There wouldn’t be a fabric of the nation if Black Americans hadn’t picked the cotton for it! Brendane and Alyssa are back for Semester 2 with announcement of all the big things we’ve been talking about and getting into decolonization, history and national myths with The 1619 Project, banning books, racial constructs, and whether we really need Black History Month.
What’s the Word? Decolonization. We explain the difference between colonialism and imperialism as well decolonization and decoloniality.
What We’re Reading. The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story edited by Nikole Hannah-Jones. We discuss her contribution to understanding history and historiography and writing the contributions of enslaved Black Americans and their descendants into U.S. history and memory, how it’s become the center of “diaspora wars” and “POC wars,” the lag between scholarly knowledge and mainstream knowledge, and the project’s choice of language around the system of slavery.
What in the World?! In this segment, we ask whether we really need Black History Month, the wave of banning books by and about Black, queer, and people of color AKA further under-educating and underserving Black and brown children, fragile white men’s ideas about how to “combat” the teaching of critical race theory in schools (which we posit they take literally to mean ‘ideas the criticize white people’), and Jordan Peterson and Joe Rogan talking about what they think race is.
Zora’s Daughter’s Podcast: Season Two, Episode Nine
Co-Hosts: Brendane Tynes and Alyssa A.L. James
Title: Separate but Equal Month
Total Length: 01:28:14
[00:00:22] Brendane Tynes: Happy New Year! I mean, I—is it too late to say that? [Laughter] Welcome back to Zora’s Daughters, the podcast where we tackle topics of interest to Black folx through the lens of academic scholarship and colorful insight.
[00:00:38] Brendane: I’m Brendane and I use she/her/hers pronouns.
[00:00:43] Alyssa A.L. James: This is Alyssa. I use she/her/hers pronouns too. And it’s definitely too late to say “Happy New Year!” because it’s February. And February means it’s my birthday month, it’s Aquarius season, and it’s Black History Month.
[00:00:58] Brendane: Too many things.
[00:00:59] Alyssa: So I guess—I guess we could say Happy Black History Month. But is it though? Hmm. We’ll see. In today’s episode, we’re talking about decolonization, the “controversial” 1619 Project, book bans in school, and whether we really need Black History Month. But before we get into it, let’s finally do the big reveal of the big things that we have been teasing/promising for the last 8 months [laughs].
[00:01:37] Brendane: Yo, eight months. Now you really startin’ to sound like men. [Laughter] So, the first thing that you might have noticed if you’re listening to the podcast is that our cover art has changed. I mean, I got locs, I got heels on, we sittin’ on books out here.
[00:01:56] Alyssa: I got my Chelsea boots. That’s all me.
[00: 01:58] Brendane: Chelsea boots, lookin’ fly. I’m lookin’ tall. So we have updated our look with the help of the talented and generous graphic designer, Whitney Ingram. And she really captured our vibe and helped us brand the podcast while keeping the soul that brought you to listen to us in the first place. So we have new podcast cover art, a logo, and IG templates that will keep everything lookin’ real cohesive. So thank you so much Whitney! And we’re gon’ put y’all on to her because she is amaaazing.
[00:02:31] Alyssa: Yes, and so we have a new look. But it’s the same great flava. [Laughs] No, she really did so much work for us and we both truly appreciate her skills, and really, her patience with us. Because the way in which we were trying to explain what we wanted but we have zero design literacy, it was just impressive that she was able to take our ramblings into what we all can see on our—on all of our different platforms. The next thing is that we have a Patreon. So you all have been asking for us to do this for a while because PayPal just wasn’t cutting it.
[00:03:16] Brendane: We understand, we understand [Laughs]
[00:03:19] Alyssa: We still have PayPal, and we will welcome one-time donations there. But if you’re a regular listener, if you’re a person who engages with us regularly, and you know you want to be part of the community, you want to have some access to us, then you can become a patron at patreon.com/zorasdaughters. We have five tiers. They’re all Zora Neale Hurston-themed, and we put a lot of thought into what we thought you would want to see from us. So there you go. That’s the Patreon. But, of course, as you must do have a little gimmick. Our gimmick is that the first 50 people to sign up will receive a handwritten postcard in the mail from one of us. So again, it’s patreon.com/source daughters and it is live now,
[00:04:11] Brendane: You know, run don’t walk as the great theoretician K. Michelle says [laughter] The last thing is that we are incredibly excited to tell you that we began the process of creating a not-for-profit that will expand the mission of our podcast. So be on the lookout for more updates as we are able to share. We have a lot of big things poppin’ over here.
[00:04:38] Alyssa: Yeah, or as I would more—be more likely to say: Big tings a gwaan. But you know, basically, it’s our succession plan. We’ll see what happens.
[00:04:50] Brendane: Have to level up. And I almost repeated you, but I was like, “Lemme stay in my African American lane.” [Laughter] Well, that’s really—
[00:05:00] Alyssa: Yes, I’m tryna do the same thing, tryna do the same thing. I’m gonna stay in my Jamaican diaspora lane [laughter].
[00:05:10] Brendane: That’s really all we can say right now, but please stay tuned for that. And we’re gonna turn our attention to the first segment where we define a word that’s important to the topic of this week. Or really, that is—that is the topic of this week. So Alyssa, what’s the word?
[00:05:29] Alyssa: Our word today is “decolonize.” We chose this word because these days, everyone is decolonizing, everything is decolonial, it’s the time of decolonization. So where do we even start?
[00:05:43] Brendane: I mean, maybe we should start with colonization.
[00:05:47] Alyssa: Word. [Pause] Did I sound as old as I felt saying that?
[00:05:55] Brendane: [Laughter] Word up [laughs].
[00:05:58] Alyssa: Word Up! magazine—all right, if anyone knows what that is who’s listening, I will be surprised. Colonization is the process of creating settlements or colonies in places outside of your dominion, we’ll say. Colonization was not just about discovering a place or building networks, but it refers to situations where large numbers of people from a place of origin migrate to a new one in order to establish control over the indigenous people of that land, and populate it with people from the origin country. There’s often a process of eradication or subjugation of the indigenous people, while the colonists have privileges over the other inhabitants because of connections they maintain with their former country. So one of the main actions that created the Americas as we know them today, including the United States and Canada, was this process of colonization.
[00:06:55] Brendane: Right. And you might hear people use the word “settler colonialism”—that’s also connected to colonization. But people often incorrectly use colonialism and imperialism as synonyms, which is fair, because they are very easy to confuse, and at moments in our history, were happening simultaneously. But here’s the difference: imperialism is a country’s policy that involves widening their sphere of influence, whether through force or through diplomacy. So this can be for the purpose of taking over the land, controlling economic interest, or claiming certain rights and privileges in that place. Creating a colony or a protectorate is a form of imperialism. Canno-ca—ooh! Not cannoli! Colonialism [laughs], on the other hand, is a physical act that involves creating settlements of people from a mother country and pushing out indigenous populations. And so this is what we would call settler colonialism.
[00:07:57] Alyssa: Right. So with imperialism, you might have someone from the origin country who would be a governor or something like that. So they would go over there and they would—they would govern, they would lead, they would take power, and they would organize and do things like that, but you’re not gonna have—you’re not gonna have a large population of people going over there to settle and create new settlements and habitations and things like that. So now we can swing around to our word, which is “decolonize” or “decolonization.” Knowing what colonization was and knowing that the prefix de- means “off” or “away”, the simplest explanation is that decolonization means to remove or undo colonization. If only things were that simple.
[00:08:49] Brendane: Yes.
[00:08:50] Alyssa: How does one undo centuries of genocide, subjugation, exploitation, oppression? And can you really undo that with your course, your book, your Instagram page? So what really is decolonization? A number of scholars have tried to explain this, and I think another distinction that we need to make here is between “decolonization” and “decoloniality,” which not enough people make. I really—I really wanna see more folks doing that, cuz people will give their Instagram page the tagline, “A decolonized space,” or something along those lines, and the question is, how is that possible in a space on a social network created by and for capitalism?
