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TRIC Pedagogy Workshop

Transformative Intersectional Collective (TRIC) Pedagogy Workshop

Opening Presentation, March 24, 2022: Dr. Nirmala Erevelles

Dr. Nirmala Erevelles is Professor of Social and Cultural Studies in Education at the University of Alabama. Her teaching and research interests lie in the areas of disability studies, critical race theory, transnational feminism, sociology of education, and postcolonial studies. Specifically, her research focuses on the unruly, messy, unpredictable, and taboo body—a habitual outcast in educational (and social) contexts. She is the author of Disability and Difference in Global Contexts: Towards a Transformative Body Politic (Palgrave 2012).

Transcript

ANGELA SMITH: It is now my pleasure to introduce Dr. Nirmala Erevelles. Dr. Erevelles is a professor of Social and Cultural Studies in Education at the University of Alabama. Her teaching and research interests lie in the areas of Disability Studies, Critical Race Theory, Transnational Feminism, Sociology of Education, and Postcolonial Studies. Specifically, her research focuses on the unruly, messy, unpredictable, and taboo body: a habitual outcast in educational and social contexts. She is the author of “Disability and Difference in Global Contexts: Towards a Transformative Body Politic.” Dr. Erevelles, as Dean Stockton mentioned, was also the speaker for our Disability Studies Lecture this past Monday. And if you were able to attend, you received a glimpse of her materialist approach to disability, as it is bound up with race, class, and caste, and as it operates in capitalist, globalist, and environmental politics.

Today we’re thinking about how to teach and engage disability in our courses and classrooms, guided by Dr. Erevelles’ article, “’What Thought Cannot Bear to Know’: Crippin’ the Limits of Thinkability”, which we read before gathering here today. It is my delight, then, to turn the floor over to Dr. Nirmala Erevelles.

NIRMALA EREVELLES:

I’m just trying to share screen. I’m sorry, I have to be allowed to share my screen again because I logged in, I’m sorry. So, while we are getting that done, that’s okay, I just wanted to say thank you for, first of all, inviting me for this. Because this was supposed to happen two years ago, just after the pandemic, and, as I said on Monday, I just feel very blessed to be in company with all of you here today, because so much has happened and it’s also good to see that all of us have kind of made it through that time. And in some ways. I also wanted to mark this as a critical time, because it’s something I also realized as a pedagogue, as somebody who teaches, that so many of my students have also gone through some really harrowing times. They’ve had both some beauty and a lot of pain going on, and so, I am deeply appreciative of every opportunity — I think I appreciate it a lot more — of every opportunity to interact within spaces, that seem almost as if it’s going to kind of swallow us up, and so I just wanted to mark this as a positive moment for that.

I’m thinking now that, yes, I can share my screen. Also, I want to just describe myself: I am a South Asian woman who’s wearing glasses, I have a black and white, kind of spotted shirt, and I have shoulder length, like, it’s got some reddish highlights in my hair. As Angela Smith just talked about a few minutes ago, the lecture I’m going to give today, I’m not going to be reading from a script, so I hope it’s going to be a little more fluid when I talk.

But I really wanted to highlight some critical points in the article that was distributed to all of you to read. So, I’m not going over the article per se, because the article itself was using a class in Nurse Education to talk about teaching at the limits of thinkability. I wrote it eight years ago, and I think I’ve grown from that article, and I think that I want to use today as a space to conceptualize what it means to talk about disability within this context of thinkability.

And if you’ll notice that my article started with this quote, which I kind of broke up. It was in Deborah Britzman’s article. And so, this is her quote, and I wanted to put it on my PowerPoint more like poetry, because it felt like poetry, and so I’m just going to read it out to you for a second, and then talk about how it is framing the rest of this presentation. So, the quote says, “To engage the limit of thought where thought stops what it cannot bear to know, what it must shut out to think as it does, allows consideration” — and this is, actually, the latter part is a quote from Judith Butler introduced into this quote — “allows consideration into the cultural conditions that… make bodies matter, not as sheer positivity, but as social historical relations, forms of citations that signify more than individuals or communities need or want.” So, while I’m not going to unpack all of the details of the quote, I really wanted to, in some ways, mark for us this moment in Critical Disability Studies. This moment where we’ve had, you know, the Black Lives Matter movement; this moment where we are finally, I hope — actually, not so much in my university — but at least engaging settler colonialism; we are looking at, kind of, the sheer impact of a pandemic.

So, it seems we reached a point where, at least in the logic of my article, you may think we have engaged and maybe exceeded the limit of thought. And I’m going to put some pressure on that celebratory moment. Not so much because I’m not doing this kind of woke culture, or the call-out culture, or whatever else, but for us to really stay and look at what those limits are, in a sense. Then, I’m going to put pressure both on Critical Disability Studies and what are our current limits in Critical Disability Studies, but also what are the current critical… the limits in the other categorical, the other progressive theoretical spaces as Feminist Studies, Queer Studies, of course, Critical Race Studies right? To kind of really push literally, you have to literally push those limits and see what is it, what is it that enables us to stop thought? To engage the limit? What is it that we cannot bear to know? And I want to name it precisely as that critical contradiction because we’re doing it in a university space, and to think about how the academia itself thrives on pushing us to spaces where we are required to in fact, engage, not engage, but actually to stop thinking.

I have a senior in high school, who is currently in the last bit of making a decision for college. I was not educated in the US for undergraduate, and I’m a single mom, so I didn’t have anybody else, so this was my first experience of engaging an application and admission process that was so horrifyingly ableist, racist, classist, and, of course, completely unaffordable. And it doesn’t matter where you were on this kind of vast pace, or this notion of academic ability that you have. Whether you were scoring “low” on the ACT or high, almost everybody I have spoken to among several parent groups have faced this kind of horrible feeling of not being worthy enough to be part of academia. I have never talked about it before because I never experienced it. Somewhere, there was this logic that, somehow, we muddle through this notion of meritocracy. So here we are, actually at a university. I’m at a university, you’re at a university, we are in these exclusive places, we are here because we are considered, in some ways, bodies that matter in higher educational spaces. And so, when I talk about… like, I know this is also about accessibility, I was going to engage accessibility in a very conceptual context. Meaning, what does access mean in spaces that put off more barriers for even engaging these spaces? What are the kinds of conceptualizations we accept as normal, or we take for granted, to justify our presence in these spaces? And then the last part, what are the social historical relations? And I go more than citational, because I see the discursive, but I also go beyond that to see the ways in which we make some bodyminds matter and not others, both in our curriculum, in our admission policies, in our practices, and in the ways we engage our students. So that’s the space where I’m moving to.

So, as points of reflection, I wanted us to think about the limits of thinkability in the curriculum, especially to disabled bodyminds inside and outside the academy. Because even in Critical Disability Studies, there are certain body minds that are not included, at least in certain contexts. I’m talking about our fellow community members who have what you would call intellectual disabilities or cognitive disabilities, and because I am also a professor in education, I witness it on a daily basis, the ways that these bodyminds continue to be excluded in segregational spaces. For whom, education is not about the liberation of thought, right, but it’s really about making do, teaching people basic skills of survival, and for whom their very futures continue to be, in a lot of times, carceral-like institutions, or maybe institutionalized settings. But also, very much subject citizens — and I’m using the words “subject citizens” as opposed to “citizen subjects”— who are also presumed to be: “Oh, it’s okay to perform really violent kinds of behavioral and other modification processes.”

For many of us who are fighting for civil rights, who have been very active in the forefront of arguing for, you know, war crimes and arguing against these kinds of violent procedures on a daily basis, certain members of the Disability Community seem ignored and rendered invisible. So my first question is, in terms of thinking of the limits of thinkability of the curriculum, in what ways do these subject citizens appear in our discussions? Do they flag the limits, are those the spaces we do not want to cross? And then, the second question becomes, what are the historical materialist conditions — because I’m a materialist, I’m kind of obsessed with that — that constitute these limits? What allows, somehow or other, to justify, what are those conditions? So that’s why, when we are thinking of access, I’m also encouraging you all to think beyond technological access. We need that. There is economic access, social access, and most crucially, also intellectual access.

I feel that, in my daily work as a professor at a university, I feel implicated, and at the same time, responsible for engaging those limits: the places where my thought is not allowed to go. And when I make all these arguments, I’m using disability as the central construct but I’m also thinking of it intersectionally. And, for me, the easiest example that I can give you is because of of my work in education, and it’s the number of children who are living at the intersections of race, class, gender identity, and disability, who experience the most brutal violence, and particularly the violence of invisibility, because they’re not engaged by the very theoretical, conceptual, radical movements and theorists in the space for discussion.

So, if you can see the example, it’s kind of a more simplistic example when I’m talking to the nurse educators in the article. But, here, I’m engaging the fact that they are skewed, at least in my daughter’s high school: the students with significant disabilities, like multiple impairments, I would say that, are predominantly poor and black and brown. They enter my daughter’s high school through a side door, because we have to protect them. They do not participate in the major activities of the school. When people are talking, even when we engage about racism in education, we are not engaging with those students. Anti-racists in education don’t actively engage with those students who have so-called — I mean not “so called”, they’re real — they have cognitive and intellectual impairments.

So, when we are writing these radical pieces on what happens to students of color and how schools produce the school-to-prison pipeline, the group of people who are justified in being excluded are those who actually, in fact, challenge our notions of — and that’’s why this becomes important — what thought cannot bear to know. We are really afraid to challenge our notions of rationality, this notion of intelligence that, even though we claim we don’t believe in, we still use in so many ways. Like, I feel very conflicted! My daughter scored “well” on the ACT so it’s not on me to throw it out, but then I have to ask myself, what is my allegiance to the very constructs that exclude people? So, when I’m talking about it, I’m not speaking from the side of purity; I’m speaking as also implicated very much in that process.

And then that’s where access becomes critical, because there is a certain political economy that enables each of these things to occur, these things of exclusion. The very political economy of technology. Whereas if you go to, a lot of times, upper-class parents of any race, but also particularly white parents, have access to technologies. And technologies don’t mean just, you know, just these kinds of machines, right? I’m talking about everything. They have access to technologies that are made and produced in nations that also produce disabilities for those groups of people, while they were manufacturing those things. There’s a lot of data on how manufacturing the very computer I talk on, like we are using right now to make it accessible, produces blindness, like visual impairments, for people who are manufacturing these things, right? So, there is a political economy, and you’ll see later when we are talking about this idea of “relational,” this is what I mean by: this analysis will also make us take into account a “relational.”

