3/30/2020 0 Comments
On March 19th, the metropolitan region of Rio de Janeiro announced its first death from the COVID-19. She was a 63-year-old hypertensive and diabetic domestic worker who was taking care of her employer, a 62-year-old woman who lives in the upscale Leblon neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro. The employer had just arrived from Italy—one of the countries hardest hit by the virus so far—and did not advise her domestic worker that she was sick. Although the woman was in isolation after her trip (“selective confinement”), she still relied on her domestic worker to come in, clean and take care of her—an aspect of social distancing that few are discussing. As the Coronavirus pandemic paralyzes the world, poor Black women in Latin America are particularly vulnerable to the disease and no one seems to care.
At first, it seemed as if Coronavirus was primarily impacting the white, the rich, and the elite. Yet, over the past week, stories out of Brazil reveal the vulnerability of those who take care of those who are infected (with our without symptoms) beyond hospitals. In Brazil, Black women disproportionately work as domestic workers, and domestic workers are particularly vulnerable, and invisible in our discussions of the dangers of the disease.
Several recent cases across Brazil reveal the risk that domestic workers face. A businessman from Rio de Janeiro received the news from his doctor that his test was positive for CODVID-19 by telephone. The man infected was in a steakhouse, surrounded by friends and his wife, who was later infected as well. Although the two went into isolation, their maid-- the only person who lives with the couple, and who now works in "gloves and masks"-- did not count as someone that should be put in isolation.
In Bahia, my home state in Brazil, this pattern repeats itself. The first case of a person infected was in the city of Feira de Santana. The first person infected, a 34-year-old womanreturned to Brazil from Italy carrying the virus with her. She was tested for the virus in a private hospital. However, despite orders to remain "in isolation", and monitoring by the state health secretary, the woman’s42-year-old domestic workeralso became infected. The domestic worker’s 68-year-old mother became the third infected.
Historically, Black women have been the hands that clean up after the world. However, recently two trends have made this work more precarious. On the one hand, neoliberalism has continued to devalue domestic, leading to less stability and continued low pay. On the other hand, austerity measures have meant that funding for cleaning at the state level (in schools, universities, public places) has been cut drastically in places like Brazil, putting us all at risk. There is a direct connection between austerity, the risk we face with public hygiene, a reduction in public services like funding for university education, and the vulnerability of domestic workers. Here in Brazil, our university campuses get dirtier by the day. In 2016, the federal government cut public spending and investment in health care and education drastically. One of the first signs of this cut was the outsourcing of cleaning staff. Composed mostly of Black workers, government-contracted cleaning teams that were not fired became overloaded by extra shifts and extra work.
Now, as the world waits for a Coronavirus vaccine, personal hygiene and aggressive cleaning of public spaces are the most effective way to fight the proliferation of the virus. Most often this means that our health and our very lives are in the hands of the domestic workers who clean our public and private spaces—and across the Americas that frequently means Black women.
Last Saturday I was on the campus of the Federal University of Bahia and one of the bathrooms was spotless. A Black worker, alone, almost compulsively cleaning the men's and women's bathrooms at the same time. Yet while this one woman was working above and beyond to try to keep us safe, at my campus outside of the city limits, the bathrooms remain dirty because the workers who once cleaned them have been laid off. My university, the Federal University of Recôncavo da Bahia, has suffered from recent federal government cuts in education. Most of the classrooms smell like mold and have no ventilation. Oftentimes we do not have running water or hand sanitizer. Undervaluing domestic work has a direct impact on our health.
Cleanliness has a race, gender and class. The other day I was watching a popular news program. One infected and isolated interviewee said, "The worst thing about quarantine is having to cook your own food." Another claimed that she had never imagined herself infected with a virus like this. In other words, many of the privileged elite who contract the virus believe that getting sick from epidemics is a thing of the poor. It is as if it were an “uppity virus" , that blindly disrespects social hierarchies, throwing everything upside down.
What did the privileged expect from this pandemic? They expected COVID-19 to be like dengue fever, zika and chicungunha-- “poor people’s” diseases that afflict spaces neglected by the state (these diseases are linked to basic sanitation issues like access to clean, running water). When poor and Black people were the disproportionate victims of rabid disease, no one seemed to care. Now that the white elite are particularly in focus, the sense of social responsibility has shifted, yet Black women still remain particularly at risk.
Domestic workers depend on Brazil’s university health care, use public transportation, live with their families daily, and cook their own food. Many of them work informally and do not receive sick leave or qualify for unemployment should they have to stay at home. What happens when their kids' schools close? Are they allowed to stay at home? If isolation means that infected people are distant from other people, why don't they count? It is time for us to consider the race, gender, class dimensions of this global pandemic.
* Credits: A mão da limpeza (The Hand of Cleanliness) is a composition by Gilberto Gil and is on the album A raça humana - The human race, which by the way is very relevant for the moment and we should listen all these days that we are at home… for those who can afford to work From home.
Luciana Brito is an historian, member of the Black Women's Network of Bahia, and identifies herself as a black intellectual and working-class feminist. She is a professor in the Department of History at the Federal University of Recôncavo da Bahia-Brazil, specializing in the history of slavery and abolition in Brazil and the United States. She is also interested in the areas of race, gender and class in the Americas. She is the author of several articles and the book Temores da África, which will soon be published in English. Instagram: @lucianabritohistoria
On Friday, March 6th, I had the pleasure of interviewing two prolific scholars in the field, Drs. Daina Ramey Berry and Kali Nicole Gross on their most recent coauthored book, A Black Women’s History of the United States(Beacon Press, 2020). As a history graduate student, I am always thinking about the gaps in the literature including the underexplored topics, so when I asked Drs. Berry and Gross if their work was picking up on themes that they thought were missing from the previous generation of historians, their response problematized my original question. Instead of approaching the field of Black Women’s History through the lens of critique, they informed me that they were interested in showcasing how the scholarship has evolved over the last two decades. It was not that pioneering historians like Paula Giddings, Deborah Gray White, Darlene Clark Hine, Sharon Harley, and Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham lacked analytical substance. Rather, the newer generation of scholars are asking different questions and developing innovative methods to recover black women’s voices in archives bent on erasing us. Drs. Berry and Gross remind us that we stand on the shoulders of black women historians who labored before us, and as we expand the field, it is necessary to acknowledge and cite their foundational works. A Black Women’s History of the United States traces our history in the Americas from before slavery to our central role as the backbone of contemporary movements against persisting injustices.
