Saturday, July 20, 2013

We Must Arm Ourselves with Love (Contraband) in The United States

I told Jerome[1] I’d be heading to New York to visit and interview Steven G. Fullwood, founder and director of the “In the Life, Black LGBT archive” at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.” Before I left, he gave me a large manila envelope stuffed to capacity with items to hand off to Steven.

Steven G. Fullwood
Jerome gave me a package to carry. It was a package filled with magazines, “X-homophobia” bracelets, and other items that give a sense of Black LGBT Los Angeles today.

#BYP100 organizers Samantha Master(top) and Chris Roberts(below) rockin'  "X-Homophobia" wristbands
I carried the future past in my backpack. And if it is true as Assata Shakur asserts, “Love is contraband in hell,” then the items I carried were both love and contraband. 

I carried items that illustrated Black LGBT peoples will and struggle to live in a capitalist country of contradiction. This is a country where “the expansion of sexual citizenship is being articulated alongside the dismantling of policies and programs fought for and won by Black social movements.” This is a country where racism, homophobia, sexism, and transphobia are normalized and those of us who continue to point out their existence become race baiters unable to let go of the past and adjust to this post racial reality.

The items I carried were the fruit of a people who were never meant to survive. In my backpack, I held a piece of a collective will of a people to survive[2] – I carried the Black radical tradition on my back. 

Just Before the Archive--> Why We Must Arm Ourselves with Love/Contraband/Histories:

Before heading to the Schomburg, I sat in on my friend’s Hip-Hop feminism course. She was teaching a group of primarily Black women who’d be entering college in the fall. She posed the question to the class “What is the Civil rights movement?”

The young woman next to me eagerly responded, “It was when we bombed Japan.”


And then, “Oh, I know, it was women’s rights movement for voting.”


And then,  “The tea party?”


This student didn’t know the Civil Rights Movement, not even the standard icons like Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King JR.

This student and I were only 8 years apart, but all history had been lost in the time between us. I carried something powerful in my backpack that had been handed down to me, but no one had given her anything to hold on to. This is sad, but even more, it is dangerous!  

If there is no recollection of our past gains, there can be no understanding of the seriousness of our current losses. How can a young Black person understand "the defanging of the Voting Rights Act” if there is no reference for its original occurrence?

My fear for this young person is that without intervention and reeducation, she will be lost. And if she is lost then what I carry in my backpack will also be lost. If we have no recollection of our Black/queer/POC/poor peoples/radical histories, then we make ourselves susceptible to a future that will gladly disremember us, our bodies, our lives and our struggles. The record will state we killed ourselves and enjoyed it—and we can’t let it go down like that. We must show that as “The poet Claude McKay once said, ‘Though far outnumbered, let us show us brave…we’ll face the murderous, cowardly pack. Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!’”[3]

As painful as this interaction was, it let me know how sacred and important that package in my backpack was and is. Our knowledge is our liberation because our histories are not just tales of the past; they are the examples, the weapons that we will use to defend ourselves today against a future and present that works through its insistence upon post-raciality as racism remains.

Today if you talk about race and racism you risk being labeled a crazy race baiter unwilling to let go of the past. One of the logics behind changing the Voting Rights Acts was an argument about history, “Our country has changed,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote for the majority. “While any racial discrimination in voting is too much, Congress must ensure that the legislation it passes to remedy that problem speaks to current conditions.”  

We must articulate the ways in which our present illuminates the changing-same.

We must arm ourselves with subjugated knowledge, counter narratives, and the will to know and love our stories, and ourselves even if no one else does (especially if no one else does).  

During my interview with Steven he reminded me of the role of love in archive:

I’m nurtured by Toni Cade Bambara, Toni Morrison, Essex Hemphill, and a number of people because I’m trying to learn how to love while I’m here. And while I’m learning how to love, these are the things I want to do to express my love and to express my gratitude that someone like Essex Hemphill wrote these beautiful poems or that Audre Lorde came out and said ‘I am these things,’ and that she refused to minimize or downplay any part of who she was…And so the least I can do while I’m here in this center is to provide portals for people to get to them and to get to that work.

The least we can do, all of us, is to provide portals for people to make their way towards freedom. Whatever you carry on your back, share it—that’s love.

I am grateful for Steven. I am grateful for Jerome. I am grateful for Alexis Pauline Gumbs. I am grateful for Julia Roxanne Wallace. I am grateful for Treva Ellison. These are some of the people who teach me the practice of loving as archive. The art of loving is the act of (re)membering and because there aren’t many structures in place to facilitate that re-memory, we must do it ourselves. I thank those named above and all the others who have and continue to do this work.

