BCRW Community Needs Assessment

BCRW students

The Barnard Center for Research on Women (BCRW) is a nexus of intersectional feminist thought, activism, and collaboration for scholars and activists alike.

BCRW is working to carve out more space for Barnard/Columbia students and community members across New York City. As a feminist center committed to research, scholarship, activism, and artistic practice related to justice and pre-figurative politics, BCRW is asking: how can we shape the here and now to collude with the then and there? How can we enact feminist politics that center lived experience, uplift healing, and move toward the potentiality of more sustainable lives?

How can we:

  • Intentionally plan and organize to move and open access to resources and space?
  • Build and sustain relationships across disciplines, organizing strategies, and artistic practices?
  • Share resources as a mode of healing and support?
  • Understand and meet the needs of students, scholars, organizers, and artists?
  • Carve space for intellectual and creative inquiry?

If you are a Barnard/Columbia student we hope you might take a few minutes to fill out this needs assessment. With this assessment we are hoping to map the needs of the Barnard/Columbia community to fashion actionable steps toward carving out more space and resources for students and community members. Thank you in advance for your time, care, and participation.

 

BCRW’s newly digitized archives of feminist history

Archives

The Feminist Origins of the Barnard Center for Research on Women

As the 1960s drew to a close, a growing chorus of voices within the Barnard community began calling for an official College response to the changes wrought and challenges posed by the Women’s Liberation Movement. After months of impassioned, contentious discussion among students, faculty-members, administrators, and alums, the Barnard Women’s Center, later renamed The Barnard Center for Research on Women, was founded in the fall of 1971.

We are now excited to share a new digital portal featuring public and internal papers from the Center’s inaugural year. The collection documents the fledgling research institution’s attempts to solidify its place within Barnard, define its purpose outside the academy, and achieve full expression of its commitment to women’s dignity, autonomy, and equality. Beneath it all lies a quieter story about individual women, bound as much by friendship as they were by political conviction.

This archive offers a snapshot of feminist history in the 1960s and 1970s, the institutionalization of women’s centers and women’s studies as an academic discipline, and feminist struggles taking place at colleges and universities, in healthcare and social service centers, in political organizations and neighborhood meetings across the country.

We are delighted to share this newly accessible and growing resource with students and scholars of feminist history.

 

This digital portal is a pilot project in BCRW’s digital humanities initiative, and part of an ongoing collaboration with the Barnard Library to provide broader access to BCRW’s rich archives.

Thanks to the Barnard College Committee on Online and On-Campus Learning (COOL) for generous funding, and to Barnard Archivists and Librarians Shannon O’Neill and Martha Tenney, BCRW Community Archivist Che Gossett, Eva Vaillancourt BC ’15, and BCRW Research Assistants Kyara Andrade ’17 and Emma May ’18 for making this project possible.

Letter to Zora Neale Hurston

Ntozake ShangeThis letter was written in response to Katherine Acey’s work and research on inter-generational activism as a BCRW Senior Activist Fellow. It follows the tradition of inter-generational building by engaging in the practice of forging bonds across generations, with the vanguards of an ever-transforming movement. 

Dear Zora,

At twenty-one, by back is already perpetually sore. Every bend, twist, and turn ignites a dull pain deep in my bones. I have lived with this pain for a while now. Each year it has grown in intensity, reaching a new dimension, developing a new expression. I imagine a hole being dug at the base of my spine, gradually expanding with passing time. This pain is a reminder of my physical essence. It reminds me that I am alive and inhabiting this body. To chart the passage of time with pain is odd, but it offers an organizing principle for understanding the maturation of my body and spirit. This physical pain I live with is allegorically tied to my understanding of my spiritual pain; both pains are constants in my conscious understanding of self. I can trace trauma along the currents of pain that run through my body and in the more cerebral realms of myself. Because I cannot expend the energy to recall and name my trauma daily, it is as though my body has taken up the burden, practicing release and mourning on my behalf. With each ache and knot is a resounding cry of defiance. If I listen close enough to the creaks in my joints and tears in my taut ligaments I can tune in to my own grieving. I rely on my body to perform this release. And some days, the pain will not let me tune out. When it becomes impossible to ignore the cries, I am prevented from getting out of bed. Then I must slow down, lay beside my broken body and tend to her, listen to her frustrations. Other days I dance, giving full range of motion to my pain, letting my joints sing that raspy tune.  

At times I have been frustrated with the impediment of chronic pain. My body’s refusal to comply with my desire to move has brought me to tears. I have tried to pinpoint an explanation for this plaguing affliction. To what measure should that slight spinal curvature render me so feeble? Why should I be constantly reminded of my physical fallibility in such youthful prime? This dissonance between dauntless youth and pangs of incapacity have made up my world–politically, emotionally, and physically. My pain is not tethered to a single, clinical explanation, it encompasses a collective of institutional and personal repression as well as generational trauma. All of these have converged at a single point in my body, latching onto my flesh, to say they will not be forgotten or ignored. I wonder, dear Zora, if you suffered with chronic pain your own lifetime, if you struggled to find respite from pain through creative expression. I wonder if your pain became more pronounced as you aged, or if it was always present in your bones, urging you to tell stories about Black folks’ endurance of terrible pain.

