Doing the Work

To: Focus
From: Jessica Marie Johnson
Date: October 26, 2015, 10:31am

My Strength Lies, 2007 by Wangechi Mutu

Since this conversation began, Keisha Jenkins, a black trans woman, was killed by a mob in Philadelphia. In Cleveland, the prosecuting attorney released two reports indicating Officer Timothy Loehmann was justified when he shot 12 year old Tamir Rice within seconds of pulling up next to him in a police car. Detroit activist Grace Lee Boggs passed away. And Hillary Clinton discussed mass incarceration and body cameras, but found it difficult to simply say “black lives matter” on international TV during the Democratic Presidential Debates.

In the midst of this, black women produce. Talitha LeFlouria received the Letitia Woods Brown Memorial Book Award from the Association of Black Women Historians for her book Chained in Silence: Black Women and Convict Labor in the New South (UNC 2015). Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, was named a Senior Ford Foundation Fellow for her work on civil rights and racial justice. Books on race and surveillance, as well as black feminist performance, expressive culture, and political ideology by Simone Brown, Tanisha Ford, Uri McMillan, LaMonda Horton Stallings, Kimberly Juanita Brown, and many more break the mold, reshaping each and every way we think about how to think about black politics, anti/blackness across time and place, black women and who is included in that identity, history, and lifeway.

Darlene Clark Hine, at the 100th Anniversary of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, asked a plenary on the future of Black Women’s Studies what those with knowledge, history, research skills, and a desire to make change need to be doing NOW to change the world, to make this a world we want to live in, that we remain alive in. If the issue is doing the work by publishing, teaching, and mentoring, then we are doing the work. If the work is bringing our questions, vulnerabilities, and fears to light in forums like this one, then we are doing the work. If the work is showing up at Black Lives Matter conferences, at workshops in our local communities, at rallies and marches, but also at city council meetings, police forums, and planning meetings with activists, we are doing the work. The next step appears to be crossing boundaries (and here I deliberately invoke Hine and Jacqueline McLeod’s edited collection Crossing Boundaries: Comparative History of the Black Diaspora) and making connections, doing very necessary kinship work of building with each other in radical new ways. We are still working on how to do this.

If I picked one text to pay tribute to this labor of love and world-making, to add to the works above, that celebrates the parts of us that are problematic and raw and important, it’d be Octavia Butler’s Wild Seed. It is my favorite. It is the story of the making of the New World and the text I turn to when I’m not sure whether this is all worth it, when I’m positive the number of deaths will break me, or someone around me, or our entire damn system. Wild Seed is the text that reminds me we are all implicated and sometimes the happy ending isn’t the triumph of a cause so much as the unmaking of a god.

For some reason, this gives me hope.

Show your support

Clapping shows how much you appreciated Princeton African American Studies’s story.