Cultural Connections

Intricately braided hair, a crowning halo upon the person’s head. Vibrantly colored jewelry adorns the body, matching vibrantly colored clothing. The way people dress undeniably correlates with self-expression, and amidst the rapidly increasing desire of peoples of African descendants to connect to their cultural roots, Afrocentric dress has become a virtuoso expression of African diaspora culture.

Fashion, of course, provides a physical platform for the link between mask, identity, and image. Unique to the bearer, style connects them to significant social, cultural, and economic realities. An example can be seen in the rise and popularity of the zoot suit. First associated with African American communities in Chicago, Harlem and Detroit, these high-waisted, wide-legged, tight cuffed suits became an integral role in the development of the Afrocentric subculture in the US. Jazz musicians, specifically band leader Cab Calloway, popularized the long and wide look associated with zoot suits. Initially worn by young African American men, the outlandish attire quickly became popular within the Mexican – American and white working-class communities. The suits became synonymous with the lack of patriotism, because of the amount of used to make them, deemed wasteful by the American government during World War II. In the words of Kathy Peiss, an American Historian and the Roy F. and Jeanette P. Nichols Professor of American History at the University of Pennsylvania, “On the one hand it may seem like a trivial style, but…we have a tendency to read style for its political and social and economic and cultural meaning.” During the midst of the war, the suit became analogous to criminality or gang affiliation.

Such an example may be deemed extreme, as the whole ordeal ended in the infamous Zoot Suit Riots. This being said, fundamentally the suit was representative of political resistance. The wearer was a part of a community simply by donning a piece of clothing.  

For photographer Joana Choumali,  introducing traditional African attire into her work helped create a connection between her subjects and their heritage. Her series “Resilients” features women who grew up outside their origin countries, women who are not considered to be “real Africans”. The women represented a variety of ethnic backgrounds, including Baoule, Fon, Yoruba, Fulani and Malinke.

Choumali, who is half Ivorian and half Spanish-Equatorial-Guinean, personally felt a disconnect from her heritage because of a language barrier. Choumali’s late grandmother, a woman of the Akan people, struggled to pass on her cultural experiences to her granddaughter. Once she passed away, Choumali made the realization that a vital, connecting piece of her heritage was gone. Thus, she was inspired to take on her project, for other women who had the same unanswered questions as she.

Choumali describes that the introduction of traditional clothing and jewelry into her portraits made the women feel “…stronger, elegant (and) royal. Many of them talked about their mother, or grandmother, remembering and sharing stories about their family…these unexpected deep conversations had a positive impact on each of us.”

Truly the feeling is like no other, of being connected to a community rich in culturally unique practices, traditions, and ways of being. As insignificant as clothing may appear, there couldn’t be a better way for members of the African diaspora to connect to their roots when the Motherland is a few thousand miles too far away. Behind the vivid colors and prints that seem to tell a story lie a history of political resistance and cultural practices that can’t be translated any way else.


Facebook. “The Zoot Suit: an All-American Fashion That Changed History.” Penn Today, 1 Jan. 1970,

Page, Thomas. “Through Clothes, Women Connect to Their Roots.” CNN, Cable News Network, 9 June 2016,

Person. “Afrocentric Fashion.” LoveToKnow, LoveToKnow Corp,

White, Constance C.R. “How African Americans Influence Fashion and Culture.” Time, Time, 6 Feb. 2018,

“Zoot Suit.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 8 Dec. 2019,

Black Hollywood: Is it really like how it is in the movies?

“Hollywood movies create a fictional world that does not exist.” No matter how real it seems, Hollywood production add an extra element to create an original story. For black trauma films that experience this cinematic treatment, how much of an extra spin is really added? Is the Hollywood depiction of the inner city communities the real thing, or is it simply fanaticization for the big screen? The 1990s created a plethora of historic black films, written and directed by African Americans. Two of the most popular and iconic films Boyz n the Hood & Menace II Society effortlessly displayed the horrors of black trauma in communities. The directors of these films create a world so vivid, a world as realistic as can be. So believable that it raises the question, how much of it is true?

The 1990’s, especially the West Coast, played home to the most extreme cases of violence and destruction to the black community. Culminating in the LA Riots post the viral video of Rodney King’s beating at the hand of Caucasian police officers. As these events occurred in reality, it created a shadowed vision of African Americans in inner city communities. Outside of firsthand accounts or images broadcasted across the television screens, there was no other way for people to experience the Black inner city struggle unless it was portrayed through film; and because of that, the Black experience was exposed to new levels.

In particular 90’s movies, the depiction of the Black communities shared a connection to the real world that no other film provided before. Issues regarding drugs, violence, and poverty all found themselves to be focal points of the movies. At that same time, the black community was plagued by similar problems, every single day. Despite the national issue of poverty, violence, and drugs, the center of it all resided on the West Coast of the United States. California happened to be the center of it all and statistical numbers proved that. In the first half of the decade, at least one city in California sat in the top two of America’s most dangerous cities according to the crime rate. The numbers do not lie, they tell you more about the life in the inner city communities than any person can.

Hollywood, and innovative black directors chose to take this life, this inner city struggle, and display it on the screen for the world to see. The image was then real, all the stories, statistics, and conversations now had a tangible element, greater than just imagination. Menace II Society, a film released in 1993 displayed the bumps and crossroads of the life of a young Black man living in the tough world. The movie refused to shy away from the harsh realities that impacted the community, especially drugs and violence. Specific moments in the film create unpredictable images for the viewers, some uncomfortable to see. When two of the films main characters turn a simple trip to the liquor store into a murder and armed robbery, that emulates the unpredictable violence that arises in these cities. Although the scene is not real life, the reality is that situations such as this do occur, and life will continue to go on as if nothing happened.

Prior to Menace II Society, director John Singleton created a film of similar nature. Boyz in the Hood carried all the characteristics of the dramatic, inner city struggle movie that it was. Beginning with the characters from young ages, and following their lives throughout the years. It became very apparent to see the options young African Americans, especially young men have when they live in these communities. Their lives come down to accepting the horrors of the street life, or trying the best to make it out. Set in Los Angeles in the plagued 90s, the gang violence and bad influences became an important aspect for the characters to battle. Important not only for the movie, but also for the life that is reality for many individuals. Battling for survival on a daily basis was a theme in the film, similar to the non-Hollywood version that people live thru.

Masculinity developed to be another theme of the film, profoundly as the characters transformed from boys to young men by the end of the movie. Masculinity proved to be an important topic throughout the semester. Important to the point that one of the class lectures featured writer Scott Poulson-Bryant, and he specifically used Boyz in the Hood to speak on masculinity. Although the lecture was merely one class out of the whole semester, it was important to see the movie used as a positive example. Scott Poulson-Bryant found the positives in the film despite the troubling images and situations that created the movie.