In writing such an expansive survey of Black women’s history, Drs. Berry and Gross discussed the process of collaborative work. They highlighted the manuscript workshop with their “Sister Scholars” in the field, and how it was through consulting with other black women historians that they received feedback and suggestions on themes and approaches for the book. For example, from the Sister Scholars workshop, Drs. Berry and Gross got the idea to start each chapter with a narrative of a black woman’s experience to correspond with a new periodization. In these anecdotes, we learn about figures that disrupts traditional histories of the U.S. like Isabel de Olvera, a free woman of African descent, who migrated to the U.S. before 1619. And even others, such as Aurelia Shines, a black woman who challenged Jim Crow’s segregation laws by refusing to give up her seat in 1948, seven years before the infamous Rosa Park’s protest in Montgomery. While their work foregrounds the ways black women navigated the double oppression of race and gender, Drs. Berry and Gross’ analysis refuses to place our history as purely oppositional or only existing to combat white supremacy. Instead, A Black Women’s History of the United States accounts for both black women’s resistance and liberation struggles, and their leisure activities through travel, art, and the erotic.
Drs. Berry and Gross helps us rethink black women’s intellectual labor as a collective, which reframes our professional pursuits. As we move in a space like the academy that is designed to monopolize and capitalize on our movement and labor, Drs. Berry and Gross reminds us of the important role community play in surviving and confronting such exploitation. It is in the collective that we liberate ourselves from the individualistic, “clout-chasing,” performative aspects of academia. This collectivity prompts us to continue organizing conferences, workshopping our research, and building professional and mentorship relationships. I am grateful for the opportunity to have had a conversation with Drs. Berry and Gross about their new book, and I am sure this text will ignite a new generation of scholars to continue to do the work.
Tiana Wilson is a third-year doctoral student in the Department of History with a portfolio in Women and Gender Studies, here at UT-Austin. Her broader research interests include: Black Women’s Internationalism, Black Women’s Intellectual History, Women of Color Organizing, and Third World Feminism. More specifically, her dissertation explores women of color feminist movements in the U.S. from the 1960s to the present. At UT, she is the Graduate Research Assistant for the Institute for Historical Studies, coordinator of the New Work in Progress Series, and a research fellow for the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy. Check out Tiana Wilson's interview with Profs. Daina Ramey Berry and Kali Nicole Gross for the Cite Black Women Podcast.
This past July I was in Salvador to do research on black women’s activism during the month of Julho das Pretas(July of Black Women), which Odara – Institute of the Black Woman started seven years ago. Julho das Pretas was initially launched as a way to bring attention to July 25 – the Dia Internacional da Mulher Negra da America Latina e o Caribe (International Day of the Black Latin American and Caribbean Woman). July 25th has been celebrated since 1992, when a group of women organized the first Encontro de Mulheres Negras Latinas e Caribenhas in Santo Domingo, the Dominican Republic, and created the Rede de Mulheres Afro-Latino-americanas e Afro-Caribenhas.Thus,Julho das Pretaswas seen as a way to celebrate black women and raise awareness about the issues facing black women for the entire month of July. Julho das Pretas has now spread all over Brazil. On July 25, 2019, black women gathered in major cities all over Brazil for the Marcha das Mulheres Negras. I was able to attend the Marcha das Mulheres Negrasin Salvador, Bahia, which had the theme: Mulheres Negras por um Nordeste Livre Do Racismo, da Violencia, e pelo Bem Viver(Black Women for Northeast Free of Racism, Violence and for Good Living). On the Facebook page for the march, the organizers wrote, “the march will bring together plural black women, to shout out against racism, violence, femicide, LGBTphobia, maternal mortality, obstetric violence, the genocide of black youth, religious and environmental racism, against welfare reform, cuts in education and all forms of fascist and white supremacist oppression and ignorance in force in national politics.”
We gathered in Piedade plaza starting at 1pm.Staff members from Odara kicked off the march by welcoming everyone to the march, and inviting people to share their thoughts with the crowd on the open mic. Milca Martins, Secretary of Sindoméstica, the union of domestic workers, spoke out about the urgency of black women saying NO to all the various forms of violence that they suffer. Hailing from the peripheral neighborhood of Mata Escura, she encouraged everyone present to form women’s groups in their communities, and to work with women from periphery. She even brought women from Mata Escura with her to the march, for whom it was their first time participating in the march. Martins pointed out that the first to be hit by the recent controversial welfare and retirement reforms of are black women. She got emotional when speaking about the unjust situation in which black women domestic workers often find themselves in – “the system is killing our kids and they ask, ‘where’s you mom?’ And we are working taking care of white children and don’t have anywhere to leave our children!”
After Milca Martins’ speech, Odara staff members gave rousing speeches with lots of neighborhood shout outs. There were multitudes of black women of all ages gathered in the plaza. A capoeira group called Sonho do Zumbi performed, with mostly women capoeiristas jogando (playing). People went up and read poetry. The sisters of the Irmandade de Boa Morteopened the march as a symbolic act of reverence to what Afro-Brazilians call “ancestralidade.” The literal translation of the word is ancestry, but it is much more than family or genetics – it has to do with African cultural heritage, practices, aesthetics, and religiosity that has fortified Afro-Brazilians and given them the strength and fortitude to resist enslavement, colonization, and continued racism and oppression in Brazil. Ironically, while the Odara staff were asking for people to clear a path to allow the elder black women from Boa Morteto open the march, the media swarmed in front of the irmãs, with journalists sticking microphones in their faces and trying to get interviews with their video cameras. It was a tense and awkward moment in which the media clearly was acting in their own interest, but ironically, holding up the progress of the march!