Stretching, in the morning marks the beginning of my daily struggle against my very own body. Some days, I am filled with gratitude because I know I will be able to move, without reservation or difficulty. Those cherished days are filled with minute moments of joy, when I put to use every ounce of my energy into committing all sensations to memory. Those other days, when I labor under the strain of movement, I reach into this arsenal of archived joy in an attempt to recover some of what I fear may be at stake. Dance and writing are both practices of constantly reaching into that arsenal. When I move, I must be prepared to remember what joy is, even in pain. Janie Crawford knew the power of memories too, having learned that we must “remember everything [we] don’t want to forget”, and the importance of recollection to the project of survival.

My most treasured moment during the practice of dance is when I begin to feel as though a movement or a rhythm has sunk into my bones. In writing, it is when I can no longer see where I begin and where the story ends. In those moments, I know that closing my eyes will allow me to see better, to experience physical expression more deeply. Some days, I am not able to arrive at this moment; I have been too focused or too distracted, too rigid or too pliant. Usually, this occurs when I have been mentally or emotionally preoccupied with some grievance or dilemma. When I am able to make the most use of a quiet or reflective moment, I find myself easing into the moment of blind euphoria of creativity.  What moment alerted you that you were arriving at a stage of euphoria when you wrote, Zora?

Knowing that generational and institutional traumas are carried through the body, I must also acknowledge that my own pain is situated in a broad historical order that dates back to the slave trade. So what can creative expression offer in the face of the constant disintegration of Black flesh under the crushing weight of pain? Ntozake Shange teaches us that all creative impulses are connected to the body. Thus, my writing and dancing are inseparable from my physical pain. My relationship to dance is deeply tied to emotional and physical sensation and state. For me, dance serves a function that parallels that of writing. As with dance, writing is an expressive tool. It is a way of acknowledging my fears and apprehensions, of documenting moments that bring joy, and setting intentions. In a creative capacity, I write stories that speak to all of those things. Storytelling captures some of what I am afraid to lose–memories–while iterating new possibilities for existing beyond the limited expanse of pain. Eisa Davis wrote a letter to Shange, like I am writing to you now, interrogating the capacity of the poetic and creative imagination to offer hope and resistance. In response, Shange wrote: “poetry brings us to our knees…and the joy of survivin’ brings you to your feet” (196). This is one articulation of the possibilities that creative expression can offer through the body’s impulse to dance and write. Was Shange’s philosophy a refashioning of what you taught her in Their Eyes? After all, you were a Barnard woman too, as they so love to claim in your absence. In writing and dancing, I find it possible to affirm survival, even with pain as a constant, inflicted on my body and spirit by dejection, apathy, and trauma. Through dance, I declare my survival in rising to my feet, commanding all physical and emotional senses, attending to all aches and bothers. Through writing, I mobilize a similar set of motions, setting off an internal dialogue. In both expressions I hold space for communing spiritually, with the shadowy figures that survived what I too am charged with surviving. Zora, the world is full of young people like me, aching and sore, looking back on your writing, sometimes out of desperation for an answer, sometimes seeking peace and an affirmation for survival, an acknowledgement of the source of our pain. What stories would you offer us in moments like these? What are your thoughts on the possibilities of healing through art?

BCRW Launches the Social Justice Institute

Social Justice Institute

The Barnard Center for Research on Women is thrilled to announce the launch of the Social Justice Institute building on the success of the 2014-16 Activist Fellows Program and BCRW’s history of activist-academic collaborations. The inaugural Social Justice Institute Activists-in-Residence are Reina Gossett, Cara Page, Tarso Ramos, Andrea Ritchie, and Dean Spade.

Taking seriously the critiques of the academic and non-profit industrial complexes that have emerged from the left in the last few decades, BCRW designed the Social Justice Institute with a unique structure intended to reduce the barriers that often come with maintaining a non-profit organization, such as the infrastructural costs and dependencies that often accompany foundation funding. The SJI will provide support for a cohort of five activists to deepen their thinking; connect with new collaborators; begin or continue their projects; and build a broader platform for their critical perspectives and on-the-ground movement building work.

Meet the 2016-2018 Cohort

Reina Gossett, Activist-in-Residence

Reina GossettReina Gossett is the former membership director at the Sylvia Rivera Law Project and director of the Welfare Organizing Project at Queers for Economic Justice (QEJ). An activist, writer and filmmaker, she is a recipient of the George Soros Justice Advocacy Fellowship by the Open Society Foundation for her work with LGBT people navigating criminalization. In 2009 she was the Stonewall Community Foundation Honoree for her collaboration with Sasha Wortzel on Happy Birthday, Marsha!, a film detailing the lives of Sylvia Rivera, Marsha P. Johnson, and Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries. In 2013, Gossett was awarded the BCRW Activist Fellowship for her work at the intersections of trans justice and prison abolition, and to support her ongoing work to document and elevate the histories and legacies of trans women of color.

