We did more than write, hunny! In this episode, Alyssa & Brendane explain the what happened between them and Dr. Kiona AKA How Not to Travel Like a Basic Bitch and the “multiracial coalition” on Instagram that led to the baby viral YouTube video. It’s a conversation on theory and practice, particularly how theory and experience inform how we perform criticism in our everyday lives and how that lens will make our world better. We also address more of the comments and questions we received on posts and in our DMs. Finally, you’ll hear a slightly different version of the conversation than is available on YouTube, as we had to record twice!
Zora’s Daughters Podcast: Episode Sixteen
Co-Hosts: Brendane Tynes and Alyssa A.L. James
Guest: Dr. Kiona Natasha Pilles
Title: The Empire Claps Back
Total Length: 01:37:46
[00:00:21] Brendane: Hey y’all! Welcome and welcome back to Zora’s Daughters, the podcast where we discuss popular culture with a Black feminist anthropological lens. And since we have a lot of new listeners, we’ll do a bit more of an intro than we usually do. So, I’m Brendane, a.k.a. ‘THAT Canva Bitch,” and I use she/her/hers pronouns. I’m a fourth year PhD candidate in sociocultural anthropology, a Ford pre-doctoral fellow, and my research is about how Black women use different forms of feeling, such as fear and grief, to create movement spaces. I’m local in Columbia, South Carolina, proudly just Black, whatever that means, and I’m currently living in Baltimore.
[00:01:03] Alyssa: Hi everyone, my name is Alyssa, a.k.a. “That Bitch on Canva,” and I also use she/her/hers pronouns. I am a third year PhD student in sociocultural anthropology, a SSHRC doctoral fellow, and my research is about the revival of coffee production in Martinique. I’m local in Toronto, my background is Jamaica and I’m currently living in Harlem, New York. And so, if some of y’all are listening and wondering why we keep talking about Canva, that graphic design platform, then you must not be on Instagram. Where are you? [Laughter]
[00:01:37] Brendane: What’s going on? Whatchu doing? But, we’re gonna set the stage for you, alright. The day was Monday, March 29, 2021; a travel influencer and social justice advocate named Dr. Kiona, in partnership with a multiracial coalition, published a graphic called “Why is it so hard to stand with Asians?” The multiracial coalition included her, a white and East Asian biracial woman; a Black man who is a digital content creator; a Black woman lifestyle influencer; a white man and an Asian man who are both outdoors influencers; and an Asian woman who did the actual graphic designs that were not on Canva. I noticed that it was misleading and parts were very clearly anti-Black so I sent it to Alyssa to say, “what is this problematic graphic and why is it making rounds?”
[00:02:31] Alyssa: Exactly. And it took us what, like, five minutes to dissect at a very basic level, but we did that just chatting between ourselves. And it turns out, we found out, you know, it took them months to create. So, I had the idea to annotate it, similar to the way antiracism author and speaker Rachel Cargle does, for what she calls Saturday School. Brendane wrote everything up and I created the graphic [louder of emphasis] on Canva [laughter], which I—
[00:02:57] Brendane: Plot twist.
[00:02:31] Alyssa:—which I use—[laughter] I know, huge plot twist—which I use because I have an eye for aesthetics but I can’t draw and I can’t design worth a damn, so [laughter] I just let Canva do that part for me and then I make the colors nice. [Laughter] So the beginning of the caption of what became the Instagram post, it was a riff on a tweet that Brendane wrote. She said, “some of y’all will get on Canva and say anything,” [laughter] I added the crying face emoji for effect [laughter]. Anyways, that went out on Tuesday and it got our usual hundred or so likes. Dr. Kiona and the Black women in the coalition immediately blocked us. And then, on Thursday morning, I said lemme just check her page to see if she’s responded to it, or anything. And, turns out, she made an entire behind the scenes series of videos totaling about thirteen minutes, where she explains the graphic but not actually responding to any of our critiques, although alluding to them. And then, at the end of the video she said, “and to that Canva bitch,” etcetera, etcetera. Hence, “that Canva bitch,” “that bitch on Canva” okay [laughter].
[00:04:21] Brendane: You know, just in case you weren’t sure [laughter].
[00:04:27] Alyssa: So, she follows this up with a screen shot of a message between her and the Black women on the team who responded to that particular story saying, “I blocked that Canva bitch.” So together these women have about a hundred and fifty thousand followers on Instagram.
[00:04:43] Brendane: So many more than we do, to be that pressed.
[00:04:44] Alyssa: At the time we had 1,200 [laughter].
[00:04:43] Brendane: Like, so pressed over us, little ol’ us. And we spent a lot of time, actually, thinking about how to respond to this because we knew that the video was directed towards us. Multiple references, the use of AAVE, which we unpacked in our response. We knew that this was for us, that Canva bitch. There was actually, really, no need for her to bring the smoke to anybody else, thought there were hundreds of critiques of that post. And I’m saying that cheekily right. No one else needed the smoke via video, but us.
[00:05:28] Alyssa: Absolutely. So, as much as I hate turning anti-Blackness into a teachable moment, I felt like it was important to kind of help our audience understand all of the misleading and insidious shit that was going on in the video, as well as in the original post. So that video, actually gave us a really great opportunity to explain more about what was going on with the post and then also address what happened in the video. And so, what I didn’t know at the time was that it was actually gonna bring to light that this was a pattern of behavior. That she’s been doing this to Black women for a long time and that when they spoke up, nobody believed them. And so, when we were thinking about it, how we could respond, I said, you know, how about we use Zoom, we play the video and then we pause it and we kind of explain everything that’s going on. Point things out and then we can put it up on YouTube.
[00:06:21] Brendane: Like, your mind. [Laughter] Because—
[00:06:23] Alyssa: [Laughter] Our minds.
[00:06:25] Brendane: You know, like, I was just like wait a minute. I have no idea how to do this but I know that we should respond via video. I thought it was really important for people to see that we are Black and to see us, right, and to see our response. To give a visual, especially since she took it from the comments to video. But we published the video on Friday. We recorded it on Friday and that shit blew up and y’all, on the low, like being viral is exhausting [laughter].
[00:07:04] Alyssa: It was like baby viral, too [laughter].
[00:07:06] Brendane: Yeah, like, very baby viral and very exhausting but after the video started circulating and our posts started circulating more, we actually found out that an activist had published a full break down of the ways that they had manipulated data and oversimplified the graphics in the content of their original post. So, the multiracial coalition had actually reached out to him, Patrick, who is an Asian man, for a mediation and to discuss his critique. But they didn’t reach out to us until, I wanna say, days later. And this is just so that y’all know, right, when we talk about misogynoir and anti-Blackness, it’s not us talking out the side of our necks. They reached out to someone who was not Black first as equals to discuss his critique and we were not quite reached out in the same way. He amplified our annotated post which was published before his and acknowledged that there’s a way in which his positionality makes his post more palatable and seen as legitimate critique. And um, so for you all too, this is my addition right, but our critique really then became the ramblings of like two angry bitches. Two angry Black bitches. I’ll leave it at that.
[00:08:26] Alyssa: Well, one angry bitch, right [laughter]. And actually, we talked about that on Friday, at this workshop that Brendane was facilitating. Folks really pointed out how that’s completely representative of fungibility. Which we’ve talked about in another episode but it was just the way in which two Black women become the singular bitch because we’re interchangeable, exchangeable.
[00:08:51] Brendane: Fungible. As the scholars say. Which for those of you who might not have listened to that episode, fungibility is essentially this idea that Blackness and then, by extension, Black people can become whatever or whomever you want them to be. So, in this case, right, a team of three Black women become one blocked Canva bitch.
[00:09:12] Alyssa: Yeah. I think another thing that I found interesting was just that so many people said they found something off about Dr. Kiona. Something about her rubbed them the wrong way but they didn’t really have the words for what it was. It again just makes me think the way that Black women are gas-lit so much that we cannot trust our own instincts. That’s what I said about the whole situation with Jessica Krug and everybody coming out, being like, “I remember her, I remember meeting her and I felt that there was something off but I felt like I couldn’t say anything about it because I didn’t have any evidence,” right. So, in this situation too, people were like, they knew or they felt, they intuited that there was something wrong with the things that she was posting but they were like, “well she’s Asian, she can’t be racist, right, that can’t be it.” And so, people just didn’t have the words to explain what it was that they were feeling. So, I think that’s why, you know, we talked about in a previous episode why understanding anti-Blackness is integral. People actually said to us, that we were discounting the fact that two Black creators were involved. That us saying that some of the content was anti-Black was to erase their contribution. No, no, no. No.