Whether Hollywood added extra touches to these iconic films or not, they remain some of the most true reality movies created. The depictions of violence, drugs, and other forms of trouble in black communities find themselves in the middle of the movies. These particular movies are as real as it gets when it comes to the lifestyle that many individuals live and it was special for that to be placed on the movie screen for all to see.

Anti-Radical Thought in Coordination with Post-colonial States

In the sphere of current mainstream political thought, particularly the liberal tradition, there is a domination of western thought and ideas. Africans and descendants of Africans are not accounted for in this liberal tradition because of racialization and colonization. The liberal tradition is then not the best paradigm to apply to Africans and African descendants. An alternative method therefore should be applied for true liberation, especially in consideration with the post-colonial period of the 1960s and 1970s.

            Several arguments have surfaced about how freedoms should be applied in the post-colonial era. In Anthony Bogues book chapter titled “And What About The Human? Radical Anti-Colonial Thought and Critical Thinking.” he discusses how humanism, which is a branch of the liberal tradition, creates the functions of subjects. In this paradigm, the profound assumption is that the human figure is a subject and an exploited worker. Anti-colonial thought on the other hand, centers on the human. This need for anti-colonial thinking is necessary for former colonized subjects in post-colonial states to move forwards so that people who occupy these states are not functioning as subjects, but as humans.

These differing paradigms are essential to consider when viewing the history of decolonization. During the 1950s and the 1960s, several countries, especially in Africa and the Caribbean underwent the process of decolonization, which brought up questions of how to create and sustain a decent quality of life. A majority of countries turned to sources such as aid and development to maintain this promise that decolonization posed. However, these programs did not succeed in achieving the goals of promoting growth and sustaining a decent quality of life. An explanation for this is that the framework that countries operated under were post-colonial, instead of anti-colonial. An explanation for the failure of these programs is that the countries applied a post-colonial framework, instead of an anti-colonial framework. In the post-colonial framework, the history of colonization that citizens in these countries face is disregarded, while the anti-colonial framework considers that history for the means of progressing in the country.

Grenada is an interesting case study to consider when viewing the history of decolonization Grenada is a small island situated in the Caribbean with a population of about one hundred thousand people. Grenada holds a long history of authoritarian government under Britain, not receiving independence until the year of 1974. Even when Grenada received independence, it was still under authoritarian rule by Eric Gairy. In 1979, he was ousted by a coup, which led to the Grenadian revolution of 1979. In 1983, The United States government decided to intervene with the insurrection and deployed about seven thousand troops to the island. Governor general Paul Scoon was instilled as the leader until elections occurred in the year of 1984.

            After the revolution, several methods were used for reconstruction. World Bank and International Monetary programs, such as the Extended Fund Facility program implemented in 1983, served as reconstruction strategies. Strategies used by the program included repayment of IMF debt and local firms, increase in reserves of government-owned and commercial banks and investing in the public sector. In Pasty Lewis article titled “Rethinking Development and the Regional Integration project’ she discusses how these programs were unsuccessful though, in actuality weakening Grenada’s economy. With the reliance on aid, Grenada was pushed into enormous debt and not a lot to spend on spend on social welfare..

With the conditions that Grenada is currently under, it is important to note how these conditions were created. They were created because of the country’s colonial past, which created structural limits to the economy For Grenada to trump the colonial past it has endures, the country must attempt to frame new development under anti-radical thought instead of post-colonial thought. The reason why Grenada must be reframed this way to be successful is because since post-colonial thought, a part of the liberal tradition does not account for colonial subjects, it is not the proper way for a new state that underwent colonization to restructure itself. The world bank and international monetary fund programs did not account for Grenada’s colonial past and adopt strategies as an attempt to develop the state. There are several strategies in place that adapt the anti-colonial framework of thinking that could be very promising for Grenada’s future.

            One of these strategies include conceptualizing the country as resource rich instead of resource poor. As a former colonial subject, there is a conception that Grenada needs to rely on another country for development, sort of in the same way that the liberal tradition treats former colonized people as subjects. In the case of Grenada, the country has a very thriving seabed which could be used for economic profit. Also with tourism exponentially growing in the country currently, that could serve as an avenue for Grenada to strengthen their economy. With ant-radical thinking, Grenada natives will have access and be centered during this process so that the country can receive their own benefits. In Dani Roedrick’s article titled “Trading in Illusions”, he discusses how countries need to focus more on internal strategies instead of integrationist strategies. Instead of looking to outside sources for help, or integrating into the world economy, countries can develop their own strategies and utilize them for their own benefit. In the past, when developing countries that tend to be post-colonial states integrate into the if and world bank, their growth is stunted. Even though following a model that has not yet been tried will be difficult at first to implement, the possibilities of economic growth are worth it in the end.  With an anti-colonial paradigm that Dani Rodrik in a way proposes, countries can look inward instead of outwards to promote their own growth.

            Essentially, for post-colonial states needs to adopt new methods of thinking when applying reconstruction models. In the past, just thinking about adopting post-colonial thought has not been enough for new states to promote growth, specifically economic growth. Anti-colonial thought serves as promising paradigm that promote growth in young nations.


Bogues , Anthony. “And What about The Human? Radical Anti-Colonial Thought and Critical Thinking.” In Who Speaks for the Human, 41–56. Morocco : University of Rabat Press, 2009.

Burtenshaw, Ronan. “Grenada’s Revolution at 40.” Jacobin, February 9, 2019.

Glass, Andrew. “United States Invades Grenada, Oct. 25, 1983.” POLITICO, October 25, 2017.

“IMF’s 6th Review Grenada Homegrown Structural Adjustment Programme Now Underway.” IMF’s 6th Review Grenada Homegrown Structural Adjustment Programme now Underway |, n.d.

Kirton, Claremont D. “Grenada and the IMF.” Latin American Perspectives 16, no. 3 (1989): 121–44.×8901600307.

Lewis , Pasty. “Foreign Policy and Economic Development in Small States: A Case Study of Grenada.” In Caribbean Political Activism: Essays in Honour of Richard Hart, 254–89. Kingston : Ian Randle Publisher , 2012.

The Effects of Integration

Earlier this year, the state of New York passed a law banning discrimination against natural hair in the workplace. This was in response to statistics showing that Black women are 50 percent more likely to be sent home (or know of other black women who have been sent home) from the workplace because of their natural hairstyles. To prevent being sent home, Black women are 80 percent more likely to change their hair to accommodate social norms and assimilate into the dominant culture. We see this kind of assimilation not only in the workplace, but in schools and sports too; earlier this year, a referee made a New Jersey high school wrestler cut his dreadlocks right before a match in order to be allowed to compete—a showcase of forced assimilation. Why is it that Black people are expected to assimilate into white culture to occupy different spaces? Perhaps racial integration, which integrated Black people into white society without attending to the problem of racial inequality, is to blame for the forced assimilation of Black people into white society.