As an Activist-in-Residence, Gossett will continue her work producing videos and other activist-educational resources, as well as organizing and hosting a collaborative art exhibit featuring work on disability justice, prison abolition, and queer and trans liberation in collaboration with Sins Invalid, a disability justice organization that centers the work of queer and trans artists of color, and the Trans Life and Liberation Art Series, which amplifies the struggles and resiliency of trans femmes of color.

Cara Page, Activist-in-Residence

Cara PageCara Page is the Executive Director of the Audre Lorde Project. Over the past three decades, she has worked within movements for queer & trans liberation, reproductive justice, healing justice, and racial and economic justice. She is co-founder and former Coordinator of the Kindred Southern Healing Justice Collective and former National Director of the Committee on Women, Population & the Environment. For her outstanding achievements in community organizing around the arts and social justice, Page has received awards and fellowships from the National Center for Human Rights & Education and The Rockefeller Foundation.

As an Activist-in-Residence, Page will deepen her study on historical and contemporary  eugenic practices and medical experimentation to shape a public discourse on the historical and contemporary role of eugenic violence as an extension of state control and surveillance on Black & immigrant communities; Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Two Spirit, Transgender, and Gender Nonconforming people; people with disabilities; and Women of Color. Through creating political writings, cultural performance and communal forums on these issues she will gather a cohort of healers/health practitioners, cultural workers, organizers, scientists and service providers to transform institutional eugenic practices; and memorialize sites of eugenic practice to bear witness to these atrocities and begin to organize and heal.

Tarso Ramos, Activist-in-Residence

Tarso RamosTarso Ramos is Executive Director of Political Research Associates. Under his leadership, PRA has expanded existing lines of research documenting right wing attacks on reproductive, gender and racial justice by launching several new initiatives on subjects that include the export of U.S.-style homophobic campaigns abroad, the spread of Islamophobia, and the Right’s investment in redefining religious liberty toward discriminatory ends. Before joining PRA, Ramos served as founding director of Western States Center‘s Racial Justice Program, which works to oppose racist public policy initiatives and support progressive people of color-led organizations. As director of the Wise Use Public Exposure Project in the mid-’90s, he tracked the Right’s anti-union and anti-environmental campaigns.

As an Activist-in-Residence, Ramos will convene a group of movement leaders to discuss and document intersectional approaches to movement building in the context of growing right wing attacks against reproductive, racial, gender, and economic justice. This group will identify best practices and develop models based on the work of Political Research Associates to highlight the effectiveness of intersectional work and provide resources for progressive, people-of-color-led base-building work.

Andrea J. Ritchie, Researcher-in-Residence

Andrea RitchieAndrea J. Ritchie was most recently a Soros Justice Fellow at the Open Society Foundations, where she documented policy reforms and litigation strategies that address the specific ways in which discriminatory policing impacts women of color. Through research, writing, legal services, and organizing, Ritchie has dedicated the past two decades to challenging abusive and discriminatory policing against women, girls, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people of color. She is the co-author of  “Say Her Name: Resisting Police Brutality Against Black Women” (2015),  A Roadmap for Change: Federal Policy Recommendations For Addressing the Criminalization of LGBT People and People Living with HIV (2014) and  Queer (In)Justice: The Criminalization of LGBT People in the United States (Beacon Press)

As a Researcher-in-Residence, Ritchie will focus on deepening public understandings of the intersections of race, gender, sexuality, and criminal justice through the completion of her book Invisible No More: Police Violence Against Black Women and Women of Color. She will also publish a series of articles on policing of race, gender, sexuality, and criminal justice, and conduct public engagement on these topics with activists, academics, and policy-makers. Ritchie will also conduct research to develop a framework for the philanthropic community to support and sustain the innovative and intersectional models that challenge the violent policing and criminalization of women, LGBTQ immigrants, and people of color.

Dean Spade, Activist-in-Residence

Dean SpadeDean Spade ‘97 is Associate Professor at Seattle University School of Law where he teaches Administrative Law, Poverty Law, and Law and Social Movements. He founded the Sylvia Rivera Law Project in 2002, a non-profit law collective that provides free legal services to  low-income transgender, intersex and gender nonconforming people. SRLP also engages in litigation, policy reform and public education on issues affecting these communities. He is the author of Normal Life: Administrative Violence, Critical Trans Politics, and the Limits of Law (2011, Rev. Ed. 2015). In 2015, Spade was awarded a BCRW Activist Fellowship for his work on trans liberation, prison abolition, and the limits and tactical uses of legal strategies for left organizing. As an Activist Fellow, Spade co-produced a number of activist and educational videos on anti-violence activism and the impact and limits of the non-profit industrial complex on contemporary social movements. Spade is also the recipient of the 2016 Kessler Award from CLAGS: The Center for LGBTQ Studies and Gay Studies for his transformative impact on the field of LGBTQ Studies.