[00:10:31] Brendane: No, no, honey [laughter].
[00:10:38] Alyssa: Anyone can perpetuate anti-Blackness, even other Black people. Colorism, that’s anti-Blackness. Fatphobia, that’s anti-Blackness. So, thinking in terms of racist, not racist, anti-racist, that actually limits the way we understand how people oppress and are oppressed. And so, the way that people might do this, might perpetuate anti-Blackness, whether they’re Black or not, is either by reinforcing Black people as the ultimate abject non-being, by distancing themselves from Blackness, or both. And so, what’s interesting also, is that Dr. Kiona, in the video, she said that the Black members of the team checked with themselves and that they had experienced everything on the Asian side of the post. This is the one that we critiqued, right, specifically. And then the Asian team members checked in with themselves and then said okay they experienced everything on the non-Asian POC column. So, the only members of the team* were Black people and Asian Americans so I think that’s just further evidence that the non-Asian POC column was meant to be Black people.
[00:11:51] Brendane: I mean, the math is mathin’!
[00:11:52] Alyssa: They didn’t have any non-Asian or non-Black POC in the group.
[00:11:57] Brendane: Right, the math is mad thin here [laughter]. It just. Yeah. I think that was really interesting. And I actually, was very confused about what that point was supposed to be, to be honest with you. If you know me as a person, I tend to be fairly logical, so I’m like, “okay, what are you proving by saying that Black people have experienced what Asian people have experienced and Asian people have experience what Black people have experienced? What are you proving in this moment, besides the fact that the world is bad. I don’t know. But I also found it interesting how our critique and response had opened the door for so many other people to, you know, “make the choppa sing,” as the kids say, you know.
[00:012:44] Alyssa: [Laughter] What kids?
[00:12:45] Brendane: You know, the kids. The kids who listen to the rap music. I don’t know who came up with “make the choppa sing” but I feel like—oh, wait, Mulatto definitely says that.
[00:12:57] Alyssa: Oh gosh. I have crossed over, cuz I didn’t know that she had used that in her music. I have crossed over.
[00:13:03] Brendane: Oh yeah, she said “make the choppa sing like Aretha”
[00:13:09] Alyssa: Oh, choppers like the teeth [laughter].
[00:13:12] Brendane: No, choppa like—
[00:13:13] Alyssa: Oh, [laughter] like chopping people down?
[00:13:16] Brendane: No, okay [laughter], yeah, okay.
[00:13:18] Alyssa: Yeah, that’s why they say. Okay, I get it.
[00:13:20] Brendane: Yeah, you know, yeah [laughter]. We actually received, believe it or not, hundreds of messages about Black and non-Black people’s experiences with her or the other members of the multiracial coalition. And I was shocked. Like shocked at the levels of violence. And it actually turns out that Dr. Kiona and her coalition had not only done harm to Black people, Black women like us but also other Asian folks and disabled people. And usually anti-Blackness does not come unaccompanied y’all. I want y’all to understand. Just like Alyssa was saying, colorism is anti-Blackness, fatphobia is anti-Blackness, ableism is also tied up into that, xenophobia, Sinophobia.
And it also proves that doing right by Black women makes the world better for everybody else. So many people felt inspired to pipe up and say something because Alyssa and I put ourselves out there. And by us calling, addressing the ways she had wronged us it actually made the way easier for other folks to be like, “actually, she hurt me too.” All that being said, we are not martyrs y’all. We’re not martyrs, we’re not bulldogs that y’all send to attack people. We are not in the business of like actually doing that. We have a life outside of critiquing anti-Blackness on the internet. A good life outside of critiquing it.
[00:14:51] Alyssa: We do. We do. I think we’re just gonna continue doing those things, doing our thing, and showing y’all Black women just doing what we do because we love to do it is a radical act.
[00:15:03] Brendane: Right. Another thing we discussed in the actual post that we made but also in the video, was the use of AAVE, which is African American Vernacular or Black English. And there were plenty of people jumping to her defense and saying that to deny her the use of AAVE is to deny her experience or to deny Asians’ experience growing up around Black people. And I don’t think we ever exactly, explicitly said that she shouldn’t use it but we were more so critiquing the way she wielded it in that video. She weaponizes AAVE when she wants to seem big and bad. She challenges us on everything but the research. When the research comes in, that’s when her “normal” voice comes back. And I also don’t know if—well I do know how I feel about that, right. I don’t think growing up around Black people is actually enough reason to use AAVE. Because it’s not. Was she using it at home to communicate with her parents? Right? So, Blackness as social capital is something that we might have to save for another episode
[00:16:19] Alyssa: Yeah, I think if you grew up speaking it, you wanna speak it around your friends and their cool with it, great, that’s between you and your friends. But if you get on the internet and start using it for clout, you look silly [laughter]. You look silly. Because, and I’ll say why, because Black people can not do the same. And what does it mean when non-Black people get props for using a language that Black people get marginalized for using?
[00:16:47] Brendane: It means that you’re profiting off of anti-Blackness. Bow, bow, bow.
[00:16:52] Alyssa: Bloop, bloop, bloop.
[00:16:53] Brendane: Bloop, bloop, bloop. Bow, bow, bow. As the great theorician Waka Flocka would say. But also, speaking of props, [sigh] maybe we should just save this for another episode, honestly. But actually, I think I’mma say a little something and then we can move on. I want to call attention to the politics of desirability at play in the video. Dr. Kiona flips her hair often while talking, right, this is kind of signaling a certain type of femininity with her long straight hair. And then calls upon this Black man to protect her, right, so we don’t see her calling him but he appears magically. You know, in the background.
[00:17:41] Alyssa: Not magically [laughter]. Not magically.
[00:17:46] Brendane: Magically appears to confirm that she will block you if you misinterpret her post, right. And he actually reaffirms her anti-Blackness by crossing his arms in a similar way to the Wakanda salute. So, it’s like so many layers there but essentially Dr. Kiona is like unconsciously using her pretty privilege to escape accountability and to reposition herself as the victim. For those of us who’ve been in social justice spaces, with white cis women particularly, we are very familiar with the ways that they use white femininity to escape accountability and reposition themselves as victims. And by using that Black man as a prop, it also reaffirms her desirability and protectability while committing this violence against us. So, there’s an assumption that’s latent there, that you might not be able to pick up on. It’s that the Canva bitch is undesirable and thus deserving of her clapback. But I’mma leave that alone, I’mma leave it there.
[00:18:54] Alyssa: Yeah, I think we said we were gonna save the rest of it for the Black masculinities scholars [laughter].
[00:19:00] Brendane: You know, cause there’s so many of them.
[00:19:02] Alyssa: But, I mean, there were—we did also get some messages of people being like, in one post she’ll take down a Black woman and then two posts later she’ll post pictures of her and her Black friends. And it’s also a pattern and something she’s using to be like, “No, I can’t be racist, I can’t be anti-Black, I have Black friends.” So, I think we need to look at that and think about people. People are doing these things consciously, they’re doing them consciously. But, what were some of the other comments? I think a few people asked us whether we reached out to her to speak to her about it before we did our post. No, we did not. No, we didn’t and there are a lot of reasons for this. One, we’re not in community with her, we made our annotations to be accountable to those we are in community with, to allow them to put words to what they felt was wrong with the post. And we have done that before, Brendane has definitely done that before with a particular book and that was her being accountable to activists in her community.
[00:20:10] Brendane: [Sigh] Be on the lookout for that [laughter] popping its way back up soon.
[00:20:15] Alyssa: Please do. Two, because if you put something out in the world you have to expect that people are going to be critical of it. Especially, especially if it’s perpetuating harm, right. You think that people are like, “Hey, lemme just privately message Gucci and be like y’all have a racist turtleneck depicting Blackface, you know, could you take that down please.” No, if you put something out there publicly, you’re profiting off of racism publicly, then it also needs to be publicly addressed and redressed so that people don’t think that they can get away with doing the same shit over and over. Like Brendane said, it’s boring
[00:20:55] Brendane: It’s boring, yo. It’s boring.
[00:20:58] Alyssa: Someone please make a meme of this. There are at least two meme-able moments in that video [laughter]. And then three, I think people stay stealing Black women’s labor, right. Like we could have gotten in her DMs and then privately had this conversation and then publicly she would have just had some kind of come-to-Jesus moment where all of the sudden she read something that helped her see the post in a new light. And it would have seemed as though it was her growth and her reading and her thinking and not actually the labor of Black women. So, I’m like, nah, nah, nah, nah, not me, no sir. [Laughter] No, sir.