When the march did get under way, it was marvelous. The mic was open the entire time as we walked down to Cruz Caída in Pelourinho. Two black trans women spoke out about how transwomen and travestisare also a part of the black women’s movement, and how they are especially vulnerable because they are often locked out of the job industry due to their gender identity. At some point, it began raining – first a sprinkle, and then it poured. The crowd dispersed a bit around Praça da Sé, but the rain did not dissipate the energy of the march. Once the rain passed, the crowd regathered and continued onward. That felt symbolic to me, somehow. Much like the struggles that black women face, we protect ourselves from the rain, but then regroup, find strength and solidarity amongst our sisters, and continue on our way.
In this Instagram post advertising the March, it says “For a Bahia free of Femicide” and shows women holding signs about the high rates of violence against women. The signs claim that there are 5 beatings of women every 2 minutes and 1 woman murdered every hour two hours. Notably, a disproportionate amount of victims of this type of violence in Brazil are black women.
On November 27, the news of yet another femicide of a young black woman with a promising future rocked the black feminist activist community of Salvador. Elitânia Souza da Hora was a 25 year old student in Cachoeira, Bahia, and a quilombola leader who was murdered by her ex-boyfriend. The tragic irony is that she was preparing to defend her undergraduate thesis on the topic of femicide, and then she became a victim of it. In the spirit of citing black women in transnational contexts, I want to share my translation of the Nota de Repúdio from the Forum Marielles de Mulheres Negras de Salvador.
FROM MARIELLE FRANCO TO ELITÂNIA SOUZA DA HORA: WHO CARES ABOUT THE LIVES OF BLACK WOMEN?
December 1, 2019
English Translation By Erica Lorraine Williams
On the afternoon of November 22 of this year, a Babalorixá from the city of Santo Antonio de Jesus, in the Recôncavo of Bahia, sent me a Whatsapp message distressed. He said he was going to do an activity in his religious house on December 1, and invited me to a roundtable discussion on the topic of “Femicide,” which he had chosen at the behest of a deity. The gods were worried about the violent occurrences that had been affected women of the city.
On November 27, we were horrified by the news that Elitânia Souza da Hora was cruelly murdered when she left her classes at the Federal University of the Recôncavo of Bahia (UFRB), in the city of Cachoeira, Bahia. A brilliant young black woman, she was a quilombola leader who worked for an NGO of the valorization of the culture of the Recôncavo Baiano. She had her whole future ahead of her. She was going to graduate with a degree in Social Services and she was part of CASSMAF, the Academic Center of Social Services Marielle Franco.
Like many women in Brasil, Elitânia da Hora found herself trapped in an abusive relationship with a man who wouldn’t leave her in peace. A victim of domestic violence, she had already reported the case to the police station, and she even had a protective order against the ex. She was a woman with a big smile, always nice and kind, with strong opinions and dreams of a successful professional life.
On the other hand, the brutal assassination of Marielle Franco last year also shocked us and, as the case has unfolded, the way the Brazilian system of justice has handled this heinous crime continues to frighten us.
The high rates of femicide in Brasil are also scary particularly when we analyze them from a racial dimension. According to data from the Ministry of Health compiled by the Atlas of Violence, launched by the Institute of Applied Economic Research (Ipea) and by the Brazilian Forum of Public Security (FBSP), for example, 4,936 murders of women were registered in 2017. That is an average of 13 homicides per day, the largest number in a decade! According to information from the Map of Violence, in Brazil between 2003 and 2013 the number of femicides of black women jumped from 1,864, in 2003 to 2,875 in 2013. In contrast, there was a decrease of 9.8% in crimes involving white women, which fell from 1,747 to 1,576 between the years.
The death of Marielle Franco added to this statistic. And it was from the idea of honoring the council woman from Rio de Janeiro, that the Fórum Marielle of Salvador-Bahia was created, with the objective of encouraging the candidacies of black women in spaces of power, because we recognize that such women find themselves under-represented in these spaces, even as they make up the majority of the Bahian population.
Since its creation on March 14, 2019, we have gathered to discuss various topics of interest of black women and we have perceived the strength and potency of the diverse organizations of black women that make up the Forum.
However, femicide remains untouchable for us black women, as a constant threat to the lives of these women and to their well-being. The death of Marielle Franco also made this complaint, therefore our goals as a Forum that brings together dozens of organizations of black Bahian women is also to fight against this necropolitics adopted by the Brazilian state, that has a tragic impact on the well-being of black women, we want to denounce and unite in diverse fronts of confronting this extermination.
Many organizations of women have long been engaged in this fight against the genocide of black people and against femicide. In Bahia, we have for example the Campaign Parem de Nos Matar(Stop Killing Us), organized by the Bahian Network of Black Women o, the Community Forum to Combat Violence which develops several actions and a vigil every month in Lapa station in Salvador, collectives like Mahin – Organization of Black Women, that carries out actions with women in situations of violence in peripheral neighborhoods, and Odara – Institute of the Black Women, that also has a campaign on this theme, among other organizations and collectives across the state of Bahia.
The state government, in its turn, also possesses secretaries and other organs of the justice system that deal with this issue, but they seem dead to us, at least with regard to the deaths of black women, since in this group femicide has increased, demonstrating that the policies appear to be effective for white women, but not for black and brown women.
