In 2015, BCRW Activist Fellow Dean Spade and BCRW Creative Director Hope Dector produced a video series on historical challenges and strategies for anti-violence movements based on interviews conducted at the 2013 Queer Dreams and Nonprofit Blues Conference, co-sponsored by BCRW and the Engaging Tradition Project at the Center for Gender and Sexuality Law at Columbia Law School. These videos include interviews with Angélica Cházaro, Shira Hassan, Soniya Munshi, Andrea Ritchie, Andrea Smith, and Dean Spade. Watch the videos below.
On April 14, 2016, Christina Crosby, Saidiya Hartman, Sam Huber, Heather Love, and Maggie Nelson joined us for a conversation at The Argonauts: A Salon in Honor of Maggie Nelson, moderated by Tina Campt. Watch a recording from the event below:
And check out photos from the event:
View the full album on Facebook.
Photography by Matt Harvey
A NOTE FROM OUR DIRECTOR:
Thank you to everyone who joined BCRW at our lectures and conversations, our salon, and the annual Scholar and Feminist Conference on feminist sustainabilities. Your thoughtful questions, insights, and contributions generated critical dialogues and planted seeds for ongoing work here at BCRW and beyond.
Though the semester has wound down, BCRW has several exciting projects underway this summer:
- Launching the BCRW Activist Institute, a new iteration of BCRW’s scholar-activist collaborations.
- A new partnership with artist Micah Bazant and #TransLiberationTuesday.
- Organizing the second year of the Harlem Semester, a joint initiative of BCRW and the Department of Africana Studies.
- Ongoing digitization of BCRW’s archives in collaboration with librarians in the Barnard Archives and Special Collections.
- A forthcoming issue of The Scholar and Feminist Online on engagements with technoscience.
I hope you will read on to learn more about these projects and to watch recordings of the powerful events we hosted this past semester.
Director, Barnard Center for Research on Women
BCRW has partnered with artist Micah Bazant on #TransLiberationTuesday, a multimedia project dedicated to supporting, celebrating, and honoring trans people in life, not just in memoriam, focusing on the resilience and accomplishments of trans women, trans femmes, and trans people of color.
This week, #TransLiberationTuesday coordinated with Survived and Punished to support Ky Peterson, a black trans man who is currently incarcerated for defending himself against transphobic violence, and to demand his release.
Please join us by signing the petition demanding that Georgia Governor Nathan Deal exonerate Ky Peterson.
THE SCHOLAR & FEMINIST ONLINE 13.2
Navigating Neoliberalism in the Academy, Nonprofits, and Beyond
This issue of The Scholar & Feminist Online uses the theoretical and historical models articulated by INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence to critique the non-profit industrial complex (NPIC) and later the academic industrial complex (AIC) to explore the non-profit and the university as two key sites in which neoliberal social and economic reforms are constituted and contested. This issue is edited by Soniya Munshi and Craig Willse. Contributors include Ujju Aggarwal, Gabriel Arkles, Maile Arvin, Myrl Beam, Avi Cummings, Treva Ellison, Pooja Gehi, Gillian Harkins, Priya Kandaswamy, Soo Ah Kwon, Colby Lenz, Edwin Mayorga, Mimi Thi Nguyen, Rori Rohlfs, Dean Spade, and Lee Ann S. Wang. In addition, the issue includes reprinted articles by Alisa Bierria, Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Paul Kivel, Dylan Rodríguez, and Paula X. Rojas, fromThe Revolution Will Not be Funded, a crucial, currently out of print collection edited by INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence. This issue also includes videos produced by Dean Spade and Hope Dector, featuring interviews with activists and academics at the 2013 conference “Queer Dreams and Nonprofit Blues.”
Available free online at http://sfonline.barnard.edu.
BCRW and Africana Studies Department Wrap the Inaugural Harlem Semester
Spring 2016 marked the inaugural launch of the Harlem Semester – an ambitious public humanities initiative that explores the myriad forms of black culture and politics emerging in and around Harlem. Organized by the Barnard Center for Research on Women and the Department of Africana Studies, the Harlem Semester pairs faculty research and instruction with venerated Harlem institutions to teach the neighborhood’s rich cultural and political legacy.