[00:21:37] Brendane: No sir, not me. I am dead. [laughter] I feel like, yeah, I think those are three great reasons. And I will also say that she blocked everybody that did critique her and like, she brags about it. So, we can’t even really sit here and act like a private moment for feedback—and I’m saying feedback intentionally because it will not be accountability since we’re not in community, right—was possible. Like it was impossible. She refused to hear from anybody but chose to make a video coming for us specifically. And I wanted to ask these same people like, are y’all in her DMs asking why she has thirty thousand people blocked? [Pause] Are y’all in her DMs asking why she didn’t privately approach us instead of calling us out of our names on the internet? You are not. You are not. And you’re putting the responsibility on Black women’s backs to be the objects both of anti-Black violence but then also to serve as objects in this peace-making process. And again, that is BOR-RING honey, boring. Those types of jobs do not excite me, okay, I am not excited by that.
And she definitely weaponized her PhD and her professorship in classist and elitist ways to signal that we were beneath her. We believe that academic work should be accessible to marginalized communities and if that’s not what y’all are on then say that. Be very bold with it. But then also don’t put out an information packet “that’s supposed to be for thirteen-year-olds.” To me it just reads like, you know, this is my theory, that maybe the pandemic, she wanted to like signal a career change and really rely on her experiences to help her feel that career change. But wasn’t going about it in a way that was actually well informed. And it’s like, don’t say you’re doing the work if you’re not willing to do the pre-work, which is the reading, and the interactions with communities and being held accountable. You can’t be a liberator that that don’t listen to nobody.
[00:23:59] Alyssa: On the note of people just saying “I don’t make accessible work” with their whole chest, there are scholars out there who do that. They say I don’t make, I don’t write so anybody can read it because I don’t want anybody to be able to read it. I want you to be putting in the work to read this essay, or read this book, or to understand this particular theory. I think people say that about the Afro-pessimists. I heard a rumor Gayatri Spivak said that and they say it with their whole chest. So, you can say it, you can be that way but you have to be that way unapologetically and that’s it.
I think the other thing that I found really unsettling was that so many people came to their defense and the reason was that Dr. Kiona puts our good content or they’ve done a lot of good for the community. So, does that mean that because you’ve done good your work shouldn’t be subject to criticism? Does that mean that we should ignore the bad, ignore the harm? So many people came to talk to us about the harm a couple of them have done in different communities as a result of their travel businesses and things like that. So, what is the good if it harms people? And then, have we considered that her work is good because it’s anti-Black? Like people see it as good because it’s anti-Black, right? That’s something we were talking about in that workshop too.
[00:25:16] Brendane: Right. Like, how much of work that’s seen as “good” is actually work that reaffirms stereotypes about Black people. Like, oh, this actually reaffirms how I feel or what I say, right. Which is—it was pointed out that people actually follow her to see her do and say these things, like they actually have a pleasurable experience out of witnessing her anti-Blackness and hearing her say these things they can’t say without being labeled a racist. So, when she talks about catering to white people in her post essentially, she’s talking about catering to her audience. And I think that’s telling too. But I also think on a societal level, it’s enjoyable to AAVE and Black mannerism embodied, or played out, or cosplayed, whatever, in non-Black people, right. It actually makes it more palatable. We can think about plenty of non-Black people who’ve made their careers off of pretending to be Black. And then once they get their money it kinda runs away. Kind of like the Aquafina controversy at the beginning of her career
[00:26:32] Alyssa: Miley Cyrus had that moment, Justin Timberlake, right? There’s always a point in which, when a child celebrity, a child star, wants to break away from that image, they appropriate Blackness. They act bad, they be bad, you know. And they start doing all of these things that are like wearing certain kinds of clothes, twerking on stage, and making Blacker music, right.
[00:27:06] Brendane: Right, Black children are not children. So, like yeah, if you wanna become an adult, you adultify yourself through embodying Blackness. And then, when you’re ready to become a real adult—because Black people are also not actual adults who take care of themselves—then you throw that image away. Yep [laughter].
[00:27:28] Alyssa: Well, we’re actually just gonna give you all the audio. It’s a different version but if you’ve watched the video you don’t necessarily have to listen to this part [laughter].
[00:27:40] Brendane: Yes, fast forward to the end.
[00:27:41] Alyssa: Yeah, just fast forward to the end. And hopefully this introduction also offers a little bit more for you. So, on a final note, on my part, I think we wanna say that two members did reach out to us to apologize and have a conversation. We thanked them and said that we’d like to enter into the conversation on a foundation of mutual respect which we didn’t feel was possible without some time to reflect. So, we’re looking forward to hearing from them in the coming weeks. Dr. Kiona posted a single screen on her Instagram story and it said, “Deleting my BTS,” behind the scenes, “response video. Not proud of how I went about it but looking forward to doing better.” We’ve yet to hear from three members of the coalition at all. At the same time, we want to acknowledge and hold space for the folks who told us about their experiences with these different members of the coalition. Thank you for trusting us with your stories and allowing us to bear witness to what you have gone through and what you are going through. We heard you and most importantly we believe you.
[00:28:50] Brendane: Thank you to everyone who wrote us in support, who offered to help us with captions and also to tell your stories. We hope that you feel seen and heard. We tried to share as much as we can but then things got a little overwhelming so we apologize if we haven’t shared your story in a way that you felt was reciprocated. But just know that we see you and we hear you, and we hope that you feel seen and heard, and we hope that you are able to find rest, especially outside of this mess. As I said in the video, if you are here with an open mind to learn, to discuss, and to hold us accountable as we will hold you accountable, welcome. And you might have noticed that our greeting in the beginning was a little different. Usually we thank everyone who donates to the podcast by name, but because of you all’s overwhelming support, it would actually take probably an hour to read out everyone’s name that has donated. And we’re so grateful. A big thank you to our day ones, right, our home base community of Black women and Black queer and trans folks for all that you all do. We love y’all. And to our new supporters, thank you for making these two Black women, Canva bitch, feel seen and heard.
[00:30:10] Alyssa: Alright, should we let them listen to the audio? We’ll also link to the video in the description but this is actually a slightly different version because of my errors, we had to record twice.
[00:30:21] Brendane: Lord. But it was fine the second time, watching the video was even more fun. But yeah, we are gonna come back at the end for our outro.
[00:30:35] Brendane: Hey y’all, we’re in a little bit of a different venue than we usually do but we have some things that we really just want to discuss and y’all know that we are Black feminists over here who believe in doing the work and holding others and ourselves accountable so especially when they talkin’ bout some black shit.
[00:30:54] Alyssa: So, to set the stage we’ll give you our little ethnographic vignette. On Monday Brendane sent me an infographic on Asian solidarity by a multi-racial coalition that includes hair influencer Curls of Poetry and social justice advocate and travel blogger How Not to Travel Like a Basic Bitch, named Dr. Kiona. So I said, when I saw it, there are a lot of issues with this and since we believe in critical dialogue and drawing attention to shit that’s anti-Black I was like, “hey, let’s annotate it the same way that Rachel Cargle does for some of her comments and DMs she receives.” And I thought it just goes along nicely with our theme of academia, we have semesters of the podcast instead of seasons, we have syllabi. And so, we created the graphic and then we wrote the caption that explains the annotations because we always aim to give people the tools and language to recognize when things are harmful to Black people and to be able to explain it and talk about it. And so up top I want to say that yes, our graphic was made with Canva. Our tone is snarky but I don’t think we’re ever excessive, especially in a way that prevents our message from getting across and it certainly didn’t warrant the response that we received.
[00:32:13] Brendane: We want to address Dr. Kiona’s response which was made on Wednesday in which she and curls of poetry addressed us as bitch. Yes, us as bitch, which we’ll get to later. And then proceeded to attempt to gather us and we thought that we’d bring the fire to her “smoke.” First of all, before we really get into things, I wanna say that it’s always telling when someone has to call you out your name in order to feel better. Secondly, it’s telling again, honey, when a non-Black woman uses the defamatory language of a Black woman to say what she wants to say. It’s giving “my Black friends let me say the N word so I can say it” energy but instead of the N word it’s AAVE and the word “bitch.”
[00:32:59] Alyssa: Exactly. We also want to note that this video is not for them, right. We made this video, just like the original post, for the communities we are accountable, to the communities that we love and are sustained by, Black women, Black queer and trans folks. And so not only do we want to show that the only thing that happens as regularly as Black women being belittled for critiquing someone and having our labor erased or stolen, is people responding with fragility in order to avoid accountability. We also want to highlight the way that anti-Blackness harms us all and so when we’re centering ourselves everyone benefits from that work. so, we will continue to call attention to anti-Blackness and doing the work of truth, justice, and accountability. And that is in order to build a collective future in which we are all free. And so, rather than explain what happened we’re actually just going to show you.