As an Activist-in-Residence, Spade will collaborate with Activist-in-Residence Reina Gossett to develop videos and other activist-educational resources focusing on the critical intersections of disability justice, prison abolition, and queer and trans liberation in collaboration with Sins Invalid, a disability justice organization that centers the work of queer and trans artists of color, and the Trans Life and Liberation Art Series, which amplifies the struggles and resiliency of trans femmes of color. Spade will also collaborate with Activist-in-Residence Andrea J. Ritchie to produce a series of activist-educational videos on police violence targeting girls, women, and LGBTQ people of color.


A History of BCRW’s Feminist Praxis

BCRW is the nation’s oldest feminist research center and, since its founding in 1971, has brought scholars and activists together to advance intersectional social justice feminism. BCRW serves as a facilitator of exchange among different sites of feminist knowledge production, including work among artists, activists, cultural workers, policy makers, and educators.

As part of this commitment, BCRW established the Activist Fellows Program in fall 2014 with the support of a generous anonymous gift. The program created residencies for two visionary activists, Katherine Acey and Amber Hollibaugh, whose work has crossed many movements, including LGBTQ, HIV/AIDS, women’s, economic justice, and racial justice movements, and has shaped new analytic and organizing frameworks for social justice.

As a Senior Activist Fellow, Katherine Acey focused on aging and activism across generations. She conducted research and multiple interviews, and organized and spoke on panels, lectures, and one salon to gather the stories of intergenerational activists and encourage conversations across generations.

Amber Hollibaugh’s work as a Senior Activist Fellow allowed her to establish her project Queer Survival Economies and host a day-long conference of the same name, working at the intersections of queerness, sex work, immigration, poverty, policing, and survival.

BCRW also created fellowships for a number of cultural workers and activists. Ntozake Shange ‘70 collaborated with BCRW-affiliated faculty, students, and staff to produce a Digital Shange Archives project and a special double-issue of The Scholar and Feminist Online: The Worlds of Ntozake Shange. Nobel Peace Laureate Leymah Gbowee  convened a day-long symposium on African Women’s Rights and Resilience. Dean Spade ‘97 produced a series of videos developed out of the Columbia Center for Gender and Sexuality Law’s Queer Dreams and Non-Profit Blues conference. Reina Gossett, with Dean Spade, produced “No One Is Disposable,” a series of activist-educational videos on trans liberation and prison abolition. Ali Rosa-Salas ‘13 produced “NO SUCH THING AS NEUTRAL,” a symposium about the contributions of Flex and Lite Feet to the contemporary dance landscape. Nicci Yin BC ‘14 researched the intersections of art and social justice, culminating in a visual art piece called “The Octopus: Cognitive Capitalism and the University.”

Visit our website to learn more about these projects and a more complete history of BCRW’s activist-academic collaborations.

 

Black Escapism in Arthur Jafa’s “Dreams are Colder than Death”

Dreams Are Colder Than Death

The escape artist flashed by on a metallic blue motorcycle, pursued by a blur of pulsing red and blue lights. Drawn together by a sentiment exceeding mutual compassion, the sidewalk spectators stood inert, breaths and bodies taut with anticipation. For a moment, parts of us took flight alongside the fugitive, our lives reaching beyond the limits of our bodies; the moment did not last long. Soon he was on foot, bobbing and weaving past the threat of capture, circling the block, boxed in but refusing to surrender. The choreography of escape was altered as his body crashed onto the concrete, sustaining the friction of tense blue cloth, the pressure of cold metal, the bitterness of heated blood and antagonized sweat. There might’ve been a collective exhale, as we all stood watching, witnesses to our own fall and capture.

That we had been standing on the corner of Adam Clayton Powell and 130th, and that everyone in sight, besides the police, was Black, stood out to me in that moment. Some of us had urged the fugitive to run–Run! Our hearts leapt toward the sidewalk with his fall; a reminder that we were fallible. That even here–Here! in informal communion, closest to the bosom of Black America–we were not safe. As a routine police chase, this mundane moment marked itself as an extraordinary one, in which I served witness to the assertion of a claim to freedom.

This notion of witnessing was re-articulated for me during the recent viewing of Arthur Jafa’s Dreams are Colder than Death and a follow-up discussion between Jafa and panelists Christina Sharpe, Reina Gossett, and Tavia Nyongo at the International Center of Photography. Though the film touches on a range of topics explored by Black theory in regard to futurity, survival, and resistance, the act of escape remained a primary point of exploration not only through the viewing of Black fugitivity through art, music, dance, but in mundane movements that indicated tension between studied, self-contained calm and external chaos and pressure.

Articulated per Fred Moten’s analysis of fugitivity, the line of escape mapped out by the Black fugitive is a mobilization of political consciousness. In fugitivity lies a futuristic impulse to claim the not-yet-forged possibilities of existence. It is a mobilization of Black vitality, in which biomechanic and metaphysical forces are deployed to activate effort; an effort that is integral to claiming survival. It is in enacting such effort that agency is articulated.