The state can’t even guarantee what the law advocates, for in the case of the Rio de Janeiro Council Woman Marielle Franco and of Elitânia Souza da Hora, the young Social Services student at UFRB, the state failed and wasn’t able to offer the protection that they needed, not even through complaints nor in the guarantee of the protective order, nothing prevented the monstrous murderer from taking the life of Elitânia, a young black quilombola woman, active in the student movement and in defense of affirmative action policies.
We of the Fórum Marielle denounce this and we put ourselves on the alert in the face of so much neglect, and we demand answers of the appropriate instances, we will speak up, denounce, and demand our rights, so that all black women may live their lives without being interrupted!
FORUM MARIELLES DE MULHERES NEGRAS DE SALVADOR
A marcha reunirá mulheres negras plurais, para gritar contra o racismo, a violência, o feminicídio, a LGBTfobia, a mortalidade materna, a violência obstétrica, o extermínio da juventude negra, o racismo religioso e ambiental, contra a reforma da previdência, os cortes na educação e todas as formas de opressão e ignorância fascista brancomachocêntrica em vigor na política nacional.
Dr. Erica L. Williams is Associate Professor and Chair of Sociology and Anthropology at Spelman College. She is also a member of the Cite Black Women Collective. Her full bio is available on our Collective members' page on this site.
Somewhere, sometime, in every work of fiction written by Paule Marshall, a black woman laughs. But the laughter is not always the same; there are multitudes of knowledge, skill, and feeling in her different types of laughter. There is laughter that derides others, of self-loathing, of survival, and of freedom.
Each novella in Marshall’s book Soul Clap Hands and Sing has a male protagonist. And yet each piece still manages to be about black women and how their appearance alters the way men feel about themselves. In “Brooklyn,” a white male professor consistently refers to the only black woman in his literature class as “girl” in his fantasies. At first, she is intimidated by him, and frightened when he solicits her, but later she approaches him to affirm her own sense of self – and “her sudden laugh [was] an infinitely cruel sound in the warm night.” This black woman’s laughter is mean and doesn’t fully endear us to her, but Marshall makes it clear that it took many years and a great deal of loneliness and pain for her to earn that laugh.
Some of the laughter in The Chosen Place, the Timeless People – a novel which showcases Marshall’s talent for writing about visceral emotion – is also painful. Merle, a black Caribbean woman, is deeply haunted by her past, and she holds her ex-lover, a white Englishwoman, responsible for much of her misery. Yet Merle manages to empathize with the white wife of a man she has an affair with, until the woman tries to pay Merle to leave. The bribe is so close to how that other white woman treated her that after the offer, Merle’s “head went back and the earsplitting laugh erupted once again. And this time it was more a laugh and less the anguished scream that had sought to rid her of the dead weight. She might have been delivered.” Merle’s own laughter delivers her; she finds within herself the route from pain and guilt towards freedom and self-acceptance.
In Marshall’s fiction, black women’s laughter is hardly ever at something funny. Instead, it’s a response to the absurdity of life, and especially of racism and poverty. It’s what in some places we call laugh for not to cry.
The novella Reena describes this kind of laughter. As the title character and an old friend mourn being aging black women who are both alone and lonely, “again our laughter – that loud, searing burst which we used to cauterize our hurt mounted into the unaccepting silence of the room.”
Not all of the laughter in Marshall’s work is painful. Despite her mother’s warnings, Selina, protagonist of Marshall’s first and probably most-taught novel, Brown Girl, Brownstones, seeks out Suggie – a single, “loose” woman – for information and advice about sex. Suggie happily complies, and at the end of the chapter (in what some describe as a homoerotic scene), "Together, laughing, their arms circling each other’s waists, they crossed the room and opened the door. A wide bar of light from the hall made a path for them, and the rich colors of their laughter painted the darkness.”
In an essay published in Women’s Studies Quarterly that appears later in different form as “From the Poets in the Kitchen,” Marshall praises the working-class black, Caribbean women who talked around the kitchen table when she was a child. Crediting these women as her first literary inspiration, Marshall focuses on their intelligence and their creativity with language – not on the many isms that threatened them at every turn. According to Marshall, these black women’s “laughter which often swept the kitchen was, at its deepest level, an affirmation of their own worth; it said they could not be. defeated by demeaning jobs...”
Black women’s laughter, on the page and in life is often loud and unabashed: what some might call vulgar or uncouth; what some of us call home. Take a moment and listen…if you’re a black woman, if you know black women intimately, then you can hear the shades of these different laughters percolating now. But if you don’t know black women, or if you want a reminder, look to the pages of Paule Marshall for black women’s laughter.
8/22/2019 0 Comments
The beginning of the new academic year is a crucial time. It’s the time to write new syllabi and revise old ones, make semester plans and embrace new possibilities. Here are some easy and steps you can take to #CiteBlackWomen.
1) Read our work.
Read Black women’s scholarship. Don’t know of any? Ask and do some research. Once you’ve found Black women’s work, deepen your understanding of it and seriously engage the ideas. Black women literally publish in every areas imaginable. All you have to do is find us.
2) Integrate our work in a serious way.
Don’t just slap us onto your bibliography—critically engage us. For example, if you are teaching a class on urban landscapes, don’t just add a Black women’s book on cities to your class. Ask students to think about how Black feminist geographies change our perspectives of space. We aren’t just sources of information: we are also theorizers and innovators.
3) Acknowledge our work.
Once you’ve incorporated us into the structure of your class/bibliography, acknowledge our work. How have we uniquely changed/impacted the field? Say our names out loud. Don’t just paraphrase what we’ve taught you and pass it off as your own intervention. Like that idea, let us know who inspired it.
4) Let us speak.
Give us the space and time to speak. Assign a Black women’s work? Invite her to speak on your campus. Invite her to speak in your class (*and PAY her!). Support her by inviting her by attending her conference papers and/or talks. Make space in your daily practices to ensure that Black women’s ideas are heard. Cite us in your lectures, your talks, meetings, even casual conversations. It makes a difference.