The principles of segregation and integration revolved around the idea of “separate but equal.” However, integration seemed to solve the “separate” problem, but not the “equal” problem; the “equal” problem should have happened, and integration would have happened naturally. However, what we have now in the United States isn’t integration, which would include people of different races occupying the same spaces that draw on diverse traditions—instead of bringing a racial minority into the racial majority. Based on this definition, looking at the what we do have, however, is de-segregation—which simply got rid of laws saying we could not be apart—and “pro-longed assimilation,” as Dr. Boyce Watkins says, into an anti-Black white society.

Before “integration,” Black people flourished more than they do now: their communities, nuclear families, and business thrived and less Black people were being put into prisons; there was no school-to-prison pipeline, no stop-and-frisk/broken-window policy, and no war on drugs—reactions to integration from white supremacist power structures to keep Black people oppressed. In an interview with Barney Blakeney, Clay Middleton, a candidate for the South Carolina House of Representatives District 111 seat, said that Morris, Spring, and Cannon streets (in downtown Charleston, South Carolina) were vibrant centers of activity for black business, especially because Black people were unwelcomed in white establishments. Middleton then speaks of the displacement of black businesses after the 1965 Civil Rights act became law, naming the Brooks Motel on Morris Street, a hotel where Dr. Martin Luther King stayed during his visit in Charleston, as one of the many Black-owned business that were demolished after integration. Even Black Wall Street in Tulsa Oklahoma, where Black people were wealthier than their white neighbors, crumbled after integration. After segregation ended, Black people flocked to support businesses owned by white people, causing Black restaurants, theaters, insurance companies, banks, and Black Wall Street, to disappear.

After integration, because of the closing of many Black-only schools, there was an insurgence of Black unemployment. In an interview with Celia Llopis-Jepsen, Thom Rosenblum, a historian at the Brown v. Board National Historic Site, eight Black junior high school teachers lost their jobs in Topeka, Kansas alone: “The court ruling integrated classrooms but said nothing about allowing African-American teachers to work at the newly integrated schools,” said Rosemblum. Previous white-only schools didn’t want Black teachers teaching white children, and Black parents flocked to get their children into these previous white-only schools because white schools were thought to have superior education. In turn, Black schools were left with too many teachers and not enough children to teach, and many teachers were let go and many schools closed. Along with the closing of schools, the closing of black businesses led to an increase in unemployment rates; unemployment rates for Black people, specifically Black men who were the pre-dominant owners of Black businesses, rose drastically. In 1954, white men had a zero percent unemployment rate, while Black men experienced about a 4 percent rate. By 2010, it was at 16.7 percent for Black men compared to 7.7 percent for white men—meaning unemployment rates for Black men quadrupled. In this day and age, Black people in general are more vulnerable in the labor market. Black people tend to work worse jobs (jobs with lower pay and fewer benefits) than white people and tend to work jobs that are less stable. Also, when the economy drops, Black people’s unemployment rates go up sooner than white people. Moreover, it takes Black workers longer to find a job than white workers. By integrating, or assimilating, into a white-dominated society, Black people are now subject to the standards white people place upon them, and failure to meet those standards—especially in the workplace and work field, results in economic instability.

Without Black businesses and infrastructure, Black people are forced to turn to white businesses and infrastructure to survive. However, equality of the races has yet to be achieved, so Black people are subject to racism that prevents them from thriving in white spaces. The answer to the problem seems to be that Black people should build their own cultural enclaves similar to those like Chinatown and Little Italy; Black people should own their own businesses and schools—places where natural hairstyles are can be seen as the norm instead of an anomaly—where they are not forced to assimilate and can thrive without dependence on white people.

The Said and the Imagined: Interrogating the Colonial Legacy of Language and Imagination

On the page, words, under the guise of neutrality, function to categorize subjects through humanization or “thingification,” a term coined by scholar Aime Cesaire.[1] This subtle, yet powerful system is always at work, its reach is vast, and its methods are left undetected or coded into conventional grammar, and therefore overlooked. Words then reinforce “racial imaginaries,” and limit the freedom of subjects whose humanity has been thrown into question by the processes of racialization and colonialism.[2] To break free of this, words must be used in a radical and creative practice that subverts the colonial a priori concepts attached. Only by laying bare the history and meaning of language can there then exist a “whole” non-European “I” that privileges imagination over racial imaginaries.To illuminate this history and make the point it is critical to look at the work of two scholars: Professor Anthony Bogues’ investigation into critical anti-colonialist thought as a site for radical visions of freedom and questions of being, and David GonzalezNieto’s paper looking at the importance of language in the construction of identity within a colonial framework.

Stepping back a moment, it is essential to explain the deployment of racial imaginaries in this paper. Looking at Bouges and Nieto’s work in the context of racial imaginaries makes real the abstract, yet tangibly urgent nature of both scholars’ interventions. The term racial imaginaries comes from the anthology, The Racial Imaginary: Writers on Race in the Life of the Mind, edited by Beth Loffreda and Claudia Rankine. In the introduction to the collection, Loffreda and Rankine, mixing casual conversation and literary critique, think about creative practices around race. This leads them to think about the ways in which racialization has nested itself covertly in the imagination, a private site in human consciousness and identity construction. They write on the ways white writers have used the safety of the imagination to avoid confrontation or dialogue with the non-white “I.” Loffreda and Rankine write that writers of all identities fall into the dangerous and limiting territory of “imaginative” neutrality. They write that these artists, “see the imagination as ahistorical, as a generative place where race doesn’t and shouldn’t enter, a space for bodies to transcend the legislative, the economic…”[3] The imagination is constructed through observing and communicating with the surrounding world. This is done through language. It is language that shapes the imagination. Therefore, it is language that builds and sustains racial imaginaries.

Language is the main site for human understandings of self and other. It is how the individual is able to separate the surrounding world from the individual’s existence. Communication is essential to this identity building. Through it, humans are given the infrastructure for spotting the self, and those similar, versus the “other,” which is not like self and therefore non-human. Scholar Frantz Fanon in his 1967 book, Black Skin, White Masks, emphasizes the urgency of communication, writing that, “to speak is to exist absolutely for the other.”[4] Ubiquitous, language becomes a mundanity inseparable from perception, and thus is often misinterpreted as neutral. However, it is anything but objective. David Gonzalez Nieto’s essay, “The Emperor’s New Words: Language and Colonization,” marks language as a “weapon for colonization” and traces its deployment as such starting from 1492, with the creation of the Gramática de la Lengua Castellana.[5] Written by Antonio de Nebrija 1492, the Gramática de la Lengua Castellana was the first grammar book on a modern European language. Nebrija, the writer, suggested to the then reigning monarch, Isabel, the Catholic Queen of Spain, that teaching the recently colonized people the Spanish language was a way to ensure the Empire’s rule.[6] The idea stuck, and language became the most powerful tool in the colonialists’ toolbox. To control the language of a people is to control how they see the world around them as well as themselves. By implementing a dominant language, the colonized people are forced into narratives where they are inferior. As the suppressed language is forgotten from the mouths of those who speak it and their children no longer recognize its sounds, the narratives of subordination and racialization become harder to break free from.

