It’s back to our regular programming with just Brendane and Alyssa getting deep into atmospheric anti-blackness, “natural” disasters, and the Texas Deep Freeze. Our What’s the Word? is anti-blackness where we explain why the term racism doesn’t fully capture the experiences of Black people in the diaspora and how Renaissance and Enlightenment philosophers finessed the category of human. For What We’re Reading, we discuss the final chapter of Christina Sharpe’s brilliant work In the Wake entitled “The Weather” and get into the importance of Black redaction and annotation in the wake of disaster. In our final segment, What in the World?!, we discuss the 1902 volcanic eruption of Mount Pelée in Martinique, Hurricane Katrina, the Texas Deep Freeze and why white people are so concerned about Ted Cruz leaving Man’s best friend behind. We also address the calls for solidarity among increased anti-Asian violence – TL;DR: Bring the fight to the whites.
Zora’s Daughters Podcast: Episode Thirteen
Co-hosts: Brendane Tynes and Alyssa A.L. James
Title: The Climate is Anti-Blackness
Total Length: 01:01:07
[00:00] Alyssa A.L. James: Hey Google, what’s the weather?
[00:03] Google Assistant: Today, like every day in America, the weather is anti-Black.
[00:23] Brendane Tynes: Hey, y’all! Welcome back to Zora’s Daughters, the podcast where we discuss popular culture with a Black feminist anthropological lens. I’m Brendane and I use she/her/hers pronouns. And apparently, if I were an academic press, I’d be Verso Books, going straight for the jugular and speaking in manifestos. But I can’t say that I read any lies there.
[00:42] Alyssa: No lies detected. Hey, everyone, I’m Alyssa, and I use she/her/hers pronouns. Apparently, if I were an academic press, I’d be Duke University Press, because I’m up on the latest drama, I have swag, aesthetics, and a propensity for pleasure. That makes sense to me, especially since I’m embarrassed by how many books I have from Duke. I mean, you can pretty much just blame their 50% off sales. In any case, we are back to business as usual. It’s just the two of us today talking atmospheric anti-Blackness, living and dying in the wake, and the genealogy of natural disasters, starting with the volcanic eruption that killed 30,000 in Martinique to the Texas deep freeze last week.
[01:23] Brendane: So excited to dive in. But before we get started, we wanted to say a big thank you to all of our supporters. So thank you to my aunt LaShelle, thank you Mayyadda, Tina, Bethany, Olivia, Alejandro, Ryan, and Nathalie for your generous donations. We value all kinds of support, so donate, send us an encouraging email—wink wink—
[01:47] Alyssa: Nod nod.
[01:48] Brendane: And follow us on Instagram at zorasdaughters and on Twitter @zoras_daughters. Also, you can buy some ZD swag at our website zorasdaughters.com.
[01:59] Alyssa: Well, can you believe it’s March? Like, where is 2020 going? [Laughter] I know it’s 2021 officially, but to me, it is still March 15, 2020.
[02:14] Brendane: [Laughs] Yo, I honestly don’t even know where it’s going. And this is such a big month for you and also a big month for Zora’s Daughters. You have your exams right around the corner and I’m just so proud of the work you’ve been doing. I know you’ve been hittin’ them books, like I was hittin’ them books last year, you know. And I can’t wait to celebrate when you’ve made it through this milestone. So if you’re listening, be sure to send Alyssa some good vibes as she prepares cuz I know I am.
[02:44] Alyssa: Thank you. That—you sent me a tweet maybe a month or so ago with a picture from a book that Angela Davis wrote. And she was talking about preparing for her qualifying exams in 1968. And it has just been haunting me. So apparently, for weeks and weeks, [Davis] only studied, she became so embedded in them, they were so imbricated with her that she was having dreams about the ideas. And I’m like—okay, I’m not having dreams about my books. But I would kind of love to do that. You know, it’s kind of what I imagined preparing for exams would be like, but I guess I’m not 24, I have responsibilities to people, to this project. And also in 2021, it’s kind of hard to imagine going off the grid for two months [laughs] when Twitter and Instagram are right there, so—
[03:36] Brendane: Right!
[03:37] Alyssa: I would love to just be like completely stuck in my books. Yeah. You know what, actually, I did have a dream about my readings, but I can’t remember the dream so I won’t count it.
[03:48] Brendane: I’m so into dreams, like, I lowkey be tryna interpret other people’s dreams. But when you do remember, just let me know, so I can be like, “Ooh, let’s see what that really means.” My psychoanalysis, I guess, will pop out then. But, hopefully, when you remember we can chat off-air. And I wanna remind our listeners, too, big things coming up for Zora’s Daughters this month that we will be having an event on March 13.
[04:18] Alyssa: We are co-facilitating a workshop with the Black archive superstar Zakiya Collier at the Weeksville Heritage Society for their community event, Weeksville Weekend. And our workshop is called “Honoring the Ancestors: Black Feminist Citational Practice.” And we’ll be inviting participants to think of citation beyond that good ole MLA formatting you learned back in grade 10—or 10th grade as the Americans say [laughs]. And asking them and inviting them to consider citation as a practice of building community and honoring the intellectual contributions of their elders and ancestors.
[04:54] Brendane: Yeah, we’re super excited. Zakiya is one of my favorite people in the whole wide world, so we’re just so excited to do this workshop with her. And we look forward to seeing you all there, if you’re able to make it. It is on Saturday, March 13, from 1 to 4 pm, but we’ll be on at 3 pm Eastern Daylight Time. And you can also register for this event at www.weeksvillesociety.org. And that being said, Alyssa, let’s get into it. What’s the word for today?
[05:27] Alyssa: All right, the word for today. I said it already: anti-Blackness.
[05:32] Brendane: Bom bom bom.