A Poem for the Teachers who Trained me to Love in War

He handed me a package:

“Carry it on your back for now

But you will have to learn how to hold this in your heart and mind

You may not be able to hold onto me like this for always.”

I took the package and carried it to a safe haven,

A place where Black queers spirits rest in power and in peace.

I took the package out of my bag and left it,

But my bag didn’t feel any lighter.

The past won’t let go of me.

I carry it heavy and deep,

A contraband in the United States called Black love.

I am armed with this concrete, love—

It is that dandelion that rises over and over again.


[1] C. Jerome Woods began The Black LGBT project in 2010. This project is invested in the preservation and display of Black LGBT lives and materials. Woods has amassed over two garage fulls of Black LGBT Los Angeles material, dating as far back as 1930. This project emphasizes the collection and preservation of Black queer materials is about the present moment and the future claim to history. His work includes creating exhibitions of current Black LGBT artist along with archival materials. This project has not simply been a lesson in reading the archive, but also a lesson in creating and extending the Black LGBT Los Angeles archive. 

[2] That collective will is shifting, diverse, and a thing to be struggled over.

[3] This is the final line in the collective statement from the Black Youth Project (BYP100) after Trayvon Martin’s murderer was deemed not guilty. BYP100 is a collective of young Black activists from across the country convened by the Black Youth Project to mobilize communities of color beyond electoral politics.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

We Must Write Our Land

It’s 2013! I celebrate this new year and I am excited about all the wonderful work we (all my peoples) will do to make 2013 a year of transformation and a year where our dreams and visions held close to the heart will be made manifest. And so it is.
I have been away for a little over two months now and it was a difficult two months. With growth comes pain, change, loss, and for me an awareness of my own strengths and weaknesses.
Clarity, if there were a word to describe the end of 2012 and the beginning of 2013 that word would be clarity.
How can one write a dissertation without clarity? A clear vision? Purposefulness?
A lot of times we as scholars, queer scholars of color especially, down play our own visions and our own ideas. We say things like “I have no clue as to what I’m doing!” Sometimes we refuse to believe in our own brilliance. If you have an idea about how to make this world a better place, please share it because we still have not reached that Promised Land yet. Your voice, your ideas, your poetry, your art, and your music matters.  
I have spent a lot of time over these past couple of months countering the abusive relationship I have built with myself as a writer, scholar, artist, cultural producer, and public intellectual Facebooking blogger. I have spent a lot of time beating up on myself. I have not been kind or generous. I have been one of my harshest critics and I have come to realize how unproductive that really is. If a million people tell you that you’re brilliant but you can’t tell it to yourself in the mirror when you’re alone, then you have some work to do. (I’m doing this kind of healing work now.)
I talk a lot about giving love and I give love to others easily. I am a lover of love, but when it came to my-self-love, I found that I was withholding. I was unable to give myself credit for the work that I have done and continue to do. Sometimes we need to remind ourselves of the work we do because it may not look like work to others, but it is. Take the time to remind yourself of what you do. Keep a list and update it. Perhaps it’s your CV but maybe it’s something else, a space where you can put things that maybe aren’t appropriate for a CV, but work nonetheless. You know all the work in between—How many interviews did you do this month? How many poems did you write? How many walks did you take? That paragraph you wrote—give yourself props. We need to value the work that we do even if it is not valued by our institutions. We are inherently valuable; let’s thank the Combahee River Collective for that priceless piece of information. Part of the work we do here is epistemological—It is to say that what we know is not all there is and in fact here’s the p(r)oof!-->Black Queer Magic;)