5) Let us breathe.
Finally, let us breathe. We do a whole lot. Most of us work 3-4 shifts not just 2 (a la the 2nd shift). Don’t overwork us. Give us break. Give us the space to be quiet, write, reflect, laugh, cry, be. And don’t take it personally when we need time away.
If you do these five things you are on a path to change. Just keep them in mind and you can make real progress this semester and beyond. Good luck.
P.S. - Thoughts for Black Women
And p.s. thoughts for Black women particularly: most of us were deliberately taught NOT to value Black women’s work in graduate school. We were literally instructed to cite white men and we were/are often punished for not doing so in school and beyond. It is not easy unlearning this. It is often triggering as we have been shamed and disciplined into thinking that our own knowledge production is unworthy of citation. Be gentle with yourselves as you unlearn erasing Black women. Seek allies and sister-friends that can support you in your journey to value yourself and your fellow Black women. Take the courageous step to deconstruct your own habits and recognize this is a PROCESS not zero sum game. You can do it. And support your sisters as they go through this process as well. The last thing we need is more hate and negativity. Be kind and patient with yourself and others.
4/8/2019 0 Comments
Elizabeth Eckford. The photograph of her walking through a mob of hateful white people trying to keep her out of their school comes to mind. My struggle in the academy does not compare to that of Elizabeth Eckford, but this image evokes the common narrative of black students enduring hostility to enter a white academic space. That “colored woman living in a white world”  reflects back to me my experience as a black woman in the white-dominated, hostile, engineering academic space where my legitimacy as a scientist is continually challenged.
My first encounter with the politics of research involved the politics of the “valid” research question. Surviving in my PhD program became dependent upon me defining research questions that satisfied my desire to do environmental equity- and justice-focused research while being deemed “scholarly-enough” (read: novel-, rigorous-, and technical-enough) for environmental engineering by my professors. Throughout this process, I have carried the words of Dr. Carolyn Finney. In a speech given during my second year, she said, “What is your vision…it’s the commitment to that. Not commitment to the degree, not commitment to the dissertation, not commitment to someone else’s idea of who you need to be and what your work is supposed to look like. You get clear about what you are committed to.” Her praxis of “doing the work on your own terms” inspired me to remain committed to making space for interdisciplinary, environmental justice work in engineering. Three years later, it is Dr. Charisma Acey who is helping me develop my final dissertation chapter and serves as a committee member. The mentorship of these two black women faculty, both in outside departments, helped me navigate and broaden colonial notions of “valid, technical” science and persist in academia.
The technical validity of my work is recurrently interrogated until a chapter is accepted to a conference or peer-reviewed journal. Before I became aware of citational politics, I was made to understand that publication is equated with merit. It was when I came across a retweet of a Cite Black Women post about a year ago that I began to think of citation as a practice. In the sciences, we are encouraged to look at an author’s h-index, a metric based on number of papers and citations. The h-index is indicative of science’s false claim of apolitical knowledge production. Using this value to select article citations reproduces the exclusion of black scientific scholarship due to limited access to and visibility in science fields. Seeing the words “Cite Black Women” reified the need to seek, read, and cite black women in environmental engineering and related fields. Since publication and citation are the institutional metrics of legitimate scientific research, the practice of citing black women is critical for our collective survival in white-dominated, hostile, engineering academic spaces.
 Terrell, Mary Church (1940). A Colored Woman in a White World. GK Hall.
Regan F. Patterson is a PhD Candidate in Environmental Engineering at the University of California, Berkeley. Her dissertation research focuses on the environmental justice and equity outcomes of diesel truck emission control regulations and truck routing policies in freight-impacted communities. In addition to research, she enjoys teaching and tutoring K-12 students, always finding ways to incorporate environmental themes and student experiences. Regan holds a B.S. in Chemical Engineering from UCLA and an M.S. in Environmental Engineering from UC Berkeley.
4/8/2019 0 Comments
Black women bookend all of my educational endeavors. Though I had no black professors as an undergraduate student, sociologists Margaret L. Anderson and Patricia Hill Collins edited the book that introduced me to feminist studies during my first semester. Though I had no training in psychology, social psychologist Dr. Onnie Rogers trained me how use my black feminist inspired sociological imagination to assist her in researching adolescent racial and gender identity development. And though I questioned how much of my formal undergraduate studies was miseducating, bell hooks could (new) school me via Youtube about the spiritual foundations and impetus of black liberation.
When I arrived at UC Berkeley, black women had already occupied places of influence and been ensuring that I could live and move and breathe more freely. Dean Prudence Carter recognized our exceptionalism, and outgoing Vice President of Equity and Inclusion Na'ilah Nasir applauded how our greatness was about what we could do for others. Tiffani Johnson encouraged us to play the game of doctoral studies on the turf of our interests rather than measuring ourselves according to our professor's expertise. Derrika Hunt reminded us to not lose why we came to Berkeley when we got to and move through Berkeley. These were my first 24 hours of visiting campus. These were only the initial greetings. Many of these and many more black women have constructed and led the various formal and informal sites that hold, protect, refresh, and prepare me to live and love my blackness in an antiblack society. There is no manner for us to adequately comprehend what suffering is being mitigated or who we are becoming apart from centering the legacies of black women.
I was not impressed that there were impactful black women at Berkeley. I was reminded and humbled by how devoted and generous black women have been to ensure that incomers across the board would be affirmed, encouraged, oriented, and connected to a sense of place and purpose bigger than any institution. But I have also reflected on how rare it is for any institution to honor the lives and labor of black women. Most of us actually benefit from and do not mind black women doing too much of the much needed work. And too few of us other than black women care whether black women get credit or survive the work of ensuring our collective survival.