[05:33] Alyssa: Bom, bom, bom. So I feel like our listeners, if you’ve been listening for a while, you’ve definitely heard us use this term. I think people have started using it a lot more, particularly after last summer. But what’s interesting to note is that there actually isn’t a Wikipedia entry for anti-Blackness. So there’s one for anti-Semitism. And then there is a category for anti-Black racism, which is then categorized in the entry for racism in the United States under African Americans. So it’s pretty—even anti-Black racism is pretty, you know, deeply buried. Not that Wikipedia is the be-all, end-all [laughter] of terminology. But I mean, that’s going to be one of the first places that people go, right? So it seems like people only started hearing this term last year and so I was trying to find an earlier use of the term. And so in a journal article from 1937—it was a review of the work of Alain Locke—James Porter, he wrote that “If Negroes can write satirical articles against white prejudices and the crazy anti-black social taboos, the Negro artist can just as easily draw and carve satirical pictures.” So, I mean, it’s a little out of context, but there is a use in 1937 of anti-Black. So, of course, the term has become more expansive over time as it’s been used in particular contexts and theorized by various scholars. So, that being said, I don’t think we really have a simple definition.
[07:05] Brendane: Right. So anti-Blackness, for those of you who are well-versed in Black studies, is something that, you know, Frank Wilkerson, Jr. talks about a lot. Fred Moten. Of course, the author that we’ll be talking about today, author and scholar Christina Sharpe, talks about anti-Blackness. Saidiya Hartman—there are lots of Black people who write about anti-Blackness—myself included, Alyssa included, right? And then there are a lot of non-Black people who write about anti-Blackness as well in Black Studies. And I be having some thoughts about that, but I think I’ll save that for our Afro-pessimism episode that we have coming up.
[07:47] Alyssa: I also have some thoughts about that. [Laughter]
[07:50] Brendane: We have thoughts about lots of things. But yes, it’s not just a simple word that has a simple definition. I think we can simplify it here today, but as we’ll get into it, especially with what we’re reading, there’s just a multiplicity of understanding around it. It’s a deeply complicated issue. But at the base of it all, right, we have this social structure that has “the black” at the bottom, for very particular reasons, which—we’ll get into it, we’ll get into it.
[08:20] Alyssa: Yes, and I think—if you remember from a previous episode, “the black,”—whenever you hear us say that we’re talking about Blackness as a subject position [laughs]. So don’t just go around being like, “There’s a Black.”
[08:34] Brendane: You know, there’s—”the Blacks,” you know, [crosstalk] [laughter] is coming back [laughter].
[08:39] Alyssa: That’s not cool [laughs]. But I think in the same vein as the term misogynoir, which in our first episode I said was important to use because it speaks to a specific experience, you know, anti-Blackness is more descriptive than racism in the same way that misogynoir is more descriptive and encompassing of a particular idea than saying sexism against Black women. So last summer, there was a really great essay in The New York Times written by Professor of African American Studies at Northwestern University, Dr. kihana miraya ross, who, like bell hooks, only uses lowercase letters for her name. And I wonder if it has to do with what our colleague Chloé says, you know—why she doesn’t capitalize “black” because it literally has the word “capital” in it.
[09:27] Brendane: Mm, I mean, it might be. That’s some deep shit. I think some people don’t capitalize because of convention. So it’s kind of like, “I don’t want to do things that are conventional, because convention in and of itself is rooted in white supremacist, patriarchal stuff.” But, yeah, I don’t know, there’s lots of reasons why—I don’t know.
[09:48] Alyssa: I like that, I think about it a lot, actually, so I appreciate her for sharing that with us. So Dr. ross, she wrote, “The word ‘racism’ is everywhere. It’s used to explain all the things that cause African Americans’ suffering and death: inadequate access to health care, food, housing and jobs, or a police bullet, baton or knee. But racism fails to fully capture what black people in this country are facing. The right term is ‘anti-blackness.’… [Anti-blackness is] more than just racism against black people. That oversimplifies and defangs it. It’s a theoretical framework that illuminates society’s inability to recognize our humanity—the disdain, disregard and disgust for our existence.” So anti-Blackness is not just one event or one individual. It is fundamental to the structure of modern society. Rationality was built on it. Democracy was built on it. Capitalism was built on it. Everything we think of as the virtues of the modern world was built on the denial of humanity to Black people.
[10:55] Brendane: Woo! You might need to underscore that. I don’t know if you can—how you do that auditorily, but—.
[11:02] Alyssa: I’ll just leave a really long pause or something [laughs].
[11:04 ] Brendane: You know, a stomp, church clap. That’s what I got in response to that. I think people are going to hear what you’re saying, though, and say, “Well, you know, how can that be true? Didn’t Rousseau or Descartes”—I’m just throwing out all the names I know, you know—”John Locke”—whoever the fuck—”Renaissance and Enlightenment thinkers, like, aren’t they responsible for these ideas?” And to answer your question, I will kindly direct you to episode 4, which is “The World is Basura en Fuego,” where we talked about why Enlightenment philosophers denied Black people entry into the category of human. And, just in case you were wondering, tl;dr [too long; didn’t read], it was slavery [laughter]. And Sylvia Wynter, right, in her brilliant 82-page article, “Unsettling the Coloniality of Being/Power/Truth/Freedom: Towards the Human, After Man, Its Overrepresentation—An Argument,” she traces this back prior to the Enlightenment construction of man, prior to the Renaissance humanism, to explain how the exclusion of “the black” from the category of Human actually predates the Middle Passage.
[12:18] Alyssa: Yes, so this is a deep article. I personally am still digesting it. But essentially—wow, I can’t believe I’m even gonna try to start explaining Sylvia Wynter with “essentially” [laughs]. There’s no “essentially.”
[12:33] Brendane: Yeah, there’s no way to essentialize Sylvia Wynter.