So, when I teach my courses in Disability Studies, I always have to start by reminding my students that an understanding of ableism or a critique of ableism have to account for the relational understanding of who’s in and who’s out of the academy. Who’s within carceral spaces and those that are free. Within those that can consume technology and those that cannot. That’s where the thinkability comes in. So, we can’t do… at some point, the woke moment is something that we have to create. That’s why I have the last line which is, “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it.” So, how are we going to approach the limits of our discipline and our pedagogy and our institutions? And how do we transform those limits into emancipatory possibilities? And I’m not thinking that we can transform them tomorrow, but what are the moves we are going to make to, in fact, take it apart?

And so, I just had these three things, because my article was talking about this notion of evidence-based practice. I know at the university, too, we are being asked — and I’m at the University of Alabama; my legislators are just voting this week to ban Critical Race Theory. And what we are really being pushed to do is create universities that produce good worker bees in a capitalist system, and so we want more evidence-based practice, as opposed to what they’re calling this rhetorical analysis, which is what we produce to Critical Race Theory, right? So you understand that I’m not going to go past that.

The issue of truth and lies, as alternative facts: you know that. We lived through four years – and more! I mean, one of the things it’s easy for us to act as if these arguments existed just in the last four years of a particular presidency. But if you understand imperialism, you live in a world where alternative facts have always existed, and some of our stories have always been erased. And so, this is another issue that’s going to trouble those limits is, what do we accept as truth and lies? It’s not just those people whom we also kind of dismiss as those ignorant people who are different from us. We, ourselves, hold truths.

I’m going to use that, in this context here, because it will come up as a pedagogical strategy. And I have had to think and be very careful about how to say this in classrooms. Because we know war creates disabilities, so that it is a very much Critical Disability topic, but when we were talking…. I’ve been asking in my very conservative city where we are always pro-war, always pro-war, this is the first time I am finding myself in an uneasy alliance. I’ve always been anti-war, so I say I’m finding myself in an uneasy alliance with some of my people around this attack on Ukraine. I’ve been asking about… My police department has colored their big headquarters in blue and gold. The same police department that has had a couple of shootings for Black Lives Matter. so it’s even within the year that this was not an alliance, right, so that’s what I mean by truth and facts.

The fact that when some of our third- — as a woman from India, I understand what I talk about when I use the term “third world,” I’m talking about politically — I’ve never seen those kinds of alliances ever being built to mourn the people who’ve been killed in other imperialist wars. And what does it mean to be disabled within those contexts? In worlds that we are not even recognized? have we talked about what happens to disabled people in Iraq, in Libya, in Palestine? I mean, that’s Jasbir Puar’s work, right, so that’s the critical thing that she makes an argument there, but in Afghanistan? What kinds of disability sensibilities have we produced in those contexts? So those are also, like the critical, what is it about the limits of thinkability? Here, it’s not about saying we are good or bad, that good victims or bad, I’m not making that argument. But I’m pushing us to think of what those limits are. And that’s where I also want to push against that concept of reality as a social construction. Like, everything is a social construction. But I want us to think about reality as the historical materialist conditions.

Because when you start talking about the historical materialist conditions, you’re going to look at the historical, literally the histories, the economic, you have to engage transnational capitalism, you have to engage imperialism, you have to engage colonialism, and, of course, you know, racism, because these are all historical materialist practices. They’re not just identities, they’re not just discourses. And so, for us to frame the real in these particular ways would be in some ways transformative. And so this, I’m not going to go… I mean, many of you will be phenomenologists but the part that I really, the idea I wanted to play out there, I loved that argument that was made about bodies of knowledge and knowledge of bodies. And with bodies of knowledge, I want to play on it in two ways: not just as a curriculum but also which bodies do we perceive as those that contain meaning? The erasure of bodies that lie at the intersection of race, class, and particular kinds of disabilities, impairments, right, are not the bodies that constitute a central part of our curriculum, our epistemologies, and that’s where, I will argue that’s where the epistemic violence kind of thing comes up. Because it’s in fact that these bodies are erased, the only way they come up is when they come up as pathological. So, people in psychology, nursing, and education will say, “Yeah! We have entire courses that talk about education for students with cognitive impairments.” But they appear in those contexts as pathological examples of what we do not wish to have, what we do not wish to think about. So, how do we rehabilitate them in order to fit into the context?

The other point I wanted to make here was the argument that Patterson and Hughes make, which I alluded to earlier, about the notion that impairment is an intercorporeal thing, not intra. But it is a relational concept, that even impairments that we think of as biological, those meanings are constituted in relation. I’m arguing that we need to think about it relationally in a kind of intersectional space, right? And so, that’s what I would mean by carnal information:  “carnal” has this kind of very embodied thing, but I also want to mark “carnal” that can be both full of desire but also a desire tinged with a kind of violence. Because of the ways in which we erase the carnality of certain kinds of disabled subjects.

So, that’s when the majority of my paper is, then really asking us, and this is where you’re going into discussion, this would be the three issues. It would be a useful space for you to think about, take any one of them, and think about the aspects of it that shape the ways in which you engage intellectually, within practice, within activism. You know, the ways in which, if we did the study of limits and those were exactly those definitions, the important thing here is the unmarked criteria. We know the marked criteria. The unmarked criteria that works to dismiss as irrelevant, or valorize as relevant, a particular mode of thought.

Actually, the whole day yesterday I was working on behalf of a family friend, from a working-class family, a young, black boy with multiple impairments, and the violence, trying to push back against a school district that is refusing to give him a 504 plan. Even though he has visual impairment in one eye, he really can’t see through that, and he has several mental disability issues, one of them being ADHD. They’ve already had to fight first to not have him pushed into alternative schools, the alternative school is the school to prison pipeline, is prison. And to see the ways in which he does not appear, at least in my community, when the anti-racist, radical people are talking about race, he doesn’t appear as somebody who matters. Not among those in the disability community, because he fits in this nebulous space of “not,” so that’s a limit. The study of ignorances: what are the things that dis-enable us to be able to engage these things, what are the logics? Some of the logic is the logic of respectability in the context of this young boy, the logic of active ableism, because they’re… I mean the schools cannot, schools still do not appreciate, cannot understand, multiplicities of intelligence, or whatever intelligence is, right? This notion of intelligence, we still take that for granted, who is in and who is out.

And then the studying of reading practices: what is it that stops us from doing those kind of critical readings that we seem to do so easily in other spaces? That’s the thing that bothers me is, we can be so woke and yet so ignorant in this space. And I use “ignorant” because it is, I think, an active word. It is active, it is something that we can do with it, it is not a label. Ignorance is something that we can change, and that can be through the reading practices and the study of the limits.

Therefore, while I’m using Disability Studies as a transformative intervention — and I think I need to move you all to this other side so I can read this — I’m really talking about, what is the ways in which your curriculum, your bodies of knowledge, and your knowledge of bodies engages this notion of disruption? And how do you reproduce the neoliberal vision that justifies segregation? And that’s what I mean by where certain disabilities, disabled bodyminds are both, not just within our classrooms but within that global example, right? The disciplining and even the erasure of the existence of unruly, messy, unpredictable, and taboo bodies. Bodies that are shaped by, and, in turn, shape the social, political, and economic context which they inhabit.

And that’s the argument. I know, at the end of my talk last time we were grappling with this… Lezlie and Rua and I were pushing again, we were discussing this again on Facebook the other day, this notion of, it’s not about producing… at some point disability appears as if it is social death, right? But this is the space where we can push back against that understanding, because that understanding is one of pathology. But if we kind of use this understanding of looking at what produces the social, political, and economic: what social, political, economic contexts constitute these erasable, disposable, actually invisible bodies? That’s the space we could challenge, that’s the analysis, even in a pedagogical context. We can, in fact, challenge this assumption, at some point in our pedagogy and in our practices: we seem to justify that we can’t do these folks because they are “too disabled.” We need to stop using the “R word”, but I am using it in quotes because I want to note the violence, they are too “retarded” to be a part of this discussion. There’s violence in that word. Because it becomes used as a very casual way, an easy, quick way of justifying exclusion, more so than everything else that also implicates it.

I was trying to be smarty pants — and this is my last slide: on my left side, visually, I have actually a little devil grinning there. It was just because this design idea came, then I was like, yeah, I like the little grinning devil there, for so many reasons. But on the left side, I have five Rs. The one about what does it mean to rebel against all that which limits difference? What does it mean to reject the ignorance of centering the normal subject who is presumed to know? What does it mean to rethink the leading practices that reproduce dichotomies of normal, abnormal? And here, I’m not talking about in the very generalized sense, what I’m talking about is really the limits of both Critical Disability Studies and other limits of all the other emancipatory radical discourses. What does it mean to refuse that cultural insistence to put back into place the boundaries at all costs that education is obliged to exceed: I’m using that from a quote. And what does it mean to replace the oppressive structures or material practices that control the borders of thinkability?

So, these were my five Rs for you. When you’re going into your groups, you could choose… I mean, you all can do or talk about whatever you want to, but I really wanted to place this emphasis on: we are no longer in the space of easy inclusion.

Class of 2022 Virtual Yearbook

Congratulations, Class of 2022! We are excited to celebrate you and your achievements, look forward to staying connected, and wish you the best of luck on your next moment of brilliance.

Are you ready for Convocation?

School for Cultural and Social Transformation Convocation

Friday, May 6, 2022 at 12:00 p.m.

Convocation for the School for Cultural and Social Transformation will be at the A. Ray Olpin Union Ballroom at 200 S. Central Campus Drive.

The convocation will feature student and faculty speakers, recognition of special student achievements, and the individual recognition of each graduate. Masks are strongly encouraged for all attendees, including graduates.

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The Convocation will be streamed live. During the event, click on the “live stream” play button that will be included on the Transform Convocation page.

Virtual Yearbook

We couldn’t be more proud of you and your accomplishments and are excited to celebrate you and your hard work via our digital outlets. Fill out the above RSVP for Convocation and select “yes” to be included in the virtual yearbook.

General Information for Convocation

Information on parking, graduation regalia, photographs, and more can be found on our Convocation webapge.