I believe that black men like myself can and should make space for black women to speak (CBW Praxis #4). I recognize that black women have been more than capable, resourceful, and efficacious at making room for themselves, but I want people to set up black women as generously as we as a society have been set up by black women. I want black women to have moments when they can just show up and simply benefit from others' care and commitment to them just as the rest of the world does with black women. I firmly believe that if we are to give black women the space and time to breathe (CBW Praxis #5), other folk like myself need to step up and share the workload of sustaining our freedom dreams, especially those of black women. I hope that when my book ends, so too will the exploitation of black women's labor. May we build other paths toward freedom than the bridge called her back.
Caleb Dawson studies how antiblackness is reproduced in "progressive" educational institutions and how black folk sustain themselves in those sites. In his current work, he seeks to make sense of black struggles in historically white colleges and universities (HWCUs). He is using interview methods to learn about the desires that black students and staff bring to HWCUs, their perception of institutional commitments to black people, and the gendered configuration of sources and practices of support on which black folk rely. He is committed to advancing black life beyond the possibilities of educational institutions as we know them. Caleb is a PhD student in the Critical Studies of Race, Class, and Gender cluster at UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Education.
4/2/2019 1 Comment
In the field of archaeology less than 1 percent of professionals are people of African descent (Odewale et.al. 2018). I felt this immensely during my first conference experience at the Society for Historical Archaeology in January of 2010. As a Black queer woman in the field, I did not see myself reflected in the faces of my predominately White male colleagues. While the number of Black archaeologists has not risen over one percent, the interest in historical research pertaining to African Diaspora sites has been on the rise since Charles Fairbanks first broke ground at Kingsley Plantation in the late 1960s (Flewellen 2017). However, this interest has not come with a renewed desire by archaeologists in the intellectual production of African Diaspora folks, particularly how we theorize our past, present, and future.
In walks, Maria Franklin who in 2001 asked for an Black Feminist Inspired archaeology, a decade after Crenshaw’s call for intersectional scholarship (Franklin 2001). After being introduced to her work in early 2009, I later devouring Whitney Battle-Baptist work Black Feminist Archaeology in 2011 (Battle-Baptist 2011). I come from this legacy of Black women archeologists, who have fought to theoretically advance the field of archaeology. Within this rich legacy I’ve found that my epistemological scope centers material culture while demanding that it be placed in conversation with the words and experiences of Black women from the past (See Wheatley 1773; Truth 1850; Jacobs 1861; Copper 1892, 1925; Wells 1895, 1892a, 1892b; Terrell 1940; Guy-Sheftall 1995) and those who theorize our lives in the present (Crenshaw 1991, 1989; Hill-Collins, 1990, 1991, 2002, 2004; Gross 2006; McKittrick 2000, 2006; Hine 1989, 1994, 1998; Terborg-Penn 1998; Giddings 1984, 2008; Bettye Collier-Thomas 1998; and Deborah Gray White 1999). My epistemology stretches to include Black women narrative forms both fiction and non-fiction, into reimaginings of the archival record, oral history, and historical photographs; all of which provide a variety of ways to unearth and interpret the past lived experiences of African Diasporic peoples.
The largest challenge I’ve faced in my citation practice is validating my need for sources, particularly the use of Black women both within and outside of the ivory tower. I’m constantly having to answer at conferences, in reviewers’ comments, at lectures, how my work is in fact archaeological. A prime example of this was while I was at a job talk I was asked by a faculty member “if I dug.” Beyond the fact that my talk outlined how I co-direct an award winning archaeology field school in the Caribbean, the question is literally akin to asking a historian if they ever have been in the archives. Another example of this, are the very real concerns I have regarding whether my first book project is “archaeological enough” for archaeology audiences and how that might affect my tenure. All of these concerns are real and reflect the ways our citation practices can have real impacts on our jobs security. Yet it is work that needs to be done as a practice is validating not only my expertise but the expertise of my intellectual foremothers.
2011 Black Feminist Archaeology. Left Coast Press
1991 Mapping the margins: Intersectionality, identity politics, and violence against women of color. Stanford law review, 1241-1299.
1989 Demarginalizing the intersection of race and sex: A black feminist critique of antidiscrimination doctrine, feminist theory and antiracist politics. U. Chi. Legal F., 139.
1998 Bettye. Daughters of Thunder: Black Women Preachers and Their Sermons 1850-1979.
Cooper, A. J.
1892 The higher education of women. MH Washington (Ed.), A voice from the south. Chicago
1998 Equality of Races and the Democratic Movement." 1925. Lemert and Bhan, 291-98.
Flewellen, A. O.
2017 Locating Marginalized Historical Narratives at Kingsley Plantation. Historical Archaeology, 51(1), 71-87.
2001 A Black feminist-inspired archaeology?. Journal of Social Archaeology, 1(1), 108-125
1984 When and where I enter: The impact of black women on race and sex in America. New York: William Morrow and Company.
2008 Ida: A sword among lions: Ida B. Wells and the campaign against lynching. Harper Collins.
Gross, K. N.
2006 Colored Amazons: Crime, Violence, and Black Women in the City of Brotherly Love, 1880–1910. duke university press.
1995 Words of fire: An anthology of African-American feminist thought. The New Press.
1990 Toward an Afrocentric feminist epistemology. Turning Points in Qualitative Research, 47.
1991 The politics of Black feminist thought. Cleveland State University, Graduation and Assembly Committee.
2002 Black feminist thought: Knowledge, consciousness, and the politics of empowerment. Routledge.
2004 Black sexual politics: African Americans, gender, and the new racism. Routledge.
Hine, D. C..
1989 Black women in white: Racial conflict and cooperation in the nursing profession, 1890-1950.
1994 Hine sight: Black women and the re-construction of American history. Indiana University Press.
1998 A shining thread of hope: The history of Black women in America. Broadway.
1861 Linda Brent. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Written by Herself.
2006 Demonic grounds: Black women and the cartographies of struggle. U of Minnesota Press.
2000 'Who do you talk to, when a body's in trouble?: M. Nourbese Philip's (un) silencing of black bodies in the diaspora. Social & Cultural Geography, 1(2), 223-236.