[12:37] Alyssa: But, to make an attempt, you know, so folks can kind of get a bearing on what we’re talking about. There’s a particular “type” of human that’s the human that matters. That person has rights, they are a person, they have personhood. And so Wynter calls this the genre of Man, with a capital M. And so Man is generally a white, propertied man. And this category has progressed over time. And so she traces the development of Man and who is included in this category and who is excluded. So at the beginning of colonial conquest, this Man was Christian and to be excluded from this category, you had to refuse the word of God. And so, not being included in the category of Man during this period of time, it meant that your land could be expropriated. Now, conquistadors were like, “Okay, we can’t do this,” because technically the word of God had never actually reached the Americas. So they were like, “Hm. How do we take Indigenous land ‘legally,’ under our conception of what is right?” And enter what Wynter calls Man1: the production of the rational, secular, political subject.
[13:45] Brendane: Woo, child.
[13:48] Alyssa: So you have to be committed to the state, to rationality, etc. Who is excluded? The Indian and the Negro. And so this lasted until about the 18th century, and then in the 18th century, we see the emergence of Man2—this is Sylvia Wynter’s term. Reason then becomes scientific and we see the development of Man as a bioeconomic subject. So one that is biologically and economically superior. And that’s where we are now.
[14:14] Brendane: Yeah, that really—that makes a lot of sense, right? And I think this really hammers home what we’re saying about racism and what we said in our last episode about racism not really being able to fully capture the experience of Black people, and anti-Blackness being much more appropriate, right? When we start thinking about anti-Blackness as a structural framework, it makes a lot more sense. And so all of this to say, right—so in order to capture the land that we occupy now, wherever we are in the world, and amass the capital then from that land—that is being hoarded by very few, right?—philosophers basically finessed what it means to be human and who gets to be included into that category of human. They were like, “Oh”—
[15:03] Alyssa: Ain’t that some shit? [Laughs]
[15:04] Brendane: Like?! It really is, though, cuz they’re like, “Oh, wait, you”—you know, by calling countries developing, right, we’re saying they’re underdeveloped, right? These are actually resourceful lands, right, that we then recast as unused, right, or misappropriated lands. And so it’s like anti-Blackness and anti-Indigeneity shifts how we even see places that are actually resourceful and we name them places that are deficient or less than. And so anti-Blackness is a term that, when we use it, it encompasses an entire historical structure, as we’ve been saying. And Christina Sharpe names anti-Blackness as a singularity. So singularity is a physics term that is defined as “a point or region of infinite mass density at which space and time are infinitely distorted by gravitational forces and which is held to be the final state of matter falling into a black hole.” Now y’all, I’m not a physicist, okay. This is definitely me quoting Christina Sharpe who is like quoting Merriam-Webster. But I want us to really sit there—sit with that reality, right—anti-Blackness as a singularity. So not a single event or a single moment, as Alyssa was saying, but actually, a moment, a point that we pass through that infinitely refracts the world in which we live, right? So until we do our Afro-pessimism episode, it might be helpful for you all to think about anti-Blackness as a force that refracts relations in an infinite amount of ways all at once. And we actually can never truly measure the depth of that impact.
[15:33] Brendane: Yes, a black hole, which is also an apt metaphor, I think. You know, it sucks up all of the light around it, so nothing can exist or survive this black hole. So I think that’s actually a really good transition into our next segment, What We’re Reading. So Brendane, what are we reading today?
[17:09] Brendane: Oh, my gosh, I’m so excited. We are reading In the Wake: On Blackness and Being by Christina Sharpe.
[17:19] Alyssa: Yes, I know you all are excited about this, so let me just introduce Dr. Sharpe. And she’s not here with us today, although we wish she was [laughter].
[17:31] Brendane: Maybe next time, fingers crossed [laughter].
[17:35] Alyssa: But Christina Sharpe is a professor in the Department of Humanities at York University—whoop whoop, that’s where I got my master’s, hey, hey! She is a renowned scholar of English and Black Studies whose research interests span Black diaspora literature and theory, Black diaspora visual cultures, Black feminist theory, and Black queer studies. Sharpe has authored two books: Monstrous Intimacies: Making Post Slavery Subjects and In the Wake: On Blackness and Being. For today’s episode, we decided to read the final chapter of In the Wake entitled, “The Weather.” And so we encourage you to read the whole book if and when you can. It’s actually been really generative for my work and for Brendane’s work, so we recommend it and then we can all conversate about it.
[18:20] Brendane: Right? You know, hit us up. We got lots to say. But we don’t—we gon try to package it neatly enough in this episode. And in preparing, I was like, “Alyssa, girl, where do we even begin?” Because there’s so much to say, but we also never really have enough time. So really quick and totally incomplete gloss of the book—so please, Dr. Sharpe, if you hear me, please forgive me for this very short summary. So Sharpe in In the Wake: On Blackness and Being is contending with Black life—which she calls “Black being,” right—that is characterized by anti-Black violence and Black death, in the wake—in the aftermath of—the Transatlantic Slave Trade. And so she artfully mobilizes the metaphor of the slave ship, the wake, the hold, and the weather to describe different aspects of “wake work,” which is defined as care work, where care is, “a problem for thinking of or for Black non/being in the world.” And so wake work can be found in sites of artistic production, resistance, consciousness, and possibility for living in diaspora. So this final chapter begins with an epigraph of the OED [Oxford English Dictionary] online definition of weather, but then Sharpe gives us her own definition. She says, “In my text, the weather is the totality of our environments; the weather is the total climate; and the climate is antiblack.” She writes, “In the wake, the river, the weather, and the drowning are death, disaster, and possibility.” Anti-Blackness is as pervasive as the air we breathe. And depending on where you live, your literal air, your literal water, your literal soil might actually be anti-Black.
[20:17] Alyssa: So Sharpe asks us to consider, “When the only certainty is the weather that produces a pervasive climate of anti-blackness, what must we know in order to move through these environments in which the push is always towards Black death?” In keeping with her metaphor of the ship, she says that we must seek a ruttier, which she draws from Dionne Brand’s A Map to the Door of No Return. A ruttier steers a ship and Sharpe reads “ruttier” as “a way-making tool and a refusal of nation, country, [and] citizenship.” So ruttiers respond to changes in the anti-Black atmosphere and steer the ship. So one question we could ask ourselves is what ruttier are we using to steer? As Sharpe says, “What ruttier, internalized, is necessary now to do what I am calling wake work as aspiration, that keeping breath in the Black body?” And so the keeping breath that she’s talking about in the Black body is a reference to Eric Garner, whose last words were “I can’t breathe,” but also all the other Black people from whom their breath was stolen.
