“They can take my body, but they can never take my spirit.” – Troy Davis

I wish I had a catchy phrase, but I just call them perspective moments – when I am struggling to finish a book exploring queer diasporas and South Asian public cultures, listening to my mama tell me about my little brother’s refusal to finish high school, losing sleep over the hum-drum of graduate school (“Who will be my chair? “Where do I begin? “Will I finish?), and always the negotiations between me and those I care for – a (Black) man is executed (murdered) by the state of Georgia in the face of overwhelming evidence that he did not kill the (white) (male) Police Officer so many years ago as charged.

My backyard vigil for Troy Davis was organized around the one star I could find (when I was little I believed that when “good people” died they went to live on stars and occasionally I still look up to them – pun intended – when I am feeling sad) and I tried to (re)center myself and heed Troy’s words to continue to fight, because there will be another Troy Davis as long as the logics, or pillars to evoke Andrea Smith, of white supremacy are central organizing principles in the United States. This is all to say that the execution of Troy Davis is a perspective moment and I returned to Gayatri Gopinath’s Impossible Desires to see whether the text suggests strategies for creating new worlds.

In Impossible Desires, Gopinath raises the following question: How can we theorize diasporic queerness in a way that does not simply replicate the violent effacements of conventional diasporic and nationalist formations (p. 78)? From my reading, Gopinath explores South Asian popular culture, predominately film and music, as way to demonstrate how ostensibly queer, antiracist productions often (re)center gay male queerness that then “renders queer female desire and subjectivity impossible” (p. 78). These queer projects (re)produce a binary between queerness and feminism. Gopinath’s goal is to “dislodge the insistent, obsessive focus on patrilineal inheritance that structures diasporic narratives…[which then] enables us to reconceptualize diaspora through a queer feminist lens” (p. 65). Privileging queer female subjectivity radically reconfigures home as “outside of a logic of blood, purity, authenticity, and patrilineal descent” and thus disrupts conventional (nationalistic masculine) diasporic narratives.

Methodologically, Gopinath’s text asks us to pay attention to “those who lack power, but have presence,” to ask “different questions of dominant, recognizable archives and to rethink what constitutes a viable cultural archive in the first place” (p. 57). In relation to my project, Impossible Desires opens a space for me to ask, “What would it mean to queer our notion of security?” One of my goals is to (re)imagine security-safety without relying on the logics of the prison-industrial complex. Do I begin by situating how the logics of the PIC already shape our notions of security-safety? Questions for today.

At all times we should try to set an exemplary example of the type of [personhood] we are advocating: self-determining, strong, sensitive human beings” (Gidra, qtd in Pulido, 2006, p. 205; italics my own).

Pulido’s chapter “Patriarchy and Revolution” spoke the most to me as it illuminated the ways in which activist communities are capable of reconstituting the very relations they/we are attempting to dismantle – racism, white supremacy, patriarchy, sexual violence, heteronormativity, and so forth. I think questions about how to heal the self, of understanding, as Incite reminds us that “the revolution starts at home” must be addressed. In short, we must decolonize our minds (see Perez, 1999). Recently, The Crunk Feminist Collective (CFC) posted a blog devoted to this question. They drew from Toni Cade Bambara’s essay, “On the Issue of Roles”, where Bambara argues: “If your house ain’t in order, you ain’t in order.” CFC followed with this analysis:

“Talk about crunk. Bambara gives the side eye to the notion that you can attack capitalism, racism, or other systems of dominance out in the world without challenging those same systems (especially hetero-patriarchy) within one’s own relationships. That, in fact, leaving your own house “out of order” not only jeopardizes but it, in fact, undermines both your potential for good work and your potential for intimacy and happiness. Indeed, for me, Bambara’s call for us to essentially get our ish together charges us to recognize how important—how revolutionary—it is for us to love (and love on) each other and ourselves fiercely and fearlessly.”

While academic and community work can serve to both highlight and inform our theoretical and practice analyses of systems of power and domination, there is less of an emphasis, particularly in academia, on healing and recovering from our own experiences with physical-emotional violence(s). Feeling questions are rarely asked in academia. How can we work to heal ourselves? How can we put our house in order?

More broadly, Pulido’s text raises a number of interesting questions: what role can (or should) nationalism play, if any, in social movements oriented toward liberation? (How) Can white people serve as effective allies in people of color led movements for social change? (How) Does Pulido’s text help us to better understand the “politics of solidarity” and, therefore engage in coalition building?

Catching Hell in the City of Angeles: Life and Meanings of Blackness in South Central Los Angeles demonstrates how different “modalities” of Blackness operate as political-epistemological orientations or positionalities with radical and perhaps revolutionary (using Joy James’ definitions) possibilities. Or, to use Costa Vargas’ own words, “the very contradictory natures of [B]lackness show that, if an ethical commitment to liberatory politics is the energizer of self-making, [B]lackness is absolutely necessary as a source of knowledge of the social world, survival, resistance, and community maintenance” (p. 216; italics in original).