Odewale, Alicia, Justin Dunnavant, Ayana Flewellen, and Alexandra Jones.
2018 "Archaeology for the Next Generation." Anthropology News 59, no. 1: e210-e215.
1998 African American women in the struggle for the vote, 1850-1920. Indiana University Press.
Terrell, M. C.
1940 The history of the club women's movement. Aframerican Woman’s Journal, 1, 2-3.
Wells, I. B.,
1892a On lynchings. Courier Corporation.
1892b Southern horrors: Lynch law in all its phases. The Floating Press.
1895 Tabulated Statistics and Alleged Causes of Lynchings in the United States. Chicago: 1892-1893-1894.
1773 On being brought from Africa to America. The Open Anthology of Earlier American Literature, 435.
White, D. G.
1999 Too heavy a load: Black women in defense of themselves, 1894-1994. WW Norton & Company.
Dr. Ayana Omilade Flewellen is a UC President’s Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of California Berkeley and a 2019 Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies Fellow working with the Digital Archaeological Archive of Comparative Slavery. Her research and teaching interests are shaped by and speak to Black Feminist Theory, historical archaeology, public and community-engaged archaeology, processes of identity formations, and representations of slavery.The bulk of her research interests span geographically across the archaeology of the African Diaspora. She has conducted archaeological excavations and oral historical research related to slavery and freedom in the U.S. South as well as the Caribbean. Her current book project, tentatively titled A Black Feminist Archaeology of Adornment, builds off her dissertation research that examined sartorial practices of self-making among African American tenant, sharecropping and landowning farmers in post-emancipated Texas.
Dr. Flewellen is also the co-founder of Society of Black Archaeologists, a non-profit organization launched in 2011 to create a strong network of archaeologists that advocate for proper treatment of African and African diaspora material culture, promote more people of African descent to enter the field of archaeology, ensure community collaborative research, and highlight the past and present achievements and contributions people of African descent have made to the field of archaeology.Flewellen is currently the Co-PI of the Estate Little Princess Archaeology Project, an award-winning collaborative community engaged archaeological project on St. Croix, USVI. The Estate Little Princess Archaeology Project is in collaboration with The Slave Wrecks Project (SWP) - a global change program comprised of an international network of institutions and individual associates that investigate the global history and enduring legacies of the African Slave Trade, administered by George Washington University and the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture – as well as the University of the Virgin Islands (UVI), and Diving with a Purpose (DWP), an underwater archaeology advocacy group. The Estate Little Princess Archaeology Project is also part of a larger University of California Historically Black College and University Grant – providing archaeological field school training to students attending HBCUs around the country.
In light of the excitement about Black Panther’s Oscar nominations, Screen Actor’s Guild Award wins, and theatrical re-release for Black History Month, it’s time to revisit Black Panther as an example of the problems of the academic “hot take,” particularly when those takes promote discourse about male characters and elide a focus on Black women as film subjects or as scholarly voices. Public intellectuals must be more mindful of the ways that their work can unwittingly reinforce the marginalization of Black women’s perspectives and overshadow the celebration of Black heroines onscreen.
The day after Black Panther’s North American premiere, Christopher Lebron published “Black Panther Is Not the Movie We Deserve”in the Boston Review. Lebron’s essay focused extensively on the figure of Killmonger. “You will have noticed I have not said much about the movie’s women,” he admitted near the end of his essay. Lebron’s take on Black Pantherwas deeply influential turning early critiques of the film into a referendum about Killmonger. By March 8, 2018, the L.A. Times published "Pantherpedia: A Guide to the Cottage Industry of Essays about Ryan Coogler's 'Black Panther'". Lebron’s essay headed the “Killmonger” section, and women were far down on the list. Meanwhile, early examinations of the female characters, such as Arica L. Coleman’s examination of the True Story Behind Black Panther's Strong Womenin Time on February 22, 2018, went largely overlooked in the rush to discuss Killmonger. To that end, Karen Attiah of the Washington Post, complainedabout the “category-4 flood of man-takes, with mostly male critics responding to each other about Black Panther And What It All Means For Black People” rather than focusing on “the collective power of Wakanda’s women who offer the real vision of what black, radical internationalism could look like.” Feminist critiques became framed only as a backlash to the focus on Killmonger typified by Lebron’s hot take.
We need to slow down. We need to examine whether the rush to produce public intellectualism replicates a default interest in male perspectives. Along those lines, I noticed that Salamishah Tillet’s first Black Panther article, published a week before the film’s release, began by quoting T'Challaand included a comparison to nostalgia for President Obama. Then, a week after the film’s release, she penned "Black Panther: Why Not Queen Shuri?"and celebrated the diverse representation of Black womanhood in all of director Ryan Coogler’s films.
What if we slowed our roll until we could imagine beginning the public discourse with Shuri instead?
I am firmly in favor of public intellectual work that topples the stereotypes of disengaged Ivory Tower snobbery, and I champion practices that challenge traditional scholarly publication models. But while the glacial pace of many academic journals risks irrelevance in cultural commentary, hot takes risk inaccurate scholarship and a narrow focus that then dominates the trending responses to a work.
A call for a moratorium on Black Panther critiques—which is, essentially, a call to slow down the production of hot takes—brings to mind the arguments promoted in Maggie Berg and Barbara K. Seeber’s The Slow Professor: Challenging the Culture of Speed in the Academy.Berg and Seeber express concern that “the fast models of mechanization have taken over how we think about scholarship and ourselves. Slowing down is a matter of ethical import” (58). An ethics of slowing down results in stronger work: work that notices more nuance, particularly where the Black heroines are concerned. Slowing down creates room to celebrate Black cinematic achievement before turning to a more surgical approach for public intellectualism.