In Professor Bogues’ paper “And What About The Human? Radical Anti-Colonial Thought and Critical Thinking,” the question becomes: how to use language imbued with racialized meaning discursively to include the racialized subject. Colonialization and racial slavery relocated the abject subjects to a state of non-human existence. To describe this, Bogues conjures Fanon, calling this state a “zone of non-being.”[7] The state of “non-being” insists on the disillusionment of oppressed people, the total abandonment of imagination. Unable to identify themselves and their surroundings in familiar words, the “non-being” subjects can only “imagine” and exist through the dominant language’s racial imaginary, the colonialist’s rendering of the world. He interrogates existing Western radical thought, which ponders the human as a subject. However, the traditions of Western radical thought share the foundational truth that, “the human is a figure whose essence is already pre-ordained…”[8] It is here that Bogues makes his intervention. Taking concepts from Western thinkers such as Karl Marx, Bogues identifies their failure to extend the conversations of humanism to those whose humanity is not inherent, but rather has been removed, wiped way by violent and ongoing campaigns. Bogues points to Marx and Michel Foucault as intellectuals who wrote radical texts about the “subject or exploited worker” finding liberation.[9] Bogues’ suggests anti-colonialist thought as a discourse for the excluded to find liberation. This liberation in anti-colonialist thought is grounded in the act of transforming the imagination.[10]

Dominant language and Western thought regard the indigenous and racialized as non-subjects. Through language, the colonized and racialized learn racial and social hierarchies that negate their human existences. To escape this, creativity must be used. The “non-human” must envision self that has not previously existed, a self that defies “thingification.” While language does have an entangled history of colonialism, it must be pushed and shaped, stripped away and rebuilt, to make space for the non-European “I.”

[1] Bogues, “And What About The Human? Radical Anti-Colonial Thought and Critical Thinking,” 51

[2] Loffreda and Rankine, The Racial Imaginary: Writers on Race in the Life of the Mind

[3] Ibid.,16

[4] Nieto “The Emperor’s New Words: Language and Colonization,” 231

[5] Ibid., 233

[6] Ibid.,233

[7] Bogues, And What About The Human? Radical Anti-Colonial Thought and Critical Thinking,”. 55

[8] Ibid., 59

[9] Ibid., 57

[10] Ibid.


Bogues, A. “And What About the Human?: Freedom, Human Emancipation, and the Radical Imagination.” Boundary 2 39, no. 3 (January 2012): 29–46.

Nieto, David Gonzalez (2007) “The Emperor’s New Words: Language and Colonization,” Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge: Vol. 5 : Iss. 3 , Article 21.

Rankine, Claudia, Beth Loffreda, and Max King Cap. The Racial Imaginary: Writers on Race in the Life of the Mind. Albany, NY: Fence Books, 2016.

Intentional Health & Environmental Racism

Last month, much of white America expressed shock over a news story about racism in the health care system. A report from “The Washington Post” explained how a widespread algorithm in hospital systems “dramatically underestimates the health needs of the sickest black patients.” This is not news to non-white Americans who have lived and breathed the legacy of discrimination in the healthcare system that stems back to the era of slavery. These discrepancies are inextricably linked to the myths promulgated during slavery in order to justify the institution that black bodies feel less pain. 

            While there has been data for decades indicating the way that African Americans are neglected by healthcare professionals, there is an increasing amount of scholarship in the past decade surrounding healthcare discrepancies across race. Although America’s history is a grotesque pattern of the physical abuse of African Americans, the Tuskegee syphilis study stands out as a critical junction in the intellectual investigation into medical discrepancies across race. In this now notorious study, young Africana American men were purposefully infected with syphilis in 1932. Another important moment in this trajectory is the case of Henrietta Lacks. Dr. Hoard Jones from The Johns Hopkins Hospital took her cells and made scientific breakthroughs without her consent. Many other low-income African Americans were also abused in this way at the hospital, yet their names and stories go unrecognized. 

            Although doctors and health care professionals do not cause the health atrocities from the Flint, Michigan water crisis, the story of Flint’s water fits into this trajectory. Flint’s water crisis is not an arbitrary misallocation of funds—it is an intentional disregard for the bodies of people of color, just like the hospital algorithm. Before Flint, Michigan there was Anniston, Alabama, a story that the mainstream media has already chosen to forget. The legendary lawyer from the O.J. Simpson trial and celebrated intellectual, Johnnie Cochranm won of the largest environmental settlements ever in 2003 on behalf of almost 20,000 plaintiffs. Anniston, a predominantly black town, was purposefully the poisoned by Monsanto because it was cast aside. Monsanto saw the black residents as “more resilient” and not deserving of their health, (a remnant from the justification of slavery), and poisoned their waters and their land. Additionally, the majority-minority neighborhood of Fort Lauderdale, Lincoln Park, is filled with toxic waste. Residents have been fighting against the waste that permeates parks, water sources, food supplies and greatly affect the health of residents. And yet, this crisis and act of intentional positioning have gone entirely unnoticed by the mainstream media. 

            While corporations and local governments continue to poison black communities (or if not poison, they refuse to fix them), in the rare cases when white folks suffer from environmental factors, the world stops in order to fix it. The blockbuster movie, “Dark Waters” follows the true story of a white lawyer who helped a predominantly white town seek retribution from DuPont for poisoning their land. Critics acclaim this movie for its progressivism, outlook on climate change, anti-establishment view. Even though this story is a true story, it shifts the narrative away from the real problem. Here is an analogy that describes the way that this movie defines and changes the narrative around poisoning. Imagine if one black police offer lightly tapped a white person on the wrist and it resulted in a public outcry and its own movie. Yes, that incident may have happened but not only is it so counter to the mass majority of incidents, but it also whitewashes all of the other, must stringent incidents. The movie “Dark Waters” further promulgates the myth that environmentally poisoning is colorblind and that the United States is a colorblind society. Structures within mainstream media further this cycle in which the media and structures of racism go back and forth oppressing the truth. 