[21:26] Brendane: Yeah, that part of the book, I was like, “Ooh woo!” I read this for my exams last year and so it was a pleasure to come back to it again for this episode. And one thing I really enjoy about reading Sharpe’s work is that she’s always opening words so that we can see the different layers in them. So even the word “aspiration,” which—I have a small background in pre-med before I saw the light and got the hell out. So I understand to aspirate to be, you know, to literally give breath to the body. But then she also points to aspiration as a way to describe people’s wishes to ascend socially. But then also, again—so we have that, right, to actually give breath to the body, the ascending socially—but then also the literal act of keeping breath in the Black body, which can be an act of resistance. So breathing, living, being in a world that wants to relegate our existence to nothing or literally to death is such an important act. And so she cites the brutal beating of Rodney King and the murder of Eric Garner, as you mentioned Alyssa, during which both victims remarked that they couldn’t breathe due to the illegal use of the chokehold. And the other part that I thought was like—I was like [makes sound of kiss], “Chef’s kiss”—and I was ‘bout to say something inappropriate but [makes sound]—[laughs] chef’s kiss, [is] when she cites Lundy Braun’s book Breathing Race into the Machine, where the author talks about the anti-Black origins of the spirometer. And if you’re not—yeah—familiar with the spirometer, it is actually the instrument that medical professionals use to measure your lung capacity. And in its early days of development, right, there was a study that was published in 1864 that said that Black people had a lower lung capacity than white people. And so part of how they justified slavery was saying that because Black people had this lower lung capacity, they needed to work their lungs more through hard work and forced labor, and that was what allowed them to get their blood pumping. And so the argument was that slavery kept the enslaved alive.
[23:53] Alyssa: Wow.
[23:55] Brendane: Like, that’s the—that’s anti-Black logic, right? It’s this weird gymnastics that you do, right, to justify subjugating people and killing them. So when I read that the first time, I was like, “What? Like, what the actual fuck?” Like, literally everything, right, is tainted in this anti-Black climate. Every aspect of modern medicine—gynecology, fucking study of the lung—I don’t know what that’s called, but that’s tainted by slavery, right? So—but then she’s takes that, right—”aspiration,” which—something that could be deeply anti-Black and says if we take it up as awake work, right, then we’re putting breath back into the Black body. And we can resist these anti-Black logics that say that the very thing that kills us, like forced labor, capitalism, patriarchy, homophobia, transphobia, fatphobia—all that shit that kills us is the thing that saves us, right, which is how anti-Black logic works. But when we aspirate as wake work, we can resist that.
[25:03] Alyssa: It’s just so—just her mind. Her mind. I love it.
[25:07] Brendane: Her mind. It’s literally—this is why you get paid the big bucks, right? [Laughs]
[25:14] Alyssa: So I think what I love about this text is that she’s really showing us that theory is only useful insofar as it operates to liberate us, right? It’s like you call yourself a Marxist, you can call yourself an Afro-pessimist, call yourself whatever. But the point is that you need to use whatever it is that’s helpful for getting us free. And so she gives us a bunch of examples of wake work, namely, Black annotation and Black redaction. And so as we study Black being in the wake of enslavement and emancipation, we need new ways of writing, new ways of making sense of the world, making sense of ourselves. And so if you think about what redaction is—again, here she is unpacking these layers of words, right? Redaction is when you revise by removing words, phrases, etc. And, on the other hand, you know, when the government releases records, they usually redact classified information. So Sharpe—here she draws our attention to the fact that so much of Black life and social and political work are redacted and invisibilized. They’re “subtended by plantation logics, detached optics, and brutal architectures.” So, all right, what does this mean? Black life is made unknown to us through plantation logics that say multiple things all at once. So on the one hand, your value is only in your productivity. And then at the same time, that redacts Black being as joy, because there is no consumable product. Meanwhile, those who are closest to white supremacist power are most visible or overrepresented, in Wynter’s terms. And may have more privileges. So I often think about this Instagram caption that the artist Debra Cartwright wrote. She said that she wanted to create more images of Black women relaxing—I think she used the term “being lushes”—because we always carry the weight of the world on our shoulders and we deserve rest. And so she wanted to depict women at rest—Black women at rest.
[27:18] Brendane: I love that.
[27:19] Alyssa: Yeah. I actually have three of her pieces. It’s called the Lazy Sunday Trio. And people have probably seen them [laughs] when I was on Zoom, because it’s three Black women just lying in bed relaxing. Though people are probably like, “Why does she have naked women on her wall?” That is why.
[27:37] Brendane: No, don’t worry about what I got on my wall. Worry about what’s on yours. Or what’s not on yours, you know.
[27:42] Alyssa: Exactly.
[27:43] Brendane: That’s really [laughs]—
[27:46] Alyssa: But yes. These detached optics are the ways of observing Black being—especially violated Black being—without empathy, because Black people are considered non-human. So these brutal architectures are the ways the world has been molded to redact Black and Indigenous genocide and subjugation. The ways that literal buildings, streets, towns, cities, etc., function to erase Black presence, while needing us and the labor and sacrifice of our ancestors to exist. So I feel like we might’ve talked about this before, but you think about while white women were climbing the corporate ladder, who was at home looking after their kids?
[28:28] Brendane: Right. And what gets redacted, right, in the “leaning in” is the Black Caribbean woman—if you’re in the Northeast region of the United States—who’s sittin’ at home with your kids, right? Or, you know, the other woman of color who’s actually helping you do this work—be the “girl boss” that you are, right? So that’s a different form of redaction than what Sharpe is emphasizing, for sure.