Disability, Eco(in)justice, and Transnational Solidarity

Disability, Eco(in)justice, and Transnational Solidarity

University of Utah Disability Studies Lecture, March 21, 2022: Dr. Nirmala Erevelles

While much has been written about the eco(in)justices in two global cities, Bhopal, India &. Flint, Michigan separately, very little has been done to map out the continuities and discontinuities of the ways in which disaster capitalism in transnational contexts separates and divides communities collectively brutalized in its wake. Further, much of the published literature fails to recognize that, in these contexts, disability proliferates. When disability is recognized in these contexts, these writers tend to treat it as a pathological condition, and thus fail to engage disability as a historical category forged at the intersections of race, caste, and class by the violence of disaster capitalism. This talk draws on “contemporary materialist postcolonial criticism” (Barker and Murray; 2010) to explain how the story of environmental (in)justice is tied to racialized, classed, casteist and ableist “histories of segregation, abandonment and the relationships among people, property and capital” (Ranganathan, 2016) and discusses the implications for transformative praxis.

Dr. Nirmala Erevelles is Professor of Social and Cultural Studies in Education at the University of Alabama. Her teaching and research interests lie in the areas of disability studies, critical race theory, transnational feminism, sociology of education, and postcolonial studies. Specifically, her research focuses on the unruly, messy, unpredictable, and taboo body—a habitual outcast in educational (and social) contexts. She is the author of Disability and Difference in Global Contexts: Towards a Transformative Body Politic (Palgrave 2012).

Transcript

ANGELA SMITH: I’m going to go ahead and get started. I would like to welcome everyone to the University of Utah Disability Studies Lecture, sponsored by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the University of Utah’s Disability Studies Program, and its School for Cultural and Social Transformation, known as Transform.

We are delighted to have you all here with us, and we are thrilled that tonight’s lecture will be given by Dr. Nirmala Erevelles of the University of Alabama.

My name is Angela Smith, and I am the director of Disability Studies at the University of Utah. I use she/her pronouns. I’ll give a brief visual description: I am a white woman with long straight brown hair, wearing a blue shirt against a virtual background showing the Gardner Commons building at the U of U, behind a lot of green foliage.

I acknowledge that the land where I am, named for the Ute tribe, is the traditional and ancestral homeland of the Shoshone, Paiute, Goshute, and Ute tribes. The University of Utah recognizes and respects the enduring relationship that exists between many Indigenous Peoples and their traditional homelands.

We respect the sovereign relationship between tribes, states, and the federal government, and we affirm the University of Utah’s commitment to a partnership with Native nations and Urban Indian communities through research, education, and community outreach activities.

This event is a Zoom webinar. We welcome our ASL interpreters, Klaryne and Melody. The event is set to gallery view to show their videos throughout. We also welcome our captioner, Denise. If you click the “CC” icon at the bottom of the screen, or click “more” and then CC, you can select “live transcript” or “show subtitle.” Thank you to our interpreters and captioner for their work this evening.

The chat will not be available for this event. However, we do have the capacity to ask questions of Dr. Erevelles for the Q&A following the lecture. The Q&A will be visible to panelists only. You may enter a question at any point in the talk; after it is answered, your question may be made visible to all attendees. We will get to as many questions as we have time for in the Q&A.

This event is being recorded and registrants will be emailed a link to the recording when it is available. You can also look for the recording on the U of U transform YouTube channel or the Transform home page: transform.utah.edu.

Before we start, I’d like to offer immense gratitude to those who’ve made this event possible. A big thank you goes to the Dean of Transform, Dr. Kathryn Stockton, for her constant and continuing support of Disability Studies.

Thank you to our amazing Assistant Dean, Estela Hernandez, for all her work in organizing and running this webinar! Thank you also to Kaya and Eunice from our wonderful EDI team, for their promotional support and technical advice.

And boundless gratitude, as always, to my fabulous colleague in Disability Studies, Dr. Lezlie Frye. I’m now going to hand over to Lezlie, who will introduce us to tonight’s speaker.

LEZLIE FRYE: Thank you Angela, can you hear me? Hi, everyone, I’m a white queer with boxy brown glasses, asymmetrical hair, a denim button down, and some book-friends and sunlight behind me.

It really is my distinct honor to welcome Nirmala Erevelles for our annual Disability Studies Lecture. She is Associate Professor of Social and Cultural Studies in Education at the University of Alabama. Her research and teaching have meaningfully contributed to an impressive range of scholarly fields, including disability studies, critical race theory, transnational feminism, sociology of education, postcolonial studies, carceral studies, and more.

In Nirmala’s words, she has focused on the “the unruly, messy, unpredictable, and taboo body, a habitual outcast in educational (and social) contexts,” contexts that she’s explored at the site of schools, prisons, courtrooms; in transnational economic policies, sex education curriculum, care/work relations; and at the sites of war, exploitation, and slavery.

Nirmala’s 2012 book, Disability and Difference in a Global Context: Towards a Transformative Body Politic, is an essential text in the field of disability studies, one which deeply troubled the existing framework of the field upon its publishing, but also remains an emergent source of new directions in the field today.

The book, which was awarded the Critic’s Choice award from the American Educational Studies Association, directs our attention to the social and economic production of disability on a global scale, the conditions of structural violence that call into question celebrations of disability as a fixed identity or a site of political citizenship.

Nirmala also offers a foundational theorization of Blackness and disability, which I revisit at least annually, figuring transformative possibilities through what she calls a historical-materialist analysis of disability, one that centers the brutal violence unleashed on captive flesh. Her early methodological commitments to this approach, here and in other iterations of her research, shaped what was later termed the “materialist turn” in disability studies.

Her book has retained an almost uninterrupted place among the half dozen or so books that there’s room for on my desk for years, while others cycle in and out as I write and teach, for its utility and importance to how I think and what I need to remember in order to remain accountable to the communities and politics that matter most to me.

Nirmala’s contribution to the field of education and the sub-genre of DisCrit, critical disability studies in education, deserve special mention. She has brought her characteristic incisive analysis to bear on special education (which she theorizes as a post-colonial ghetto); on the production of the cognitively disabled subject; the policies and curriculum around sex education; and the historical practices of segregation in contemporary schooling.

Articles like “Crippin’ Jim Crow,” for example, an early topic in our disability studies reading group, also further develop the field of carceral studies. Theorizing the role of disability in materializing the school-to-prison pipeline, Nirmala calls for investments in empowerment over racialized discipline.

Nirmala has been doing such political-relational, intersectional analysis of race, disability, caste, class, gender, and sexuality before those key words were more popularly legible and well before disability studies gained the kind of institutional recognition that would allow for a division like the one we have here at Transform.

She has an incredible knack for queerly reading real-life moments through this lens, both the quotidian interpersonal matters of living under racial capitalism, and the large-scale popular and catastrophic events that shape these smaller moments.

Nirmala’s research, and her dedication to teaching, which has been formally recognized, is matched by her embodied practices of collaboration. This takes shape in her commitment to mentorship, her practice of positioning herself ethically and fluidly within her scholarship, her consistent engagement with grassroots social movements, and her unwavering skillfulness and generosity as a colleague.

I would argue that we need such models of solidarity within academia as well as outside of it. Indeed, as we face the unfolding crises of climate and health injustice, proliferating austerity politics, and the accompanying opportunism of disaster capitalism, we are in desperate need of rich theoretical and practical approaches to the normalization and mutation of these forms of structural violence. To that end, Nirmala’s work offers a pressing case for transnational solidarity.

It is my absolute pleasure to welcome you, Nirmala.

NIRMALA EREVELLES: Thank you, Lezlie. I’m a little overcome right now because your wonderful introduction. Actually, it’s something I needed right now to feel a little more confidence. So thank you so much for this.

And I’m going to try in my talk to deserve as much of it as possible. I’m a South Asian woman with reddish brown hair, shoulder length. I’m wearing glasses, and I have a black cardigan, and the back of me are some pictures in my office where there’s some interesting light passing through the window.

Before I start my presentation, I also specifically wanted to thank Angela and Lezlie, and actually Estela, too, because I just realized we would have been in communication since 2019, when I was supposed to come literally a month after we had the pandemic and everything got shut down. But it was also really… a lot of stuff has happened over those last two years, both personally in my life and around the world.

So, I wanted to also mark that as a moment of both respect, silence, and acknowledgment of sadness, because the fact that I can do this again after a year and a half is itself, I see, some sort of — like some sort of like miraculous moment that we could all be in the space together. So, I just wanted to mark that as a moment.

My paper today is, as you can see in the title, is “Disability, Eco-injustice, and Transnational Solidarity.” I was going to read my paper, because I can talk really fast, and I thought it would be more accessible. But I’ll try to read in a way that draws you in, I hope. I’m going to start my paper with a quote from Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha. In this quote, Leah writes:

When the wind blew from Norton’s ceramic abrasive tile plant, you wanted to puke at my school, 500 yards away. Every year, another teacher came down with alopecia. Another teacher got breast or colon cancer. I was nineteen when my mother was diagnosed with stage four ovarian cancer…. The first girl I ever kissed grew up in Leicester, where there was a little uranium leak in the 80s. She found out she had invasive cervical cancer at 28, in her first pap smear in ten uninsured years.

This quote is from the author of Care Work, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, a Toronto- and Oakland-based poet, writer, educator, and social activist. Her writing and performance art documents the stories of queer and trans people of color, abuse survivors, mixed-race people, and diasporic South Asians and Sri Lankans who are already building, and I quote, actually, this is a quote from Eli Clare, “radically resilient sustainable communities of liberation,” supporting this “wildly liberating vision of disability justice.”

I want to be very careful here about appropriating this term “disability justice,” a term that was coined by the original disability justice community, Patty Berne, Leroy Moore, Mia Mingus, Eli Clare, Sebastian Margaret, and, of course, Piepzna-Samarasinha, activists who have done much to create an intersectional revolutionary disability politics.