Arthur Jafa’s Dreams are Colder than Death, is made up of a collection scenes that replicate this first-hand interaction with escape and survival. Jafa’s digitized portrayals of Black movement contain a quality of nostalgia, marking the film as an archival space set up for the recollection and documentation of Blackness. This documentary impulse should not be misinterpreted as an intent to recollect the already-lost past, rather, it should be viewed as an intentional effort to archive the very-much alive present that predicates what we are becoming.  

From the opening scene, flesh and body are set up as points of interrogation. Hortense Spillers’ voice inquires about the possibilities for recuperating that which is in danger of being lost: Black culture. Visually, we encounter moving Black bodies arcing through the air, somersaulting in reverse through time and space. This retrograde action is tied into Spillers’ question, one that incites anxiety about the ephemerality of Blackness, the mark of its susceptibility.

Spillers’ insight into lost flesh and dismemberment, through an intimate recollection of personal loss, is analogous to a later question she poses around the “intramural problem of slavery”. Spillers locates the Transatlantic Slave Trade within a set of relations that posit the trafficking of Black bodies as a cannibalistic dilemma and identifies this trade in human flesh as the “original sin”. But first, we must examine the flesh itself, partly through Spillers’ own analysis in addition to the flesh exposed by Jafa’s lens.

In Spillers’ work, specifically in “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe”, flesh is a starting place for a theoretical examination of the making and un-making of the Black body within the drama of racialization. Spillers’ invocation of the Transatlantic Slave Trade is an important reminder of where the drama began. It is in the context of trade and exchange that Black flesh became marked and assigned differential subjecthood. The flesh, dismembered and reordered, preceded personhood, reduced to what Alexander Weheliye–in his own reading of Spillers–termed bare life.

Jafa’s focus on the moving body can be read as an attempt to re-engage in a dialogue of bare life. His focus upon flesh in its active and dormant states, demands attention to breath, activity, movement. He is opening up the grammar, per Spillers’ analysis, that enables Black legibility. Bare faces and flesh become the starting point for examining Blackness. Subjects are directly positioned in view of the lens, their bodies lingering on screen, not inviting examination, impervious to any set of logics that de-legitimizes their right to move, breathe, be still. In the grammar set up by Jafa, Black livelihood flourishes per a set of logics that prioritize subjectivity. Through their movements and gestures, the Black people that appear on Jafa’s screen “enunciate quotidian claims to survival, resilience, and possibility” (Campt 29). These claims demarcate a critical space in which subaltern voices can engage in self-making.

Fred Moten makes a concluding interrogation of the possibilities of survival. Love, per Moten, is where healing takes place. And like fugitivity, it offers escape and the rerouting, or the re-mapping of the enclosed landscape Blackness must navigate. Unlike fugitivity however, love holds a limitless expanse of futuristic potential; it offers space to fall down and rise with redemption.

Marriage Institutes Inequality and Violence: Lessons for Queer and Trans Liberation Movements

In October 2013, BCRW and The Engaging Tradition Project at The Center for Gender and Sexuality Law at Columbia Law School co-convened a conference called Queer Dreams and Non-Profit blues to examine the critiques emerging from queer and feminist activists and scholars about the impact of funding on social movement agendas and formations. During the conference, Hope Dector from BCRW and Dean Spade from The Engaging Tradition Project conducted interviews with many of the speakers about their analysis and strategies related to the conference themes. These interviews were edited a series of short videos that aim to bring these critical perspectives into an accessible format for use in activist spaces and classrooms. These videos highlight the type of knowledge production that is possible when the boundaries between activism and the academy are actively traversed.

Featuring Angélica Chazaro, Trishala Deb, Kenyon Farrow, Paulina Helm-Hernandez, J. Kēhaulani Kauanui, Dean Spade, Eric Stanley, Urvashi Vaid, and Craig Willse.

Positivity Activism and Disability Justice: An Interview with Xian Horn

Xian HornCan you describe some of the work that you do?

Sure….In a nutshell: I run workshops on beauty and self-esteem, because I believe it is an essential human right to recognize our gifts and beauty. As a teacher, blogger, and speaker, I’m a storyteller whose stories ideally serve as a reflection of others and the audience. But my lived experience as a work in progress and any residual “wisdom,” allows me to wear many different hats. The week I met you speaking at Barnard for the Women Action and the Media Conference, I also spoke at the Williamstown Theater Festival at Williams College, representing a group called Diversability at a Tech Conference. I was also a willing guinea pig and judge for a project last year called the Connect Ability Challenge with AT&T. This project served as a launching point for the development of assistive tech. I love that the work is so varied because I always learn something new. I see my work as serving and connecting to people, lifting us up, sharing things I believe in, and helping others to see beauty and humanity more clearly both individually and universally.

How did you become involved in positivity activism?