[00:34:10] Dr. Kiona: Good morning. I wanted to talk about the guide that was released a couple days ago. I needed a break from it. That shit was hard. it was like months of research and then once you release it out into the world you never know how it’s going to be received or if you communicate clearly. But majority responses actually like 99 percent of responses were really, really, really great and it was clear that we were clear about what we were trying to communicate. So, that’s good and very hard to do with complex subjects like this especially during a time like this of grieving and complex grieving and nuance. But there’s those one percent and I’m petty so I’mma break down some of the arguments against the guide. First off, the guide wasn’t even my idea. it was a white member of our team that wanted to put together a guide. And for me being Asian, for me being in elitist academic circles, I don’t know what people’s baseline is because my baseline education is so much higher than the average person.
So, it’s been a problem that I deal with regularly where I don’t—some things need to be broken down to the very, very baseline, the very, very simple things. And some people have never even come across these subjects before so I don’t know what people’s baseline is. Like, I thought, you know, racism and prejudice was baseline for most people. For white people, no. So, they need a little, you know, intellectual push and to do it in an educational way. So, it wasn’t even my idea. I was just brought on to it. So, talking about this slide. There’s a lot more things in the soil, a lot more. But, like I said, baseline education, there’s some baseline things that you need to know that is underneath the soil. It doesn’t mean it encompasses all of the Asian experience. There’s lots of things that are missing from that, such as U.S. imperialism, but that’s a whole other subject and course. Multiple courses. So also, we need to keep in mind that this is IG, like people are thirteen on this app and so how can we communicate effectively without getting people lost on the first slide. So, just let you know there’s more on the bottom of the soil.
[00:36:36] Alyssa: Okay. Dr. Kiona has a PhD in nutritional sciences which is great. Proud PhD grad. But, Brendane and I are getting PhDs in anthropology and our respective projects explicitly discuss issues of race and difference and marginalization. We also have a podcast where we practice breaking down social science research for the non-specialist listener and we explicitly use a Black feminist lens that prioritizes the lived experiences of marginalized people, especially Black women. And so, what we’ve learned is that we can simplify things without losing nuance and we managed to do that on Instagram and in the podcast. And so, I also want to point out that reading and understanding are one skill, and then the work of interpreting and translation particularly to a lay audience is another. So, we’re not sure how many thirteen-year old children are accessing content about travel but I think that they can understand a nuanced explanation of race. I’ve seen it on Tik Tok, some of those kids are dope. They also see news reports of it all the time, so why not give them the tools to analyze what they see.
[00:37:55] Brendane: Alright we’ll continue.
[00:37:58] Dr. Kiona: Now this slide has been getting more reposts than anything and the thing that I’ve seen about it has been like, “I disagree with this slide.” Well I’m sorry that you disagree with reality but this myth was established uh in the sixties or seventies. And this racial triangulation theory was written about in 1999 by Claire Gene Kim. There’s lots of researchers who have then expounded upon racial triangulation theory. This is the reality of which our laws, our society, have been based on. How Asians have been racially positioned. But it’s a myth in that like Asians actually don’t experience this heightened level of privilege. And I have a whole statistical breakdown on Smithsonian APA for that, um the data doesn’t back it up. Hence this next slide, and this has been expanded on, racial triangulation theory has been expanded on by researchers beyond that—up until 2015, I believe, was the last research paper published on it. So, I didn’t make it up. So, this slide was a description of the myth and then this slide is a description of reality, how oppression exists and the power and privilege and how they can all simultaneously linear. It’s not a hierarchy it should be more of a circle. So, I hate when people post out of order and only partial parts of the packet because this is a packet in a whole. So, just taking that one slide and not posting the next slide which goes together is breaking context. But, this is all to say it’s not my opinion. It’s–that’s researched, okay, there are public papers published on this. Like, we not making it up. It’s not our opinion okay, we’re not pushing no agenda. It’s been researched.
[00:39:56] Brendane: [Sigh] And it’s kind of disturbing to see the AAVE in action. it doesn’t get easier to watch it. I wanna say sure, it’s really great that Dr. Kiona has a PhD in nutritional sciences but that doesn’t necessarily mean that she has the background to actually deep dive into issues of race and difference. PhDs are very specialized degrees., for those of you who might not know right. We only have time to study our very specific topics so I’m not exactly sure how much time she could devote to studying race, anti-Blackness, and white supremacy, while getting her degree in nutritional sciences. Which, I think, also kinda explains why there was months of research that had to go into creating this packet for her and her team. But as you’ll see on the slides that she produced, right, that racial triangulation, there are no other racial groups that are explicitly named in the graphic except for Asians and Black people. And there’s a white supremacy sitting at the top, but no other racial groups are triangulated in that besides Asians and Black people, not even white people.
But while we’re here and we’re thinking about racial triangulation, right, we have to think about this deeply. Which Asians are we speaking about? Are we speaking about East Asians? South Asians? Southeast Asians? Indians? Filipino people? Vietnamese people? Do people of Chinese descent have the same racial experiences as those of Cambodian descent? I’m not quite sure um but we all know that the category of Asian does not encompass the experiences of everyone who it tries to call into that community. All that being said, we didn’t have major issues with this slide though the racial triangulation theory used is actually quite misleading, especially the way it’s displayed, and has been consistently disproved and pushed upon by Black theorists since 1999. It places Black people and Asian people on the same level under white supremacy, and that is actually just not true. Anti-Blackness functions as a structural force that creates variable experiences for people of all races under white supremacy but ultimately places those who embody Blackness at the bottom. It’s possible to illustrate this nuance on Instagram, like look at our page. We got the material. We have the material. Alyssa and I study this shit deeply and daily, but let’s get back to the video.
[00:42:27] Dr. Kiona: The next slide, this slide, and we all knew that we were going to get heat for it. Um and actually it hasn’t been that much heat so it’s all right. But people think that we make that up too and we didn’t make these up. All of this data, behavioral data, is public, so if you go to any non-Asian POC affinity space, look at their complaints about Asians, pick them out okay, count them, see recurring themes, and then condense them into a slide. that’s what we did. Same thing for Asians. Go into Asian affinity spaces, what are the complaints, count them, and then pull out recurring themes, then put them on the side.
[00:43:10] Alyssa: Okay, okay. So, this is ethnographic data. Okay. So nowhere on the slides or in the captions does it say that this is ethnographic data, which as anthropologists we of course prioritize have respect for. But we also know that you never present ethnographic data without context.
[00:43:34] Brendane: Period.
[00:43:35] Alyssa: Who’s in these racial affinity groups? What was their composition? And even though the right side of the graphic is supposed to be non-Asian POC, a lot of these comments or themes essentially cover what happens in the Black/Asian dynamic. Which is why, when I saw this, I was like the Black is the specter of this post, right?
[00:43:54] Brendane: Right.
[00:43:55] Alyssa: And so, we are there without explicitly being named. And even if it is about all non-Asian POC, which again is a vast category, people will read this as Black people, which is harmful— [crosstalk]
[00:44:09] Brendane: I had people DM me. Oh, I was gonna say, I’ve had people DM me and be like, “When I read this, I read it as Black people.” I read it as a diametric relationship between Asian people and Black people and these were people who this post was supposed to be for, right?
[00:44:24] Alyssa: Exactly. Right. There you go. So, it’s harmful by contributing to these negative stereotypes, right. And so, it should have been explicitly stated which POC affinity groups this ethnographic data was drawn from. Were they queer Latinx groups? Black indigenous groups? Hotep groups? Like, who was writing these things? Who was writing? So, this kind of context and specificity matters in to how the reader interprets the information. let’s see what’s next.
[00:44:54] Dr. Kiona: Then we each sat down, we asked ourselves are these real-life experiences that we’ve had? Do we also agree with these, right? And you know every Black person on the team had experienced every single thing on the Asian column and every Asian person on the team experienced everything on the non-Asian POC column. So, not only do we corroborate with our lived experience we curl up corroborated with the themes that we had pulled out from the behavioral data that’s public um and we didn’t make it up, it’s all like pulled um data behavioral data. So, when you discredit it or say like oh this doesn’t exist, well that’s participating in gaslighting. That’s participating in erasure, it’s participating in what about isms. It’s like no, you can’t deny somebody in either column’s reality if they say that that’s what they’re experiencing.