            The way that communities of color are perpetually undermined by environmental racism flows back to the idea of knowledge production. Science is not without its stake in institutionalized racism. Scientists rarely study the health effects of chemicals that runoff from power plants and other industrial sites because there is little interest in the health of African American communities. Additionally, too many scientists believe in the neoliberal mantra of individualism, ignoring the decades of redlining, racist housing mortgage bundles, biased real estate firms, and more that keep African American (and also indigenous) communities in these toxic waste dump. The few scientists that do dare to investigate the systemic poisoning of black bodies do not get funding because again, black and brown lives are not deemed worthy of aid and examination. The way knowledge is produced (or not produced) shapes the future of knowledge production. The scientific community has rich history of intervening only when it is too late. Too many chemicals that run in the water, soil, and air of African American communities are not examined and investigated until cancer, asthma, and other chronic illness nearly kill off an entire community. The institution of toxicology research too often forgets that  “the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” 

Christianity, Race, and the Haunting of Biomedical Science

Within recent years, biomedical research seems to be making leaps and bounds; surgeries are getting more precise, new transplants have been successful, and DNA has been mapped out more accurately than ever before. However, what is often not highlighted is how preconceived notions stemming from Christianity and the concept of race may be hindering this progress. In his lecture at Brown University on November 5, 2019, Dr. Terrence Keel explored the history as well as the connections between Christianity, race, and biomedical science. 

Dr. Keel began his lecture by referencing a problematic journal published in March of 2015, where the country’s first biological research organization claimed to have found a single gene variant that would account for the higher rates of cancer within the African-American population in comparison to Whites, Asians, Latinxs, etc. This is problematic because it conveys ideas that genetic differences between races are scientifically backed, even though they are not. Research has shown time and time again that the differences between the DNA of  different ethnic groups are so small that they are negligible. In fact, Dr. Keel stated that any two given orangutans will always have more genetic diversity than any two humans, no matter the ethnicity. Then why are people so eager to determine a genetic basis for these disparities rather than focusing on effects environment, poverty, and structural racism have had on health? Keel goes on to explain how the race concept has its origins in the religious cultural assumptions from Christian intellectual history. 

In order to back the claim that Christian thought played a large role in establishing race, Dr.Keel cited and analyzed stories directly from the bible. One such story was Noah’s Ark, a story that describes a time where the people on God’s earth were growing wicked and straying from His vision. God, however, saw goodness in Noah and instructed him to build an ark so that Noah, his three sons, and their wives would survive the flood and repopulate the planet. Looking at images from the Weimar Bible 1534, one can clearly see images of Noah and his sons, all of them white with blonde, brunette, and red hair. God, himself, is anglo-saxon as well. This clearly conveys moral beliefs about which people are closest to God, as well as, which people were preferred to repopulate the planet. 

Continuing with the story, each son was meant to repopulate one portion of the earth- Asia, Europe, and Africa. Medieval maps of the world, known as T and O maps, section the globe into three parts, each with a continent and the name of one of Noah’s three sons. The thought process that went into making this elementary map has persisted over time. In 1781, German physician Johann Friedrich Blumenbach, concluded that “it is very easy for the white colour to degenerate into brown, but very much more difficult for dark to become white…” His “scientific” beliefs were rooted in the Christian idea that whites were the first to populate and then repopulate the earth. Modern research tracing mitochondrial DNA has actually shown that the earliest humans came from East Africa and that all humans have descended from there. Unfortunately, this evidence is often ignored or silenced because it counters traditionally accepted Christian beliefs. 

To this day, the Christian view that whites were the first to populate is still circulated within major science journals and mainstream media. For example, Dr. Keel quoted from Nicholas Wade who was also referenced in Professor Lundy Braun’s lecture on December 3rd. In one particular article Wade says “Human evolution has not only been recent and extensive; it has also been regional. The period of 30,000 to 5,000 years ago, from which signals of recent natural selection can be detected, occurred after the splitting of the three major races.” He then clarifies that the three principal races are “Africans, East Asians, and Caucasians.” These three groups that Wade writes about in his book, A Troublesome Inheritance, published in 2014, directly correlate with the three groups in the T and O maps from medieval times. To make matters worse, Wade’s thinking was circulated in major news outlets such as Time Magazine and  the Science Times section of The New York Times where he served as the staff writer from 1982 to 2012. 

Unfortunately, work such as Wade’s is commonly circulated and seen within various news sources. As Prof. Braun pointed out in her lecture, we get questions to the answers we ask. With only new 44 projects on race/racial discrimination receiving funding in comparison to the 21,956 projects on race/genetics, it is no wonder that people are looking to genetics to explain differences in health as opposed to structural racism. In Lundy Braun’s  article, “Race, ethnicity and lung function:a brief history,” she demonstrates how race is deeply ingrained in the healthcare system by examining the history of the spirometer. Braun argues that instead of using race in a fixed way that presumes genetic variance, we should further explore the ways in which the various environments and life experiences of different races may have affected health. 

In order to back her argument, Braun first establishes how views on lung capacity, both previously and currently, have been influenced by race. Braun cites Thomas Jefferson’s “Notes on  the State of Virginia” in which he describes the “lung differences between slaves and white colonists.” Jefferson was not alone in his work that strove to establish inherent differences between races. Samuel Cartwright, a plantation physician and slavholder, used a spirometer to establish that “the deficiency in the negro” was  “20 per cent”. Neither Jefferson nor Cartwright considered any other reasons for the differences in lung capacity beyond race. 

Although both Jefferson and Cartwright were alive over 200 years ago, many of the same close-minded ideas about race playing a role, or the only role, in lung capacity still exist. As described by Braun, “the  idea of racial and ethnic difference in lung capacity is so widely accepted that correction factors are actually programmed into spirometers.” These “correction factors” are based purely upon race without taking into considering where said person has lived, their occupation, or any other influences. 

Braun purposefully mentions Jefferson and Cartwright’s studies, as well as the technology of modern day spirometers to highlight their shocking similarities and to denote that in both cases, race is too quickly accepted the reason for the difference in lung performance and should be challenged further. Both Keel and Lundy agreed that racialized ideas around who can get sick, feel pain, or even “be believed by doctors” are the areas that healthcare professionals need to focus on in order for the health of the country to truly improve.

Works Cited


End of the Owners: Black Resistance

Jackie Robinson. Muhammad Ali. Colin Kaepernick. Now, athletes have often been some of the most socially outspoken members of society. With the advent of social platforms like Twitter and Instagram, athletes have been able to interact more in the public sphere, weighing in on global topics to ever-expanding audiences. Some athletes choose to use this expanded platform as a means to push political agendas, call for social change, and protest social injustices. 

Some athletes have used their followings to combat the scrutiny they faced as a result of their status. Athletes like LeBron James and Draymond Green have used their platforms to voice their dissatisfaction with both their industry and society. But as their examples show, it is a difficult and complicated position, as many realize the nature of the organizations aim to rob them of own voices and political agency. 

