Decolonize ALL The Things

The UNsettling reflections of a Decolonial Scientist in a Constant State of Rage

Black Feminism(s) Taught Me

December 30, 2014
Shay-Akil

16427_10154921330175521_1391279896173625381_nIntroduction 

This past year I spent a lot of time working on me.  There were some major events at hand that contributed to some key changes in my life.  I for one took a step back from problematic and unhealthy friendships and relationships in my life.   For 6 months I didn’t talk to 2 of my best friends.  This was a time for self reflection, confronting hurt, and healing.  I decided to focus on myself during that time and embark on my person journey of decolonization and depatriarchalization.  It was during this time that I started to come into my own.  During the beginning of the year I suffered from some serious writer’s block, I was dealing with PTSD as a consequence of white supremacist racist trauma from the Fall Semester of 2013 along with acute stress disorder.  I started off 2014 hurt, pissed, and betrayed.  But what was most challenging for me was confronting with starting my process of unlearning unhealthy habits that this hegemonic society has taught me.  I told myself that this would be a year of self care.  I achieved that by actively engaging in self care, saying “no” more often, choosing to not doubt myself at every turn, and believing in my own abilities.

I have read a lot. I always read. Its a personal addiction of mine, I love learning and I love looking at things from multiple perspectives.  I decided that this year the politics that I cling to so dearly needed to be at the center of my praxis. I had to change my life.  When we begin a journey of self actualization and political awareness we get wrapped up in the pain we become tuned to in the world.  Its a consequence of seeing all the wrong while also seeing the possibilities beyond the pain that is systematically perpetuated in this world.  But there is something beyond that. We have to do more than survive this, we have to live in spite of it, envision a better world and work to build those spaces.  So I decided that I would first create and build equitable political liberation in my own home and the places that I went.  The way I talk about this may imply that this process and decision was smooth but I assure you it was not, it was bumpy, all over the place, I fought, I cried, I screamed, I yelled, I struggled.

Audre Taught Me

“If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive.”
― Audre Lorde

One of the first things I did was starting to be very aware of how I talked to myself and those around me.  I carefully went over my language.  I wanted to learn how to be a better friend, activist, community member, sister, daughter, auntie, etc..  So I read about love, decolonization, Black humanism, plurality, and much more.  I told myself that I would first come to understand and embrace my womanhood and no longer censor myself for other people.  This quickly resulted in me demanding that those around me be accountable to themselves as well as me.  I stopped allowing people to preach to me and make me their punching bag because of my choices to be engaged in social justice work.  I started to tell people that if they wanted to continue to be in my life then it would be on my terms and when my safety and humanity was entrenched upon they would be cut off.  This resulted in me stopping about 5 different men who tried to start relationships with me.  I could sense domination from a mile away.  All of them were tried & tested by my politic, and each failed.  I realized that I loved myself way more than I liked the company of ignorant people.  I started finally speaking up in conversations with family members as well.  When I spent time with my grandmother she expressed that she was scared that one day I would end up killed because of my political interests.  I expressed to her that there was no better way than to die in service of my people.  She may not have agreed but the point is I spoke and expressed myself.  I put it in my own words so that nobody else could tell me what my WHY in life was.  We will not always be understood but its still important for us to write and speak our own narratives.

“Whenever a conscious Black woman raises her voice on issues central to her existence, somebody is going to call her strident, because they don’t want to hear about it, nor us. I refuse to be silenced and I refuse to be trivialized, even if I do not say what I have to say perfectly.” – Audre Lorde

When contending with the challenged of moving past my writer’s block I had to realize that I wasn’t always going to speak perfectly.  What mattered is that I spoke even as my voice trembled.  So I spoke up everywhere I went, in the classroom, with friends, in romantic relationships, with family members, in places of employment.  This helped me being speaking up for myself in my department against the constant misogynoir (anti-Black misogyny) that I endured from faculty members as well as fellow graduate students.

Zora Taught Me

“If you are silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it.”
― Zora Neale Hurston

“Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose.”
― Zora Neale Hurston

As an anthropologist and a sociologist I have been engaged in producing work that inquires how the social, political, and economic impacts human biology.  My completed Masters work looked at the impact of racial residential segregation and poverty on the dental health of poor Blacks in Buffalo, New York.  My activist work aimed at using my academic work to increase the health capital of poor Blacks in my city and connect them to more resources and assets to improve their life circumstances.  This year I became unapologetic about the intentions of my work.  I was committed to it without fear of the consequences.  And when I was confronted with resistance I openly spoke out and against it in my department when white supremacist racist professors spoke out against my work and when a white male professor also stole my research work and got a $20,000 grant from a prestigious Anthropological institution.  I spoke up for myself and navigated power structures in an attempt to ensure that they and I fully understood that I am a SUBJECT not an OBJECT.  I decided that nothing was going to just happen to me without consequences, I was going to happen to something.  This resulted in me being able to secure a summer job, a publication that I rightfully deserved, and pushed me to moments of boldness to do the work I WANTED TO DO, work that I AM PASSIONATE ABOUT, work that I CARE ABOUT.