[28:58] Alyssa: Yeah. Well, I think she takes us deeper, right? She takes us deeper than that by thinking about instances of Black redaction. So where we use our power to refuse to submit to these anti-Black logics and optics. So what happens when we as Black people choose what aspects of our lives, our politics, our knowledges are made known to the world through images?
[29:19] Brendane: Right. I think that she—something else that she also does is point us to the connection between imaging, which is, you know, the actual verb/action of producing a representation of a thing. So that can be through an image or through a text or etc.—a movie—right? And then the act of imagining, which is the mental image or concept that kind of precedes the imaging. And so she’s not interested in these imaginations that lead to imagings that draw Black people into the realm of the capital H “Human” or the capital M “Man,” to call back to Sylvia Wynter [laughter]. But instead she’s really examining what images of Black suffering actually bring forth, right? And specifically how they call Black people back into the position of the slave. And she asks, “What do these images call us—both as Black and non-Black people, right?—to do, to think, and to feel?” And then, there’s this move she does, where she’s like, “Okay, what is an ethical viewing and reading practice that we must employ today—like now—in the face of Black suffering and death?” So what does Black annotation and redaction offer us, right? It offers us a way to ethically view and read these images that are often presented. So in this chapter, she focuses on three examples of Black visual and textual annotation and redaction to illustrate how one can read or see otherwise. And for Sharpe, it’s very clear that Black annotations and redactions allow us to resist the force of the state through careful wake work. So, put in another way, cuz I feel like—I’m really hammering this down, because I’m like—I love this so much and it’s so useful for thinking about my own work, cuz I write a lot about violence against Black women and girls. And so thinking about ways that Black annotations can allow us to resist, right, they can allow us to redact things. But they also call for us to look again, to look closer, and to look carefully at things and not just take what we see as just truth face value. And they also allow for Black people to determine the terms by which they are known and remembered, and what—through what Sharpe calls a door unto Black life. So we—this is giving us the power to open up our life or close our life to others. And in some ways, it allows us to protect the boundaries of Blackness, as my dear friend Miurel would say. And one of the examples that Sharpe writes about is Mike Brown’s family asking for a second autopsy to determine the cause of his death. So his family’s act of annotation, which is adding to a text, helped substantiate a counternarrative to what the police actually said, right? So we know the initial story was that awful person shot Mike Brown because they thought that he was menacing and [going] to attack them. But that second autopsy actually overturned that determination. And so this idea of Black redaction and annotation is especially useful in today’s world as we constantly encounter images of Black suffering. And I think that really leads us to our next section, actually, really well. Before we get there, though, I do want to be sure that we issue a content warning, because we will be discussing different aspects of Black suffering in the next segment, and we will talk about state-sanctioned violence that has occurred in connection to natural disasters in Texas, Mississippi, Martinique, Haiti, and particularly around Hurricane Katrina. So please take care of yourself if you need to, but we’re about to hop right in to, like, what?
[33:27] Alyssa: What?!
[33:28] Brendane: What in the world?!
[33:29] Alyssa: What in the world?!
[33:30] Brendane: Is going on? [Laughs]
[33:31] Alyssa: I do not know. I do not know. But I think—I just—I actually wanted to say that, you know, I—we’ve had other people control our representation for so, so long. From these, you know, travel narratives from the early colonial period from the minstrel shows that would travel around the U.S. to lynching postcards that would make their way around [crosstalk]—
[34:02] Brendane: —[Crosstalk] The pinnacles of Black excellence.
[34:04] Alyssa: Exactly [laughter]. Y’all, that’s a subtweet [laughs].
[34:09] Brendane: It’s a subtweet, I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I—okay, in no way am I saying that minstrel shows are Black excellence. That’s a callback to a very awful moment in my life [laughs].
[34:23] Alyssa: So, last week—or two weeks ago, by the time this episode is released—Texas and parts of Mississippi and Louisiana recorded some of the coldest temperatures on record. The state ignored recommendations to winterize its power grid, which then sustained an epic failure last week and left more than 4 million people without heat and electricity as temperatures in some parts of the state plunged to single digits—negative digits for those in Celsius. So for example, in Dallas/Fort Worth, the temperature reached -19°C or -2.2°F. And so as of today, an estimated 80 people died, including an 11-year-old boy believed to have freezed to death in his bed. And people are estimating that, much like the pandemic, we’ll never know the true death toll. And I think that’s actually something to sit with as well. What happens—what does it mean when death can’t be counted?
[35:25] Brendane: There are legacies of this, right? Our ancestors’ deaths, you know, cannot be counted. And this is the legacy of capitalist white supremacist violence.
[35:38] Alyssa: Yes. So people were without heat and water for several days due to rolling blackouts, frozen pipes, and just overall state incompetence. But we’ll get to that.
[35:49] Brendane: Right. Of course, we want to be mindful that this is not a tragedy that’s over, right? This is not a singular event and people are still going through it. Some people still do not have power. And recovery is going to be slow and painful as people discover really what the aftermath is going to be. People’s homes are ruined. People’s businesses are ruined in this, like—and I want to underscore—this preventable disaster. So we wanna take this moment to honor those who’ve lost their lives. And we hold space for those who are recovering from the compounded trauma of state neglect and abandonment. And also want to underscore that state-sanctioned violence is not just police or military violence, right? It’s actually reflected in this atmospheric anti-Blackness that’s written into legislation, medical practices, and public policies.
[36:48] Alyssa: Yeah. And I really wanna pick up what you said there—the preventable disaster. And I think about events like the earthquake in Haiti, Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. You know, people call them natural disasters, right? But I think that the disaster element is anything but natural. They’re social. Cuz 9 times out of 10, these mass casualties are the result of human decisions that have real and deadly consequences. So I think about the 1902 eruption of Mount Pelee in Martinique. So it’s now considered the third deadliest volcanic eruption in known history. And so Indigenous people of the island, they called it Fire Mountain. They knew it was dangerous. They warned the early settlers of the risks. It was well known that it was dangerous. But of course, they were like, “We’ll settle on this island, we won’t listen to Indigenous knowledge. Whatever, it’ll be fine.” So of course they build the most important city in the French Caribbean at the foot of this mountain.