During a lecture on Carter G Woodson, Prof. Hines explained that his contributions and advocacy for the Black community served as an example of both Black activism and the difficulties of navigating white-dominated fields. Through his work, she suggests that one can rethink the act of radicalism. In making this assertion, Hines aimed to demonstrate that conventional opinion has it that radicalism can only be expressed through either act of violent demonstrations and social disobedience. But, when using Woodson‘s legacy as an example, when you can see that radicalism can also be found in the advancement of other dimensions like healthcare, black advocacy, and self-expression.

Woodson‘s career also serves as evidence of the battle Black public figures have with public scrutiny and their own personal moral and political values. Speaking specifically on Woodson’s work, The Case of the Negro, Professor Hines explains that the text challenged conventional racism and eurocentrism present in academia at the time. Because of his opinions which he felt he could not release because it would alienate him in his field. Paul by doing such a thing what’s an actively strategically embraces objectivity and uses this ongoing relationship with academia as a way to continue his meaningful work, though there are components he had to silence.

This internal conflict that Woodson identifies in his career is one that confronts many black public figures today. Over time, this same dilemma still complicates the experience for especially Black athletes, who have a different time trying to embrace a larger white-dominated field.

Draymond Green, forward for the Golden State Warriors has been very vocal about his disdain for the power dynamic at play in the world of professional sports. In an appearance on HBO’s The Shop, He specifically problematized the language fundamentally used in the sport, seeking to bring an end to the use of the term “owner”. As he said, “Very rarely do we take the time to rethink something and say, ‘Maybe that’s not the way,'” Green said. “Just because someone was taught that 100 years ago doesn’t make that the right thing today. And so, when you look at the word ‘owner,’ it really dates back to slavery. The word ‘owner,’ ‘master’—it dates back to slavery… we just took the words and we continued to put it to use.”

In response to Green’s comments, some of the top executives in the league offered criticism, believing his opinions to be incorrect. Mark Cuban, head of the Dallas Mavericks, in a statement to ESPN said “For him to try to turn it into something it’s not is wrong,” “He owes the NBA an apology. I think he does, because to try to create some connotation that owning equity in a company that you busted your ass for is the equivalent of ownership in terms of people, that’s just wrong. That’s just wrong in every which way.”

By weighing in on this topic, Cuban communicates what appears to be a standard for the conduct of the league- one in which the biggest profiteers are the same individuals whose voices are valued over others. His statement attempts to invisibilize the issue Green highlighted, dismissing any validation his claim about the history of this nation.

Lebron James, in an interview with Cari Champion for the show Uninterrupted, spoke about his growth and the challenges that come with being a black public figure in America. Addressing the current political climate and the presidency, James said “the number-one job in America, the appointed person, is someone who doesn’t understand the people. And really don’t give a (expletive) about the people.” 

As a result of this statement, James became the target of media attacks. Laura Ingraham spoke on James’s comments on her Fox News program The Ingraham Angle, calling them “barely intelligible” and “ungrammatical”. She continued with her “It’s always unwise to seek political advice from someone who gets paid $100 million a year to bounce a ball,” she said. “Keep the political comments to yourselves. … Shut up and dribble.”

In the consideration of the racial backdrop and history of the US, backlash like this has constantly been used against Black athletes. Telling Lebron and other athletes likewise to refrain from sharing their political views actively attempts to constrain their social value and relevance to a sport. By mocking his intelligence, Ingraham attempted to make use of existing stereotypes about Black men in particular. Subsequently, she also trivializes his status as a Black athlete. The presence of this troubling relationship forces one to consider whether there is any merit in these athletes taking part in such an industry, one which appears to be deaf to their concerns and their realities. 

Beyond the pushback that these two athletes received lies a long-standing American tradition of anti-Black racism. Their encounters with these issues demonstrate how this racism has permeated multiple levels of society and has continued to set the precedent for how Black athletes are heard, viewed, and treated. If Black athletes are to continue to make a push for their freedom of thought, then they must inadvertently combat the narratives which seek to silence their voices. 

Works Cited

MacMahon, Tim. “Mark Cuban to Draymond Green: We Own Equity, Not People.” ESPN, ESPN Internet Ventures, 4 Nov. 2017,

“Rolling With The Champion.” UNINTERRUPTED,

The Politics of the Natural Hair Movement

Creams, pomades, and butters packaged in brightly-colored bottles for “natural hair” now grace the shelves of beauty supply stores in various countries. Black women are spearheading the contemporary natural hair movement, commonly defined as one that encourages “women with African ancestry to celebrate and enjoy the natural characteristics of their kinky, curly, hair texture.” Historically, institutional racism has catalyzed natural hair movements, and consequently, institutions and the public politicize Black women’s hair. While the narrative of the modern natural hair movement is political, employing the notion of “quiet,” coined by Kevin Quashie, the natural hair movement should not oversaturate the discourse of the natural hair movement with politics and resistance, as that narrative erases the humanity of Black women.

Structural racism manifests hair discrimination in many countries, including the United States and South Africa. In the United States, hair discrimination stems from slavery. Beauty standards favored whiteness, thus any physicality of Blackness was undesirable. To differentiate Afro-textured hair from “white” hair, white people described enslaved peoples’ hair as “nappy, which”stems from the word “nap,” originally used to describe the tuft of cotton on the plant that grows before harvest. Therefore, the etymology of “nappy” is inherently derogatory towards Black women in the United States. Further, during apartheid, South African schools enforced the “pencil test” to exclude students with kinky hair from access to education; when a teacher put a pencil in a student’s hair, if the pencil fell through, the student would have more access to academic opportunities, whereas if the pencil stayed, the state would restrict academic opportunities for the student. Structural racism stigmatizes natural, Black hair, especially on Black women, thus hair is always a point of social and political contention. 

Shifting towards Civil Rights and Black Power movements throughout the 1960s-70s, Angela Davis spearheaded the first major “natural hair” movement. Davis, along with many other Black women, wore afros to protest white supremacy and advocate for Black liberation, especially for Black women, since hair discrimination largely impacts their livelihood. Radicalizing the political state of Black hair, Davis utilized her afro as a weapon to combat Black oppression. Davis pioneered and established the political discourse of Black hair movements throughout the world. 

In the early 2010s, Black women birthed a new, natural hair movement to celebrate and care for their natural hair through community, YouTube tutorials, and websites geared towards Black hair care. Black women also use momentum from the expanding movement to combat discriminatory practices. In 2014, many Black women in the United States army vocally opposed the U.S. Army’s list of acceptable hairstyles, which banned specific types of braids, cornrows, and small twists—hairstyles Black women usually wear for practicality. Restrictions also stated, “Any unkempt or matted braids or cornrows are considered dreadlocks and are not authorized.” This statute is a directly discriminates against Black women, and the natural hair movement supported Black women in the military protesting the injustice.