In relation to the objectives of this course, I found Costa Vargas’ text particularly insightful as an example of how to write a compelling ethnography that both “hooks” the reader so-to-speak and generates theoretical incitements, while suggesting openings for (re)imagining our future. Costa Vargas also reiterates several of the themes from our reading on activist-scholarship – notions of reciprocity, humility, accountability, and so forth. His particular ethnographic techniques were not as transparent in the text. How, for example, did he learn to take ethnographic field notes? What does his writing process look like? How did he inform Shannon, Vivian, Kody, and so on that he was going to write about their everyday struggles and negotiations in the face of premature death/Black genocide?

In relation to my own work, I thought the text actually provided, albeit unnamed as such, examples of alternative security projects (the gang truce; community run police) based on the lived experiences of communities threatened by genocide – the police, and social workers for that matter, clearly exacerbated rather than contributed to a sense of security among residents. The intense occupation, but also abandonment of the state, to use Ruth Wilson Gilmore’s framing, forces South Central residents to generate a sense, however tenuous, of security (in this case primarily physical/emotional and to a certain degree economic) outside of or in opposition to the state.

This week’s readings were engaging on a very practical level by attending to what appeared to be a rather simple question: What does it mean to be a scholar-activist? The responses by Lipsitz, Pulido, Vargas, and Tang unearth the complexities and, at times, outright contradictions, of being in the academy and doing activist work. I found the readings particularly useful, because the collection of essays offers a litany of principles for activist scholarship: reciprocity, flexibility, humility, reflexivity, and accountability, among others. The authors’ also urge us to question not only our own epistemological and ontological positionings, but also those of the academy. What types of knowledge and ways of being does the academy promote, dismiss, or even anticipate only to eventually appropriate? How can we as scholars employ alternative ways of knowing and being (much of it learned from and with folks engaged in struggle) to challenge the academy? Or, conversely, create an undercommons at the university? I have been checking out these blogs for more information on the movement toward an undercommons and/or autonomous universities: http://www.edu-factory.org/wp/about/ and http://beneaththeu.org/Beneath_the_University/home.html

With regard to my own work and internal dialogue around these issues, I found that the readings were cause for serious reflection. I have been immersed in an ongoing conversation with a good friend around issues of ethical research. Specifically, whether it is possible for a white person to ethically conduct research with/in (predominately) communities of color. While my thoughts on this point go beyond the scope of this blog post, suffice to say this is a deeply troubling question for me given the historic and continuing logics and material manifestations of white supremacy, structural racism, capitalism, and genocide (*I don’t wish for the “and” here to signify a completed list – not by any means). Is it enough to follow the principles suggested by the readings? I want to engage in research that is anti-racist, anti-capitalist, that makes visible the logics of white supremacy, is principled (see above), and examines the intersection(s) of state power, everyday life, and resistance in the hopes of transforming our ways of being and knowing (or at least suggesting alternatives). On the other hand, I think a lot about putting down my pencil, closing the books, and fully committing myself to working along side those in struggle, learning to “steer the ship.”

In her book, Against the Romance of Community, Miranda Joseph demystifies the notion of “community” by arguing that we must conceptualize communities as “economic units [and] that the bonding produced by particular values serves the abstract needs of the circulation of capital” (p. 139). Joseph’s ethnographic research reveals how identity-based groups often deploy the language of community as a disciplinary and/or exclusionary tactic (see p. ix) to achieve some end. For me, one of the most disruptive (?) points Joseph makes in her book is to demonstrate folks’ tendency to construct “community” as a place outside of the material and social relations engendered by the capitalist mode of production and I think Joseph goes to great lengths in her book to demonstrate that communities in fact often reproduce the very harmful social relations they seek to subvert, create refuge from, or do away with all together. Identity-based organizations carry the risk of (re)producing subjectivities and social relations that facilitate rather than challenge modes of capitalist accumulation – so that both the sense of community and the actual people these organizations profess to represent, preserve, protect, promote, engender, and are less likely to become sites of liberatory social change (although this may have never been the purpose of the organization in the first place). I don’t read Joseph as suggesting that identity-based organizations/social movements have not created legitimate and meaningful changes in people’s lives, but rather “constitutions of community as precisely autonomous from capital [can] enable community to operate as a supplemental to capital and that community thus enables exploitation” (p. 172).

I read Joseph as a cautionary tale – I don’t think she dismisses the notion of “community” all together, but rather, urges us to be mindful of its discursive deployment, to trouble its use in our own work and political activism. Personally, it was an interesting week for me to engage with her text, because I have been thinking a lot about beginning a project around the “Secure Communities” (SC) program – a federally designated (im)migration program that has been a source of recent protests across the country. Briefly, SC requires that local law enforcement hand-over fingerprints to ICE, who then run screens to identify folks here extra-legally. The program purports to identify, detain, and deport the “most dangerous” migrants – a claim that has been widely challenged. Joseph’s book has given me some tools to think more critically about the deployment of “community” in this program that will compliment my line of inquiry – notions of security/safety, alternatives to policing, creating security/safety in relation to the state, and so forth.

In class, I hope we discuss Joseph’s argument – I understand it in a basic sense, but have questions around her notions of “the performativity of production” and the “absent subjects of capitalism” (see p. 111 for example) among others. I think talking through some of her examples and examples from our own work would be useful as we try to work through her argument.