[00:09:37] Brendane: Right, where you have to—now, especially on IG, you have to subscribe to creators’ posts and pages, right. You’re not decolonizing by sharing cute pictures or even reforming white people, and even—we talked about abolition before, but the word “reform”—if we were to break it down—literally means to remake something, right, to make something again. So, anyway, reform is bad, abolition is the way we should go, and [unclear] [laughter]. But let’s keep to the—let’s keep to the word of the day.
[00:10:12] Alyssa: I see—I see what you were getting at. And I know for—I know there are definitely some folks out there who are probably hate-listening and you’re like, “Yeah, but didn’t you just ask us to subscribe to your Patreon?” Yes, we did, and we never said that anything that we were doing was decolonizing. Okay. Moving forward [laughs]. Without getting too much into the weeds, decolonization is a process. It’s an action—and it is not a metaphor, as Eve Tuck and Wayne Yang explain, and we’ll return to that a little bit later—just as colonization was an action. So decoloniality, on the other hand, is the rejection of coloniality—the logic, the mindset, and the intersections of power created by colonization and settler colonialism. And one could even say that it is—that it created and was created by colonization. So this structure—which is abstract, but has, of course, actual factual consequences—is called coloniality. So decoloniality is an orientation of thought that allows us to unlearn and relearn the world outside of white supremacy, settler colonialism, and racial capitalism. So is that truly possible in the pure sense is another question. But just remember that decoloniality is an approach or method of looking at the world that aims to make visible the colonial logics that underpin knowledge, practice, history, identity, and beliefs, and also to revalorize the things that have been stolen and discredited by those logics.
[00:11:52] Brendane: So maybe you can have a decolonial Instagram page.
[00:11:57] Alyssa: That’s decolonial, not decolonized [laughs].
[00:12:00] Brendane: Right, maybe you can have decolonial methods in your research, but that’s a big maybe, you know, a big quizás, you know. A decolonial—[laughter] a decolonized space, now that is truly something else. And the way people have been using that term, like Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang to write their 2012 essay, “Decolonization is Not a Metaphor.” And they write about the way the term decolonize has been coopted and defanged in such a way that it makes it sound like it’s something real easy to do. So they cite decolonizing methods and calls to decolonize student thinking or even these schools that are, you know, “decolonized.” So turning decolonization into a metaphor actually allows settlers to engage and move to innocence, which is, you know, these moves that assuage their guilt through different techniques that maintain their power and status. So, “I’m not X, Y, and Z colonialist. I had nothing to do with that. They’re just my ancestor[s].” You know, these kinds of moves to distance yourself from the violence and harm. Right, so decolonization, according to Tuck and Yang, right, actually means the repatriation of land from settlers to indigenous people, period. So if your work, whatever you’re doing, is not giving land back, then it’s not decolonizing, right. And if that concept worries or confuses you, then we recommend that you listen to our last episode, “40 Acres Ain’t Praxis,” in which our guest, Amber Stark says, “Land back is not an eviction notice.” Right, so decolonization is something that must be demanded and taken by the people. All of us. And it’s not something that the state is just gonna give us because we ask nicely, but—and we gon come back to that. We gon—gon come back to it.
[00:13:56] Alyssa: Yes, exactly. In my opinion, decolonization is an absolute. We’re either decolonized or we’re not. There are no decolonized spaces. There are no decolonized books, no decolonized hearts. I saw that somewhere. Your spaces still exist in institutions shaped by colonialism and kept afloat by racial capitalism, racial slavery. Your books are still published by publishers and institutions and organizations that have been funded by exploitation. And your heart doesn’t matter because we don’t live there. So Frantz Fanon, he described decolonization as a violent and disruptive process. He argued that we can only get there through revolution. We have to take our freedom. And if you’re like, “What?” it’s in The Wretched of the Earth. He was hella radical. Don’t let anyone tell you that he wasn’t [laughter]. But simply, decolonization is nothing less than the destruction of the worlds colonialism created. Fanon explains that the rebuilding of our world must also involve an interrogation of all the damage done to our psyches and inner worlds by colonialism. Only then will we find ourselves liberated. So what colonial logics structure your thoughts, beliefs, identity, and practices?
[00:15:24] Brendane: Woo. That’s a big question. Feel free to pause and think about it and then come back, you know. But if you are really kind of, like, struggling to think about that, one resource that I find to be very helpful in thinking through just the ways that we have been inculcated is “White Supremacy Culture” by Tema Okun, and you can really get started working through that question. And what they do is just lay out really some major tenets of white supremacy culture.
[00:15:59] Alyssa: Right. People often reference the Peggy McIntosh article, “Unpacking the Backpack of White Privilege [Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack],” or something like that. I think that this essay is far superior to that one in terms of what you can learn and what you can unlearn about the world and the way that you see it.
[00:16:22] Brendane: Yes, I mean, Peggy—Peggy, girl, did a good job for the time—
[00:16:27] Alyssa: Yes [laughs].
[00:16:28] Brendane: —You know, you kinda have to advance—ooh, lemme not say that. You kinda have to deepen [laughs]—deepen your understanding of the ways that white supremacy works, right. It’s not just a matter of privileges, but also how you move through the world and how you expect the world to kind of move around you. Today, we are going to talk about history and national myths, which I love. Alyssa loves.
[00:17:01] Alyssa: That’s ma thang!
[00:17:03] Brendane: [Laughs] That is truly your project. So some historians have written that the period of decolonization actually began in the 1770s with the United States Revolutionary War. And a lot of Americans, particularly those that live in the United States, are tied to that idea: that we freed ourselves from the tyranny of British rule. But as we explained, right, decolonization is not the simple withdrawal—that was very southern—withdrawal or forcible separation from the mother country. While white settlers in the United States were free from British rule, they continued to enslave Black people on land that native peoples are the rightful stewards. So these dates—1620, which is the settlement of Jamestown, 1776, the Revolutionary War—do not have the same meaning to us in our history of the United States. And so we’re gonna get to that.
[00:18:02] Alyssa: We are exactly gonna get to that. You did a perfect segue to What We’re Reading, which is the segment where we break down and discuss a text that will help us set the stage for our later discussion. Dun dun dun.
[00:18:15] Brendane: Dun dun dun.
[00:18:19] Brendane: So today, we are reading The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story, which was created by Nikole Hannah-Jones. Nikole Hannah-Jones is an award-winning investigative reporter who covers civil rights and racial injustice for The New York Times Magazine. Prior to joining The New York Times, Nicole worked as an investigative reporter at ProPublica in New York City, where she spent three years chronicling the ways official policy created and maintained segregation in housing in schools. Before that, she reported for the largest daily newspaper in the Pacific Northwest, The Oregonian, in Portland, Oregon, where she covered numerous beats including demographics, the census, and county government. She started her journalism career covering the majority Black Durham public schools for The News and Observer in Raleigh, North Carolina—whoop whoop, Durham! During her three years there, she wrote extensively on issues of race, class, school resegregation, and equity, and now Hannah-Jones is a professor at Howard University.
[00:19:26] Alyssa: Dope life, dope life. So, we of course did not read the full 1619 Project for this episode. We read the preface and the first chapter entitled “Democracy.” I also—because I’m extra—read the final chapter, which was “Justice,” but we’re not really gonna get into that one today. So we read the book that was published in 2021, not the original magazine published in 19, the 400-year anniversary of the arrival of the White Lion ship, which we will explain what that is in a little bit. So what I understand is that there were changes in the way some things were phrased in her essays. Other essays were expanded and there are completely new essays. There’s poetry and some fiction as well, which I found really interesting and I enjoyed. So I’m embarrassed to say, but I didn’t really pay attention to this project until about 2020 when Trump and the other conservatives started coming out and speaking against it and banning it from being taught [laughs]. I think—I was tryna—I was tryna figure it out with bae. I was just like, “When did it come out?” So it came out in August of 2019. And I know exactly where I was the exact day that it came out. I was traveling. I was on a plane, then I was traveling around Southeast Asia. So I was not tapped into the zeitgeist, let’s just put it that way. So I missed the moment when it came out. And I probably didn’t really understand what it was referencing when it came—when it—you know, when people did talk about it. So I was just like, “Something about it just doesn’t seem like it’s for me.” Like, I had no idea that it was a Black woman that created it. I was just like, “Oh, okay, it sounds like something for Americans and American history.” And American history isn’t my history—or North—I should say, US history isn’t my history. So yeah. What did you know about it when it came out?