Learn more about the initiative, course offerings, and institutional partnerships by visiting http://bcrw.barnard.edu/
Image Credit: Harlem Semester course Performing Risk: James Baldwin’s Harlem with Professor Rich Blint
Queer Dreams and Nonprofit Blues
A collaboration with BCRW Activist Fellow Dean Spade
SPRING 2016 EVENTS
THANK YOU TO OUR SUPPORTERS
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.
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.
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.
Ongoing 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.
Please join BCRW and friends at a reading with National Book Award Finalist Karen Tei Yamashita on Tuesday, April 19 at 6 PM in Altshul Hall, Room 503. Yamashita will be reading from I-Hotel & Anime Wong.
This event is sponsored by the Department of Women’s, Gender & Sexuality Studies (WGSS) and the Consortium for Critical Interdisciplinary Studies (CCIS).
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!
Alok Vaid-Menon is one-half of the New York City-based performance duo Darkmatter. The pair, who met while studying at Stanford, have been making waves internationally with their thought-provoking poetry, accessible activism, and spectacular fashion. I was able to talk to Alok about the Internet, deconstructing binaries, and apathy as a political act.
Why were you initially drawn to poetry? How has it informed your activism and politics?
I started writing poetry when I was 12 or 13 years old, which goes to say that I have been writing poetry for almost half of my life. It’s hard to imagine my life outside of poetry, because since I started poetry it has given me my life itself. I never really had an intention to “become a poet,” or to “start writing,” I just wrote because I had to. I wrote because I was sad and lonely and angry. I still write because I am sad and lonely and angry. Poetry has given me an opportunity to explore the emotional and intimate forms of violence, oppression and politics that we typically don’t get to work through in the “movement.” Poetry has taught me the importance of foregrounding trauma, emotionality, and creating movements that give spaces for people to feel validated in their pain.
How do you see fashion and other forms of personal aesthetic as resistance?
I don’t think there is anything inherently resistant in fashion or aesthetics, but I think certain types of fashion/aesthetics are subversive in given contexts. For example, I don’t think there should be anything political about me waking up and deciding to wear a dress. The fact that the world feels so downright uncomfortable about it makes this act resistant. So I think I struggle often with the conversation of fashion and politics. What does it mean when certain forms of existences – especially those of transfeminine people – are made to be political? Something about this feels nonconsensual. Why should transfemininity always have to be political? This language of transgression and gender non-conforming assumes that there is something inherently oppositional about us – that it becomes about us crossing a boundary, and not about the boundary that was placed on us to begin with anyways.
How do we best navigate and utilize institutions to make our narratives and our activism visible, yet not water ourselves down?
I think people all have their own strategies of survival, their own boundaries, their own compromises and goals that are informed by their own histories and circumstances. For me — close friendships have been the most helpful. Having people to talk honestly with about how great things are, about how hard things are, about how worried I am – gives me so much relief and guidance. I think struggling through institutions alone is so difficult – it just accentuates the loneliness. A sense of long term strategizing feels important. The language I’m using here feels so militarized (and maybe that’s because institutions are too) but I’m referring to the, “Lose the battle, win the war” type of strategy. Maybe there are certain compromises that grant us access to make more profound changes in the future? I also feel like for me it’s been helpful to enter with both concrete small goals and a larger emotional/political/spiritual framework that informs them.
DarkMatter has utilized social networking (like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram) to broadcast its work and ideas to a wide variety of people. What does accessibility means to you in this new environment of the Internet?
It’s hard for me to think of the internet is “new,” because I grew up on the internet so it’s kind of my “old.” I’ve had a committed online presence since I was like 13. In fact, I started writing my poetry first online (hey, Myspace!) where people told me, “You’re really good at this keep on going!” So I did, and I’ve found my internet life in different capacity and now DarkMatter is a container that sort of holds all of it. The internet was so foundational for me to access a template of myself – like being able to realize that queerness, that transness was like a thing. The internet was my initial political education – I read about the work of Queers for Economic Justice, Audre Lorde Project, and more, which helped me make sense of my own life and where I fit in the world. I’m sure I could wax poetic about how the internet is doing so many cool things for our movements and making important ideas more accessible to large groups of people who wouldn’t come into contact with them IRL, but honestly (kind of like fashion) the internet was just something I have been doing for a long time so it feels natural. I don’t know if I always want my work to live in the internet, but I am so grateful that it gave birth to it for sure.