I had a conversation with a colleague the other day and they were encouraging me to write. It’s time to write, it’s time to get out of the field and write. But how do you know when you’re done? How much research is enough? How many interviews? How many hours of footage? How many trips to the archive? How many stories? The truth is we can never tell it all, but that doesn’t mean we can’t tell it. My desire to tell it all has at times paralyzed me because I feel a deep sense of guilt when I can’t tell every little detail. What stories are the most important for this dissertation? Black Queer Histories may be my life’s work, but I can’t do it all in this dissertation. Boundaries, ever heard of them? (I’m working that too!)
I love stories. I love to talk. I love people and this is what makes me a really good ethnographer. I can talk to all kinds of people and I can learn from all kinds of people. Ethnography, in order to do it well, you must do it with love, love for the people and reverence for their lives, stories and spaces that they allow you to be a part of. When someone lets you in, honor it. A good ethnographer knows humility. A good ethnographer knows how to listen for what’s being said and what sometimes cannot be said, only felt.
I’ve spent the last couple of months going hard in the paint! I have been collecting interviews like crazy and I still have some important ones to do when I get back to LA. But at some point I need to stop and I’ve decided that for me the end of fieldwork will be FEB. 2013. By that point I will have collected over 30 individual interviews, and 3 years worth of footage documenting Black LGBT social, cultural and political events (I don’t know yet how that translates in to hours). I’ve done a lot of work! Now it’s time to really go through all of it and organize it, create a cohesive record of what I have done and write!
I’ve been reading a lot about Black Geographies as I try to further develop my understanding of a Black Queer geography and all that that might open us up to. I turn to Katherine McKittrick’s, Demonic Grounds: Black Women and Cartographies of Struggle where she documents the ways in which Black women have struggled to create their own routes towards freedom, their own pathways towards knowledge and life. These new pathways were and still are devalued by the structures that uphold dominant Western ideals and ideologies. McKittrick opens the book by discussing Dionne Brand and the ways in which “she writes the land.”[1]  In my work, I document the ways in which Black LGBT folk in Los Angeles have had to and continue to write their land. We must write the land because it is our own record of existence, possibility, freedom, and life.

I’m excited to be back in community with this blog and I looking forward to sharing more of my journey through darkness with you. Thanks for reading, loving, and supporting. Please be good to yourself because I/We need you!

Good Morning, 2013!

[1] Katherine McKittrick, Demonic Grounds: Black Women And the Cartographies of Struggle (U of Minnesota Press, 2006), ix.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Just a plain old update

This week has been crazy--the traveling month of October is almost coming to an end and I am thankful for that. Though the traveling has taken me away from writing a little, the spaces I have been able to share my new work have been very affirming. As I share more, my new ideas and work, I feel much more confidant and secure about the project. 

I will be focusing on dissertation fellowship applications this week. I had some major breakthroughs last week in terms of writing and writing my way towards clarity. I'm definitely beginning to develop a relationship to writing that is less about the outcome and more about the journey---something that I feel is necessary for getting the dissertation done. I have a lot of fear about writing the wrong thing and sometimes that fear keeps me from writing, but the practice of writing everyday gives me the space to relinquish fear and instead be present. Sometimes you have to relinquish control and let the story take shape organically--what is the archive trying to tell you? What does the archive want/need you to share?

Writing is about articulation, but it is also about listening. 

Do you take the time to listen during this writing journey or is it all about what you have to say?

Just a question.

I wish you all a great week of writing!


Monday, October 15, 2012

Keep Writing

The Traveling has begun.
My writing feels sporadic because it is.
I have a hard time writing when I don't have a stable sense of place, but I still try to.

Keep Writing. 

Friday, October 5, 2012

The Archive--Poetry in the Finding

I have been spending a lot of time in the archive recently. I enjoy it. I really enjoy the quiet calm convening with ancestors, with moments, movements past/passed. I found a Black Lesbian and Gay Newsletter from Jan. 1985 and I thought, wow--that's the month and year that I was born. Did those folks know they were calling me in to existence as they were also calling upon themselves and each other?


Poetry in the Finding--Our Black Queer Herstories
I find you in folders and boxes stored away
Were you waiting for me?
Because I have been dreaming of you and your stories
Were you dreaming about me and my friends?
Were you thinking of us when asked for Black and Gay?
Were you thinking of yourselves and just how badd you were/are?

From The National Coalition of Black Gays Bylaws, Nov. 1980

They told me you didn’t exist like this
But I have seen you now
I come to you with questions

How did we get here?
I know I can’t go back, but perhaps you can give me some ideas as to how to move forward
I come to you humbly and with gratitude
Thank you for the doing and the writing

1982 NY.

Thank you for documenting your lives as you lived and loved so fiercely
And I know the record is incomplete
I know there are things I will never truly come to understand
But please teach me what I need to know now
For this moment for these people

1979 Third World Lesbian and Gay Conference
2011 Here to Stay Coalition




Thursday, September 27, 2012

Remember, this is about Freedom.

I know it's a little late in the week for updates, but I made a promise and I'm holding myself accountable (weekly updates). So I'm on a plane to Madison, Wisconsin for a Print Cultures Conference. As I mentioned last week, I may have been a bit over zealous with the scheduling, but I will do my best to be extra attentive to my body now because I have a tendency to live in my head its easy for me to forget self care. I've been known to forget basic things like eating and drinking water. I can go a whole day on a cup of coffee and I only realize I haven't eaten because I begin to feel light headed or headachy. We must take care of our bodies. We must take care of our hearts. We must take care of each other.