[00:21:29] Brendane: I’m like, “Wow, what was I doing August 2019?” [Unclear] Oh, yeah, I was here, I think.
[00:21:38] Alyssa: In Bawlmore [Baltimore].
[00:21:39] Brendane: Bawlmore.
[00:21:40] Alyssa: Oh, I think I said it right!
[00:21:42] Brendane: Yeah, I remember a flurry of tweets. I follow several Black feminists on all of my Twitter accounts and they were retweeting. There was a lot of celebration. And then in a few days after, there was—the critiques started coming forth. But I had immediately—as soon as I saw it, I was like, “Oh, I—you know, newspaper? Who reads that?” So I had logged it as something that was not for me, basically. And I was like, “In The New York Times? Must be a tool to educate White people.” So I automatically just kind of ignore things like that, which is, like, no tea, no shade to the contribution that it is. I think that I became intrigued in reading part of it today, because I’m wanting to see what all the hype and the hate was about, like—and is about, cuz still to this day, to this day. And I know we’ll get into it, but there—I just think there’s so much to say even from the little bit that we we read. This book brings, obviously, right, the themes of history and historiography, which is the study of writing of history, to the forefront. And I’m deeply fascinated by the way that Hannah-Jones positions Blackness and Black Americans within the “American origin story.” And it’s like, no wonder that The 1619 Project has been at the center of, like, these diaspora wars of sorts.
[00:23:21] Alyssa: Interesting, I—
[00:23:22] Brendane: And also, POC wars of sorts.
[00:23:26] Alyssa: Oh. [Laughs] You’re like, “No, scratch.” I think—I think it’s interesting that you say that you kind of wrote it off as a tool to educate White people, cuz, you know, as you read in the preface, she’s talking about how, you know, Black people would write her and they would say, you know—even she—I think she said, it was, like, this woman who was in her 90s, wrote her and said, you know, “These are things that I always knew, this is what I always knew about our history in this country, but I just didn’t have the words for it.” So, you know, I think—I think there’s a way that I guess it serves a dual purpose, but I don’t—I wouldn’t say that was her purpose. And I know that’s not what you were saying at all, either. But, you know, I think her goal was to allow Black Americans or help Black Americans feel more seen and, you know, part of the national fabric, we’ll say, which, of course, you know, has its own liberal issues. But I want you to say more about the diaspora wars and it being at the center of that.
[00:24:34] Brendane: Oooh. Yeah, I guess I could say the diaspora wars and then the POC wars. So one thing that I liked was that she was very direct in saying Black Americans did this, made this, blah, blah, blah. Which, as we know—as two African diasporic people, right—we know that diaspora wars—people come to the US and all of a sudden they’re like, “Oh, I’m Black, too. I’m Black American, too. And I have access to certain histories, certain histories around reparations,” etc., etc.—and, you know, this is kind of the ADOS thing, right—”We have access to”—
[00:25:29] Alyssa: That’s the American—American Descendants of Slavery, right?
[00:25:33] Brendane: Yeah.
[00:25:34] Alyssa: Yeah, just for folks who are like, “ADOS? Don’t know what that is.”
[00:25:37] Brendane: Oh. And I’m not saying I endorse these viewpoints. I’m just saying that this is—this is the conversation around it. But saying that, like, there’s a particular place for Black American people who are the descendants of enslaved folks, who were enslaved on this land. So I like that she was very—like, very direct about this positioning of this project as something that is like, “We are talking specifically about the contributions of Black Americans.” And she does talk a little bit about the Haitian Revolution and its impact, as well. Okay, so that’s the diaspora war. POC war—again, same—kind of the flip side of that, right. So then when we start talking about the struggles, the victories, and the losses of the descendants of enslaved people, and how that has allowed every other racial group to—and groups, you know—and she also talks about, like, the Fourteenth Amendment being something that allowed for people to argue for same sex marriage, which largely benefits white gay men and white lesbians. Cis lesbians. And so I think, like, that strong positioning and just saying that outright of just like, “Without us, y’all would not have X, Y, and Z,” puts this book at the center of certain diaspora wars. And then, of course, POC—BIPOC, if you want to use that horrible term, right—there was a lot of controversy around the focus on 1619 as opposed to 1492, when Columbus stepped his dusty ass onto, you know, wherever.
[00:27:28] Alyssa: Turtle Island.
[00:27:29] Brendane: [Laughs] His dusty ass onto Turtle Island. And, you know—so, then, where do indigenous people who are not Black figure into this. That was also a lot of anger of, like, “What about us?” really. So I thought it was very—I was, like, very fascinated by. I’m like, “Yes, take this strong position and run with it.” But some of the things she does with it, which I’ll get to, not a fan of. But yeah [laughs].
[00:28:02] Alyssa: All right, well, we will—let’s get into it before, you know, we dig—we dig too deep into it. So, in the preface, which is entitled, “Origins,” Hannah-Jones explains the inception of the project, which began in a Black history class at her Iowa high school, when she learned that Africans first arrived in the United States, then a British colony, in 1619, a year before the settlement at Jamestown. So the year refers to the time when the White Lion, a ship that was carrying about 20 to 30 captive Africans, were traded to the Virginia colonies. And so they were the first in what would become the United States. And it was then that she realized that history is not a recitation of facts, but a consensus about a particular, often biased, narrative. History is always partial and what we know about it is often influenced by the interests of the researchers and the interests of the state. She writes that “the histories we learn in school, or, more casually, through popular culture, monuments, and political speeches rarely teach us the facts, but only certain facts.” The people who write textbooks, the people who write history even, they get to choose what to exclude, what to include, and they can exclude the things that don’t tell the story that they want to tell. And in American history, that’s the mythology of the country’s founding fathers as the best people, the heroes, people who created this country. That’s the story they’re tryna tell.
[00:29:45] Brendane: Right, if George Washington wouldn’t do it, should you? That’s a joke, by the way. So she explains that the project came out of a question, which is what would it mean to reframe our understanding of US history by considering 1619 as our country’s origin point, the birth of our defining contradictions, the seed of so much of what has made us unique. And it’s a project that shows that all that is good about America was built on the backs and through the wombs of Black people. And she makes sure to let us know that what she conveys here isn’t new. So all of the contributors draw heavily on the work of historians published at least as early as the 1960s. And we all should know, right—people have been trying to write the contributions of enslaved Black people and their descendants into national history and memory for over a century. We can go back to the slave narratives, right? That’s part of the motivation, not just to say, “Hey, give us free,” right? It’s also legit what Black people—
[00:30:59] Alyssa: Not the Amistad reference. [Laughter] Not the Amistad reference, yo, okay.
[00:31:06] Brendane: I’m—sorry, I’m in such a good—
[00:31:06] Alyssa: Lemme—lemme come back to that cuz we could talk about high school. Lemme come back to that, okay.