Disability justice, as envisioned by this collective, is not the sort of organized, dreary, ideologue-ish, pragmatic, and pedantic notion of justice that is bandied around in progressive academic circles for academic honors and academic accolades. Instead, there is a gritty materiality embodied in this movement work that Piepzna-Samarasinha describes as follows:

You wanna know how you’ll know if you are doing disability justice? You’ll know you’re doing it because people will show up late, someone will vomit, someone will have a panic attack, and nothing will happen on time because the ramp is broken on the supposedly ‘accessible’ building. You won’t meet your benchmarks on time, or ever. We won’t be grateful to be included; we will want to set our own agenda. And what our leadership looks may include long sick or crazy leaves, being nuts in public, or needing to empty an ostomy bag and being on Vicodin at work. It’s slow. It’s people even the most social-justice minded abled folks stare at or get freaked out by. It looks like what many mainstreamed people have been taught to think of as failure. (Care Work 124)

In the two quotes cited in this essay, Piepzna-Samarasinha foregrounds how disability appears dialectically as both limit and possibility. On one hand, as the inevitable consequence of eco(in)justice, disability is cast as pathological, thus requiring its own erasure as an act of justice. On the other hand, disability justice constitutes disability as — and I quote from the Care book — “a set of innovative virtuosic skills… [with] the commitment to not leaving each other behind” (126) resulting in the “crip art of failure (124)” that nevertheless makes the case for “crip futures” (240) as radical possibility.

This possibility, however, is indeed the provocation for this essay/presentation. Does this then mean that the proliferation of disability as an outcome of eco(in)justice is justifiable? And if disability is one of the “natural” consequences of eco(in)justice, then how have environmental justice activists engaged disability?

Additionally, recognizing the ethical commitment that the founders of disability justice have to foreground how ableism is intimately interrelated with heteropatriarchy, white supremacy, colonialism and capitalism, then what are the implications of this recognition for transnational solidarity against eco(in)justice?

I argue here that disability (justice)/eco(in)justice and transnational solidarity are all concepts that exceed the dialectic as I described earlier. Moreover, while these concepts remain in productive tension with each other within the analytic of intersectionality, I also argue that that it may be necessary to move beyond the intersectional (most distinctly articulated via Annamma, Connor, & Ferri’s tenets of DisCrit) to witness how vectors of difference, in this case race, class, caste, and disability, are mutually constitutive of each other, an argument I have made in my re-reading of Hortense Spillers’ iconic essay, “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe: An American Grammar Book,” via a critical disability studies lens.

This analytic turn from the intersectional foregrounds a transnational historical materialist theorization of disability that marks the social production — not the social construction, but the social production of disability — as the extractive by-product of transnational capitalism, in a manner similar to how Kathryn Yusoff (2018) framed “the Anthropocene in the alchemy of race and geology as a calculus of extraction” (105). And this was a quote from Yusoff.

Thus, rather than merely refusing pathological inscriptions of disability, not only within discourses of eco(in)justice, but also in the more radical discourses of Yusoff’s “Black Anthropocene,” I call attention to the labor that disability is called to do when deployed by oppressive forces, but also as it opens up transformative possibilities for solidarity.

I argue here that both oppressive and progressive forces within eco(in)justice/transnational capitalism exploit disability, constituting it as “social death” – a status that is not “reducible to the capital-labor relation” (Wang 2018) because it’s even outside of that, but is rather “marked as disposable/superfluous to capitalism.”

My argument starts with the recognition of how disability is, in fact, at the very heart of the constitutive politics of race, class, gender and eco(in)justice, as mediated through the imperialistic practices of transnational capitalism, and it is these practices that can be disrupted for us to imagine transnational solidarity for ecojustice.

The locus of this argument, as you may have guessed, is transnational. I foreground the ecological/economic injustices that unfolded in two cities: Bhopal, the capital city of the state of Madhya Pradesh, in India, and the impoverished city of Flint, Michigan, USA. Separated by space and time (nearly 30 years apart), both cities have experienced unimaginable environmental disasters that have had long-term effects on the embodied futures of their citizens.

On December 2, 1984, the Union Carbide Plant that manufactured pesticides in Bhopal leaked 40 tons of deadly methyl isocynate, also known as MIC, gas into the night air, killing thousands of people, while thousands of others acquired cancers, illnesses, and injuries. Nearly 30 years later, around April 2014, residents of Flint, Michigan complained that the red brackish water from their kitchen faucets was producing rashes and other allergic reactions.

Simultaneously, a local pediatrician noticed that children were testing positive for dangerously high levels of lead in their bloodstream. In both cases, the people most brutally affected were those who were the most marginalized, with most of those who survived acquiring life-long physical and intellectual impairments.

In Bhopal, more than 130,000 residents, most of them Dalits and Muslims living in the slums that directly faced the Union Carbide Plant, became the unwitting victims at the epicenter of that disaster. In the already economically depressed city of Flint, the city that became famous by the film Roger & Me, 55% of the city’s population is Black, with more than 40% of the entire population living below the poverty line.

These conditions of poverty led to the inevitability that both communities also had little or no access to the already deplorable health care, rehabilitation, and education that has only served to further exacerbate their precarious embodied futures.

While much has been written about the eco(in)justices in these two cities separately, there has been very little done to map out the continuities and discontinuities of the ways in which disaster capitalism in transnational contexts separates and divides communities collectively brutalized in its wake. Further, much of the published literature fails to recognize that, in these contexts, disability proliferates.

When disability is recognized in these contexts, these writers tend to treat it as a pathological condition, and thus fail to engage disability as a historical category forged at the intersections of race, caste, and class by the violence of disaster capitalism. Thus, I will draw on “contemporary materialist postcolonial criticism” to explain how the story of environmental (in)justice is tied to racialized, classed, caste-ist and ableist “histories of segregation, abandonment and the relationships among people, property and capital” and discuss the implications for transformative praxis.

The picture that I have here is of the factory after it was burned down. And there were some statistics I shouldn’t have put on the screen, because even I can barely read them. I apologize for that on the screen.

Bhopal, Madya Pradesh, on December 3rd, 1984, at 12:40 a.m: the deadly gas MIC busted out of the pipes in the Union Carbide Plant in Bhopal and spread over the sleeping city, killing some people and impairing others.

Union Carbide, a “respected” US based company, produced petro-chemicals, industrial gasses, metals and carbon products, consumer products, specialty products, and technology services: chemicals that are called upon to destroy other matter-out-of-place, a term that has also been associated with disability. It was losing money because the pesticide market was getting crowded, with companies such as Dupont & Monsanto, among others, and, in an attempt to diversify, decided to expand the Bhopal factory to manufacture five pesticide components including MIC.

Establishing these new technologies made these plants more hazardous, especially since it was located in what would be termed a “light industrial use” area. In the 1970s, the city population grew exponentially with migration from the rural areas. Shortage of housing allowed for the growth of shanty towns around the plant, but there was little knowledge that this plant was potentially dangerous. Rather, most of the people living in these shanty towns, with little formal education, presumed that the chemicals manufactured here kept plants healthy. They were fertilizers, after all.

What caused the disaster was a series of human and technological errors. Some malfunctioning caused water used to flush pipes into the MIC tank. Here, the water combined with the MIC to produce a hot and highly pressurized mixture of gas, fuel, and liquid that escaped though the plant’s stack into the atmosphere. Additionally, when the gas escaped into the night, the state officials called to the site advised people to run, rather than to lie on the ground with faces covered with wet clothes.

Before the week was over 3000 people had died and more than 30,000 were affected by the deadly poison. And then, I’ve moved to another slide, where you can see on one side, on the right-hand side, you see a man holding a chart, a huge placard with photos of all the people who are either dead or missing. And on the left side — oh, actually I may have messed up, on my left side you saw that. On my right side, there are slogans that are basically calling, complaining about how badly both the international as well as the national response has been to the issues. These numbers were, however, highly disputed, because it is hard to count people who were unaccounted for in census data. Uncounted bodies are disposable bodies. Further, the dead were cremated quickly, and there was no organizational infrastructure to do this counting.

Better counting occurred regarding those who survived, numbering around 300,000, many of them having to deal with respiratory illnesses, bronchitis, pneumonia, asthma, gastrointestinal problems, neuromuscular problems. About 60,000 had severe impairments, and 40,000 more had a mild to moderate disability. The long-term harm destroyed standing vegetation, and yet government officials insisted that fruits and vegetables and even water was deemed safe, even though not much was known about this.

In 1989 after many years of deliberation, the Indian supreme court ordered the Union Carbide corporation to pay 470 million dollars in damages, which, according to legal experts as reported by the New York Times, seemed a “reasonable response,” even though the initial court case had sued for 3.3 billion dollars in damages. Ironically, stock in Union Carbide rose by 2 dollars on the day of the settlement.

It then fell to the Indian government to distribute this sum to the more than 500,000 claimants. Disability played a significant role in this demarcation, such that monetary value was affixed to a sliding scale of disability. 30,000 people were identified as “permanently disabled,” were allotted approximately $5,200. 20,000 people identified as ‘temporarily disabled’ were allotted $3,215. A final medical category, for people who had suffered injuries of “the utmost severity,” would be the basis for up to $25,000 in compensation.

At some point, though, when one leading politician, in an effort to garner votes, suggested at least $200 to be paid to all patients, then people who were not victims of the disaster came forward to claim money. What eventually happened, then, was that “victims were no longer identified by scientific standards for medico-legal documentation but by political considerations” — and this is a quote from a writer — that served to undermine the utility of disability in these determinations. That’s what I mean by the labor of disability, in my argument.

On February 15, 2019, nearly 30 years after this environmental genocide, it is reported that 574,000 people were poisoned and almost 5300 were killed. Court cases are still pending. Union Carbide is now wholly owned by Dow Chemical.

Flint, Michigan — and it’s basically, we’ll basically see this container which looks like liquid gold, and it’s in kind of like a plastic paper, and the liquid gold is actually contaminated water. If you watched the film Roger and Me, you know about how the powerful corporate giant General Motors impoverished this small town in Michigan, a mere four driving hours from the urban expanse of Detroit.

But as Malini Ranganathan has pointed out, Flint’s troubles began long before GM. In her article, “Thinking with Flint: Racial Liberalism and the Roots of an American Water Tragedy,” Ranganathan describes how, and I quote, “racialized property underlay the city’s financial duress, abandonment, and poisoned infrastructure.”

Describing how the FHA, that’s Federal Housing Association, from the 1930s to 1970s denied “high-risk” neighborhoods federally-backed loans, by instructing their appraisers to manipulate numbers to ensure a D grade, Ranganathan describes how the everyday practices of a racialized liberalism ensured that “the infiltration of a lower grade population” — this is a quote [Highsmith, 2015, 40] — was kept away from rapidly expanding white suburbs and were restricted to decrepit houses and poorer transportation and utility services.