If you are feeling overly anxious, depressed, or anything that indicates something is wrong--take a moment to check in with self. Why are you so worried? What are you afraid of? And for a second go there. If the worst thing did occur how would you respond? I'm a big fan of alternative plan making just so that I remember that no matter what there's always a way, even if it wasn't the original plan I mapped out for myself.

And what does this have to do with writing? Everything. Writing is my job, but writing is also my spiritual practice, the first craft I ever fell in love with and I must honor that. Writing in the Academy under pressure can make you forget your love of words and communication. We must keep in mind that at the end of the day many of us will write amazing dissertations and finally walk across stages with our much deserved Harry Potter uniforms; yet, we may not get jobs. So what will you do when all is said and done and you're an unemployed doctor who just spent the last 5-10years working towards  this goal? How will you remain committed to and affirmed in your own brilliance even if you never receive any institutional recognition? Will you be okay? I want you to be okay.

I remind myself that I'm a writer. I'm a writer right now. I was a writer when I was 5. I will continue to be a writer after I get my PhD. Sometimes we have to be reminded of the reasons why we do the things we do because it can get confusing. Am I writing this to impress my committee? Am I writing this because I feel passionate about it? If someone told you your work was unimportant, would you have a breakdown or would you continue to write? There will be haters. Sometimes you might not say the perfect word or write the perfect sentence, but keep writing because it really isn't about the final destination(this might change), it's about the journey. Each time you write you get better. 

For me, sharing my work at conferences or with new friends is when I find myself most present to my pleasure in this work. It's about connection, building and creating together. In the academy we are taught to get it done. No matter the cost. No matter how insane you might feel, get it done! And usually you are alone in some dark place trying to write your way to freedom. Alone.  We are taught to strive to create new fashionable language that displaces the old, but I'm still stuck on freedom. I believe we need new language to "tranifest" our new world, but know it's not the new word, rather it's how the new word enables new possibilities for living in this world (not just our institutions) with joy. If we take just two steps outside our academic silos we will see our names don't mean much-and our new fancy words haven't quite hit the streets yet;) And this is not to say that changing academic discourse within the academy isn't important because it is, but we need to be aware of the bigger project of liberation. 

We must recognize our privilege as scholars (in training). Our work is thinking, dreaming, visioning story-telling, teaching, learning, questioning...Yes, it is a challenge, but we are privileged and we must honor that and keep our minds set on changing the world. That is what we want (and if you don't know what I'm talking about read this again at a later date;) The kind of world that I want to live in will not sustain our ego trippin' or the reproduction of trauma (passed down from one scarred professor, to grad student(future professor), to student). A shift in the structures of power doesn't simply effect cis gender white men--we all have to change and become anew. 

On that note...I'll end this update by saying that writing is going slowly but going. I'm experiencing a lot of interruptions with publication deadlines, conferences, and fellowship applications, but I know that it is all going to come together. I have a community that supports and challenges me. We have the power to make it happen and we have a responsibility to change the conditions so that our future scholars know that this work is not about one great wo/man's genius--it's about collectively building  a new university where race, gender, class, and sexuality aren't simply the courses you take to fulfill your diversity requirement. I envison a new university accessible to all, a univesity that won't require indebted souls (student loan debt) in exchange for the right to produce knowledge (that don't even sound right...wait, it's not;). 

Let's go people! Get your write on!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Doing too much?

So writing has been okay, just okay. I am trying to manage writing while also still collecting interviews and archival research and sometimes it seems like I'm being pulled in too many directions. Or perhaps I'm not sure of the direction yet and with every new story I uncover, my major story changes a little. How do you manage research and writing? Do you set aside time for both everyday? 

Another issue that I have been struggling with is that I have committed to too many conferences. Events that when I signed up for them, I thought great this will give me a hard deadline to have something ready. This can be a good way to motivate oneself, but only in moderation. I'm getting ready for October and every weekend I am presenting somewhere (mostly places that require a lot of travel). When October is done I will have to spend a good amount of time completing dissertation fellowship applications. What I am learning is that sometimes I sign up for too many things (boundaries, important skill to have). I believe they will all be beneficial in someway of course, but this does take away from concentrated writing time.

Strategies I learned this week: No Facebook until I have completed a good portion of work.

On a scale of 1-10 I'd give myself a satisfactory this week. I definitely need to spend more time writing, but I also have to reconcile the need to do more research. I had a really great interview this week and I'm looking forward to spending the next couple of days in the archive.

It takes time to figure it all out. Be patient with yourself, but do not coddle. Push yourself, but do not hound. Find balance and find it again. 

Wishing everyone a great writing week!