Although it might sound like a hokey term, positivity activism is about awareness and empowerment. Growing up people always told me I was positive because I smiled and laughed a lot, although it was not something I was conscious of. While I may have been ridiculously positive and confident as a child, in my teens and early 20s I was still seen as positive outwardly, but had no clue why people saw me that way: inside I was a ball of insecurities – not as a person with disabilities – oddly – but just as a girl becoming woman, as someone with a people pleasing problem. I was someone who was deeply afraid of rejection. Positivity activism for me is not about being happy all the time, or never feeling upset or angry, it’s about the conscious, even defiant choice to find the light in dark situations and times; about not letting a negative situation or person take your power, or pull you under. It’s about trusting that no matter what life looks like now, your lowest point is not forever and can catapult you to your highest. It’s about moving forward anyway; making a choice to see the best and brightest in situations and people and not letting a current bad situation sour what you can do from now on, and what’s waiting for you in the future. This is also how we can work to conquer self-esteem issues. No matter what voice inside tells us we are not enough, no matter what other people may say, we are beautiful as is. We can grow, change, and become better. We can make an active choice to shift our focus to possibilities rather than disappointments. Rejection, tragedy and injustice, are all vital experiences that can empower us to be greater, kinder, and more aware of who we want to be. Rejection, tragedy and injustice can be our stepping stool to the next level of who we become individually and culturally.

How do you think your work in positivity activism intersects (or is similar to) your work in disability activism?

I think for me my positivity activist mindset has helped me never to focus on or languish in what’s not right about disability issues or issues in general, but motivates me to be part of the solution and work to champion change. It gives me courage to tell my story (I always had debilitating stage fright before I realized I had a really good reason to take the stage – one that was not about me at all) in hopes that it will empower someone else to do the same. It allows me to think of the ski poles that I walk with as part of the wings that make me soar! Positivity activism is a lens through which I own the beauty of my story and hear others stories.

As a person with cerebral palsy, I’m frequently told microaggressions. How do you go about navigating statements like these?

I always view these misunderstandings and misconceptions as an opportunity to change perspectives and flip the original narrative. Either by asking a question in a non-accusatory or non-judgmental way like: “Interesting. What does disability look like to you?” However they answer, you have the power to flip those expectations or perceptions with your response. You have already broken their mold of what disability is to that person, by being smarter or looking different in their estimation, so you are already breaking stereotypes. I love surprising and confusing people, it helps to illuminate new awareness or change mindsets. I also have the right to ignore what was said or how something is framed, and use it as an opportunity to make my own statement.

One day I walked into a store and a very stressed woman looked at me angrily and said “What’s wrong with you???” I had answered nicer versions of this question before, so without thinking I said what I usually say, “I have Cerebral Palsy and it’s the blessing of my life. Thank you very much for asking.” I smiled genuinely and turned to walk away. She suddenly burst into tears and apologized. She then told me she just been laid off and had just had the worst day. We talked for a long time, hugged, and ended up becoming Facebook friends. If I had responded aggressively back, I’m pretty sure that things could have been very different. I have enough confidence in my disability not to let others change what is true for me. We control our own narrative whether people get it or not. Our presence alone is an education. But we cannot assume people can read our minds, or that they must all instinctively know how to treat us. We set that standard.

Additionally, how do we make people more aware about the wide-range of disabilities?

First, I think we must encourage people of all disabilities to share their lives and stories – on a stage, in a blog, on Youtube, in film, even in a personal journal. Then, where possible, share these things with others. For example, the ongoing ReelAbilities Film Festival showcases a variety of disabilities and perspectives in the films selected, and could be great place to start. They have screenings all over the country now.

I’m really interested in the concept of “self-care.” How does the ideology relate to your experience with disability?

It is central to my evolution as person with a disability. I didn’t realize until I was about 25, that because I never saw my disability as an issue, I had essentially ignored my body completely. I was a hippie in some ways, so I dressed kinda sloppy and my hair was always in knots. I hated my feet too. When I started running workshops on beauty and self-esteem, I knew I had to walk the talk. I started getting pedicures just for me (to show my feet some love). I got rid of my jeans and shoes full of holes (I drag my left foot, so after a month or two of wear, there was always a new hole popping up)! I got my hair done more often. I can honestly say I like my feet now – progress – and that self-care gave way to self-acceptance and celebration. I still think I have a long way to go and I’m very honest with my students about that.

As an aspiring writer, I’m interested in the importance of complicating traditional narratives. When I see a disabled person in the media, which is a rare occurrence, they are often involved in a narrative in which they gladly “overcome” their disability, or they achieve superhuman achievements regardless of the hurdles that their disability presents. How do you think we can challenge these harmful narratives?

I personally don’t think there’s anything harmful in being superhuman in overcoming something (especially a negative or damaging mindset), but I do think patronizing narratives where a person is almost like a puppy, or anything “Us vs. Them” has to go! We all want the same things: to be loved, a voice that is heard (even if we cannot speak), and a purpose. So, one way is to create more honest narratives from direct sources, to connect the audience to the universal as we celebrate difference. We can educate people who intend on being allies as to why certain things may be problematic for true portrayal. We can speak up and have conversations rather than diatribes.
Venting makes us feel better, but it may not help others to receive the message. I think it’s more beneficial to engage with people and hope the message ushers in awareness or change.