By 2014, nearly half of Flint’s 100,000 residents lived below the poverty level. The city of Flint had been receiving water from the Detroit Water and Sanitation Department since 1967, where its water costs were comparable to many of the other suburbs served by the DWSD. It was, however, only in 2013 that the city was called out for an unprecedented rise in its water bill from an average of $27.17 to $59.37.

In efforts to address a nine million deficit facing Flint’s water supply fund, governor Rick Snyder, instituted an emergency management system, switching the city’s water supply to Karegnondi Water Authority (KWA), citing costs less than 25% of the projected water costs. The native Huron-Petun people referred to Lake Huron as Karegnondi, which literally means “where the mouth of the river opens or pours out.” But the KWA was yet to be built and thus the decision was made to switch to the Flint River, in the interim.

This switch occurred despite the fact that it was common knowledge that the Flint River had already been tainted by decades of industrial dumping by GM and other industries lining its banks. Jason Stanley writes that what was not common knowledge was that KWA needed about 3000 million dollars to build its own pipeline and thus it was assumed that Governor Snyder was intending to use the money generated by the switch to help this effort.

Another motivation Stanley pointed to was the move to privatize DWSD and sell it to the French company Veolia. Malini Ranganathan argues that unelected managers used the neoliberal language of fiscal austerity to justify this switch. Flint’s eviscerated property tax base simply could not support a costly and apparently life-supporting water system.

Here, Flint is framed and punished as if — in some ways, it’s also pathologized — as if it were a financially reckless individual, while structural and historical causes of its financial duress are thoroughly masked. With its credit ratings slashed and simultaneously residential water rates have been hiked to meet austerity standards, Flint residents have been demonized, blamed for not paying their water bills and for living in foreclosed properties.

The costs needed to replace these pipes is estimated at $1.5 billion. There is no timetable by EPA to fix this in the near future. Meanwhile, nearly 6000 of Flint’s children have been exposed to drinking and bathing in hazardous waste and their food has also been washed in this hazardous waste.

According to the CDC, “[e]xperts now use a reference level of 5 micrograms per deciliter to identify children with blood lead levels that are much higher than most children’s levels.” But according to the US-based EPA, actionable level for lead is 15 parts of lead per billion parts of water, or ppb, whereas for the World Health Organization (WHO), the maximum lead level is 10 ppb. However, when testing water samples in Flint, it was found that the drinking-water samples all had extremely high lead levels, between 200 to 13,200 ppbs. Water containing more than 5,000 ppbs of lead exceeds criteria that classifies water as a hazardous waste.

The effects of long-term lead poisoning are devastating, leading to a variety of health problems in kids, including decreased bone and muscle growth, poor muscle coordination, damage to the nervous system, kidneys, and/or hearing, speech and language problems, developmental delay, seizures and unconsciousness, in cases of extremely high lead levels, and last but not least, and I’m putting that in quotes, “behavioral challenges.”

Harriet Washington reports on Baltimore’s high lead density homes where 37,500 children also have high lead content. In fact, the Kennedy-Krieger Institute associated with Johns Hopkins encouraged landlords of 125 lead-tainted houses to rent to families with small children and gave them grants to work on lead abatement but only on condition that they get families with small children to live in these homes. In other words, they were putting children in harm’s way to prove that lead poisoning is dangerous to children. It’s taken more than eight years for this case to be resolved in 2001, where the judge found for the families. According to the judge, of course, using children as biological monitors is ethically indefensible. However, in 2016, a study found that 5.7 million children of color continue to live within a mile of a toxic facility.

Public health pressure on industrial polluters has been largely supplanted by a focus on laboratory science and the mantra of personal responsibility. And in doing so ignores the “real racial segregation, poverty, inequality, and poor housing and instead urges people to live cleaner, more healthful lives.” Washington writes, and I quote, “Getting rid of lead poisoning would entail getting rid of poverty and the slums and, as such, become just another way of pathologizing Black Americans and poor people, rather than focusing how lead gas, lead paint, and lead-coated toys were spontaneously generated in these slums.”

Ellen Griffith Spears, who’s actually a colleague in my university, points out that environmental degradation thrives in a culture that also values militarism. Spears describes how Anniston, Alabama, with its soil saturated by pcbs courtesy of Monsanto, also hosts a disproportionate share of the US military’s hazardous environmental legacy. Here, it is possible to see how war exacts a profound toll on human health and the geophysical environment, even in places untouched by physical combat. Here, the American chemical industry nurtured the symbolic association of chemicals with national pride to ensure continued government support and public acceptance of Monsanto and pcbs.

Presently there are on-going protests by the Black community in Anniston, as they negotiate for more substantial settlements, as so many in their community have been diagnosed with cancer, infertility, and many chronic illnesses. This is my “disability as colonial/racialized oppression.” Claire Barker and Stuart Murray have argued that, and I quote, ““[the] history of colonialism (and its post/neocolonial aftermath) is indeed a history of mass disablement” (230). The examples I described just now support this assertation.

Most critically, disability here is not an apolitical construct, the embodiment of natural difference. Instead, here, disability is a historical materialist construct, its production occurring amidst what disaster specialists term “complex emergencies” that include “mixtures of civil strife, famines, genocidal activities, epidemics, and large-scale displacement and movement of refugees.”

Thus, Carrigan argues that, and I quote,

These experiences are centrally implicated in the production of disability, which in many post-colonial states is a constitutive feature of community life. Not only do physical and psychological disabilities proliferate in disaster zones, but people with disabilities also represent one of the highest risk categories in terms of vulnerability to disasters [as is now evidenced in the recent Russian aggression against Ukraine] — a point that is especially true of economically under-privileged postcolonial states in which medical care and institutional support networks are often lacking. (255-6)

It is for these reasons that Jampel has argued for theorizing disability as a process that includes the interaction between the social construction and the social production of disability. The social construction of disability refers to the ways language and culture shape ideas of what bodies and minds are ‘normal’ and the ways in which ideas about the normal lead to social conditions in which people are “handicapped,” disabled or whatever by their environments.

Social production, on the other hand, refers to the ways in which historical processes, ranging from human reproduction and genetic variation to the development of industry, have led to the diversity of human bodies and minds. And these are what I would call material differences.

Socially produced difference includes both embodied difference as well as affective difference to describe the physical pain of aching joints following years of labor, the effects of radiation exposure on a growing fetus, and the changes in brains exposed to different levels of lead.

In the Indian context, ironically, disability is conceived of as socially produced even though this notion of disability does not apply to disabled people themselves. For example, the tests applying to classify certain people as “untouchables” in 1931 used the following language:

“Whether the caste or class in question is merely depressed on account of its ignorance, illiteracy, or poverty and but for that would be subject to no social disability.”

Or, “Whether it would be depressed on account of the occupation, followed and whether but for that occupation it would be subject to no social disability.” (Revankar 108)

Thus while “other” bodies are conceived of as disabled in order to alleviate their disability, disabled bodies themselves in this Indian context are subject to that same logic of eradication that can range from medical attempts to enact cure to the actual extermination of disability through violence that includes applied behavioral analysis, eugenics, and murder.

Here it is possible to note the argument I had made early on in this presentation about the labor that disability is called upon to do by transnational capitalism and a kind of capitalist neoliberal state. The other labor that disability is called to do is the ways it has been deployed to justify violence against other bodies. This is why possible alliances between other “othered” bodies are often fraught, since disability conceived of as pathological difference has been deployed to justify this violence.

Thus, for example, read how Spiller’s depiction of the violence of slavery is co-constitutive of race, gender, and disability. In other words, you can actually see the production of race, gender, and disability in this code.

The smack of the whip is all day long in the ears of those who are on the plantation, or in the vicinity; and it is used with such dexterity and severity so as not only to lacerate the skin, but to tear out small portions of the flesh at almost every stake. (221)

I have argued elsewhere that this historical moment of the marking of the flesh is the exact moment of “becoming,” where disabled bodies become Black at the very moment when Black bodies become disabled. Similarly, Michelle Alexander points to a social production of “blackness” and “disability” when she writes in The New Jim Crow:

For black youth, the experience of being “made black” often begins with the first police stop, interrogation, search, or arrest. The experience carries social meaning — this is what it means to be black…. For the racial caste system to succeed, black people must be labeled criminals before they are formally subject to control. Thus black youth must be made — labeled — criminals. This process of being made a criminal is, to a large extent, the process of ‘becoming’ black. (194-5)

Here, once again, disability is invoked as pathological difference without even recognizing the crucial labor that is appropriated by oppressive structures of violence via transnational practices of capital. And, additionally, these invocations of disability as pathological difference is very central to the production and enablement of empire. This has been vividly described by Jasbir Puar, in her book The Right to Maim, where she, and I quote: “The Israeli state manifests an implicit claim to the ‘right to maim’ and debilitate Palestinian bodies as a form of biopolitical control and as central to the scientifically authorized humanitarian economy” (128). Puar calls this a “speculative rehabilitative economy” of debilitation (129), “marking the shift from the production of populations available for injury to the targeting of populations to be injured ….where the idea is to shoot in order to cripple” (129). Here, “maiming results in the dual production of permanent disability via the infliction of harm and the attrition of life support systems that might allow populations to heal from harm” (143). This is also a quote from Puar.

While Puar invokes the Foucaultian conceptualization of biopolitics and the Deleuzian construct of assemblage to support her conceptual shift from disability to debility, my own project is a little different. My argument conceives of disability as a historical materialist construct whose labor is appropriated in the production of, or more specifically, as constitutive of, difference.

In other words, my project makes the production of disability central to the maintenance of empire and its violent ideologies and practices of anti-Blackness, imperialist practices of extraction, exploitation, and appropriation, and the brutal necropolitics that include “the right to maim.” Yet, even though disability is central to the production of empire, it is invoked as an inevitable pathology, the outcome of this unspeakable violence.

For example, Kathryn Yusoff’s project in her book, A Billion Black Anthropocenes or None, describes how the humanist project articulated via the Anthropocene is dependent on a virulent materialist construction of anti-blackness that invokes a particular notion of disability.