[00:31:11] Brendane: Ah-ha! I’m sorry, I’m in just—Aquarius season has started, I’m just feelin’ really disrespectful. So [laughs]—I think many of us in academia have been having these kinds of conversations in different ways. So there are a contingent of academics who will refuse the existence of Black people and their contributions to anything until they die. And I say, you know, leave ‘em there. Others—like myself, like Alyssa, like other Black scholars, right—stake their entire career around examining what Black people do, and honoring our contributions. And it’s important to note that this project, right, The 1619 Project, was not conceived as an academic project, but a journalistic one, right? It was one that was meant to turn publicly, it was one that was meant to kind of be an intervention in public spheres. And so journalism has a duty to stake itself in the here and now, the interesting things that happen that shape our world, which, oddly enough sounds a lot like anthropology. But what makes journalism different from anthropology is that journalists are not required to create theory about what they observe, right? Most journalists just say, “At 8 pm, da-da-da, this happened, these are the people who were affected,” and it’s, like, hot, it’s news, it moves forward. And what Hannah-Jones does here in this book—and I’m assuming also in The 1619 Project that was published—was draw upon some theory, in addition to these historical texts and her own memories. And the book “combines history with journalism, criticism, and imaginative literature to show how history molds, influences, and haunts us in the present,” which, right, let’s mark it, right. To talk about Black life in the US in the present is to always already call upon the past. So there can be no discussion of the Black condition—if we want to call it that, right—without discussing settler colonialism, colonization, and chattel slavery, right. And The 1619 Project illustrates this.
[00:33:31] Alyssa: I definitely saw some Saidiya Hartman citations, Scenes of Subjection, you know, Michel-Rolph Trouillot, which was interesting. I will just go back to what I was saying earlier about Amistad. If you haven’t seen that movie, Djimon Hounsou, in it, he says, “Give us free,” and, of course, that’s what the white settlers of the United States do after a long court case. Anyways, watch the film if you haven’t, but the reason it made me chuckle is I actually took as an elective American History when I was in high school—when I was in high school in Canada—and we actually learned—”learned”—all of our—the Black parts of history through film.
[00:34:21] Brendane: Oh!
[00:34:21] Alyssa: So, in class, we watched Amistad when we were in the colonial period. [Laughs] When we were in the civil rights period, I think we watched Mississippi Burning. And so on and so forth, so—
[00:34:38] Brendane: Did y’all watch The Color Purple?
[00:34:41] Alyssa: No.
[00:34:41] Brendane: Damn! Oh. [Laughter]
[00:34:45] Alyssa: So basically, that was—that was my introduction to Black History Month, we’ll say in terms of, like, I guess, American history. We had our own Black History Month in Canada. That’s another story. We’ll come back to that. So anyways [laughs]. But what I think this also shows is, you know, this massive gap between academia and the information that we share and that circulates among us and then the way that it circulates among the rest of the world, right? I heard once that it often takes a generation before the breakthroughs of academia make it into the mainstream. And it’s probably because that’s how knowledge was transmitted, right? It was from researcher to student, and then the student goes out into the world as a professional, and they share that information. And it’d be—it kind of just, you know, circulates that way. I think it probably happens faster now because of social media and efforts at public scholarship. But what we still see is that lag between things we’ve already settled or that certain groups in the academy have already settled, and the rest of the world is kind of behind. And so she addresses that in the preface, but adds that, you know, it’s really affected by the powers that be. And she cites a historian who says, “Nations need to control national memory because nations keep their shape by shaping their citizens’ understanding of the past.” So there are a lot of people and institutions who are invested in the status quo, invested in suppressing information that would inspire people to demand justice and to demand change. And I think that is definitely something that we saw with The 1619 Project and all of the backlash—and the Blacklash [laughs].
[00:36:34] Brendane: When it lashed back. Yo. [Laughter] The amount of vitriol that Hannah-Jones experienced was a very public example of what happens when Black people dare to tell their own stories. And she says herself, “They did not like our assertion that Black Americans have served as this nation’s most ardent freedom fighters and have waged their battles mostly alone, or the idea that so much of modern American life has been shaped not by the majestic ideas of our founding, but by its grave hypocrisy.” Even in looking for the book for today, I was scrolling through different book sites, and there’s so many books written around 1619—The 1776 Project became a kind of backlash in response to this. And so you’re absolutely right, there are a lot of people and institutions who are invested in suppressing information that might inspire people to do something with this history and this knowledge. And I use the words “might inspire,” cuz I’m feelin’ real cynical these days. And, like, I want to highlight, though, that I’m not in the camp of people who see this as, like, a radical piece of work. I don’t think it’s radical, really by any means, even though I think she does take up some important stakes and, like, an important stance. I see this more as, like, a very liberal project, because of its investment in locating the Black in US history. And I see it as something as a project in order to legitimize our presence and denounce anti-Black violence. And you were talking about the national fabric earlier and, like, including us in the national fabric, and it’s like, “But we the ones providing the cotton for the national fabric, we’re the ones weeding—weaving the national fabric, right? So like—
[00:38:42] Alyssa: Ba-doop.
[00:38:42] Brendane: Boop, you know? Yeah [laughs].
In case y’all are like, “What are you talking about with this liberalism?” we did an episode called the “The Black Liberal Agenda” that you all can check out. It was in our first season. And liberalism—so liberalism is about—I know it feels so long ago, doesn’t it?
[00:39:05] Brendane: I know, it does!
[00:39:08] Alyssa: So liberalism is about integration into the state and its narratives. But that isn’t what liberation is about. Liberation—sorry, no. Liberalism does not equal liberation. Did I say it right? [Laughs]
[00:39:21] Brendane: You did, you did. You did.
[00:39:24] Alyssa: So at best, it’s harm reduction, right, but the systems that oppress people will remain. So I’m curious to know, as I’m sure our listeners are, what is your definition of radical? Since it’s at least not my definition of radical.
[00:39:41] Brendane: When I think about something being radical, I think about it breaking apart systems and institutions. So—like—huh. Lord, how do I untangle what goes on in my mind? If we talk—we talk about the left and the right all the time, right, being on this spectrum of politics and either you’re on the left or you’re on the right. And people talk about it as kind of this binary. And I see radicalism as something that kind of sits outside of that. So people will try to incorporate radicals into the spectrum by saying, like, “Oh, a radical leftist,” or, “Radical people on the right”—cuz there are very radical people on the right—but I see radicalism as something that kinda sits outside of that and breaks open even the system itself that categorizes people. So, for me, it’s not a radical stance to say, “Black people are Americans and they fight for freedom.” I think that’s liberal in the sense that it’s different from what conservatives say. But it’s—it reinforces the logic, which is that the state is something that’s legitimate, and Black people need to try to include themselves in there. Something radical, in my opinion, would be saying, “Actually, the state itself, whether or not it includes Black people, is something that’s fucked up.” And we need to think about what would it mean to just say, “All—Black people do not even need to be included in this system or logic of violence.” Like, we don’t even need to go there or discuss that. That’s not the most straightforward definition. But it’s—it’s what I—it’s where I’m at. I’m doing the best with what I got today [laughs].
[00:41:34] Alyssa: No, but—I mean, what you’re saying is radicalism—or, “the radical”—is something that ruptures. It ruptures the status quo and it’s something that also cannot be contained, which, one could argue, Blackness itself is a rupturing force. Because all of the structures that are standard, that are expected, that are status quo, we don’t fit into it. And so by our presence, by our very existence, we are a rupturing force.
[00:42:13] Brendane: Hmm. We can look—we might need to come back to that. We might need to put a bookmark and have a—y’all let us know.
[00:42:20] Alyssa: Let’s see!
[00:42:21] Brendane: Maybe—we are—this is BHM. Maybe that’ll be something we come back to.
[00:42:29] Alyssa: We’ll see. So one of the things that I wanted to talk about was her choice of language. It’s right up front, right up top, she puts it up there, notes about language, and I listened to a podcast where she was explaining the inception of the project as well. And she said that, you know, there was basically a glossary that she sent everyone. You know, when she was soliciting essays for the original project that was in The New York Times, she said she was very intentional about standardizing the language. So they don’t use “slaves” to describe Black people held in bondage, but “enslaved person” to convey the condition of enslavement, rather than it being a permanent state, even though the settlers did try to codify that. But that’s in the book, y’all have to read it [laughs]. I didn’t—not even try, they did codify it. So they also don’t use “master” or “plantation,” they use “slaver” or other terms and forced labor camp. So what do you think that that does for the reader?