What do you see as an alternative to this? (I’d love to see more movies, music, blogs, art produced by disabled folks).

I’d love to see that too and it’s one of the reasons I joined the ReelAbilities Film Festival Film Selection Committee for the first time this year. I wanted to learn more about what’s out there about people with disabilities; and by far, I find documentaries the most powerful space where I can learn the most firsthand, about disabilities other than my own. And the fact there have been a record number of submissions in the last year, means more narratives are being created and shared worldwide. That is a beautiful sign that we are headed in the right direction!

How do we disrupt the one-dimensional narratives that are prevalent in our own community, specifically those relating to race, class, and gender?

In adding dimension, I think focusing on the universal and simply by displaying more fully who we are, our values, and why we love what we love, our beliefs, dimensions will develop and shine; it’s easy to focus on one note, or make snap judgments, but if we dig deeper: share family life, our favorite music, books, sports, authors, philosophers, or details of our spiritual life or personal struggles, we are not defined by cultural labels, but become, and are portrayed as our more authentic selves, more vivid, and more like Hyperspace (many, many, more dimensions and galaxies within one)!

Police Out of Pride

queer-liberation-no-police
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Police out of Pride, out of our lives & out of business now!
GIFS by Dean Spade + Hope Dector. Featuring art by Micah Bazant.

police-out-of-pride
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More on queer liberation and resistance to police & prisons:

Police + Prisons Don’t Keep Us Safe – We Keep Each Other Safe

Queer Liberation: No Prisons, No Borders

Dean Spade: History of Queers Against Police

Caribbean Feminisms: From the Page to our Lives, Across Borders and Communities

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Victoria Brown and Edwidge Danticat at Barnard College

In hosting a series of events that featured conversations between Caribbean woman writers, the Barnard Center for Research on Women sought to centralize the importance of developing a transnational feminist dialogue. This year, the debut event for the BCRW’s Caribbean Feminisms on the Page series featured a conversation between Edwidge Danticat and Victoria Brown.
wind is spirit (1) bird hill

The concluding salon in the sequence was a discussion about The Wind is Spirit: The Life, Love, and Legacy of Audre Lorde and The Star Side of Bird Hill between their respective authors, Gloria Joseph and Naomi Jackson.

The writings of Victoria Brown, Edwidge Danticat, Audre Lorde, and Naomi Jackson, are all formed within a framework of Caribbean feminism. As Black women with ties to the Caribbean, the authors’ literary projects have been informed by a transnational feminist effort that welds U.S.- based Black feminism, anti-imperial dialogues, and the liberation efforts of Caribbean women at home and in the diaspora. To suture the rifts and fragments of their narratives, Caribbean women make use of a feminist impulse that constantly questions state violence and structural domination. The works of these authors reveal the resistant forms of everyday knowledge-making and activism practiced by Caribben women.

In Edwidge Danticat’s work, specifically in her memoir, Brother I’m Dying, these dialogues are depicted as emerging from deeply personal interactions with state power and governance that threaten to rupture the familial structure. In depicting the instability and precarity experienced by a family caught in the links of migration, detention, and displacement, Danticat reveals a disruption of familial space by threats of forceful state governance. Naomi Jackson’s coming of age novel, The Star Side of Bird Hill, delves into an equally complex family narrative with similar concerns around transplantation, displacement, and the mobility of the fractured West Indian family and body. Offering deeply intimate accounts of Black girlhood and its complexities, the narratives fit within a contentious structural conflict between imperialist governance and Caribbean feminisms. This type of governance is rooted in efforts to gain control over Caribbean livelihoods to serve the needs of Euro-American economic and political expansion and is tied to state practices of border control. 

The works of Victoria Brown, Edwidge Danticat, Audre Lorde, and Naomi Jackson consider home as a mobile and precarious site. This precarity is informed by the shifting migratory patterns produced by border delineations that have segmented the Caribbean body, and arguably all migrant bodies, warping its sense of belonging and cultural allegiance.

Audre and Linda

In Zami, Audre Lorde describes her own sense of longing for a home she only knew through her West Indian mother. Lorde forges a link between her relationship to her mother and her relationship to Grenada, establishing a maternal kinship that exceeds time and place, extending the notion of communal networks among women beyond borders. Lorde posits not only gender identity and sexuality as unstable categories, but also the very notion of home.

Once home was a far way off, a place I had never been to but knew well out of my mother’s mouth. She breathed exuded hummed the fruit smell of Noel’s Hill morning fresh and noon hot, and I spun visions of sapadilla and mango as a net over my Harlem tenement cot in the snoring darkness rank with nightmare sweat. Made bearable because it was not all. This now, here, was a space, some temporary abode, never to be considered forever nor totally binding nor defining, no matter how much it commanded in energy and attention. For if we lived correctly and with frugality, looked both ways before crossing the street, then someday we would arrive back in the sweet place, back home.