Since structural racism consistently puts Black hair into social strife, it is easy for Black women to subject their hair and the movement into an exclusive, political state. It is critical to recognize that Black women exist in anti-Black societies, therefore, any form of Black expression is inherently political. When the public limits Black expression—and in this case, wearing natural hair—to a form of constant resistance, Black women lose access to their humanity and autonomy. Kevin Quashie, an English professor and scholar, uses the term, “quiet” to illuminate that the public should include “the expressiveness of the inner life” in the discourse of Black life and existence. Quashie eloquently expresses this notion as he writes that Black people “are resistant in context, but not in essence.” The natural hair movement contextualizes the need for Quashie’s logic.

Since the natural hair movement expands throughout the world, it is hard to define. Dazed Magazine writer, Georgina Lawton, defines the movement as “a social media-led discourse comprised of black video tutorials, hair-care tips, and a cultural shift towards redefining the position of ‘natural’ black hair within the hegemony of Western beauty through empowerment and acceptance.” Yet, BBC writer, Emma Kasprzak writes the movement as embracing Black hair that is free from extensions, chemical treatments, and wigs. Lawton and Kasprzak’s definitions contradict each other, and Kasprzak’s definition raises the issue of exclusion. British hair blogger Valley Fontaine notes that many Black women in the movement, , criticize other women who wear weaves or chemically treat their hair. 

By policing how Black women wear their hair, adherents of the movement counteract the celebration of Black (natural) hair and continue to over-politicize Blackness. Structural racism scrutinizes the existence of Black hair, and many Black women conceal their natural hair to combat hair discrimination in the work place, whereas other women wear extensions for personal expression. Black hair is not only a political statement; it is a personal statement. When proponents of the movement criticize Black women’s hairstyles, they further the structural racism that also controls and inhibits Black womens’ personal autonomy. The natural hair movement should celebrate Black hair, but it should not dictate how Black women wear it. 

Ulitmately, the natural hair movement should aim to align its values with Quashie’s idea of “quiet.” Politics and resistance should not dominate the narrative of the modern natural hair movement because this dominant narrative would stifle the expression of Black women. The movement should not mimic the same oppressive, institutional systems that it challenges. To celebrate Black hair is to celebrate Blackness, which is diverse and human; therefore, the natural hair movement should celebrate all forms of Black natural hair. 

Works Cited

Chigumadzi, Panashe. “White Schools vs. Black Hair in Post-Apartheid South Africa.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 5 Oct. 2016,

Edwards, Chime. “The Impact of The ‘Fro In The Civil Rights Movement.” Essence, Essence, 10 Feb. 2015,

Fontaine, Valley. “Valley Fontaine.” Muck Rack,

Kasprzak, Emma. “Black Natural Hair: Why Women Are Returning to Their Roots.” BBC News, BBC, 6 May 2017,

Kenneth. “The Natural Hair Movement: A Historical Perspective.” Curl Centric® | Rewrite the Rules of Natural Hair Care, 26 May 2019,

Lawton, Georgina. “The Problems with the Natural Hair Movement.” Dazed, 9 May 2016,

McGregor, Jena. “More States Are Trying to Protect Black Employees Who Want to Wear Natural Hairstyles at Work.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 20 Sept. 2019,

“Natural Hair Advocates Take on the US Army.” BBC News, BBC, 6 June 2014,

“Researchers@Brown.” Quashie, Kevin,

Black Women Citing Towards Revolution

Daphne Brooks brings us there– into the spaces between the footnotes that lie at the margins of the written works that make up what we call Black studies. As my friend, peer and collaborator Desmond Fonseca exclaimed over a GroupMe chat, in the midst of discussing this piece, “it’s a syllabus and a love letter and a review and an essay like HOW!” In what she describes as “a meditative syllabus on Saidiya Hartman’ss book Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Social Upheaval,Daphne Brooke’s article in the New Inquiry titled, “The Beautiful Struggle,” does indeed feel like a love letter to author and historian Saidiya Hartman’s careful excavation of the intimacies of Black-American women at the turn of the twentieth century. In the article, Brooks outlines the utter impact of Saidiya Hartman’s work and methodologies on the fields of Black studies, history and knowledge-making more broadly.

In doing so, Daphne Brooks also carefully maps the rhizomatic web of works that lie tangentially to Hartman’s; these works in Black studies that speak back to one another, that brush up against each other, that serve as foundation for the continuation of these intimate archival encounters, and works that continue to inspire and make possible the evolution of the field of Black studies. Through tracing and citing the interventions that have inspired Hartman’s work, as well the vast number of theorizations Hartman’s work makes fathomable and therefor possible, Daphne Brooks gracefully exemplifies and lights the way for a Black feminist citational practice as a scholarly act of love and care.

In this work, Daphne Brooks begins with an orientation. She begs the question of how we can prepare ourselves for the intimacy of the archival encounter: “How to [square with] those who came before?”[1] In her answer, she describes that importance of pleasurable exertions of freedom; of dancing, of love making, of these sensory experiences that interpolate us—that these experiences can prime us to understand individuals in the archive, who had the ability to feel pain, but also to feel the deepest of pleasures. However, she describes that this approach to the archive isn’t necessarily a direct path to interpreting these individuals’ lives and work, and in fact focusing on one’s self can sometimes even be, “perhaps the wrong way to honor the questions that hover around and shroud the lost, the dispossessed the disavowed.”[2]

In this non-linear archival work or in Hartman’s practice of “critical fabulation,” Brooks describes that one can expect to encounter failure.[3] However, in these moments, one can also expect to be supported by the articulations of, what she describes as “the chorus.”[4] The “chorus” are those authors and thinkers who have come before, as well as those whom continue to write; this notion of the “chorus” is a way of tracing a lineage of Black studies that one may find one’s self, according to Brooks, “writing of and for and toward.”[5]  Here, Brooks, begins to intricately, and I would argue, lovingly, trace the web of scholars that are in conversation with, or rather in harmony with Hartman’s work. Brooks begins to trace the relationships of works of individuals such as Toni Morrison, Lynn Nottage, Tavia Nyong’o, Kara Keeling and Barbra Cristian— outlining a web, or perhaps more appropriately in the case of Hartman’s work, tracing a map of a city of critical studies. If Saidiya Hartman takes a reader through the streets of cities such as Philadelphia and Harlem in her study of Wayward lives, crafting new epistemologies along the way, then Brooks charts and illuminates these paths that Hartman takes, mapping an intellectual trail; developing a citational practice in which nobody gets left behind.