Do you see yourselves as deconstructing the imposed binary of the arts and activism? Do you think it is important to dismantle this binary?
Yes! This binary is so, so silly! Like how can art not engage what’s going on in the world? How can activism not be creative? It’s frustrating when artists say that they are “not very political,” because they neglect to acknowledge that in a world defined by violence. Apathy is a form of politics. Similarly – our activism has to be creative. We have to ask ourselves what the bigger questions are, what the meaning of the work we are engaging is, and what kind of world we are fighting for.
What is some advice that you would give young people interested in art and activism?
You are already an artist and you are already an activist. I think we set up so many guidelines and criteria for people to hop through in order to be taken seriously and a lot of these reinforce ageism. There is no one way that “art” or “activism” looks like. Surround yourself with people who nurture your creativity and your politics, and push hard to create what gives you and so many other people life.
What is next for you?
Putting my next performance outfit together (living my life one outfit at a time!)
At the Scholar & Feminist Conference 41: Sustainabilities conference, I attended a panel entitled “Queer Survival Economies: Invisible Lives, Targeted Bodies.” BCRW Senior Activist Fellow Amber Hollibaugh was joined by Kate D’Adamo, Hamid Khan, and Ola Osaze to discuss issues impacting low-income and immigrant LGBTQ people and their experiences with ongoing changes in the neoliberal global market.
From Hollibaugh, I learned about the concept of gay affluence propagated by mainstream media. Hollibaugh urged us to reframe mainstream efforts in reforms for “equality,” and instead look to dismantle systems that leave queer people at the margins of the economy. Many panelists suggested similar structures for conceptualizing the economic intersections in queer identities. I have been conditioned to visualize liberation as “equality,” visibility, and assimilation. This panel has helped me understand alternatives to the dominant framework that has been pushed by mainstream media and mainstream LGBTQ organizations. I am now delving deeper into feminist theory concerning the importance of anti-assimilation organizational efforts, and I was excited to see the theories I read put into practice by activists.
The fluctuating global market and its impacts on LGBTQ people are some of the issues that Hollibaugh addresses with her new initiative Queer Survival Economies, created after the closure of the organization Queers for Economic Justice and currently hosted by the Barnard Center for Research on Women. On speaking about her Queer Survival Economies project, Hollibaugh has expressed the need for a new framework, stating, “liberation has to reemerge as how we see change.”
Queer Survival Economies “gives traction to an economic justice perspective that is queer.”
Hollibaugh criticized the dangerous myth of gay affluence, a political strategy that frames LGBTQ people as wealthy consumers with large disposable incomes. Yet the majority of LGBTQ people are poor or working class. The media portrayals of queer people as mostly white, wealthy gays and lesbians exclude the majority of the LGBTQ population. The myth of gay affluence ignores the economic hardships that LGBTQ people experience, particularly people of color and people with disabilities, which cause and reinforce barriers to employment, housing, and healthcare.
Moreover, when the media does address LGBTQ poverty it portrays it as a youth issue, largely ignoring the economic struggles of LGBTQ elders. Hollibaugh stated, as “you [get] older you are blamed for your poverty.” Queer movements that promote assimilation, mainstream visibility, and political reform ignore the nuances of class, ability and gender in the LGBTQ community. By doing so, people of color, poor, working class, and disabled individuals are erased in the narrative of who constitutes queerness.
Ola Osaze, an activist for queer and trans communities as well as African immigrant communities, spoke about the intersections of immigration, economics and criminalization. As an immigrant from Nigeria, Osaze discussed how “being black in America came with a huge amount of signifiers” and that “criminalization often intersected with immigration.” As a result, Osaze explained, African immigrants face high rates of deportation.