She argues for the necessity to, and I quote,

understand blackness as a historically constituted and intentionally enacted deformation in the formation of subjectivity, a deformation that presses an inhuman categorization and the inhuman earth into intimacy. This contact point of geographical proximity with the earth was constructed specifically as a node of extraction of properties [which is the materiality that she’s really talking about] and personhood. At the same time, this forced intimacy with the inhuman was repurposed for survival and formed into a praxis for remaking other selves that were built in the harshest of conditions. The proximity of black and brown bodies to harm in this intimacy with the inhuman is what I call the Black Anthropocene. It is an inhuman proximity organized by historical geographies of extraction, grammars of geology, imperial global geographies, and contemporary environmental racism. It is predicated on the presumed absorbent qualities [that’s the pathologization that she’s referring to] of black and brown bodies to take up the body burdens of exposure to toxicities and to buffer that violence of the earth. Literally stretching across the seismic fault lines of the earth, the Black Anthropocene subtends white geology as a material stratum.

I cited this quote in full so that you could catch the rhythms in this poetic prose where disability is an absent presence that both exemplifies, as well as is exemplified, in the act of extraction for both oppressive and transformative purposes. I argue here that both oppressive and progressive forces within eco(in)justice/transnational capitalism exploit disability, constituting it as “social death,” a status that is not only “reducible to capital-labor relation, but is also marked as disposable/superfluous to capitalism”.

Herein lies the contradiction. My argument starts with the recognition of how disability is, in fact, at the very heart of the constitutive politics of race, class, caste, gender, and eco(in)justice as mediated through the exploitative structures and imperialistic practices of transnational capitalism, and it is to these practices and structures that need to be disrupted in order for us to construct transformative practices of transnational solidarity for ecojustice.

I have just a couple more pages, am I doing okay on time? I guess so. I’m just going to finish it. Okay.

I especially appreciate Jina Kim’s dissertation, “Anatomy of the City: Race, Infrastructure, and U.S. Fictions of Dependency,” where she takes up my argument that disability is more than a singular identity, but rather disabled subjectivities are constituted via the social and economic transformations wrought by global capitalism. But then, Jina Kim adds a brilliant nuance to my argument. Kim introduces the concept of infrastructure into the exploration of the anatomy of the city, where infrastructure refers not just to “equipment, facilities, services, and supporting structures” (Yaeger 15), but also “organized systems like healthcare, emergency services, education, and law enforcement” (Yamashita 57). All these services that are in Kim’s words, “indelibly tied to a city’s well-being.”

Kim argues that “[r]ather than viewing race, gender, and disability as entirely conceptual or epistemological formations, or effects of the perceived social world,” Kim demonstrates how infrastructure and its aesthetics of dependency register the impact of resource deprivation on racialized and minoritized bodies, what Lisa Lowe has called the ‘material trace of history’” (26). Kim then asks, “Who is supported by infrastructure? Who is disabled by it? And which subjects, through the forceful extraction of their unseen and unvalued labor, become the scaffolding, the living infrastructure, for others’ fantasies of independence?” (5). This is also a quote from Kim.

The arguments I have just made here answer some of those questions regarding the production of disability within this context. But I also intend to follow another strand of Kim’s argument regarding how state infrastructure creates a discourse of dependency that utilizes the labor of disability to shift its own failures onto bodies who have been most harmed by this violence. In Kim’s feminist crip of color critique, they foreground the over-used and violent trope of

the welfare queen who only becomes legible as a rhetorical figure and epistemological object through narratives of disability: she is defined necessarily as a pathological mother, a social aberrancy to be [excuse me] rehabilitated through workfare programs. Through her alleged inability to mother, work or (re)produce properly, she furnishes a useful story for global capitalism to propagate itself through the dismantling of social safety networks. In this way, the discourse of the welfare queen operates as the definitive disability narrative of late capitalism, a cautionary tale of state dependency that enabled the reallocation of public resources towards elite interests. This is a crip of color critique.

In contrast to this clearly debilitating image, Kim draws on disability justice activists from working-class communities of color who have refused these shaming monikers of dependency and, instead, envisioned environmental and social justice in terms of interdependency. Here, I’m referring to Alison Kafer’s more inclusive notion of “cripkin” that, she writes,

might be particularly useful frames for extending our theoretical imaginings, whether thinking through the necessity of imagining kin differently in the age of climate change, or reckoning with the ways in which kinship networks have been pathologized, decimated, and destroyed through slavery, mass incarceration, settler colonialism, and eugenics.

In other words, building coalitions of solidarity that can be transformative would require that we theorize cripkin as a site of power, friction, and potentiality that still holds through with Sins Invalid’s (that’s the disability justice grassroots organization) conceptualization of justice: And I’m just reading this quote, and I’ll be ending after this quote:

The histories of white supremacy and ableism are inextricably entwined, both forged in the crucible of colonial conquest and capitalist domination. We cannot comprehend ableism without grasping its interrelations with heteropatriarchy, white supremacy, colonialism and capitalism, each system co-creating an ideal bodymind built upon the exclusion and elimination of a subjugated ‘other’ from whom profits and status are extracted. 500+ years of violence against black and brown communities includes 500+ years of bodies and minds deemed dangerous by being nonnormative, again, not simply within able-bodied normativity, but also within the violence of heteronormativity, white supremacy, gender normativity, within which our various bodies and multiple communities have been deemed ‘deviant,’ ‘unproductive,’ and ‘invalid.’ (Sins Invalid 2016, 13–14)

If we see how eco(in)justice is shaped by these inter-related violence, then our response is to challenge the infrastructures and actual material practices that fail us and through interdependent practices of care we can build a solidarity movement that is transformative.

I’m really sorry I took really long [laughing], and I hope we still have time for questions.

ANGELA SMITH: That was wonderful, Nirmala, thank you, Nirmala, so much. And it really did strike me in the two years of pandemic that have elapsed since we started planning your visit here — the one that we had to cancel, at the start of the pandemic — I think this complex thinking-through of disability in relation to race and class and colonialism, and its relationship to eco-injustice, it’s all just become more evident and urgent than ever.

So, I really appreciate you helping put some of that into focus tonight and attending to all of the layers that are so important in understanding disability in the contemporary context. So, thank you. We are going to make space now for further conversation and questions. So, I would like to invite folks to put questions into the Q&A, and Lezlie and I will take turns reading out those questions, so that Nirmala might address them.

So, I’m going first to a question from Rua Williams: “How do we move from registering disablement through ecological violence as some sort of natural consequence of naturalized poverty, to recognizing survivors of ecological violence as embodied evidence of that violence, a living body of proof and condemnation of neo-liberal colonial white supremacist violence? But, also, how do we figure those who have been maimed as survivors of violence, without reifying the moral model of disability: survivors are not simply the consequence of society’s moral failure?

NIRMALA EREVELLES: Wow, thank you, Rua Williams, and fabulous question. And that is precisely actually the tension that I am trying to work through in this paper, actually, in my broader book, which this is going to be a chapter in this book, which I’m calling, I’m talking about “cripping empire.”

Because I’m making the argument that disability is very central in the production of empire but without a way of, exactly as you put it, I just love the way you put it, disability doesn’t have to be an embodiment of moral failure, while at the same time it should not in any way erase the reality of what happens. And that’s when I have been trying to work through, which is what I want to foreground this argument, that I want to render visible the labor, to literally render visible, that’s what I’m calling the labor the disability is now caused to do. In some ways, it’s been appropriated by capital to use it in these ways, taking it out of the realm of, say, those of us who are really committed to intersectional materialist analysis of disability.

This work is also in a way of trying to reclaim it. When you read stuff on eco-injustice, I mean, disability gets precisely used as this means — like when I had that picture about, when I was talking about disability as spectacle. Disability is used as spectacles particularly in these disasters. And, so, we have to really work to unframe it. And that’s why even in this really cool work by Yusoff that I haven’t read, I’ve just started the book, and I was reading it, and I was finding their work so useful about the Black Anthropocene, the lack of engagement with what this would mean when you start producing this — when you start engaging with these notions of, what you would say, you know, are all like all the pathologizing aspects that are so almost casually linked to disability without any question.

So that’s why the other — That’s why I also think that, like, I appreciated that we could now move from the social construction of disability by really talking about the social production of disability because then disability doesn’t become just an example, but it becomes a way of us from shifting it particularly — That’s why I was also citing Jina Kim’s work because of her shifting to the infrastructures that then create these forms of embodiment. And in my — some of my other work I’ve also really been pushing about, like, I really love Alison Kafer’s question that has also been done by a lot of people in disability studies, the idea of disability futurity.

Because I felt when I wrote my book that Lezlie was — like, there was a part of me at the end of my book, like, the book on disability in the global context, that I felt that I would fall precisely into the critique that, Rua, you just offered. And I was like I need to be able to, I need to be able to in some ways — my second book was in the way of engaging precisely that argument about how do we presume crip futures, which is not just kind of like a discursive breaking of normative?

But we can imagine crip futures within eco-justice, anti-capitalist and anti-black and the violence that’s now being enacted around gender identities in my state of Alabama. And how do we imagine crip — like crip futures, that is broader than a certain embodied narrowness that happened before. I’m sorry if I… I hope I answered it somewhat. And, actually, I’m trying to answer it in my book. So, thank you for the question.

ANGELA SMITH: I can go to this next question here which takes us in a quite different direction. From Jose Sandez: I have a master’s degree in political science, in particular international relations, but I would like to get into the field of disability studies, specifically research. What advice would you give someone in my position that wants to break into the field?

NIRMALA EREVELLES: Oh. I’m not a political scientist, and have a degree in international relations, but actually, you have an awesome opportunity, Jose, of asking the fundamental questions of who is the subject citizen in these fields, because political science, they all constitute a subject that is very normative.

So, the minute — actually, the first time I ever articulated my own argument on disability, when I was a graduate student, I was taking a political science class. And I kept hearing like we were talking about how to claim political — it was a very radical class — and we were talking about racialized radical third-world subjectivities, but they were constituting the subjectivities in opposition to this notion of disability. And I was just a grad student. I was just introduced to this notion of disability as a social — as this social construct, as a category that is produced, and this notion of the norm.

And I even dared, arrogant that I was as a 20-year-old, which I may not do right now — even dared asked the question about what would it mean if the subject was not — it wasn’t so sophisticated, but — why wouldn’t you allow a disabled subject any kind of presence in that space? And, of course, it was dismissed. They were, like, but that’s not the issue. Disabled people get help. They were very able to apply a charity model to disability.

So, for you to you really break into it, take courses in disability studies and start asking the questions about who is the normative subject in political science and international relations, and also what kind of language they use. How do they use disability to constitute the other, even in empowering discourses? Like, if you’re fighting for third-world liberation, you’re still using disability in a way to distance third-world subjects in a broad sense from engaging with disability.