[00:43:32] Brendane: So, yeah, I read the note about the standardizing language and—as—you know, as a little Black girl from South Carolina, I always have to think about these things just cuz I grew up in the OG South. You know, language is something that I really think about a lot. But I think just the purposes of what you’ve said, is just to make it easier to compare slavery to the Holocaust. Like I was, like, really pragmatically, like, “What does this do?” by not saying Black people were slaves, by saying they were enslaved? So what does that do? That allows people to say, “Okay, this horrible thing that most white people have a reference to called the Holocaust, right? They know that they were forced—they forced people to work there, forced labor camps, right?” And so I think that is one utility of it, I don’t know. But on the other levels, like, my brain does recognize that a shift in language might allow people to understand somewhat the horrors of slavery but I believe that these horrors are unfathomable and actually failed in—like, it’s—language cannot capture them, right, like whether we are using English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, like, we are not even really able to describe, no matter what words we use what the fuck was going on.
[00:45:04] Alyssa: Right. And I think that whole idea that people can always see the Holocaust as a true horror, a failure of humanity—or of humanism—they can see that, they can recognize that, they can see themselves in it. But you—people don’t really have that same association with the Transatlantic Slave Trade, with the Middle Passage, with slavery as a system. I just—that’s something—that—it’s just something that has always blown my mind and it’s not even something that’s just social or cultural. It’s actually institutionalized. In the last chapter, she actually talks about how the government sets aside a certain amount of money every year for Holocaust survivors. So in 2020, it was $5 million. And she talked about all of the people who have received reparations from the United States government. And essentially, it’s Black people—Black Americans—and Native Americans who have just about never received—and some native tribes have, but some have not—so it’s native tribes and Black Americans who have not received any form of financial reparation from the state, and it’s just like, “How can”—I just—I don’t know, I’m like, “How can anyone read this book and then go away from it and be like, ‘Yeah, no. We don’t need to do it. We’ve done our part for Black people.’”
[00:46:42] Brendane: I mean, that means you had to [approach?] the book that way but—[laughter].
[00:46:50] Alyssa: But yeah, I mean, I think that the intention of the book was, of course, to really blow apart that that American national myth at the same time as reincorporate—as incorporating Black people into it. But, you know, the part of the myth that I think that she’s really trying to deconstruct is that white people were the saviors of Black people in every instance, right? There’s always that idea that slavery helped civilize the Africans and then white people freed them, right? White people are the ones who gave them educations. You know, all of these narratives that maintain this idea of American exceptionalism and reinforced the idea of the US as free and fair and whatever else you guys say and—well, not “you guys” [laughs]—but whatever else people say in the—what is it called when you guys stand up, put your hand on your chest, and say the thing at the beginning of school.
[00:47:39] Brendane: Oooh, Pledge of Allegiance!
[00:47:41] Alyssa: Yes, the Pledge of Allegiance. I think that in changing the words, right, we force people into this reality that plantations were not idyllic countryside farms filled with romance or whatever, you know, where we should go and get married to remember the old times. It was a violent place where people were forced to work and forced to do even worse things. You know, Black people were not rightfully slaves, as they tried to codify—or as they did codify—but they were held against their will.
[00:48:14] Brendane: Yeah, I definitely don’t disagree with you. I don’t!
[00:48:21] Alyssa: [Laughs] That sounds like, “I do a little bit disagree.” [Laughs]
[00:48:24] Brendane: No, no, no, I’m saying like, I don’t—I guess—
[00:48:27] Alyssa: You don’t disagree but you don’t agree?
[00:48:29] Brendane: I—I think—actually, do I even don’t disagree or do I agree? I do think that that is the intention of this book. For sure. I think that we spend a lot of time fussing over language, a lot of times fussing over, like—even these kind of events that happened, right? Like, did it happen, did it not happen, here’s the data, here’s the evidence, here’s the statistics to prove what we been knew, right. And in something that is, like, the—like, even the example, right, of the 90-year-old woman who was like, “I knew this to be true, but you gave me words, gave me facts, language behind it,” and it’s like, “But is not knowing in your body and in your spirit enough?” And so—
[00:49:24] Alyssa: That’s—that’s part of the decolonial project.
[00:49:29] Brendane: Well, there it is. I didn’t even think about it like that. Yeah, the memory of enslavement, like, lives in all of our bodies. And I’m talking about both Black and non-Black people here, right. Like, the “instinct” that a white person might have to call the police—even though they themselves are deputized as the police, right—when they see a Black person doing something, right, this kind of move automatically—even though you know what calling the police can do, right? It’s this memory of ownership, this memory of violence lives in white people’s bodies, as well, right—as well as ours. And so I think one of the things that troubled me about The 1619 Project and other works like it—I would say other liberal works like it—is that it frames the deliberate and violent erasure of slavery and its afterlife as an act done in shame, right. And when you call it a shameful act, or an act that, you know, when you condemn it as something that’s shameful, you really humanize the violent actors who did it. Right, like, it’s giving this kind of affective state to them of, like, shame, and shame is something where you feel bad about your entire being, right? Like when you experience shame—like, guilt is “I feel bad that I’ve done this.” Shame is “I am a bad person.” I don’t—and this might just be me again in my little cynical land, but I’m just like, “Girl, like, do white people feel bad when they pull up to their homes that they inherited from mommy and daddy or a great grandma? When they spend great grandma’s money, like, do you feel like a bad person?” You know, like, do you feel bad? Not saying—I’m not tryna condemn anybody, but I’m just saying like, is that—like, is shame—we—is shame the word we need to use and why is shame easier for us to reach for than to really just name things as violence, as horrible acts of violence? Right, and, like, what does it do for any nigga like me, any nigga like you, right, to say that slavery was shameful? Like, what does that do for us? You know, what does it do to say that the past was erased to provide white people psychological comfort? Like, what does that do for anybody, especially when, like, the economic, social, psychological, institutional—all of those things, right—impacts of that shameful act of slavery, right, still determine how we live today? So much so that we have groups of people who are actively trying to erase kids from learning about this, you know? So Hannah-Jones, right, sees The 1619 Project as one that allows us to face the truth, liberating us to build the society we wish to be. And this is a paraphrase of one of her sentences. And me—just my stance is just, like, there are so many people who know the truth and do not wish to be liberated. So what do we do now? Like, how many more truth-telling moments do we need? But, of course, none of these things that I’m asking are, like, new questions, but it just—these are my irritations about these kinda things. [Laughs] These are my irritations.
[00:53:04] Alyssa: Right. I mean, I think she does get into that in that final chapter in the “Justice” chapter, where she talks about the wild—the wildly disparate wealth distribution in the United States, right. She says that the United States is one of the most unequal, has one of the highest income disparities, has the highest rates of incarceration, has no social safety net, you know—and she’s comparing this to other Western nations and she does talk about reparations in, you know, in that section. She says—she talks about how wealth was—how wealth was gained by white Americans, all of the ways that were they were able to grow their wealth, and then the ways that Black Americans have been kept out of being able to build wealth in the same way. So I think one of the studies she cited, it said that—I think they did a study with actually business students at a business school and they were like, “How much wealth do you think Black Americans have in comparison to white Americans?” They all thought it was $90 for every $100 White people have. And the actual fact is that it’s $10.
[00:54:40] Brendane: Yeah, I was gonna say, isn’t it like 8—?
[00:54:41] Alyssa: Black Americans have $10 for every $100.
[00:54:43] Brendane: It’s like $8.
[00:54:46] Alyssa: Every $100, and it’s like [pause]—do—I mean, again—and as you were saying, like, do we need another fact-finding mission? It’s like there are—there’s an explained on Netflix about it. There have been books about this. There have been things written for decades about it and it’s like, “No, we don’t really read it, so—we don’t really need it.” So what exactly is this project doing? And I think that there is something—there is something recuperative about reading this for white people. They’re like—for white people, they’re like, “Oh, I read this and now I feel better about myself. Let me donate $100. Let me donate $1,000, and I can go back and live in the same system that I’ve been living in.” When really, it’s, like, there has never been a time where there’s been a sustained white demand for justice for Black and Native people—everyone all together, coming together, they never do it. The only thing they ever do is for themselves. They always choose their race over any other kind of justice. So I’m rambling a little bit now but my point is, I agree with you [laughs].