So I forged on, took my advanced exams, and boldly engaged in the practice of an intersectional biocultural anthropology.  I suffered for it.  During my advanced exams my committee spent 3 hours attacking the politics of my work, claimed that the people I cited weren’t real scientists and they instead praised “scholars” who are known for engaging in quite frankly eugenic science.  I stood by my work.  During my advanced exams my committee never ever critiqued the actual work, just instead claimed that I still needed to learn how to be a “real scientist” and not a sociologist.  I was told that I needed to acknowledge the “biological differences between Blacks and whites” in my work.  When I refused and stated that I would not engage in “biological determinism” that professor set on a path of rampage and attacked every scholar that I cited and then told me to defend those scholars.  I passed my advanced exams on the condition that I learn take a class on scientific methods, learn the biological differences between the races, and learn to write colorblind hypotheses.  I took the pass and worked to try to find a way to change my committee and I got black balled by the entire physical anthropology department.  My committee was not going to approve of my dissertation proposal without me compromising my work and practicing a eugenic anthropology.  This means that I can’t graduate with a PhD in physical anthropology.  I was told I would have to change my sub-discipline aka my degree track in order for me to finish.  I decided that I was going to go somewhere else, where my work would be appreciated, where I would be appreciated.

Assata Taught Me

“this is the 21st century and we need to redefine r/evolution. this planet needs a people’s r/evolution. a humanist r/evolution. r/evolution is not about bloodshed or about going to the mountains and fighting. we will fight if we are forced to but the fundamental goal of r/evolution must be peace.

we need a r/evolution of the mind. we need a r/evolution of the heart. we need a r/evolution of the spirit. the power of the people is stronger than any weapon. a people’s r/evolution can’t be stopped. we need to be weapons of mass construction. weapons of mass love. it’s not enough just to change the system. we need to change ourselves. we have got to make this world user friendly. user friendly.

are you ready to sacrifice to end world hunger. to sacrifice to end colonialism. to end neo-colonialism. to end racism. to end sexism.

r/evolution means the end of exploitation. r/evolution means respecting people from other cultures. r/evolution is creative.

r/evolution means treating your mate as a friend and an equal. r/evolution is sexy.

r/evolution means respecting and learning from your children. r/evolution is beautiful.

r/evolution means protecting the people. the plants. the animals. the air. the water. r/evolution means saving this planet.

r/evolution is love.”
― Assata Shakur

I started off 2014 by re-reading “Assata: An Autobiography” by Assata Shakur.  It helped me become even the more unapologetic about the cisheteropatriarchal contradictions that I saw throughout the Black activist community.  I have worked as an activist in my city for about 7 years total.  I have designed curriculum(s) for Saturday school programs, lesson plans, organizational manifestos, teaching tools, etc..  And no matter what work I have done, the people in my city have ALWAYS given the credit to a cishet straight Black man within my vicinity.  In “Assata”, Assata Shakur speaks of some of her critiques of the Black Panther Party, some of the same exact critiques that Black women activists have of Black activist organizations led by cishet straight Black men today.  Quite frankly, the majority of cishet straight Black men see Black liberation as Black men replacing white male rule, not dismantling white supremacy.  Many just want power to change hands.  This results in ashy ankhs running rampant through our community thinking that painting everything Black and drawing penises on it will somehow eliminate Black suffering.  I stopped tolerating this behavior in my community.  I never really stood for it in the first place but this year this was at the forefront of my work when I spoke.  I called out whoever clung to politics that required the subjugation of Black women and the Black LGBTQ* community.

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This also called for a broadening of my understandings of modern history and the kind of world we live in.  I expanded my readings looking into the work of Indigenous Feminists, looking at the inner workings of anti-Blackness, and having a broader understanding of cisheteropatriarchy and how it impacts LGBTQ* lives.  So I read pretty much any and everything I could get my hands on from Jared Sexton’s “Amalgamation Schemes” to  Eric A. Stanley and Nat Smith’ “Captive Genders”.  In order for me to be fully accountable and responsible I had to learn, I had to find out how these systems work, how the enemy thinks, and I had to expand my mind and creativity.  I worked on engaging in more community work, I started becoming more active with my community health work with some Black organizations in the city as well as expanding this into learning about the health needs of Black LGBTQ* community members, especially the Black trans* community.