[00:45:57] Brendane: Interesting. This team keeps—it’s amorphous. I’m confused about who’s on it. Interesting. So, she’s getting into lived experience, which again as Black feminists we recognize and validate as a valid type of knowledge. And I also have to wonder. I have a wondering. What affinity spaces are you observing and walking into during a pandemic? She references focus groups, pulling focus groups together. I’m not exactly sure, how and when those focus groups happened or what the data was produced from that if these are focus groups. But then she’s also talking about pulled public behavioral data, so you’re getting your data from multiple sources and was unclear about how and why that data was applied in the way that it was. I’m not gonna make to much of a point on that, right, but what we really take issue with here is actually the accusation of gaslighting. We never said that these things don’t happen. We said that there were false equivalences in the way that it’s structured, right, it’s actually set as if they’re equal to each other and equal opposing forces. And also, we take issue with the idea of gaslighting as something that we can even do as pushing back. As she mentioned, right, “we’re validating the experiences of Black people.” We’re Black people saying that this is not our experience, right. But another example, right, would be that they compared anti-Black mindsets, right, influencing this kind of anger and violence against Asians, as though Asians actually don’t commit actual factual violence against Black people or other people of color. So, what she does by continuing to, you know, call us bitches—which we’ll get to in this video—is she actually kind of models this anti-Black violence that we were talking about when we wrote about the post. We have not called her anyone outside of their names in our entire time having this conversation.
[00:48:09] Alyssa: Nope, not a once.
[00:48:10] Brendane: Not a once, right. We are able to critique without calling you out of your name Dr. Kiona. Um, all we did was critique a post we saw was spreading harmful information. And so, Dr. Kiona has before been called out for using African American Vernacular English as a non-Black person which some people now are calling linguistic Blackface, as if you watch Tik Tok or read other research, right. They’re seeing that coming out now. And she uses AAVE again, except—interesting, right—when she starts talking about research, that’s when the AAVE turns off. So, when she’s trying to authenticate herself as an authority figure, the AAVE kinda shuts down but when it’s time for her to push back “we not,” what’d she say? “We not making this up,” “We not pushing no agenda,” right that’s when it comes back in order to bring us the smoke. To make it clearer to us, what she’s actually doing. Um, let’s continue watching.
[00:49:18] Dr. Kiona: So that’s been disheartening to read. Just the blatant crossing out of entire sides, one side or the other side. And it’s like no those were all public data that we counted and pulled themes from um and, and also there is an arrow in between them, right. Um, the arrow in between them signifies a feedback loop, so what is experiencing on this column can lead to this, what’s being experienced on this column can lead to this. And so, it’s a constant feedback loop it leads to each other—
[00:49:52] Alyssa: Okay this is interesting I just want to underline that for later and then we’ll continue.
[00:50:00] Dr. Kiona: —at some point that feedback loop has to stop. And it’s when those behaviors stop is when the feedback loop stops on either side. And so, um and then I also saw like non-Asian POC crossed out and like put Black no this is not Black people um this is people who are non-Asian. Um our country is built on Sinophobia, so we’re all bound to have Sinophobia embedded into us because it’s literally baked into our society. The only slide that we ever mentioned Black people was on the model minority myth slide and that’s because model minority myth was built on the basis of anti-Blackness. It also was based on the um the basis of Mexican immigration. So, that was the only reason that Black was mentioned on that one slide um because that is what the model minority myth was built on. But it has never been mentioned on any other slides and it’s not targeted towards Black people.
[00:51:03] Alyssa: Okay, so as we mentioned above, since the specific groups this data was collected from was left out, a lot of those things, the themes on each side, they basically look like stereotypes that non-Black people have of Black people, right. And so, we understood that the slide that mentioned Black people was drawn from racial triangulation theory. But, for us, when we’re creating content, when we’re doing our podcast, when we read things in our own work, or for our own work, we don’t reproduce it without reflecting whether something can be harmful especially in the wider context of what it is that we’re trying to say in our work. As an example, in our episode “Not My Latinidad,” we read an article by a Latina anthropologist that was helpful for understanding racialization. But we also specifically explain how her interpretation of her data was problematic, right. So, just like look at our podcast episodes, our essays that we write, the work that we read, we look at it holistically, we also looked at the graphic holistically. And so, by specifically naming Black people in one slide people are primed to assume that you’re talking about Black people in the following slides where specific groups go unnamed. Not to mention that in one section they specifically put “anti-Black mindsets influencing violence and anger from non-Asian POC.” So, who else are they harboring anti-Blackness against but Black people? And if this is a feedback loop then the group experiencing anti-Blackness must be Black people, so we are the ones perpetuating this anger and violence but we’re not the only ones who are violent or angry. So, this angry and violent Black person—this unnamed angry, violent, Black person is a trope.
[00:53:14] Brendane: Period. And like, it goes back to, again right, interpretation of data. So, you all read data, filter it through your lens and then want to claim a lens of objectivity. That doesn’t—that doesn’t add up. It’s not as if it was objective, right. You’re not just printing out the report, putting it on Canva or wherever, you know, and putting it out to the world right. You’re filtering it through a lens and that lens, if we’re talking about xenophobia, which it also something that does not just affect Asian people, anti-Blackness, which is something that doesn’t just affect Black people but primarily affects Black people, that filters the lens-that affects the lens we filter things through in the world. So, what is an “anti-Black mindset,” Alyssa? What is that? I don’t know, I never heard that.
[00:54:06] Alyssa: I do not know. I’ve never heard of her.
[00:54:10] Brendane: I’ve never heard of her, never heard of him, never heard of them, you know. And I know of anti-Blackness as a structural force, as a structure of analysis, as an analytical framework, but “anti-Black mindset,” I have not seen her. And if we’re thinking about this feedback loop again, you, in saying that all these things feedback into each other, you’re saying that Black people actually contribute to Asian people’s “anti-Black mindsets.” [pause] That’s—that’s anti-Black. [pause]
[00:54:48] Alyssa: Yeah. I mean, we asked for clarification on this slide, hence the question marks and the “What does this mean?” So, for example how does an inability to center their own community for Asians lead to an inability to center other communities for non-Asian POC in a feedback loop, right? So, statistically a dollar only circulates in the Black community for six hours compared to 28 days in the Asian community, so I’m that’s just one example. Of course, that’s one situation but how are Asians unable to center their own community? I’m guessing it relates to one of the previous lines, that people deny racism against Asian existing and so they have to center others. I don’t know about that as like a structure for analysis but okay. And then, as far as Black people prioritizing ourselves, we’ve said it before, we’ll say it again our freedom is everyone’s freedom.
[00:56:02] Brendane: Per-i-od. Period [laughter].
[00:56:04] Alyssa: Our histories are entangled, yes, but when we free ourselves, y’all’ll be free too.
[00:56:12] Brendane: Exactly. So, when we say that we’re—we’re just not making it up right. There’s actually data in life and truth of liberation. And when we uplift the needs of the most marginalized, we actually make the world better for everyone. And it is the lie of white supremacy coupled with anti-Blackness alongside xenophobia that tells us that liberation is a zero-sum game. And, really and truly, honestly, revolution is the only way that we gonna get free but not calls for unity that don’t deeply interrogate power relationships, which we’ll get to. Let’s get into it.
[00:56:55] Dr. Kiona: Um, so I think that was a misunderstanding despite words being carefully selected, right. Carefully. But people hear different than what is being said because of their own traumas. But I’m not responsible for your trauma nor your triggers um and I think healing is imperative when reading the slide and getting triggered.
[00:57:22] Alyssa: okay this got me hot.
[00:57:28] Brendane: You?! Honey, my jaw is tight.
[00:57:34] Alyssa: This got me so hot, I’m still not even sure I have the words to explain it as yet. But yeah, okay, tell me how to heal from racial trauma that is ongoing. That nobody takes accountability for. [pause] Okay, but beyond that I was not triggered, we were not triggered by this packet. We were engaging in critique and that is part of doing the work, okay, that’s also part of academia and being a professor. And so, what I see here is her perpetrating the same thing that her post was supposed to address. Right, when Black women critique other POC or suggest that their actions reinforce anti-Blackness they respond by perpetrating additional violence.