[00:56:07] Brendane: Haa! You don’t disagree? I’m just kidding [laughs].
[00:56:09] Alyssa: I don’t disagree. Which is the—you know, this book can end up—and not that this, again, not was—this was not her intention—but I think that work like this, liberal work like this, it helps white people feel better about themselves at the end of the day. It’s like White Fragility, or, you know, books like that. Anything that doesn’t trouble them too much.
[00:56:37] Brendane: Right, because this is something that you already know—like—okay. In high school, I got into this back and forth with this white girl—because I was always like this, apparently, but didn’t know. And I was just [unclear] because she was upset that I had gotten into my undergraduate institution, and she did not. And she couldn’t understand how someone as poor as me could go there and not have to pay for school. And I was like, “Do you understand that as a Black girl in South Carolina who’s on welfare—whose mama’s on welfare, so I’m on welfare—like, do you not understand all the obstacles I’ve had to come through to even get to this point, where all you had to do was sign up for an SAT course and take a test and fill out an application? And you’re upset with me. Like, I don’t understand it.” And then years later, she came back to me and apologized, which happens a lot. I have conversations with a lot of white people and they come back to me and apologize years later. And it was just like, I—I was like, “Girl, I dunno what your apology is gonna do for me. I live a Black life, like, I—I know I—what struggles I’ve been through. You are coming to this awakening. So do something about it. Like, and until you—until you wake up in the morning and you say, “Wow, everything that I have is something that my ancestors stole from somebody else”—until you are willing to give it all up, like, don’t come to me on no “I’m sorry.” But that—again, that’s my reparations plan. This is why I’m not running for president. No one will vote for me. But like, I really had to have that conversation with her over Facebook Messenger, like, “Until you are willing to give up everything you have, you cannot”—just keep it. Just keep it. Keep it to yourself. One of the things that—to end on a more positive note—I really enjoyed about reading this was that it did give my Gemini trivia brain some more factoids. Like, the fact about her father being from the—basically the deadliest county in Mississippi for Black people. I was like, “Wow.” And then also, Nikky Finney’s poem, “Daughters of Azimuth,” which was muthafuckin’ hot fire. And I can’t wait to, like, read more of the poetry and fictional texts that are in this when I have time. But I really think that Hannah-Jones presents an origin story that allows us to see in many ways how history haunts the present and especially for Black people. And so I think with that we can get into our next segment, which is literally how this shit has creeped up on us. So yeah, like, what?
[00:59:42] Alyssa: What?
[00:59:43] Brendane: What?
[00:59:43] Alyssa: What? What in the world?!
[00:59:47] Brendane: What is goin’ on? [Laughs]
[00:59:48] Brendane: What is going on?
[00:59:53] Alyssa: The big question that we are talking about today is “Do we need Black History Month?” We say this on day two of Black History Month. So I think that after reading a little bit of the project that I did—and I am definitely going to read the rest of it—and learning about all of the ways that people have tried to discredit and ban The 1619 Project, you know, you might say, “Yeah, obviously, we need Black History Month.” I actually think that Black History Month has an opposite effect—just like I was talking about in my little ramblings, that the book makes white people feel better about themselves—I think that Black History Month kinda does the same thing, right? Like, if The 1619 Project’s aim was to show how Black people are woven into the fabric of this country, that they’re literally the ones who made it great, and continue to make it better for everyone, you know, pushing the US to live up to the ideals inscribed in its founding documents. And then, you know, having a month dedicated to a nebulous Black history makes it seem like it’s separate. It’s like Separate But Equal Month.
[01:01:15] Brendane: You know, hearing that, it really kind of—it hits. It hits for me, Separate But Equal Month, and maybe—maybe that’s what we need to call it from now on. I—I don’t know if many people know this, right, but Black History Month actually started as just a week, and it was created by Carter G. Woodson. It was a week that was created to recognize the contributions of Black historians, who were mostly men, right. And Carter G. Woodson—
[01:01:52] Alyssa: That tracks actually.
[01:01:54] Brendane: You know, which—give men a week and they take a month. Anyway, so [laughter]. He came up with the idea in 1915. And quick little factoid, one of my ancestors used to work with Carter G. Woodson. I found that out last year, which is cool. The reason why it’s in February—cuz I know some people—they think it’s a master plan from the government to give niggas the shortest month of the year, because that’s how much they value us, which might not be wrong, but it’s actually really in February, because both Frederick Douglass’s and Abraham Lincoln’s birthdays are in February. So, you know, two great Black icons [laughs]. And, in 1976, right, it expanded from a week to a month. And they also started adding additional months. So now we have Asian American Pacific Islander Month, we have—
[01:02:59] Alyssa: Latinx History Month.
[01:03:01] Brendane: Latin—Latinx—I was gonna say “Hispanic,” but I think they’ve changed that. Women’s History Month, which actually is in March. And, for me, what is really sad about all of this is that Black women who aren’t Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, Michelle Obama, or Coretta Sky King—oh, and now we can add Toni Morrison and Maya Angelou, right, to the list—are left out of both of them! And, you know, the contributions of Black enslaved women were not even written into the parts of The 1619 Project that we read. And I think that’s probably why I was really diggin’ Nikky Finney’s poem so much, cuz I was like, “Finally, we’re gonna talk about women and, like, what they did to resist slavery”—and that particular poem talks about, kind of, ancestral practices of abortion, which I thought was really cool. As in—
[01:03:59] Alyssa: Yeah, I mean, there are—there are, like, twenty other chapters that we cannot speak to, but—
[01:04:05] Brendane: Oh, yeah, that’s why I was sayin’—
[01:04:06] Alyssa: —One would hope—
[01:04:06] Brendane: —the part that we read [laughs].
[01:04:08] Alyssa: The parts that we read, yeah.
[01:04:09] Brendane: The parts that we read. I was gonna say—yeah, Frederick Douglass, actually, as a figure, I’m, like, for me, I can always tell where someone is on—and I’m talking about the spectrum I mentioned earlier. If they say that Frederick Douglass or W.E.B. Du Bois is, like, one of their heroes, I know—I know—where you fit on the spectrum. I think it was—it—it’s telling when people refer to slave narratives, all they can do is talk about Frederick Douglass. Or Black history, and, you know, like, our entire celebration of Black history is staked around one formerly enslaved man and his birthday, of all things.
[01:05:05] Alyssa: I mean, that’s what America tends to do. I mean, that’s what most countries tend to do. Someone’s birthday, let’s celebrate it. It’s a country’s birthday? Let’s celebrate the genocide and exploitation. Let’s do that. But last month—well. Yes, well, last month when you were listening, but this month, when we’re recording, and Nikole Hannah-Jones actually did a talk at a university. And upon finding out—it was on Martin Luther King’s birthday, on Martin Luther King Day. And upon finding out that some people on the committee actually did not want her to speak, she was like, “Let me just scrap this whole speech that I was going to give.” And she just read some of the words from Dr. Martin Luther King. And people were like, “Oh, wow. Oh, wow, this is radical.” And then she was like, “These are all Martin Luther King’s words, so I’m not gonna have you people who don’t even know who he was, what he wrote about, be the arbiters of what gets talked about on his day—on the day that’s meant to celebrate him and the work that he did.” Like, she just went in on them. She was just like—
[01:06:24] Brendane: Purr, go in. Go in and collect that check.
[01:06:27] Alyssa: She was just like, “You don’t even know these words. You don’t know what he’s written. And yet you want to be the gatekeepers to the things that he’s written, to the people that he’s—you know, the people that his work has inspired and all this stuff.” She was just like, “Nah, y’all ain’t it. This ain’t it.” And I’m not mad at it.
