang out. We didn’t do a lot of studying together, we had very different projects. But we were committed to one another, just in terms of making sure we all made it through the program with our selves intact. [Laughter]
[01:20:01] Alyssa: I mean if you’re not, if you’re not lucky enough to be at a University in a program where you have other fellow travelers [laughter] as Brendane and I do, join the ABA, join the grad—
[01:20:17] Brendane: Exactly.
[01:20:18] Alyssa: The graduate student interest group. We’re in it, there’s a Slack channel.
[01:20:23] Riché: Yes, that’s a word. That is it, right? And you have to you have to keep doing that throughout your careers. You have to always have that group of folks that you can talk to. Right now, I’m in a writing group with three other Black feminist anthropologists Erica Williams, Laurian Bowles and Dawn-Elissa Fischer. And most the time we’re writing, but a lot of times we’re like, “so I have a question I’m trying to figure out what to do with my department.” [Laughter]
[01:21:03] Brendane: I think it just points back to, circles back to something you said at the beginning and thinking about what does it mean to be black feminist and so much of that is tied in to care and caring for each other. Which I think is what—I’mma say this, right? It’s the marker, the difference between just being a Black anthropologist and being committed to the practice of like Black feminist anthropology, right? It’s this ethics of care and this mode of moving to the world where community really is at the center of things. And, you know, I’m glad to know that the ABA exists. I didn’t know that it was a thing before. And Lee Baker was the one that told me to like go to the meetings and stuff. He was like I know you got all this other stuff going on, but like just go to the meetings just go and lead people and move from there. And I think it was just so good to see that community there and to be able to build from meeting people that day. Or even to be able to say, like I got to shake hands with Irma McClaurin, I got to shake hands with Johnetta B. Cole. I don’t know, I still think about that sometimes.
[01:22:07] Alyssa: Yeah, I think the shaking hands is a distant memory [laughter][crosstalk].
[01:22:10] Brendane: Moments in my life when I was so happy.
[01:22:11] Alyssa: That may be the last Black feminist hand you shake.
[01:22:14] Riché: Aww, you shake hands and then you immediately use your hand sanitizer, that’s all. [Laughter][crosstalk] Right, right.
[01:22:25] Brendane: Yeah so, unfortunately, our last question, which is thinking about just our podcast and work that we want to point people to, work that you’re doing as well. So, our podcast is of course an homage to the Zora Neale Hurston, and you are one of the faculty members for the National Endowment for the Humanities Hurston on the Horizon Virtual Summer Institute. We wanted to just ask you if you could tell our listeners a bit more about the institute and how they can participate?
[01:22:59] Riché: Yeah, yeah. I’m really excited and I feel so honored and blessed to be asked to be a part of this project, so it’s a three-week Institute but it’s for college and university professors. It’s focusing on Zora Neale Hurston’s impact on everything [laughter]. On literature, on culture, as an author, as a journalist, as a filmmaker and it’s happening July 11th through 30th and registration is open now. Or applications, it’s actually an application process. So, it’s through University of Kansas and you can apply at their website. So, it’s Hurston dot Kansas university. So, what’s interesting about it is it’s the thing that happens to Zora Neale Hurston all the time, right? That she gets grabbed up by the humanities broadly, like she gets grabbed up by literature folks. So, the folks that are putting it together are primarily focusing English and literature, but thankfully they’re being expansive. And so, I’m going to be one of the faculty members who is talking about Zora Neale Hurston’s contribution to the discipline of anthropology. And I’m primarily going to be talking about her work as an anthropologist and focusing on a couple of her projects that are noted as ethnographic. So, Of Mules and Men, Barracoon, and then the work that she was doing with the WPA and those types of things. So, it’s going to be really great. It’s a start, the faculty that are part of the program is an all-star cast really. The people who have been brought together to be to the faculty presenters, teachers and lecturers. I’m excited it was supposed to be in person but they switched it to remote because of the popsicle [laughter] so we’re going to be remote. Which is fine. But yeah, it would have been great to be together, yeah.
[01:25:20] Alyssa: Alright. Too bad about the potpourri [laughter] Well, we are going to wrap it up. We’re just going to do our little schtick [laughter]
[01:25:31] Riché: It’s been great though, y’all. I don’t know if this is the time when I’m supposed to say it’s been great but it’s been great. [Laughter]
[01:25:42] Alyssa: Thank you all so much for listening. This episode was produced by yours truly, Alyssa James, and my lovely co-host, Brendane Tynes. Our intern is Menkhu-ta Whaley. This season of the podcast is generously funded by the Racial Justice Mini-Grant Program through the Office of University Life and supported by the Institute for Religion, Culture and Public Life and the Office of the Vice Provost for Faculty Advancement; the Office for Academic Diversity and Inclusion; the Arts & Science Graduate Council, and listeners just like you! Zora’s Daughters is distributed in partnership with the American Anthropological Association. Finally, a huge thank you to Dr. Riché Daniel Barnes for joining us today!
[01:26:25] Brendane: For our listeners make sure you head to zorasdaughters.com to find transcripts for our episodes, our bios, our contact information, and ways to support the podcast.
[01:26:35] Alyssa: Alright everyone, be kind to yourselves. Bye
[01:26:38] Brendane: Bye.
[END OF RECORDING]