Like Hollibaugh, Osaze believes that reform is not the end goal, as it would not undo the racism and white supremacy that shapes immigration rhetoric and systems in the U.S. Instead, Ozase posed the question: “What if transformation and liberation were [our] framework instead of reform?”
Pakistani immigrant organizer Hamid Khan, leader of Stop LAPD Spying echoed these ideas. Khan discussed how American society is built upon histories of surveillance and counter intelligence, and how these histories of surveillance are permeated in every aspect of our lives. The origins of policing in American society can be traced back to slavery. Therefore, we must be conscious and critical of the ways in which we conceptualize history and its connectivity to contemporary issues and our organizing efforts must reflect this.
Kate D’Adamo of the Sex Workers Project, a legal service organization that works directly with sex workers, talked about different forms of formal and informal labor. For countless individuals, informal labor is a mechanism of survival. Therefore, informal labor for queer people is vital and must be decriminalized. D’Adamo stressed the importance and urgency of the Fight for 15 Movement, which would raise standards in employment nationwide. The Fight for 15, in D’Adamo’s opinion, is a queer issue. She stated statistics that said that roughly 40% of runaway youth are LGBTQ, and that although it is important to bring queer elders into the spotlight, numerous queer youth are struggling economically. D’Adamo stated “[Queer people] rely on each other to survive…why are we criminalizing the ways that marginalized communities are surviving?”
Although I thought that the speakers were very clear in portraying their goal of refusal in lieu of reform, I left with a number of unanswered questions. My questions were specifically related to the ideologies of visibility, equality, and liberation. As a community, we must think through what these ideas and concepts mean to us. How do we imagine our future (where do we go from here and how do we plan to get there)? How do we resolve mainstream narratives of our goals, and how should we go about, if at all, resolving the lack of consensus within our own communities? I do not have specific answers to these questions, and do not expect to formulate simple and straightforward answers, yet I hope to be able to discuss these issues and ideas with others.
Watch the video below:
At this year’s Scholar and Feminist Conference, Sade Lythcott, Virginia Johnson, Pat Cruz, and Thelma Golden were invited to speak on the importance of art in considering the sustainability of Harlem as a community that centers Black cultural, political, and social innovation. As self-identified Black women, the speakers spoke to the centrality of their identities in imagining the futuristic impact of the cultural institutions they each represented. Pat Cruz, Executive Director of Harlem Stage, highlighted the reciprocal relationship between cultural institutions and the communities they serve and represent as crucial to the framework of sustainability.
Through mutual engagement and dynamic exchange, cultural institutions at their best are part of a dialogic set of engagements that extend beyond static locations and that challenge the bifurcation of art and everyday enactments of resistance. Cruz cited the Civil Rights Movement, to which three of the four represented institutions could trace their founding, as an example of social and political stimulus to the production of art. Virginia Johnson spoke of the ways in which the Harlem Renaissance fueled the creative energy that propelled art institutions like the Dance Theater of Harlem forward.
While they shift along with the ever-changing context of Harlem, these cultural centers exist on a historical continuum that acknowledges and honors the past while actively creating visions for futuristic advancement and present sustainability. In considering the meaning of community, Sade Lythcott draws a distinction between the physical spaces that neighborhoods occupy and the broader landscape of community, which is ever-expanding and untethered to a static location, reaching even the imaginary and metaphysical realms. For Lythcott, it is these unstable spaces that present sustainable potentials and possibilities for collectivization.
To look beyond the physical realm is to recognize the ways in which Black livelihoods are not entirely legible on the ideological parchment provided by a society that actively obliterates Black integrity. It is part of an effort to engage the shadow spaces where the Black imaginary thrives and lends itself to a subversive creative effort. All the women on the panel offered radical self-definitions of history, art, and community, centralizing the importance of creation as an articulation of sustainability.
“In a moment of heightened violence and increased visibility, which could also be called increased surveillance of our communities, how do we sustain ourselves? How do we make a way out of no way?”
– Reina Gossett at the Scholar and Feminist 41: Sustainabilities