[37:54] Brendane: Of course.
[37:55] Alyssa: Yes—the foot of this volcano, I should say. So, at the time, in 1902, it erupted in April. Scientists and the residents, they were like, “Okay, we’re seeing signs of activity. There’s some rumblings.” But there was an election coming up. And the mayor didn’t want to evacuate the town.
[38:13] Brendane: Oh my God, why does this feel so familiar? [Laughs]
[38:17] Alyssa: Exactly. And so due to these political reasons, an estimated 30,000 people perished. So there was one confirmed survivor. And then there’s another one that I’ve read about, but I haven’t seen as commonly accepted as a survivor—a young girl. But I guess this— the sole survivor story is just too rich with myth [laughs] to let it go and to accept something else. So—but anyways, I’m reminded that these are natural weather events, but the disaster is a result of state failure.
[38:49] Brendane: If we think about Texas and what happened there, right—Texas privatized its electric grid in order to avoid federal regulation, which is literally what led to this particular disaster, right? And so much of what happened in Texas and in Mississippi, which is not really talked about as much, brought me back to Hurricane Katrina. And I was in middle school—I’m gon age myself—I was in middle school when Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast and devastated so many lives. And many people—many of the people who were able to leave—who were then named after, right, “Katrina refugees”—came to South Carolina. And I remember going to school with a girl who was a “refugee.” And she said her family was only going to be in backwards-ass—and I’m really quoting her—backwards-ass South Carolina until things straightened out and she could return to New Orleans. But she was never able to return home. And so her family also didn’t receive disaster relief funds until years later, and it was not—it was a fraction of how much it cost them to move and establish life somewhere else. So our federal and state governments have failed people—time and time again have literally relegated them to death. And now—I don’t know if you’ve been to New Orleans recently, but a lot of those neighborhoods that were devastated are now kinda being—and I’m going to use the word annexed intentionally—but are now being annexed by a kind of richer, whiter areas, and then are being “developed,” or they’re still in a state of disrepair.
[40:36] Alyssa: This is literally [crosstalk]—
[40:37] Brendane: —[Crosstalk] This is wild.
[40:38] Alyssa: Literally. Literally the case [crosstalk]—
[40:38] Brendane: —[Crosstalk] Literally, love [laughs].
[40:42] Alyssa: The case. The case for abolition.
[40:45] Brendane: Period.
[40:45] Alyssa: Like, if this doesn’t radicalize you—I mean, I can say this about pretty much anything [laughs] that’s happened in the last 400 years. But, you know, if this person radicalize you, then I don’t know what will. But I mean I think it’s a perfect example and there are perfect examples in this—you know, within this situation that demonstrate why we don’t actually need the state. And so the state, at the time, in the words of our wonderful intern Menkhu-ta, bounced to Cancun.
[41:15] Brendane: Period. Said, “Bye!” [Laughs]
[41:17] Alyssa: Like, deuces! And so meanwhile, Black folk—especially Black women—stepped up to help one another. Can someone just explained to me why citizens—and actually that’s a very fraught term [laughs].
[41:33] Brendane: Yeah.
[41:34] Alyssa: Why—why people residing in these states, in these cities, in these towns are better at redistributing essentials and providing aid than the state? And then—like, people, they always applaud charity. They’re like, “Oh, Bill Gates donated a million dollars to such and such a cause.” And I’m like, “Mm.” First of all, that’s a tax write-off for him and a drop in the bucket to his hoarded wealth. And second of all, the fact that charities exist are a result of failures of the state and the social contract. So, I’ve kinda refined that idea now. I—that’s something I said before and I think it resonated with people—not on this podcast—but, you know, I’ve refined that idea because it kinda assumes that the state is actually a useful structure around which to organize our lives. And it clearly isn’t, right? It continues to fail to support life and it was never built to support Black life. So.
[42:33] Brendane: You know, you know, you know, I would—I say the state not only never built to support Black life but imagine if—think about our ancestors. Literally, their backs are what hold up the state itself, right? So, not just that the state is not a container in which we can enter, but, like, the container actually sits on the back of our ancestors.
[43:01] Alyssa: Woo! Preach.
[43:03] Brendane: So why not—why not let it go? But don’t throw me in the bucket with those anarchists that are doing things that I don’t appreciate.
[43:11] Alyssa: Yes! [Laughs]
[43:12] Brendane: Which is another podcast. [Laughter] It’s another—another podcast.
[43:17] Alyssa: But I think one of the things I found interesting was actually the lack of images. I think we—you know, we were talking about imaging and images and, you know, the ways that images have been used to represent Black people, particularly Black suffering. And we said that in another episode that these images actually don’t produce sympathy or compassion, they actually just affirm to white people that these structures and systems are doing what it is that they’re supposed to do and that’s keep white people in power and kill Black people. Okay. Just a little callback to that.
[43:50] Brendane: You know.
[43:51] Alyssa: But I—
[43:51] Brendane: Just in case you do not have time to rewind, you know.
[43:54] Alyssa: But what I found really interesting was the lack of images of Texas, especially when you compare the gratuitous and pornographic images of Black death that spread in the wake of Katrina and the earthquake in Haiti. And so I’m not saying that I wanted to see those images. What I did want to see were reports of the Black trans organizations offering shelter, the Black woman cooking hot meals, and delivering them to people’s homes. I’m thinking of Dr. Bedour Alagraa, Dr. Ashante M. Reese who were doing that work. I—you know—props to them.
[44:32] Brendane: Salutes. Salutes.
[44:34] Alyssa: And, you know, people sharing their homes with strangers in a whole pandemic!
[44:39] Brendane: It’s—no, I just—it’s wild to me. It’s like all this shit’s going down and we’re literally in the middle of a Panera. Like, like, ma’am, this is the Panera. Like [laughter] why do people have to worry about freezing to death? Anyway.