LEZLIE FRYE: Thank you for that, Nirmala, and thank you for this talk, oh my goodness. It was so generative for me, and I’m really excited for the book. And there were a lot of moments — there were a lot of moments that I’m actually trying to — [toddler calling]. Excuse me — I’m trying to think through, and one thing in particular is about social death. And I would love for you to speak more about disability. Sorry, I have a sick kid right now, so I’m sorry. I’d love for you to speak more about disability in relationship to social death, and I’m thinking right now about the politics of life and death a lot, and particularly trying to engage work on necropolitics that centers blackness, and that emerges through an examination of slavery, largely in relationship to slavery.

And I’m finding myself struggling to address how disability is figured in and as proximity to death and simultaneously to take accounts for the ways that it’s been translated into both national and transnational legibility through, sort of, rights-bearing subjects and you might think about that through citizenship or other rubrics, right?

And that that’s come at the expense of those, as Jasbir Puar has argued, has come at the expense of those actually positioned in material ways proximately to death through incarceration, or policing, or through military occupation and, of course, this has everything to do with race and whiteness more particularly. But it’s really tricky, right, to talk about what the relationship between disability and death, and disability and social death, is, and I’m wondering if you want to flesh that out anymore.

NIRMALA EREVELLES: And that was actually five years after writing my book, that was the sudden, like, the question that came to me. And that wanted me to go back and rewrite it. Because I couldn’t rewrite it, I’m trying to write it further than that.

The reason it’s taken so long, is because we have to get ourselves out and through that — that space, the notion of disability is social, disability as very much the embodiment of no future. And that’s why I think I have to reconnect it back to Rua’s first question, in the sense that this notion of social — the notion of equating it to social death is because we want to see — I don’t think we really care about disabled bodies per se as social bodies, or that we in fact kill disabled bodies on a daily basis.

Because we don’t. We don’t. We literally don’t. That’s always an afterthought. But we use it because that’s the label. We use it because we want to talk about this idea of — I mean, it becomes the kind of discursive way of mapping for this kind of like radical subjectivity, right.

And so, I really want us to — for me to engage this, we also, I’m also thinking like when we do, like I had written a paper with actually with D — I’ve written a paper with Dean Adams on where we used Agamben’s notion the idea of bios and zoē and the idea of how, we were using it in the way in which schools — see, it’s not that disability becomes the embodiment of social, we create social debt for disabled people.

Like, in the school system, you’re talking about behavior, especially the ways in which we use the AB… sometimes I have word-losing problems… but when we use these horrible behavioristic, some of them to do with shock to justify the disciplining, quote/unquote, “disciplining” of disabled bodies. The act is social death. And that’s where so maybe the way to engage it is, that’s why I think I like the concept of materiality, because then it makes social death a kind of construction, that then gets applied to different kinds of bodies.

I’m thinking that because, that’s where I wanted to go, because I got this notion of the labor that disability does, when I was actually reading, again, I’m blanking out, No Mercy Here, by the Black historian [Sarah Haley], her name will come in ten minutes later, where I actually wrote about — She’s talking about slavery and production… She’s basically talking about how, like, convict labor was used to build up the South. And so much of her argument engages disability precisely within that context of social death, even though she never uses the word disability.

And, so, I start, and then even in some of Saidiya Hartman’s work, so now, I get to see — I’m trying to make the argument that the labor that disability is called to do. But if we actually looked at it as practices, and not, which is what a lot of people are using it as, disability as pathologically equated with death. That’s why also constructing disability as a historical materialist category may get us out of that space of pathologization, or as a site of embodiment. Because it’s becoming, the becoming would then, — now I’m thinking aloud. Fabulous question that’s making me think.

ANGELA SMITH: Thanks, Nirmala. I’m going to ask another question from our Q&A section. From E. McKinley Hopf: “Other than the reasons you already articulated, that they haven’t been compared to each other, even though they’re both pressing examples of what you’re talking about, why did you specifically choose Flint and Bhopal to compare here? What prompted this comparison? Were there other cities or examples you thought about using, and were there any reasons that pushed you to focus on these two? Is there something about these two examples that links them in a particularly generative way for you, or is the point, rather, that they’re just two of seemingly infinite examples, and you had to just choose at some point to focus your examination.

NIRMALA EREVELLES: Great question here, too. Actually, I was writing about Flint, Michigan, because I’m also a professor in education. And I was actually writing about Detroit schools. Then you talk about Flint schools. And, like, Flint came up because it’s so close and near.

But I’m Indian, and one day I wanted to write — I was thinking about — I was invited to talk about some connection of South Asia and disability. And I was, like, Bhopal, I was a child in India when Bhopal happened. I remember waking up, and hearing the news, and feeling the horror. But I had only childish memories of it, because I was a child. And it was something that grown-ups talked about.

My father worked for a private capitalist company. And the manager of his company supposedly had business interests in Bhopal. And I had friends who worked, friends’ parents who worked for Union Carbide, if not in Bhopal, also in other parts. So, Bhopal was very close, and so, when I started bringing them together — that’s also something that’s cool when you’re doing research, you’re reading about a place and a time that’s very different, about Flint, Michigan. And you’re thinking about it in a very different way.

And then while you’re reading, when I was reading about it, I remembered Bhopal. I was like, wow. And then I went to start reading about the literature in Bhopal. And then I could see the similarities. I mean the idea of how — there’s actually also a fabulous book that Jina Kim, who I’ve cited here, not a fabulous book, but Jina Kim wrote a fabulous article on a book written by an Indian, a fiction, a book of fiction written by an Indian author, called Animal’s People. And I had read that book as an adult.

The book is — the protagonist of the book is disabled in a very distinct way because of the gas explosion. He calls himself an animal, right? That’s him. He’s become an animal. And Jina’s Kim’s analysis is the ways in which the tropes of disability get taken up. But as an Indian reading the book — it was an Indian author using a lot of puns that, as an Indian, I would have understood. It’s a paper, I would also want to include that in writing this paper.

But it was reading that book, being from India, knowing about, in the back of my memories, Bhopal. And watching right now. What happened in India was literally back in the day when I was a young kid. The fact that it’s a poor country, we did not have the so-called resources. For me, the most troubling thing is we are watching what’s happening in Flint, the same way as a child, I was watching what was happening in Bhopal.

And that may be the reason that made me want to connect the two together. That was for me terrifying. Because, it is not, Flint is not on any of the social justice things right — it should be right at the forefront. People are being impacted in brutal ways. And the rest — so, I grew up in India with Bhopal at the back of my mind. And we are still growing up with Flint in the back of my mind. So that’s what brought it together. And, of course, the disability analysis. So, I hope I answered that.

ANGELA SMITH: Thank you, Nirmala. And someone has asked in the questions, could you please again share the name of that fiction that’s based on Bhopal?

NIRMALA EREVELLES: It’s called Animal’s People.

ANGELA SMITH: Animal’s People, thank you.

NIRMALA EREVELLES: I can’t remember the author’s name. Another easy way to find it is, type, Jina Kim and Animal’s People. It’s actually an article that was published, actually Jina got an award for outstanding paper. So it will be on the Society for Disability — It was actually in Disabilities Studies Quarterly, the article was published. So if you can read their article and then you go to the book, you’ll find it.

ANGELA SMITH: Another question for you. Oh, sorry, this is from Edmund Fong, here at the U of Utah: “If extractive and disaster capitalism drives the production of disability and eco-injustice, what resource do you find, if any, still within the Marxist oeuvre; in particular, Marxist futurity could be fairly easily critiqued as ableist.

NIRMALA EREVELLES: Yes, and thank you, Edmund for that question. And, yes, you’re right. In some ways — Actually, the way I came to disability studies was my frustration, and my own work was my frustration and not just Marxism, but almost all so-called emancipatory, radical, transformative forums by not actively engaging disability, actually are ableist. In so many ways, consciously or unconsciously, we produce ableism. So, I don’t want to beat up just Marxism.

And that’s where the pressure, that’s why I appreciate some of the work that Robert McRuer has been doing, has done and continues to do, in pushing queer theory and, pushing the ways, by him constituting this idea of crip theory. The work that is being done in DisCrit to push critical race theory. And that’s why we have a context of DisCrit. The incredible work done by feminists, disabled feminists, particularly disabled feminists of color, Sami Schalk, Therí Alice Pickens, and even some of the, like, Dennis Tyler, were all pushing, Leroy Moore, like, not even academics, but just, like, activists, and Sins disability justice, they’re all pushing against the dominant paradigms.

Like, you can still offer — so, the issue is not that Marxism, feminism, queer theory, anti-racist critical race theory, are not always going to provide you the responses, but it’s how are you going to engage with those — a lot of them have — like, even Marx offers the critique of labor and exploitation. He does offer this notion of the industrial reserve army.

Actually, I make the argument of also how disability, like the ways in which he doesn’t talk about disability, but you can see it constituted through the analysis. But then we also have in academia this orthodoxy that you have to stay within the frames of a so-called radical discourse. And what disability studies has shown me, that’s there’s no orthodoxy that can actually engage disability. Disability is a disruptive conceptual practice. That’s the way I would respond to that.

LEZLIE FRYE: Thank you, Nirmala, so much for that answer. I have another question here from Gabriella Huggins. They say your work is making me think of the Fields sisters’ Racecraft, in the way it’s attempting to shift our ideas or ideology away from socially constructed lack of awareness of disability and into the socially produced material realities of disability. I’ve personally noted the increasing visibility of people with disabilities in popular discourse. In the context of disability seeming more celebrated or visible, can you speak to the limitations and possibilities of representation? Are there any merits of visibility in the context of political economy and material change? How do you or we approach speaking to a general populace still disconnected from disability and the disability justice movement about the social versus material, in a way that’s accessible to them but still transformative? And I’ll type that into chat also. It’s a long question. Thanks, Gabriella.

NIRMALA EREVELLES: Thank you Gabriella for that question, too. Yes. Actually, just this past Wednesday, I was doing this kind of thing, a Zoom meeting on a panel, with, at Florida International University, and we had an interesting panel of three people who are — who are visibly, who are very active in what you would call motivational speakers and with disabilities.