So when I went to do community work, the FIRST THING that I spoke about at protests, events, work study circles was about the lives and struggles of Black women, Black LGBTQ*, and disabled Black people.  What was different for me this year is that I stopped feeling bad about constantly bringing this up.  I stopped feeling bad about constantly being the one to flip the table when I realized that all these people were interested in is a world where cishet straight Black men replaced white men.  I spoke unapologetically, that is what changed.  I didn’t care about whose feelings got hurt.  Black women, Black girls, Black LGBTQ*, and disabled Black lives matter more than the hurt feelings of cishet Black men.  I came to realize that I had to always reassert the fact that equitable political liberation for all matters more than white, cishet, capitalist, and ableist feelings.  I stopped waiting for the people in my community who refused to acknowledge me to respect my existence. I placed myself at the forefront for one main reason: what I was saying mattered and above all else, the lives for the community members I spoke up for mattered more than my own comfort or fear.  I did this in my community, on campus, at home, everywhere. And I am better for it.

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As the year continued I spent most of my summer talking to friends about the Black trans* women who were killed and weren’t getting justice.  Then Eric Garner and Mike Brown were murdered by the state.  As I watched Ferguson happen and continued my community work I was also frustrated because I also knew that the about 5 or so Black trans* women who had been murdered in 2014 before resistance in Ferguson began weren’t getting as much attention.  I went to vigils, marches, and meetings speaking about the importance of the Black lives that weren’t the straight cishet Black men that our communities were already mourning internationally.  I spoke, I wrote, and I blogged about everything I was seeing. I watched Marissa Alexander’s case get the majority of its attention and support from Black women’s social media and community campaigns while so many people in the Black community remained silent.  There was silence around cases of disabled Black people murdered by the state.  Any life that wasn’t deemed cishet straight enough, respectable enough, or clean enough was left out of the spotlight.  What I learned most from the work of so many of the Black women and Black LGBTQ* community members at the forefront of community organizing and resistance is that we still have to find ways to speak up and assert that our lives matter too.  I stopped waiting for old heads and patriarchs to get it, I began hosting teach ins, designing teaching tools that I shared, speaking at events and bringing these issues to the forefront of discussion by any means necessary.  We can not afford to wait, silence is too high of a price to pay.

My Black Feminist Friendships Taught Me

There were key people who helped me learn so much this year and we helped keep each other on track.  With @nappy_techie and @carlosmcamacho I learned more and more as a Black humanist and forged my own personal form of spirituality.  @carlosmcamacho and @asakye were patient with me on my journey of better understanding my gender identity and sexuality.  And I’m also grateful for the brilliance of @jewelchainz, @aisha_amplified, & Sergeant Soph, three amazing Black women who I’ve learned so much from.  Iron sharpens iron.  I feel that it is important for me to acknowledge those in my life who helped me grow and those who I learned so much from.

Black Feminist Twitter Taught Me

It was on this journey of further merging my theory and praxis that I came to a better understanding of myself.  As I worked to better understand those around me, the people that my politics long to protect, I came to understand myself.  I had told myself that I would further engage in embracing what my womanhood was.  And as I did that I came to understand that quite honestly, it wasn’t womanhood, it was queer masculine person-hood.  I stopped hating a big part of myself that I was told was unacceptable.  This helped me have a better and broader understanding of myself as a queer masculine Bi Black woman.  I stopped apologizing for who I am, how I talk, how I dress, my mannerisms, and my natural binary breaking tendencies.  I stopped apologizing for who I am.  & that was a big step for me.

Helping me along this path was the work of amazing Black feminists on twitter & tumblr.  From @thetrudz, @BlackAmazon, @BlackGirlDanger, @tgirlinterruptd, @so_treu, @bad_dominicana, @alwaystheself, @Karnythia, and many more.  Quite honestly if I listed all of them, I’d be here all day.  There were so many lessons that I learned from these amazing people.  I sat under their tutelage and learned so much this year about my own humanity, settler colonialism, cisheteropatriarchy, self love, decolonization, growth, accountability, responsibility, and community.  I took the lessons these amazing Black women taught me and I critical analyzed, researched, learned from, and internalized them to the best of my ability.  These same amazing Black women who have created platforms for themselves to speak boldly & have taught us unapologetically deserve our support.  I see and respect the work you do, your existence, and I thank you for it.

In Conclusion…

I’m grateful for this year, it wasn’t easy. It never is. But I’m grateful for every lesson I was taught and those I had in my life who were willing to teach.  I’m going into 2015 without apologies, spilling tea, throwing shade, & reveling in the complicated pluralities of my intersectional queer masculine Bi Blackness.

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