[44:54] Alyssa: Yeah, I mean, exactly. We’re in the middle of a pamplemousse [laughter]. Our intern is sitting in and she’s laughing [laughter]. She wants us to add “a pandemonium.” So I think it speaks again to redaction, right? As Christina Sharpe wrote, “So much of Black intramural life, and social and political work is redacted.” So, a lot of this was intramural people who were inside their homes, inside their cars. But then a lot of it was also outside these mutual aid systems in the way that people stepped up to help each other—enacting a Black feminist practice of care—you know, is not at all visible in the mainstream media. And so in fact, like today, I was just like, “Okay, let me Google ‘Texas deep freeze’ and see what happens.” And the first news results that come up are of the wildlife that died during the low temperatures.
[45:52] Brendane: I know you fucking lyin’.
[45:53] Alyssa: Nope. It was just like, “All of these wildlife, they died, and now it’s gonna ruin the ecosystem.” And I’m like, “There’s another example of how white people care more about animals than Black people and people of color.”
[46:07] Brendane: You can’t make this shit up, like, you really can’t! It’s—like, it’s so consistent, it’s almost boring. Like, it’s almost boring how consistent it is.
[46:20] Alyssa: But I think, you know, what this does show is Black people, and especially Black women, they constructed their ruttier, right? And we love to see it.
[46:29] Brendane: Period.
[46:29] Alyssa: And so what we are seeing in the news—besides these like wildlife things—is, you know, shit like Ted Cruz, the Devil’s ass pimple, walking around congratulating people on their resilience. And I saw this really great tweet by—I’m totally going to mispronounce this, but it’ll be in the transcript—@muxercitx, who wrote “#TexasStrong (#HoustonStrong) is white supremacy, actually. The ideology behind the resilience narrative in the face of state-sanctioned violence is just visual/narrative patchwork to cover up the crimes of the rich and powerful. The way Cruz deploys it here is proof of that.”
[47:10] Brendane: Mm. Yes, he was #TexasStrong in Cancun.
[47:15] Alyssa: [Laughs] Exactly. But you know what—you know what people were talking about, though? That Texans weren’t the only people he left behind. He also left his dog behind to freeze in the deep freeze.
[47:31] Brendane: Wait. Wow. That’s—woo child. I’m gonna—I don’t even know how to respond to that. I don’t even know how to respond to that. Don’t leave capital M Man’s best friend behind [laughter].
[47:50] Alyssa: I see what you did there and I like it [laughter].
[47:54] Brendane: My little nerdy joke. I have to do one of those, I guess, a day. But yeah, I think—which is [unclear] to talk about these images, right—I think the focus on imaging certain aspects of Black life allows for the narrative of Blackness as death, Blackness as suffering, Blackness as trauma, to sustain itself. And actually, allows non-Black people to believe that capitalist violence benefits them.
[48:23] Alyssa: Yep.
[48:24] Brendane: Don’t get me wrong when I say this, right? This is not a call for “representation” or—I think I would make it capital R “Representation” or Black capitalism, but it’s actually calling attention to the ways that seeing Black proximity to death allows for others to imagine that they are not proximate. And I think this undergirds—as an aside, because I do have to throw this out there—this current moment of frustration about kind of Black-Asian solidarity, especially as more narratives of anti-Asian violence surface. Anti-Black logics say that death is the reality in the realm of “the black.” So—but the gag is, right, as we all know, that white supremacy, anti-Blackness, capitalism, and all of the ills kill all of us. Black people are just positioned closer to that death, right? So I just wanna say, again, as an aside to the aside, why is this our problem, right, as Black people? Why is it our problem that anti-Asian violence is not ringing at the same register as the Black Lives Matter movement? Anti-Black sentiment runs rampant in non-Black communities. And we know this, right? And y’all are calling for solidarity without checking your own people first. So I saw this Tik Tok—our intern, she sent us this great Tik Tok because that’s just the only way I have access to Tik Tok is through the youth. I can’t do it to myself, so—of, you know, Asian people calling for their own communities to actually ring the alarm, right, versus turning to Black folks and being like, “Why aren’t y’all ringing the alarm for us?” It’s—like what’s going on? But, as a segue from that, I want to say, right, that if Black people were to free ourselves, everyone else would be liberated, right? This—so, if the least of us, the most marginalized among us, receive the community care, love, and resources that they need to survive, then everyone else would have theirs. And it is only white supremacist capitalist logic that tells us that life is a zero-sum game and that that’s not possible, right? It’s—that’s literally what’s possible when we are able to imagine more and imagine more deeply. So I want to push y’all on this call for solidarity. Let’s think about care and practices of care that actually reject—I’ll say, reject—anti-Black logics. And I’ll leave it there.
[50:58] Alyssa: I just want to say: bring the fight to the whites.
[51:02] Brendane: Yeah!
[51:03] Alyssa: Like [laughs] I said this in the Just Three podcast I was in. You’re asking me what the biggest social justice challenge is. And I listened to other episodes and, you know, people had lots of really great things to say. And I was like, “Why are we pointing to the symptom when we can point to the disease?” And the disease is white supremacy. The disease is white patriarchal violence.
[51:33] Brendane: Period.
[51:34] Alyssa: Those are the challenges that we’re facing. So, as you said Brendane, helping us will help you. Help us help you.
[51:42] Brendane: Help us.
[51:43] Alyssa: But know that we gon help ourselves.
[51:45] Brendane: Yeah. And empower yourselves to help yourselves as well. I would just say, I understand why radical movements can’t move without Black thought and Black power because we are the wellspring from which radical thought comes, right? So it’s like—I can see that. But you can’t take the thought and then step on the person who produced it, right? Like it—that just—it doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t make sense.
[52:18] Alyssa: Something that you said in that workshop we were in when you were like, “I don’t know how I feel about solidarity, because I know that freeing myself will free others.” I was like, “Yeah, that’s it. That’s the move right there.”