[01:06:51] Brendane: Me either. But we know—I mean, his birthday, it’s the one day a year where you find out that white people can Google when they don’t—when they choose not to when they in conversations with you. It is! It’s the one day—that’s when you find out Google is a thang for people to use. That that’s really—that’s really cool that she did that. I feel like, you know, what does having a month dedicated to Black history really even mean in this current moment when people are banning books written by Black people and people of color and queer folks. Like, as of today, right, at least nine states in mostly Republican areas have passed bills barring educators from teaching about racism in the classroom, and many parents and school boards in those states are now turning their attention to removing books that tell the stories of queer people and people of color from local and school libraries. So it’s bad enough that most schools already were under-educating and under-serving Black, Brown and Indigenous kids, right. So we not gon pretend like school wasn’t already a place of violence before this happened—which I have been seeing people do, right. But now they’re really revealing how far they’ll go to preserve whiteness. Like, it’s—it’s wild to me, it’s just wild to me.
[01:08:15] Alyssa: It’s stunning. Shit is really turning into Gilead. And it’s going to get worse before it gets better, if it gets better at all. I have started getting my go-bag ready, forreal forreal. Like, I’m ready to zoop!—dip out. But my one of my friends said that she hoped that, you know, all of these book—these book bannings, the banning of all of these books—would actually draw students to read the books more. I mean, what’s more attractive to a kid than something people don’t want them to have or something that people don’t want them to read, right? So it kind of gives it this—the sheen of the—you know, of the forbidden. And, of course, this is all, you know, a windfall from this Critical Race Theory stuff, which, if you wanna hear us discuss more, you can check out season two, episode four, “Fleeing the Plantation.” And we talk about this whole Critical Race Theory, conservative scare-mongering moral panic with Naomi Simmons-Thorne. But I think the effect that it does have is it just emboldens racists and bigots and makes them feel like their prejudice is justified, you know. It’s—it’s basically a rallying cry for fragile whites. They’re like, “Oh! We can’t have these books. Now come together and ban the books.” And like, “They’re teaching our kids things about racism and making them feel bad about themselves!”—
[01:09:43] Brendane: Oh, there’s that shame!
[01:09:43] Alyssa: —”And kids shouldn’t feel bad about themselves.”
[01:09:46] Brendane: There’s that shame. And it’s like, should—but they shouldn’t?
[01:09:51] Alyssa: No.
[01:09:51] Brendane: Oh. I mean—so okay, this is why, again, I’m not running for president. Girl! Shit been Gilead. Maybe that’s the—that’s the tagline—
[01:10:04] Alyssa: The title?
[01:10:04] Brendane: “Shit Been Gilead.” And yeah, you—you know, on a personal level, how I feel about these things. We told y’all a while ago to get the survival kits ready. If it doesn’t feel urgent—if it didn’t feel urgent then, it definitely feels urgent now. And, unfortunately, there are so many folks—those who are disabled and poor, especially—who have nowhere to get the fuck to when the veil does lift. And I think soon, if not already, folks with children will have to make hard decisions. And y’all—and I say “y’all” cuz I don’t have children yet. Tear. Tear, tear—will have to make some sacrifices. And I don’t think people are really ready to face the truth, which is if we really bout gettin’ free, we’re gonna have to make some sacrifices. You might not be able to be—Imma say this, but it’s not a sight to anybody—Professor of the Year and keep your child in public school or private school when all of these horrible things are happening. But anyway. We are really going to have to define how—redefine, right—how we see ourselves in each other, especially if we’re working towards a new world. Like what is a career at the end of the world? I really keep asking myself this, like, what—what is a career at the end of the—is it gon help me live?
[01:11:38] Alyssa: Listen, didn’t someone tweet that? They said, “I keep tryna finish my PhD in this pandemic and at the end of the world, it’s kind of embarrassing.”
[01:11:49] Brendane: I am em-barrassed.
[01:11:51] Alyssa: Are you not em-barrassed? I am em-barrassed.
[01:11:54] Brendane: I am! Every time I open Scrivener [laughter]. I am.
[01:12:02] Alyssa: But I—okay, there was this text that I read—oh my goodness, this—it’s not even a text. It was a tweet that came up, so I was like, “Let me go to the original source.” A writer named Andrew Sullivan, he published an essay on Substack. I’m still—you know what, my supervisor explained to me what Substack is, and I still don’t really get it, but the way she explained it to me is it’s basically where people who think that they are important and have something to say, write the things that they have to say. So [laughs]—so that is what she said. And I’m paraphrasing, so don’t hate me, professor. So in this article that he published—or this essay, Andrew Sullivan, he says that the right wing efforts to ban books are not the way forward. That it suppresses discourse, and which that is exactly what “the left does,” you know. So he’s obviously more conservative. And, you know, he’s like that, just—just this—oh, my goodness, the essay! There’s so much right-wing gold in there. I wish I could read you all the whole thing. But I will just read this excerpt, which was, in particular, his suggestion, instead of banning books. So what he said was, “A better way to insist that any course or lesson that involves critical theory must include an alternative counterpoint. If you have to teach Nikole Hannah-Jones, add a section on Zora Neale Hurston; for every Kendi tract, add McWhorter; for every Michael Eric Dyson screed, offer a Glenn Loury lecture. Same elsewhere. No gender studies courses without a course on biological sex and gender-critical viewpoints. No ‘queer theory’ class without texts from non-leftists, who are not falsifying history or asserting that homosexuality is socially constructed all the way down. This strategy doesn’t ban anything; it adds something. It demands that schools make sure they’re helping kids think for themselves.” Just in reading that, I realized that when the whites say Critical Race Theory, they actually mean “ideas that criticize my race.”
[01:14:24] Brendane: I mean, maybe they really take it literally. Like crit—critical, critic.
[01:14:28] Alyssa: Yeah, that’s what I’m saying! They think that means critic-sizing, race, ideas, anyways. [Laughter] And then what actually killed me about this whole paragraph is that he could not find a single credible Black woman to fit his analogy, right? He was probably like, “Damn, can’t use”—sorry, I should say a credible right conservative Black woman, I should say, cuz he was like, “Damn, Candace Owens? Nah, too problematic.” This guy goes with Zora Neale Hurston. Like, is it because she was a Republican? Most Black people were back then. Is it because she was pro-segregation? Honestly, I’m starting to see her side [laughter]. But the truth is, Zora didn’t like white people. And she also, to be fair, she was very equal, she—you know, she was equal in her disdain. She also didn’t like Black people who tried to be like white people. Like, this—does—it’s not making the point that you’re tryna make. It’s not giving what you think it’s giving.
[01:15:43] Brendane: It’s not. It’s—and, I mean—because it’s sitting right here top of mind—do you have to provide a counterpoint for Kendi? And that’s—okay, that’s—that—on that, I’m gonna move on. Everyday, I get closer to sharing my views on segregation, but I’m not trying to—I’m not trying to alarm anyone into thinking that, especially—I don’t know. But people in my life who know me personally who are not Black, I’m not tryna alarm you, but I do. Everyday, I understand what Zora was saying, I understand what other people were saying. But this whole thing that Andrew Sullivan is trying to posit, right, is, like, “objectivity,” right? It’s the both sides, like, we need to balance, right. The whole academic argument of “Yeah, you could say this, but do you know what your opponent is gonna say?” That is really rooted in white supremacist culture—which, again, we’ll link that handout for y’all so that y’all can really see how it is, right. But we all know that objectivity is a lie. “Both sides” thing is a lie. It’s—it just sounds silly to me that he even felt the need to say we need to bring in this violent, mainstream view that’s used to oppress people as we teach them something else. Like, “Yeah, I mean, you might remind them that the world doesn’t have to be this way. But let’s show them how the world is.” Are we not living in it already? I’m confused, like.
[01:17:26] Alyssa: Well, apparently, the radical left is not living in it. We live in a different world with pronouns and trans people, which he did talk about.
[01:17:35] Brendane: That!
[01:17:37] Alyssa: But anyways.
[01:17:38] Brendane: Woo chile!