In examining practices of border delineation, Brown and Danticat consider Caribbean feminism a form of resistance to their resulting influence in producing displaced and stateless subjects. In order to critically consider notions of empire, spatial organization of bodies, and national allegiances, Caribbean feminisms demand attention to the gendered contours of statelessness and displacement. Understanding regional and transnational political dynamics as interactive allow insight into the practices by which Caribbean women’s subjectivities are formed.

During a “Caribbean Feminisms on the Page” conversation between Edwidge Danticat and Victoria Brown, a question arose about whether there is a feminist movement in the Caribbean that mobilizes scholarly, intellectual engagements. Demanding attention to visibility, class inequality, and various structural challenges that eclipse efforts of resistance to imperial governance mobilized by Caribbean women, Danticat offered insight into the gendered dimensions of the Dominican-Haitian border relations. In the context of border conflict, Haitian women’s bodies are caught in the juncture of dominance and subjugation enforced by paramilitary state practices and border policing. The livelihoods of Haitian women are undermined through displacement while their subjectivity and sovereignty are constrained within structural power relations. Any attempt at understanding contemporary struggles against xenophobic and anti-Black border policies must be grounded in a differential study of Haitian and Dominican histories as they connect with practices of U.S. imperialism, colonial relations, and insurgent movements and practices of resistance.

Caribbean feminisms are informed by historical narratives of struggle, resistance, and survival against imperial and colonial domination. They operate as part of a mobile and global dialogue and are rooted intimacy of the home setting. Audre Lorde centers her self-actualization and instinct for creating communal bonds with other women in the home-place she refers to as Carriacou, her mother’s place of origin. She describes these lessons in Zami in recounting the narratives of her kinfolk:

Women who survived the absence of their sea-faring men easily, because they came to love each other, past the men’s returning. Madivine. Friending. Zami. How Carriacou women love each other is legend in Grenada, and so is their strength and their beauty.

Created by the labor and collective engagements of Caribbean women, Caribbean feminisms are inextricably linked to traditions forged within the context of slavery. In her dialogue with Gloria Joseph as part of the “Caribbean Feminisms on the Page” series, Naomi Jackson emphasizes the imprint of slavery and its legacy in the context of Barbadian communities. Caribbean feminisms have been mobilized across time and space to give form to complex narratives and subjectivities, and have been integral to resistance efforts and radical engagements for change in the livelihoods of Caribbean women.

These efforts and narratives converge when we consider women’s labor activism in Haiti and in the Dominican Republic. Black women’s bodies in their racialized constitutions are inextricably linked to state power and expansion and Black womanhood is anchored to the concept of nation-building. Strategies of empire-expansion deploy women’s bodies within their racialized hierarchies to sustain complex capitalistic economic and political structures. This is revealed in the historical practice of using Black women’s bodies as tools of labor production and reproduction in the United States and in the Caribbean.

One StruggleOngoing issues concerning wage disparity, statelessness and displacement, state violence and carceral practices against Black bodies must be viewed through the critical lens of Caribbean feminism. The condition of Haitian workers in Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and the United States, where imperial forces operate to sustain capitalist economies, must be viewed as inextricably linked.

By generating feminist discourse concerning Caribbean womanhood, nationhood, and history, Danticat, Brown, and Jackson are effectively mobilizing resistance and forging transnational links of solidarity between feminist narratives. The Feminisms on the Page series has provided a forum in which we have grappled with the tools and narratives offered within Caribbean feminist frameworks

We must continue to go further; from the page to the streets, across borders and communities, we must devote creative efforts and generate activist engagements that centralize narratives of resistance and forge links of solidarity between our liberation strategies. 

We can draw from the narratives offered by our foremothers, Caribbean woman-storytellers, healers, and activists like Audre Lorde to carry out our investments in collective liberation.

Audre

 

Related:

“Next Steps in the Struggle for Citizenship in the Dominican Republic”

“Home is Where the Heart Cannot be: the oppression of Haitians in the Dominican Republic” 

“Digital Translations of Quisqueya” 

Great News: Paid Family News has come to NY!

BCRW is thrilled to share this news from A Better Balance, which helped lead the successful campaign for Paid Family Leave in New York:

From A Better Balance:

New York has passed the strongest paid family leave program in the nation, becoming the fourth state in the country to guarantee paid leave for workers welcoming a new child or caring for a seriously ill family member, and the first to provide 12 weeks. The law, which will provide up to 12 weeks of job-protected paid leave once fully phased in, goes into effect on January 1, 2018.

To learn more about how the program will work, and what to do if you work in New York and need paid family leave before January 2018, click here to read our overview of the new law

Read ABB’s full announcement here: http://www.abetterbalance.org/web/nyneedspfl

BCRW worked with A Better Balance in 2007 to organize “Work-Family Dilemma: Better Balance Policy Solutions for All New Yorkers,” conference and A New Feminist Solutions policy report by the same name, producing research, analysis, and policy recommendations to support this campaign. 

Congratulations to A Better Balance and all New Yorkers!

A Better Balance