[00:58:28] Brendane: And honestly, at this point, [sigh] it’s boring. Like, it’s really—I’m bored, like it’s interesting when you’re like, “Oh, this is anti-Black” and then somebody says something, and they do it and they, like, are anti-Black. And you’re like, “Wait a minute, this is—didn’t I just say this and you’re doing it? So, this is actually kinda proving me right?” And I’m tired of being right. Please divest from anti-Blackness. You don’t know either one of us. And so, to speak to us as if we are traumatized by a post that you put lots of effort in and it still could’ve been refined, right? We’re pointing to the pieces that say, actually this is what’s keeping us from being able to engage you fully. And to engage—like we’re saying this, this is an act of care and you are actually not speaking to that, right. It’s really common actually for non-Black people of color to gaslight Black people by claiming that our critiques of anti-Blackness come from trauma. They’re like, “Y’all, y’all,” and we’re still living in slavery basically. Like y’all just haven’t gotten over slavery yet and you’re not able to see past that in order to see what we need.
By calling us beneath you, Dr. Kiona, saying that we’re not on your level or saying that we are actually basic—which you all will see—perpetuates anti-Blackness and it also perpetuates a model minority myth. You’re claiming fragility when all we did was say a post was harmful to Black people and call attention to the ways that it prevents solidarity. Where is the unity in that? Where is the community? Like, looking for it, I can’t find it honey. Where is it? Where is the community and learning if you can’t be held accountable for what you say and do? That sounds to me like oppression and ain’t we trying to get free?
[01:00:36] Alyssa: That’s what I thought. I mean, I’m really thinking about when Audre Lorde critiqued the magazine chrysalis and June Jordan was like, “Let me stand in solidarity with Audre Lorde, my sister,” and she resigned in response. Like, where did those days go? June Jordan wasn’t like, “I am attached to this organization, I’m attached to this magazine, I’m attached to this platform,” She was like, “Nope, my priority is us getting free.
[01:01:08] Brendane: Period.
[01:01:09] Alyssa: But let’s continue.
[01:01:13] Dr. Kiona: —two whole slides. so, the first three slides were just descriptions of reality right, non-opinion-based all based on data and research for, of those who came before us. Then we have two whole slides on just white supremacy and addressing white people and the white member of our team was like I don’t feel comfortable having two whole slides on such an important packet. And the rest of us were like well if not you then who? We don’t have any power if you look at congress or you look at the senate or you look at the one percent who are who hold the wealth in this country the all the landowners, it’s not us. So, who’s gonna break down that it’s not it can’t be us because we don’t have anything to break down, we don’t have any power or privilege. So, that is white people’s job, that’s why we dedicate. And so, we went ahead dedicated that slide to him and he crafted his own script and we said that I don’t know how to talk to white people um and neither does anybody else, so he talked to his own community talked to his own people in a way that is receptive right. We don’t want to place shame or blame or anything like that, but we do want to place responsibility and give people hope and inspiration. Um, because in the end we’re all in this together right. Like white people suffer under white supremacy as well and that is a whole another course. So, that was on him and he stepped into it and so that’s why two whole slides were dedicated to that subject and we mentioned white supremacy I think four out of the nine slides and one—ten slides and one being a cover page. So, people are like you’re not putting enough emphasis on white people I’m like I mean we kind of did.
[01:03:09] Alyssa: Okay, so we actually didn’t take issue with those specific slides in our post. It was with the earlier ones because our thing is always—at least this is my saying—bring the fight to the whites, right. If the aim was unity or coalition, this post could have looked at how anti-Blackness and white supremacy harms us all. And instead, there was this pitting against each other of non-Asian POC and Asians. And so, I understood what she said earlier, right, that some people don’t really understand what anti-Blackness or what white supremacy means. um but it’s so important, these concepts are so important to understanding what’s goes on in the world, these structures, these hegemonies that it’s worth trying to help people understand it. And of course, I understand that you have a concern about alienating your followers. But we’ll get to that in a second, okay.
[01:04:16] Dr. Kiona: And finally, I don’t know why people would even have a problem with this slide but um I saw one that says “unity” crossed out and it said, “end white supremacy.” “Ending white supremacy saves lives.” And I had to think about that one because that’s not wrong. That’s correct, ending white supremacy does save lives. But what do white people think when they hear white supremacy? And also, how do we get to ending white supremacy? What are the steps like leading up to that and it’s unity right? Like, when white people get on board and we unify that’s when systems can come down. Or if you study revolutions, they’re taken and it’s very, very violent and if you’re ready for that smoke, alright then let’s do it. But, if you not, you gotta get white people on board um in order to dismantle us this system so that is equitable for everybody, inclusive of white people so—
[01:05:18] Alyssa: Okay, so maybe this wasn’t us because we didn’t say “end white supremacy.” We crossed out and we put “ending oppression,” but yes, also ending white supremacy, right? Like it does, it will save lives. But we chose not to say that because people do hear white supremacy and think KKK. So, we know this, we know what she’s saying, what she means. But maybe we should have gone with ending anti-Blackness because all of these things are connected. But I also want to underline, underscore that last part because we’re gonna come back to it as well.
[01:05:54] Dr. Kiona: —so, I thought that that was a little bit like—you got to think about branding and marketing and like—
[01:06:03] Alyssa: No, we don’t [laughter]. No, we don’t. Liberation is not an advertising campaign [pause] okay, like I said earlier, our message, our podcast, our work, it reaches the people we want to be in community with. And as I said that earlier, if certain people can’t receive the message because it’s not catchy or approachable that’s not our loss.
[01:06:29] Brendane: Right, y’all was about to be fighting in the trenches with us anyway, right? And I think these calls for unity—which, yeah, we’ll get to later—it’s so interesting because it’s just like, were we not all unified in 1770 blah, blah, blah, when people were enslaved and serving white folks’ dinner and pulling up cotton from the ground? Were we not all together? Unified? So, you can have unity and still have power relationships within that unity. You can have—everyone can be together, and you can still perpetuate white supremacy and anti-Blackness, so what? [Sigh] Let’s just keep playing, let’s keep going.
[01:07:15] Dr. Kiona: How are you branding your words your slogans and is it reaching the people that you want it to reach? People can understand unity. Do people understand, really, and white supremacy? Especially white people who might feel triggered by that word and which is a whole other thing. We’re not trying to coddle people, but we also want to meet people where they’re at. Where are they at—
[01:07:39] Alyssa: Okay, so y’all didn’t want to coddle white people but it was okay to call us out our name. you don’t want to trigger white people, but you wanna call us on being triggered. Okay.
[01:07:59] Dr. Kiona: —in their understanding and people can understand unity, people can be on board when you invite them to be on board. Um, so we all need to come together.
[01:08:11] Alyssa: Alright, so she said that they did’t wanna coddle white people but earlier she also said white people need a little intellectual push and to do it in an educational way. She said that the white man in their group, he wanted to—or he tried to talk to his own people in a way that’s receptive. So, I’m gonna assume that by “receptive” she means “approachable” or “friendly.” You know, they didn’t want to trigger white people. [Pause] How is being nice to white people going to get us free?
[01:08:44] Brendane: I’on know. I’on know girl.
[01:08:47] Alyssa: Do people really think that in this point in life, in the world, in history that white people are going to free us if we ask nicely? They’re not. They’re not. They’re going to reform and reform and reform while we continue to die. And so, if a white person can’t hear my message because I didn’t say it nicely enough then I don’t need to be in community with you. I don’t. People really don’t hear us when we say that we are focusing on freeing ourselves and that will free us all. Not “because” it’s gonna free us all but “and.” That is going to be a happy by-product of us freeing ourselves. So when we center ourselves, we’re not de-centering you.
[01:09:35] Brendane: [Sigh] Girl like, I literally was just like, “Yo, people are literally dying. Like people are dying, people are dying, [clapping] and white people are out here killing all of us and you got time to call us bitches but you don’t got the smoke for them? You want to be nice to them when white supremacy has literally sold y’all the fiction that anti-Blackness will save you from death? And that was disproved, right. These massacres that are happening, these mass shootings that are happening, and the shock around them is because non-Black people have been sold the fiction that subscribing to white supremacy and anti-Blackness would prevent them from dying too. And guess what, honey, it does not. It does not. And we all are over here grieving, and we’re too busy pointing the fingers back and forth at each other while they continue to kill us. [Pause] That’s—that’s disappointing. It’s disappointing
[01:08:] Alyssa: Yeah. And then, one the note of unity and coalition—Brendane, you have a lot to say about this—but I think that this video as a whole proves why, in the world as it is today, coalition is impossible and arguably harmful. Because based on what we’re about to play, coalition is only possible if we agree with white people and make them feel better. And make them feel better about killing us. And when I say, “us” I mean Asians too. They are killing all of us. And so, if in that earlier post you’re saying that these seemingly innocuous acts lead to violence, then think about all of the racism denial, silence in the face of injustice, refusal to center non-white people—you know what, it’s not even a refusal, it’s an ignorance of the fact that they segregate themselves from non-whites. So, all of that kind of stuff, that nice or liberal whites do, that opens the door for violence. I think that’s why that earlier slide bothered me so much, right. They were really talking about POC as a whole, this whole amorphous group of people of color, when the source of this is whiteness.