 Brooks’ rigorous practice of citation is one that she not only enacts on the page, but one that she fully embodies as she discusses her work. This past year, when I the opportunity to interview Brooks, over the phone, about her research and studies of recordings of Zora Neale Hurston’s sonic performances, she made a point of consistently citing the scholars and individuals whose work impacts her own. Glenda R. Carpio, Werner Sollors, Alexandra Vazquez, Sonia Posmentier, Roshanak Kheshti and Anthea Kraut are only a few of the scholars she named, who are writing towards the “chorus” of what she describes as “the power and resonance of Zora’s interdisciplinarity.”[6]

In “The Beautiful Struggle,”Daphne Brooks provides us with an intricate model of how to pay attention to and transcribe the intricacies of harmonies, rhythms and cadences of a scholarly “chorus”. But in what key does this “chorus” sing? Does this chorus sound something like Ma Rainey’s, Runaway Blues? Ringing at a resonance of black fugitivity? Perhaps this chorus sings to the rhythm of Black feminist study. Given Daphne Brooks background as a writer, studier and theorist of popular music, deeply anchored in her love of rock and roll, perhaps it would be fitting to turn to the Black women who have hummed a citational lineage through their sonic performances, to begin to tune into the frequencies of this chorus.

Jamila Woods in one such artist, poet and musician. In her most recent album, LEGACY! LEGACY!, Woods uses her voice to chart exactly that: a legacy. Woods’ album pays homage to the intellectual, artistic and creative predecessors who have informed her style and identity as a writer and artist. Each title of a song is named after a thinker or artist–each song, thus, embodying the frequencies of these individual’s lives and works, as Woods describes in an interview with Pitchfork magazine: “‘I thought of it not so much as writing songs about these people, but thinking of the songs as self-portraits,’ she tells me. ‘I was looking through the lenses of these different people, their work, things they said.’”[7] In inhabiting the lives of these individuals through her voice, Woods employs a type of surrogacy. She brings about a closeness between her and those who have informed her work—embodying, through song, exactly how these works have impressed upon her.

In this album, Jamila Woods grapples with Zora’s “feeling most colored against a white background,” sings through Giovanni’s “Ego Tripping,” reinterprets Sonia’s “It was baaaaad,” identifies with Frida’s need for space, listens to Eartha’s lessons in refusal, steps into Miles’ power, channels Muddy’s playing electric guitar over a crowd who won’t shut the fuck up, Basquiat’s right to interiority, Octavia’s power to manifest and Baldwin’s capacity for forgiveness.[8] These 11 songs, representing 11 artists within a legacy–within a chorus– are framed by two songs inspired by the same woman. The opening and closing tacks of the album, titled Betty, pay homage funk pioneer and songstress, Betty Davis. Betty Davis, whose performances trespassed upon the boundaries of what it meant to be a female performer at the time, is a singer who reveled in raunch and channeled it through the raspiness of her voice.

Woods channels Betty’s ground-breaking performance style through the lyric “I am not your typical girl”—first in the opening track of the album, as well as in a remix of this track, which closes out the album.[9] The last song of the album is titled “Betty (for boogie)” and is a House remix of the opening song; house music being a musical genre that grew out of Woods’ hometown of Chicago. In this, Woods demonstrates the ways our encounters with the work of our predecessors is two-fold. First, in the ways that these works impress upon us, and then in the ways that we interpret these works or sing back to them—a type of call and response, writing to the chorus.

But perhaps Woods channels more from Betty Davis than simply a sense of individuality and uniqueness. In her song 1974, “They Say I’m Different,” Betty Davis provides a list of reasons for why she is “different” or why some might perceive hear as strange—outlining her own legacy of divergence. Beginning with a guitar and bassline that punches you in your gut, followed by guitar riffs that are clearly evocative of the blues, Betty first bases her outsider-ness in her Black southern upbringing, singing: “They say I’m different ’cause I eat chitlins, I can’t help it I was born & raised on’em, that’s right.”[10] She then moves to sounding her reasons for being as being tied up with the blues. For practically the rest of the song, she lists off blues artists who have influenced her music, also calling upon the blues as an example of embracing a positionality of the “other” and of digression–of existing within what Fred Moten might describe as, the Undercommons.[11] She describes her grandmother dancing to Elmore James and her grandpa, “a blues lover, rocking his moonshine to B.B. King and Jimmy Reed.”[12] She sings of listening Lightning Hopkins, Albert King, Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters, Leadbelly, Sonny Terry, Brownie Mcghee, Son House and Freddie King. She ends on the names Bessie Smith and Robert Johnson, saying them two and then three times, as almost a type incantation; ensuring that the names of the lineage she calls forth, truly land upon the ears of whoever is listening.

In where academic institutions and society writ large have historically exploited and exhausted the labor of Black women– questioning the validity of Black women’s intellectual, creative and labor-oriented contributions– citation, specifically citing Black women, thus becomes essential to the survival of a Black intellectual and creative tradition. A citational practice such as Brook’s, is not therefor only a Black feminist act, but a revolutionary one. Citation is a practice that black women, such as Daphne Brooks, Jamila Woods and Betty Davis, fashion time and time again–making it seem effortless, but doing so with the rigor and weight of the work of their predecessors; of their respective choruses. A collective called Cite Black Women whose very mission is to combat this erasure of the work of Black women in the fields of academia, explains in their mission statement, “Citation as a practice allows us to engage with voices so often silenced or left behind. As Barbara Christian argues, we have, ‘more pressing and interesting things to do, such as reading and studying the history and literature of black women, a history…ignored [and] bursting with originality, passion, insight, and beauty.’”[13] These notions of chorus emphasize the essentiality of citation within the field of Black studies, but also call us to engage in this practice with care, embellishment and beauty. As Professor Jasmine Johnson, a scholar of Africana Feminisms, always states in her lectures, “give people their flowers while they’re living.”

[1] Brooks, Daphne A. “The Beautiful Struggle.” The New Inquiry, 22 July 2019,

[2] Ibid.

[3] Hartman, S. “Venus in Two Acts.” Small Axe: A Caribbean Journal of Criticism, vol. 12, no. 2, 2008, pp. 1–14., doi:10.1215/-12-2-1.

[4] Brooks.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Personal Interview, 14 March 2019, Brooks, Daphne.

[7] Anderson, Stacey. “Jamila Woods Breaks Down Every Song on Her New Album, LEGACY! LEGACY!” Pitchfork, Pitchfork, 10 May 2019,

[8] Ibid

[9] Woods, Jamila. “Betty.” Genius. Accessed December 3, 2019.

[10] Davis, Betty. “They Say I’m Different.” Genius. Accessed December 3, 2019.

[11] Harney, Stefano, and Fred Moten. The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning and Black Study. Minor Compositions, 2013.

[12] Davis.

[13] “Cite Black Women.” Cite Black Women.,