[01:17:40] Alyssa: It’s just—I mean, there are some people who are like, “Yes, I want to know what the other side is saying,” so they—you know, they listen to John McWhorter. And I think I told you, I was doing that, because actually, someone else put me on. They were like, “Oh, do you know this guy? He’s a professor at Columbia.” And I was like, “No, no idea. Not—he’s not in my echo chamber.” [Laughs] So I was like, “All right, let me check it out.” And it’s, like, just the arguments they make are so specious. It’s, like, they sound right, but they are false. And the only people that they really sound right to are the ones who want it to sound right. So it’s just like, you’re speaking to a particular group of people and because you are—cuz you’re Black, people are like, “Oh, yeah, what he’s saying definitely makes sense. And I’m going to pit him against other Black scholars or other Black writers who are writing about—you know, who are writing about anti-Blackness and things like that.” And it’s like, they’re not in the same—like, they’re not in the same sphere. They’re not in the same group.
[01:18:52] Brendane: They’re not even in the same reality!
[01:18:53] Alyssa: The comparison actually doesn’t make sense—exactly, they’re not in the same reality. So the comparison doesn’t even make sense. But people make it make sense because of race and that is one of the things that race and racism do. Which is make connections between groups of people who are not the same. Anyways. The last thing I wanted to talk about was the conversation between Jordan Peterson and Joe Rogan. They are the two de facto leaders of the manosphere, which I would love to not talk about one day [laughter].
[01:19:29] Brendane: Maybe that’ll be the Patreon conversation, y’all.
[01:19:32] Alyssa: Oh, shoot.
[01:19:33] Brendane: About the manosphere [laughter].
[01:19:36] Alyssa: So, full disclosure, Jordan Peterson, he was actually a psychology professor while I was a student in the psychology department at the University of Toronto. I never had the alleged pleasure of taking his classes. Like, when I tell you this man’s classes were always full. I could not get a seat. I could not get in. People would go to his class just to go to his class, even if they weren’t enrolled. Like, that was the level that this guy was on. People raved about his classes. So I don’t really know when he became King of the Incels or if he was always King of the Incels. But I was pretty surprised because of how many good things people had to say about him. I was surprised when he became infamous for this. But I’m sure that there are some Black people who knew him or worked with him that are waiting to do a tell-all. And I am here for it. Anyways, they had this ridiculous conversation about really important topics like climate change and race. The one that stood out to me was when Joe Rogan said, “Michael Eric Dyson isn’t even Black.” And then Peterson responds, “Yeah, neither of us is white, you know.”
[01:20:52] Brendane: Well, yeah.
[01:20:52] Alyssa: Which is literally the whitest thing that’s ever been said. And then Joe Rogan talks it off and he’s like, “Yeah, I’m Italian. And unless you are talking to someone who is like 100% African from the darkest place, where, like, they’re not even wearing any clothes all day, the term black is weird.” First of all, is talking about the move to innocence, which is that “I am not white,” because apparently to be white is to be a white supremacist, it is to be a colonizer—all of these things that they’re trying to disassociate themselves with. That’s one of the Tuck and Yang moves to innocence. And second of all, this man is ignorant!
[01:21:37] Brendane: I was just like, “Yeah, I mean”—it’s—yeah, it’s interesting. Wow, I’m talking about this man again. Anyway—because Kendi—in his book that most people talk about, but have never read—describes someone as being an anti-white racist if they think that everyone who is white benefits from racial privilege. And—again, so that’s when I made that joke earlier about “Do you need a counterpoint?” It’s things like that where there are [laughs]—like, there are Black people who hold these beliefs as well. But yes, a move to innocence. Tell me you’re talking about racial constructs without telling me you’re talking about racial constructs, while being anti-Black at that. Like, the darkest place?
[01:22:36] Alyssa: What is the— talk about the Heart of Darkness, like—
[01:22:40] Brendane: But isn’t the darkest place—wouldn’t that be the place that has the least sun, which would then be Europe and/or the place that’s furthest away from the equator? So you know, it don’t make sense, right! But even on a very basic level, obviously when people were inventing this racial logic and using the Bible—and the light and the dark, and the white and the black, whatever—to figure out—to then chart racial categories against, right, it’s—we know that white—people’s skin tones do not actually reflect their race, right. No one is actually—what’s the—what’s the code pound—what is it for Black? Like, when you do the designer thing? You know what it’s actually—
[01:23:31] Alyssa: For Black, it’s actually 000 [#000000].
[01:23:34] Brendane: Right, like, no one’s actually—
[01:23:35] Alyssa: Like six zeros.
[01:23:36] Brendane: Six zeros, you know, no one’s actually six Fs [hex code #FFFFFF], but that’s what white people decided to do a long time ago when they made these racial categories. And like, the people like this, I’m like, “Such a waste of time and space,” and yet their words, like, stoke so much violence, because—getting back to what you said—people listen and they believe them because they want to. They reaffirm how they feel about themselves, how they want to feel as they move through the world. And it’s—it’s just scary. It’s scary that they have a platform to say stupid things like this [laughs].
[01:24:17] Alyssa: Exactly. I just think it’s funny that he would say the darkest place in the world when that’s where they have to live cuz they’re literally allergic to the sun [laughs]. What other group of people—
[01:24:38] Brendane: You knoooow.
[01:24:40] Alyssa: —Can’t spend too much time in the sun?
[01:24:43] Brendane: It’s not the darkest place in the world. The darkest place in the world is in your heart [laughs].
[01:24:48] Alyssa: We literally live in the light, in the brightest place in the world. That’s where—that’s where we originate from.
[01:24:52] Brendane: You know. Eeerrr [laughs].
[01:24:55] Alyssa: But, anyhow—listen, don’t—Tina, don’t get on me about this [laughs].
[01:25:02] Brendane: Tina’s gon be like “What??”
[01:25:03] Alyssa: We saw your video, we saw your TikTok, we know that these skin color maps are not accurate, okay. We know we are going to have Tina Lasisi on an episode at some point. If she’s listening to this, this the first time she’s hearing of it. But we definitely want her on an episode to talk about skin color and hair from a biological anthropology point of view. Anyways, to close this out, the reason that people—that artists, like Joni Mitchell, are pulling their music from Spotify is because of the COVID misinformation and not because of Joe Rogan’s idiotically racist and ignorant statements that he makes on a regular basis. As I said earlier, there has never been a point in history where there’s been sustained demands by white people for justice and equality for Black and Indigenous people. And if you’re listening, and you’re like, “But what about 2020?” All I have to say is what about it? What about it? Support for the Movement for Black Lives has actually decreased. It is lower now than it was before. 2020. So what about it? Okay, what about it? We got representation, we did not get reparation. So we don’t need Black History Month, full of your pretty Instagram posts, and clever quips. We need a White Demand-Reparations-Call-Out-Racist-White-Family-Members-And-Run-Us-Our-Money Month.
[01:25:11] Brendane: Period. We need a month dedicated to Black self-determination and the building up of Black people so much so that we can believe in ourselves enough to say, “Hey, I have the power to free myself.”
[01:27:00] Brendane: But that’s another episode for another time.
[01:27:06] Alyssa: There you go. That’s our episode, everyone. Thank you all for listening. This episode was produced by Alyssa James and Brendane Tynes, and distributed in partnership with the American Anthropological Association. This season of the podcast is generously funded by a grant from the Arts and Science Graduate Council and donations from listeners just like you.
[01:27:27] Brendane: So thank you all for the support. And if you like this episode, please leave a rating and review on Apple Podcasts. We would love to hear what you have to say about this episode, so be sure to follow us on Instagram at zorasdaughters and on Twitter at zora_daughters. For transcripts, syllabi, and information on how to cite us or donate, visit our website zoradaughters.com. And don’t forget: tell yourself, tell your momma, tell a friend, we have a Patreon! Sign up! Join!
[01:28:00] Alyssa: Patreon gang! Gang gang!
[01:28:02] Brendane: We’re on there, waitin’ for you.
[01:28:05] Alyssa: All right. Be kind to yourselves. Bye!
[01:28:09] Brendane: Bye!
[END OF RECORDING]