[52:33] Brendane: I think—and we can have a deeper conversation about this, because I’m pretty sure people are gonna be like, “What?!” It doesn’t mean I have—I’m like anti-solidarity or anti-coalition or things like that. Like I am very much—so I take fully and deeply to heart that if we were to free the most marginalized of the most marginalized, just through that action, everyone else is gon get theirs too, right? That’s what the Combahee River Collective statement tells us. That’s what a lot of Black—radical Black feminist theory tells us. And I think we as Black people really have to start believing in the power of freeing ourselves. And like, the power that we have to do that and how, you know, Tim across the street might not be—I’m sorry, I know somebody named Tim—sorry Tim!—Tim across the street might not be with it. But when I’m free, Tim across the street is gonna have a better life, too, right? So everybody might not be with it. But that’s cool, like, that’s okay. Just don’t be with it over there and don’t actively harm me, I think, is where I’m at [laughs].
[53:46] Alyssa: Yeah. But I think what’s wild to me is the very clear class and race differences between how people weathered the storm. So, you know, this Black woman, she reported from her gentrifying Houston neighborhood that some of her white neighbors had generators on-hand. First of all, who has a generator on-hand? Okay. Or they were able to book hotel rooms. Meanwhile, her Black and brown neighbors were almost still in the dark. Almost all of them were still sitting in the dark in the cold. And then I’m thinking about people who live in food deserts who didn’t have any means of transportation. People who are now facing electricity bills of up to $10,000—
[54:27] Brendane: Mm mm, don’t pay it.
[54:28] Alyssa: —Because of the demand for electricity. They jacked up the prices. I can’t even believe that’s legal, first of all. Taking—I mean, that’s disaster capitalism.
[54:40] Brendane: Like, TM [trademark]. [Laughter] Literally, TM.
[54:46] Alyssa: I don’t wanna say it’s surprising because it’s kinda not, but I just wanna point out that America is dead ass ready for war and fighting terrorism and putting Black Lives Matter on their racial extremist groups lists because Black life mattering is an extreme idea. Bu this country isn’t ready for public health and infrastructure crises. They can’t feed or house people or provide basic necessities of life—actually, you know what, it’s not that they can’t, but that they choose not to for those who are not bioeconomic subjects. So the poor person, the houseless person, they’re not bioeconomic subjects in the same way, and thus are not deserving of the resources and basic necessities of life. I was gonna say, “Why? Explain it to me like I’m five,” but I actually think I answered my own question. So my friend, who is not one—well, I mean, she is—I guess she is one of the youth compared to me—but she sent me a Tik Tok of this Uber driver, a delivery driver, who was upset that Uber pays them $2.50 per delivery. And then the person that they delivered to, the customer, tipped them $1.50. The driver was upset at the customer, because they were gonna lose their apartment, you know, for the third time since the pandemic, they were gonna be houseless, you know, without all this income. And they couldn’t believe, like, that the customer couldn’t just give them $5 because they’re out there risking their life and things like that to deliver food. And my friend was just like, “This just shows you how much people buy into individualism.” How do you bypass being angry at the company for the low pay—this billion dollar company—for the low pay? How do you bypass being angry at the state for not providing the resources that we literally pay taxes for to support you in this time of difficulty and end up upset at the customer?
[56:55] Brendane: [Sighs] I feel like that’s kinda the state of affairs though, right? Even as—what was—I was very scared about—just to say that—like, the mutual aid groups were popping up and I was afraid that the state was going to look at those groups and be like, “See, this is what happens when we come together, when individuals come together, and we work together. So y’all don’t need us to improve because, you know, the wealth is already here.” Which is, yes, very true. But also—
[57:31] Alyssa: I mean, the corollary to that is, “We don’t need you at all so you don’t need to exist. Bye, Felicia!” [Laughs]
[57:36] Brendane: Right? Right! Like, yes, so so many different ways to open that up. And also to say that, like, neoliberal logic—which we talked about neoliberalism in a previous episode, right—neoliberal logic has really taken over and made state matters, or even—if you want to move outside the state, right—community matters individual responsibilities. And we saw on Twitter so many comments about Texas, Katrina—you know, what happened in Hurricane Katrina and what’s going on in Mississippi—looking like a third-world country because of the “looting” or the empty stores and all the destruction, which—I just wanna say, “Pause.” Okay. The reasons why resourceful countries look the way they do in certain parts of the world is because of European and U.S. imperialism and intervention that extracted their resources from them, right? So what we’re seeing in the U.S. as a parallel—or a corollary to that, right?—is capitalism and anti-Blackness are those main culprits for what we’re seeing, right—that devastation. So let’s point—let’s go back to what the fight really is, as you was saying earlier. Like, let’s bring the fight—I’m gonna start saying that to people [laughter]—don’t bring the fight to me. Like, I’m telling Black men, “Don’t bring the fight to me, bring the fight to the whites,” but that’s, again [laughs] that’s another conversation [laughs].
[58:13] Alyssa: Welp. Welp, the climate is anti-Black, “we are here in the weather…here there is disaster and possibility.”
[59:27] Brendane: On Peridot! I’m living—I’m living for that. “Here there is disaster and possibility.” I love it.
[59:36] Alyssa: I mean, it’s, what, the second-to-last line of In the Wake so. Well, we’d love to go on more but that is all we have for you today, folks. 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, as well as the Office for Academic Diversity and Inclusion, and the Arts and Science Graduate Council. And, of course, listeners like you. Zora’s Daughters is also distributed in partnership with the American Anthropological Association.
[1:00:26] Brendane: We got a real “official” sign-off. [Laughter] We love hearing from you and we’ve really appreciated the conversations that we’ve been having with you all in our DMs, in our inboxes. So head on over to zorasdaughters.com to find transcripts for the episodes, our bios, contact info, and ways to support the podcast. And be sure to follow us on Instagram at zorasdaughters and on Twitter @zoras_daughters. And remember, we must take care of ourselves and each other. Bye!
[1:01:04] Alyssa: Bye!
[END OF RECORDING]