[01:12:08] Brendane: Girl, let’s keep watching this.
[01:12:15] Dr. Kiona: so that’s my breakdown of the slides. I know some of you probably have gotten some smoke from it, so maybe now you have some vocabulary to go ahead and express what is being meant in these slides. And by the way all the critiques were by other POC which is why we even had this slide, which is when you consume so much whiteness, you consume so much oppression and you start to critique other people in ways that are not well researched, based off of your own trauma, based off of behaviors that have been done to you, so you start to do it to other people—
[01:12:52] Alyssa: Okay, there’s [laughter] so much here, if you read closely, if you look closely at the words, she acknowledges that what we put out there was critique. Where she goes wrong though, is that we critiqued her. No, no, no. We did not. We critiqued the work that y’all put out there. And to call a critique by two Columbia PhD students, who work on race explicitly, not well researched further demonstrates that this response is reactionary. And actually, this whole video doesn’t really engage with any of the critiques that we made.
[01:13:45] Brendane: And it also doesn’t actually arm anybody with any vocabulary to further explain the slides. So, there’s a disconnect here. And perhaps a move could have been, instead of coming for us and calling us traumatized angry Black women, calling us bitches, angry black bitches, let’s be real wit it right, let me not soften the language here. It could have been an explanation video of each of the slides, where you pointed to your sources and you said, “Well we did this, and this is what we got from here and this was our thinking behind here because we’ve received critique and we would like to respond so this could continue to be a learning space for other people.” But no, instead, you telling me I don’t know how to do my job and you also call me outta my name.
And to me, right, it sounds like there’s something unresolved right, from her feelings about previous critiques that were leveled against her that were in fact about her own behavior. Using AAVE unapologetically, referring to her work when she was a PhD student as “slave labor,” [pause] in an interview that she did. I think maybe as Black women here in this moment, even though we’re not there present in the video symbolically we serve as mules to help her kind of resolve that, right. Instead of let’s bring the fight to where it belongs, let’s bring the fight to the people that it don’t belong to and maybe they’ll help us deal with our affective thanks—I’mma throw a word out there—affective thanks. And it’s interesting that she calls on Paulo Fuertes for her, for this final slide. I think people bring him in a lot when they want to avoid reading Black feminist work and I respect Paulo Fuertes’ work, right, it definitely opened doors for me in thinking about ending oppression and education.
But it’s telling that y’all reached all the way over to Brazil and skipped over all the Black theorists who actually talk about Black and Asian solidarity, who talk about the possibilities and conditions of solidarity among multiracial groups of color. Y’all didn’t even reach to Angela Davis, honey. But also, what’s interesting, right, Paulo Fuerte talks about how the oppressed must fight for liberation and take back their power. He’s one of the people who’s cited that talks about how the oppressor does not give the oppressed what they want. Which is not quite the same thing as being a community with white folks and talking to them nicely and asking them to sit down at a unity dinner. [Pause] But Paulo, again, is low-hanging fruit. I get it though. Y’all are simultaneously above us yet still not quite experts, so how would you have known.
[01:16:25] Dr. Kiona: —you’re just acting in the same exact ways so check yourself—
[01:17:20] Alyssa: Moving on
[01:17:21] Dr. Kiona: —and finally to the bitch who was like [sucks teeth] “anybody can get on Canva and write any old thing.” Bitch it wasn’t even fucking made on Canva first of all, and second of all it was months of research. So, the professor in me is like I will not engage with people who are not my peer. And I’m sorry if you just not my peer, I just can’t. You gon have to talk to somebody more basic.
[01:17:49] Alyssa: Okay. This is just funny. This is just funny. So, she refers to us, a pair, there are two of us, actually a trio if you include our intern, as the singular “bitch.” As does her partner in the multiracial coalition, which you’ll see in a moment. There are two of us, so a quick search, read of the page, anything would have told that. So, I don’t know if that’s indicative of the research or anything [crosstalk]
[01:1] Brendane: I think it is. I think failing to see that Zora’s Daughters has an “s” on the end [laughter]. Daughters has an “s” on the end might be indicative of the level of reading and interpretation was happening in the research from which this packet was produce.
[01:18:51] Alyssa: Okay, so there was that. She tells us that we’re not on her level but she could have easily seen that we’re two Black women doing PhDs at Columbia. And while yes we haven’t completed them, a quick search would show that we study race, Black futurity. So, we’re definitely not, on this subject, basic. So, you know, we wouldn’t have a debate with her if her post was about nutrient intake, eating patterns adiposity, metabolic risk factors, and the gut microbiome in Hispanic freshmen, we wouldn’t.
[01:19:31] Brendane: No. No debate there, honey, because you wrote your dissertation on that so, no debate there.
[01:19:36] Alyssa: So that’s all you. But we can look at an Instagram post that’s been simplified for baseline understanding and tell where and why it’s anti-Black
[01:19:48] Brendane: Especially if the graphic was made for us. Like, are we not non-Asian POC? was this not supposed to be made for someone the age thirteen to understand and grasp? I’m 27. I’m 27 with three degrees. It seems like a simple google search would have actually clarify a lot of things, especially the claim that we’re not experts. It’s not like, you know, we’re award-winning scholars with over a decade of experience talking about race. It’s not like we haven’t done workshops all over the country on race. It’s not like our podcast is listened to all over the world. I mean, if that’s basic, honestly, then what’s going on at her level. Not googling, clearly not engaging in critical dialogue about what they posted. I mean, deadass, what’s going on at your level then. If we basic, then honey, please, show me the receipts. What is happening on your level that’s not just taking people on trips to Cuba?
[01:21:11] Alyssa: Alright. [Laughter} We’re just gonna finish up this here video.
[01:21:18] Dr. Kiona/Philwaukee: If you keep misinterpreting everything, she’s gonna block you she’s gonna block you
[01:21:25] Alyssa: Okay, so here we have a Black man, a travel influencer called philwaukee co-signing this misogynoir and I will just let my face say what every Black woman who has had a Black man [patois] tek up fi anotha oman of another race in a conflict is thinking. Also, we didn’t misinterpret, we very closely read.
[01:22:02] Brendane: Right. I just, you know. It’s like folks who sign on to things without really reading the terms and conditions, it’s, it’s giving that energy in this moment, right. And I really, honestly, wanna go back to this is boring. Another day, another Black man being anti-Black, dealing in misogynoir, it’s boring. [Sigh] And it’s like, “Y’alllll.” And not just these people in this video but, “Y’alllll,” right. It’s another instance of people thinking that they’re doing something novel when they’re in fact just relying on anti-Black tropes. And it’s like, okay, yawn.
[01:22:47] Alyssa: And finally, she cosigns her own post with the words of a Black woman, also calling us, two people, “a bitch.” But yes, we are “that Canva bitch,” okay [laughter]. We are “that Canva bitch.” And so, as far as CurlsofPoetry, I hope that there is some Black woman out there she feels accountable to who will hold her accountable for this.
[01:23:17] Brendane: And, if there isn’t, that’s okay girl. Reclaim your time. I’m sure those months of research were really hard. And we don’t need to be in community with everyone who says they’re Black women. We’re fine with that.
[01:23:36] Alyssa: Alright, so Brendane how do you feel overall?
[01:23:42] Brendane: My jaw is so tense right now. I’m so angry, like deeply angry. But underneath that anger is disappointment, right. I think people misinterpret when I have a critique. I don’t say these things because they feel good, I don’t say these things to be mean or to be spiteful, or to be that a basic bitch. Or because I hate everybody who’s not me or you, you know, cause I love you deeply, right. I actually say them because it’s the truth. Anti-Blackness is violent and non-Black people have a commitment and a stake in it because it allows their lives to be just a little bit better than ours. And this is what keeps us from having true solidarity. I would love, love, love to be a darker skinned Black woman who can just walk this earth freely and to feel loved and accepted by everyone. But I know it’s not true because everybody needs to hate me in order to have the life that they have. And that is deeply sad, right. It makes me angry that people are so invested in anti-Blackness that they’re not even willing to free themselves. They are not willing to see how anti-Blackness traps them as well.