Susana M. Morris of the Crunk Feminist Collective spoke outagainst the early oversaturation of Black Panther reactions, especially about Killmonger, and urged readers to pause for simple enjoyment or celebration: “Seeing my Blackness represented on screen has been a powerful healer. It was nothing short of glorious.” As Morris so poignantly wrote, “Black Joy Matters.” Experiencing this film as a celebration of Blackness—particularly in the current political climate—seems more urgent than any critique, no matter how intellectually generative.
With watershed films like Black Panther, I, too, worry about the diminishment of joy; of failing to celebrate films as revolutionary and inspirational for audiences that have so often been marginalized or stereotyped by Hollywood. We should pause to create space for joy. Then we should use that space to make sure we amplify and center Black women’s perspectives.
Berg, Maggie and Barbara K. Seeber. The Slow Professor: Challenging the Culture of Speed in the Academy, University of Toronto Press, 2016.
2/22/2019 1 Comment
we must establish authority over our own definition (…) It means that I affirm my own worth by committing myself to my own survival, in my own self and in the self of other Black women. (…)
Claiming some power over who we choose to be, and knowing that such power is relative within the realities of our lives. Yet knowing that only through the use of that power can we effectively change those realities.
Entertainment is the conditio sine qua non of telenovelas; and this is all that accomplishes Always a Witch (Siempre bruja), the Colombian production on Netflix since February 1st.
What is the trouble with the series, then?
Great expectations preceded its première, arisen by the trailer shown months before, in which the mere appearance of its protagonist was a rare occurrence: the splendid Afro-Colombian Angely Gaviria would play the role of Carmen Eguiluz, a slave accused of witchcraft and burnt alive by the Inquisition in 1646, miraculously reappearing on the beach of Cartagena in 2019. Weary of the invisibility of blacks and blackness in most Latin American TV productions, we hoped that Always a Witch would at least start quenching the thirst to watch our stories receiving global recognition. We’ve been anxiously waiting for the series, which proves the capitalization of Gaviria’s dark body and face as a promotional lure to be an effective marketing strategy. However, the team behind this idea appears to be ignorant of one incontestable, basic truth: nowhere in the Americas it is possible to resort to a Black enslaved character while avoiding all discussion on race.
Through ten episodes, Carmen Eguiluz is taken back and forth from slavery to the present, without evoking her blackness. Watching her knocking at the doors of a colonial mansion where she easily finds a place to live and being received with openness and kindness everywhere she goes, one could assume that contemporary Colombia has become a post-racial paradise. Anti-black discrimination seems to be buried in the past, along with slavery. Yet, it is difficult to believe that anti-racist Colombian activists would actually agree with the series’ writers.
Equally suspicious is the absence of black characters in the spaces frequented by Carmen. Except for her friend Daniel (Dubán Andrés Prado), none of the university students and professors, neither the police inspectors or the owners of the colonial mansion are black. They haven’t been completely erased, however. Carmen encounters black Colombians when she visits the neighborhood where she was born. There, 21-century blacks remain confined; dancing, drinking and celebrating a dark-faced saint (Virgen de la Candelaria). Out of this enclave, the only black characters are magical Carmen and the always-smiling Daniel.
Immediately after being launched, Always a Witch has been slammed through social media for its failure to accurately depict the black experience in Latin America -a fact aggravated by the coincidence of the première with the beginning of the Black History Month. The most recurrent criticism was Carmen’s unconditional devotion for Cristóbal (Lenard Vanderaa), her master’s son. But we all know that love is the strangest thing... Besides, Always a Witch is a telenovela asking the audience to believe in such improbabilities. (Members of the production team previously worked on a famous telenovela whose awkwardness was already announced in its title, La esclava blanca (The White Slave). I then followed the odd romance between the master and the slave, wearing the sarcastic half-smile of someone accustomed to watch this sort of fantasies. In my opinion, the real problem with the series is that its creators never managed to fulfill the promise implied in their promotional campaign. This is not the tale of an Afro-Colombian woman but the story of the white characters dictating her actions. Always a Witch does nothing but follow a tradition, long before deconstructed by Toni Morrison, of the fabrication of black characters by white artists as a means to talk about themselves.
To save her white lover, Carmen Eguiluz travels to the future, sent by a white witch, Aldemar the Immortal (Luis Fernando Hoyos) -who made me jump from my seat when he started reciting a Yoruba prayer (“omi tutu, ana tutu, laroye ilé”) without referring to any African religion. Were the writers aware of their invocation of Elegguá, the orisha mischievously opening and closing our paths in Afro-Cuban santería?
As the story advances, the black girl is either escaping from or searching for one white witch or another, one white lover or the other. She appears to be perfectly happy of devoting her extraordinary powers to their service. In this sense, Carmen Eguiluz becomes the latest addition to the pool of "good" black servants, eager to solve the problems created by their masters.
Towards the end of the season, an array of explicit feminist speeches is voiced by the female characters, which could be related to the high female composition of the creative team. Inspired by the novel Yo, Bruja, by Costa-Rican writer Isidora Chacón and adapted by Ana María Parra, the series was produced by Dago García, María Cervera and Juliana Barrera and directed by Liliana Bocanegra and Mateo Stivelberg.
But Carmen Eguiluz is not only a woman. She is black. She was a slave. Though these conditions are never addressed in the series’ feminist claims. Intersectionality, for its creators, stops at the choice of an attractive black actress as the main character.
Always a Witch is a painful reminder of the media’s inability to recognize the work of Black female writers. That’s why, when struggling to reach the last episode, I couldn’t help but ask myself if the presence of an Afro-Latina writer, producer or director in the creative process would have made it possible for Carmen Eguiluz to shine as the self-determined, truly powerful heroine she was supposed to be.
Cuban born writer and scholar, Dr. Odette Casamayor-Cisneros is currently a professor at the University of Connecticut.