[01:25:12] Alyssa: Absolutely. I love you deeply too. And I really hope that people hear and reflect on that. I, for me, I just feel like we clearly struck a nerve, right. like we’re basic, we haven’t finished our PhDs, we have literally one percent the number of followers she has, and yet she couldn’t or didn’t want to respond to our legitimate critiques and then had to take the time to call us at our names. I just think that this is why this activist influencer model isn’t gonna free us. And actually, I was listening to an episode of Hidden Brain—it’s this really cool podcast, it’s like social psychology—and they talk about how influencers don’t actually lead they basic just pick up on movements that are going on at the margins and then kind of like push participation forward. So, we don’t need to be following these people but continuing to galvanize folks in our own communities.
[01:26:21] Brendane: Period. That’s where the work is done, right. The work is not done necessarily reaching out and across, right. It’s done in our own communities and that’s where we’re most able to affect change.
[01:26:37] Alyssa: So, one of the things that we said a lot while we were explain everything us freeing ourselves will free everyone, centering Black people doesn’t de-center other folks. How can we explain that to people who are like, “well that’s not the case, we need unity, we need coalition, we need everyone to be holding hands and singing kumbaya?”
[01:27:00] Brendane: [Laughter] Yo, some of us will be clapping on beat and some of us will be off, I guess, if we’re singing together. Um [laughter], so I think about this in multiple ways and I’m tryna think, how can I streamline, right. So, if we think about our society, structured by capitalism—capitalism is like an economic structure that actually really deeply relies on racial, gender and sexuality and ability hierarchies, among others, to distribute resources like money, and housing and healthcare, right. In capitalism, you have to have someone to be exploited on the bottom in order for the people on the top to have what they have. And so, there’s actually enough food, resources, money, on this planet for everyone to have the life where they are thriving and being. But it’s the systems of oppression that dictate that some people deserve more than what they need, while others deserve none. And so, in the U.S. and in many places around the world Black people have been placed in that slot as people who deserve nothing but actually produce the surplus that then is absorbed as you move up. And like, if we’re thinking about centering those at the bottom, in order to bring the bottom up—if we’re thinking about this in a pyramid structure which we talk about.
If we think about this in a pyramid right, in order to bring that bottom up, or break open that bottom and get the people on the bottom what they need, we’re actually inverting this entire structure and destroying it. So, if we give people at the bottom, the most marginalized of the most marginalized, meet their needs, right, we make sure that they are valued, that they’re seen, that they’re heard, that they have the ability to self-determine their own lives, we are breaking apart the systems that tell non-Black people that they can’t do it either. Because if you can’t be your full self because then you might be interpreted as Black, which means you deserve nothing. That’s what that means. When we free ourselves from making Blackness bad, that actually means that everyone else gets to be who they are without the fear of being read or interpreted as Black, and thus being read or interpreted as someone who’s deserving of death and nothing. So, centering Black people doesn’t mean that we marginalize everyone else. It actually up ends the concept of the margins and the center and it makes room for all of us to be free.
[01:29:35] Alyssa: So, could you give us like a concrete example? Something that people could hold onto and be like, “Okay, I can support this happening, this makes sense to me, I see this happening every day and I can see this happening in the future if we break apart these systems.”
[01:29:56] Brendane: Yeah, one example that I can think of is maternal mortality rates. So, we know that Black women—also Indigenous women are much more likely to die—but Black women are three to five more times more likely to die during childbirth and this is due to anti-Black medical practices that are rooted in slavery. And so, it’s like, because Black women are both Black and women, they experience all of the oppression that Black people face and women face. So that comes with the anti-Blackness that says “Oh, Black people are strong, they can endure everything,” but also the misogyny that comes with being a woman, where people don’t believe you when you say that you’re having certain experiences like pain, or discomfort, or other things. So, doctors don’t believe that Black women experience pain.
And all of these are rooted in those anti-Black and sexist scripts that I just explained, right. That say women are hysterical, they don’t know what they’re talking about. And if we were to get at that root of maternal mortality by addressing Black women’s needs, which would mean we would have to destroy a medical system that says that women don’t know what they’re talking about. Destroy a medical system that says that Black people don’t feel pain, one that actually also simultaneously overprioritizes the needs of white people—so, actually is proactive about white people’s health—while ignoring the needs of non-Indigenous and non-Black people. And then slotting Black people for death by just saying, “Well, y’all don’t need to live anyway, you’ve done what you needed to do, right?” We actually can destroy a medical system that doesn’t do any of us good, right. So, addressing medical racism against Black women creates conditions, better conditions for all women. Because we would actually tackle the roots of that racism and misogyny there. I hope that makes it clearer.
[01:31:56] Alyssa: Yeah, I think that I mean for me, that’s clear. Like, okay I can see this happening, this makes sense to me. So, I think that explains one thing that we were talking about. But I think one of the other things that we just want to say, is that we didn’t cancel anyone, we didn’t try to cancel anyone. And I think that in our next podcast episode, which is, I feel like we really need to address this because it’s happening to us and people will have more questions. And, you know, we actually had a different topic that we wanted to talk about. We wanna talk about this idea of canceling, what it really means, who is actually harms, and why critiquing someone’s work isn’t canceling them.
[01:32:55] Brendane: Annotating a document that you put out into the world with typos and with information, right, that could be critiqued, is not canceling. I think it illustrates really just like that not everyone who calls themselves into a community like people of color, for example, actually believes in accountability to that community. And I was thinking about this last night, you know early morning. In my early morning thinkings about how like the strength of a community actually is not based on what happens when there is no conflict or harm. because those conditions can be made through coercion, right. There can be no conflict under coercion. It’s actually the strength of a community lies in how we deal with harm and conflict. So, if you can speak to me, tell me that I need to get myself together according to your predetermined terms, that are structured by anti-Black misogyny, and I tell you that your terms are violent—which is different, mind you, from I don’t like them. Violence is different, canceling is different from disagreeing, from critique, right. And you continue to refuse to listen to me, that’s a power relationship, that’s not community.
If I can’t talk to you then we not in community with each other. And over here where we are at Zora’s Daughters, we believe in radical community that is rooted in care and accountability, honey. We reject pedestals. And to quote our faves, the Combahee River Collective, “to be recognized as human, levely human, is enough.” We are in the business of getting free and for those of you who are on board for unapologetically Black queer feminist freedom, where we can learn while loving and challenging each other, welcome. Sit with us, we gonna talk, we gonna chop it up. But we not gonna do this, we not gonna call you out your name. I want us not to forget, right, that our goal and our purpose while we’re here, the revolution starts in the ways that we take care of ourselves. So please, don’t forget to take care of yourself while we take care of each other.
[01:35:24] Alyssa: Alright, that’s all we have for today. Overall, I just wanna say thank Brendane for working on this with me. I am so proud of us for doing what we said we were going to do in that first trailer we did which seems like it was so long ago, last summer.
[01:35:38] Brendane: And it hasn’t even been a year. That’s the wild thing. It hasn’t even been a year [laughter].
[01:35:43] Alyssa: [Laughter] It was so—honestly, I’m sure if we listened to it now, we would be like, “That was so cute” [laughter]. I was adorable [laughter] but we said, you know, we were going to model a Black feminist praxis and critical participant observation. And I think that we proved that that is what we can do and what we must do.
[01:36:01] Brendane: Must do. It’s been such an honor to work alongside you Alyssa. You’re amazing and I hope that you rest too. Like we, we deserve it and you, especially. We actually doing what we said we would do but of course, none of this would be possible without your labor and skill. So, I love you and I’m so grateful, thank you.
[01:36:27] Alyssa: Thank you.
[01:36:28] Brendane: This episode was produced by your girls, Alyssa James and Brendane Tynes. Our intern is Menkhu-ta Whaley and the podcast is distributed in partnership with the American Anthropological Association. This season of the podcast is generously funded by the Racial Justice Mini-Grant Program at Columbia University which is funded through a partnership with the Office of University Life, the Office of the Vice Provost for Faculty Advancement and the Institute for Religion, Culture and Public Life. Further funding has been provided by grants from the Office for Academic Diversity and Inclusion and the Arts & Science Graduate Council, and donations from listeners just like you!
[01:37:11] Alyssa: Thank you all for your support, you know what else we would really appreciate from you, ratings and reviews on your chosen podcast platform. /it helps them know that our podcast is [patois] tun up, so they recommend us to more people. You can also head to zorasdaughters.com to find transcripts for our episodes, our bios, contact info, and ways to support the podcast. Follow us on Instagram @ZorasDaughters and on twitter @Zoras_Daughters. Remember, be kind to yourselves. Bye.
[01:37:41] Brendane: Bye.
[END OF RECORDING]