And there was one other academic and me. And we had a good discussion, because at one point, one of them was an artist. And he was showing particularly, he was talking about his queer disabled body and wanting to talk about desire and this notion of fetish. And he had these beautiful, like, very powerful pictures of really challenging the discursive constructions of disability as desire, as fetish that somebody wants to occur — like this notion of disability with a future, with a kind of like a sexual — it was powerful.

But we also talked — so, somebody asked him a question about how you put them on Facebook, when has Facebook or Instagram, kind of, like, said “Oh, my God, this is a bit much,” because his pictures were very — there were a lot of nude pictures and very intimate scenes. Very much the kind that Facebook, like, whatever, like, I think he does Instagram. And then he talked about how because they realized he has like some 5,000 whatever followers, they let him go. So, of course, somebody was asking me a question about capitalism.

And this was a group that’s very nonacademic. So this was good. It forced me, so, someone was asking me a question on capitalism, and that’s when I used the example. I said just because disability is visible, doesn’t make it transformatory, because capitalism is about profits over people. And they will do anything to profit off disabled bodies. Now, it doesn’t mean, I’m not making any moral judgment, and I think in a capitalist society if disabled people can profit, can find ways to profit off in the ways in which a disability — I don’t hold it against disabled people doing it. You’ve got to do it in a world that requires that.

But, but, I really wanted — for us, like, for us to be able to think about disability outside, like, at least for somebody me as an academic, I have an opportunity to think about how disability can be conceived of — that’s what I want to do with my work, is I want us to move to a space where we can conceive of disability, but it is not exploited by other forms of — I mean, and maybe there is a bit of utopia in it in my argument.

But as an academic. For those us who are supposed to do the dreaming, for the work, these are spaces where we can imagine and then be able to find — and I should look at the chat, because I’m hoping I’m answering all of your question. In the sense that we need to move disability into the socially produced space. And then I was asking, if we are so fond of disability, why is it that we’ve been so violent to disabled people during Covid? Why is it that disabled people don’t have access to healthcare That is affordable. I’m talking at a university setting. I just have a senior going into high school. And I was just — like, you can’t believe how ableist the whole — even for my daughter doesn’t have any kind of like intellectual disability, but you have no idea how ableist the system is.

Even, like, it actually produces children who are terrified about seeing that they have no self-worth, right? So ,the very fact of access to universities, educational institutions. So, this whole notion, that’s when you see the materiality of disability. Like, today is supposed to be world Down syndrome day. But we don’t, what are the material conditions under which people with Down’s syndrome have to engage their lives? What is the everyday violences? So many of these young people, young and even older people are incarcerated.

[Cell phone ringing.] Sorry, this is my daughter. Sorry I hope she will not call again. But anyway. That’s my daughter’s —

ANGELA SMITH: We are pretty much at time, so, if you had any last thoughts that you wanted to put out there, that would wrap us up nicely.

NIRMALA EREVELLES: Actually, I mean I really, maybe because we’ve been talking about these two other cases, I really want us to go back to this notion of production of disability, and maybe because I’m also doing this in the pedagogy thing on Thursday. But I really wanted us to see how on an everyday basis, we enact notwithstanding our good, including myself, our good pedigrees of, whatever, social justice, Or disability justice, that we enact these kinds of active exclusions. Especially, Covid highlighted, like, this whole pandemic highlighted them, and then immediately took them away.

I just got into an argument with my dean, because they require meetings where you have to be physically present now, because at least in the state of Alabama, the pandemic is over. It may not be in other states, but, for us, it is over. So, this whole notion of you know, disability being completely rendered invisible. How do we produce it? How do we use it? We used it when we said, suddenly, we wanted all teachers and everybody else to produce these brilliant lesson plans, so we could keep students engaged, so we used disability.

And now, we’re being told that if a student says he or she or they cannot enter a class, for whatever reasons, that we have to hold them accountable. We cannot offer hybrid classes anymore. So, you see the kind of — so, for me, this argument about the labor, like, if you thought about the labor that disability does, and the way that impacts and implicates us, is one of the things that I would like you all to think about. And I hope that was — I don’t think I could be any more profound.

I don’t know, I feel a little — But your questions, I just had such amazing questions.

ANGELA SMITH: Yes, thank you to everyone who asked questions. And I apologize to those that we didn’t get to. But I really appreciate all of the wisdom that you brought for us this evening, Nirmala, and there’s a lot for us to think about and take away with us. So, I am so grateful for your labor, your energy and your time tonight. I want to thank everyone who attended. And, again, all of those who made this evening’s event possible. And I wish you all a wonderful evening, as you depart from our event tonight.

ICYMI: Intersectionality Here & Now

Hosted by the School for Cultural & Social Transformation, University of Utah, Intersectionality Here & Now webinar is part of a 3-year focus on Intersectionality funded by the Mellon Foundation. The webinar is a virtual conversation with Dr. Andrea Baldwin, Dr. Christy Glass, and Dr. Mecca Sullivan moderated by Dr. Wanda S. Pillow. 

Our Advisor-Extraordinaire

You may remember us bragging about our awesome advisor, Jen Wozab, when she won the U’s Academic Advising Community’s (UAAC) 2020 Outstanding Experienced Advisor Award. Her nomination was forwarded to the National Academic Advising Association (NACADA) 2021 Global Awards Committee, and Jen went on to win the Certificate of Merit for Outstanding Primary Advisor! We are beyond proud of our super-star, Jen Wozab.  

Read more about this accomplishment here.

If you have any questions about your degree, courses, or graduation, Jen Wozab is here to get you through it! Reach out or make an appointment to strategize a plan that’ll ensure you’ve completed all the requirements you have before your next semester.

Jen Wozab

Student Support Coordinator & Academic Advisor

jen.wozab@utah.edu801-581-5140Gardner Commons, room 4203 (View map)

Student-2-Know: Sydney Kincart

Sydney Kincart

Political Science Major – Public Policy Emphasis

Disability Studies & Campaign Management Minors

Community Engagement Certificate

What is your most memorable experience in Transform?

My most memorable experience within transform was the moment I started connecting the disability studies scholars whom I read to citations in other works and on Twitter. It was a sort of an “aha moment” where I was finally able to see the real-world connection of my studies.

What was your favorite course/instructor that made the biggest impact on your academic career?

Within transform, I am taking Gender on the Hill. Through this class, I got to meet with state legislators about policies relating to gender Justice. Although it is a gender studies course, I loved the ways I was able to relate disability to our class topics. This course taught me how to navigate the state legislature and have me hands-on experience that will launch my career.

Why did you choose your degree program and what do you plan to do with it?

I found the disability studies Twitter community in high school and it transformed my thinking about disability. Because of relationships with disabled family and friends, I knew how important it was to advocate with the disability community. I’m pursuing a degree in political science and minor in disability studies because I want to pursue a career in disability policy and advocacy work. My minor in disability studies has challenged me to think critically about systems of power and given me a platform to start imagining how I can help create a more accessible world through policy.

Tell us what you found most engaging about Transform.

I love how personal it feels. Every professor I’ve had in Transform is not only knowledgeable and respected in their field, but they care about me. They are willing to help me with any of my pursuits and get to know me personally.

Intersectionality Here & Now

Hosted by the School for Cultural & Social Transformation, University of Utah, Intersectionality Here & Now webinar is part of a 3-year focus on Intersectionality funded by the Mellon Foundation. The webinar is a virtual conversation with Dr. Andrea Baldwin, Dr. Christy Glass, and Dr. Mecca Sullivan moderated by Dr. Wanda S. Pillow. 

It has been 33 years since Kimberlé Crenshaw first introduced “intersectionality” as a necessary analytic to understand the imbrications—the intersecting impacts—of race, gender, and sexuality and it could be argued no other concept has been more utilized, misunderstood, and maligned in academia and politics. Intersectionality Here and Now reflects on this history to think with the debates about and the challenges of intersectionality. Specifically, where, when, and how are we doing this concept?  How are we teaching it, practicing it? What can intersectionality do? What is required to do the doing of intersectionality? And how does intersectionality align with or contribute to transformative decolonial feminisms?   

The panelists offered extraordinary depth into intersectionality theory by delving into topics such as centering indigenous and transnational thinkers, (re)shaping freedom and liberation, and activists deploying the theory to imagine new community strategies. Overall, the webinar paid homage to the collective contributions to intersectionality theory and a vision of what is to come.

Transcript

Wanda Pillow: Dr. Baldwin, Dr. Sullivan, and Dr. Glass are scholars who are doing the work of intersectional praxis. Today’s webinar, Intersectionality Here and Now, highlights how we are thinking with intersectionality in the here, and the now, while also considering where intersectionality has been and where it can go. Intersectionality I think maybe one of the most widely used, yet misunderstood concepts. Kimberlé Crenshaw first laid out a theory of intersectionality in 1989 in the paper “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex.” Published in the University of Chicago Legal Forum, the essay describes the interconnections of structural racism and sexism, and Black women’s experiences, and demonstrates the failure of any single-axis framework to account for those experiences.

In Crenshaw’s words, “Intersectionality is an analytical framework for understanding how aspects of a person’s social and political identities combined to create different modes of discrimination and privilege.” Within 15 years Crenshaw’s intersectionality traveled outside of law, and feminist and ethnic studies proliferating across fields and genres. Yet as powerful as Crenshaw’s writings are, by the early 2000s intersectionality was often used as a placeholder term, devoid of deep engagement, sometimes even lacking citation of Crenshaw, or any of the Black feminist and queer women of color writings that influence intersectionality. By the 2010s, intersectionality became part of a political cultural landscape in the US, sparking the intersectionality wars. Whether described as dangerous identity politics, included on a list of banned concepts, or as a necessary analytic of activism, intersectionality has erupted into viral disputes and memes.

The here and now of intersectionality is Crenshaw notes urgent. This webinar was planned admits this urgent context and with a commitment to recognize the presence of intersectionality and queer Black Indigenous and women of color feminism’s. From the 1977 Combahee River collective statement describing the specificity of interconnectedness oppressions to the writings of for example, Audre Lorde, and Lee Maracle and the impactful 1981 anthology, This Bridge Called My Back, edited by Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa. As Jacqui M. Alexander reminds us, “any reclaiming of the past to the present cannot simply be linear. We consider where we have been, in order to be present truly present for the here and now that are also always about futures.”

So this is the first time the panelists and I have been in discussion together. So you all are truly going to witness this live. We will start with each panelist individually addressing the question, what is intersectionality to you, and then shift to about a 30 minute group conversation. And then we’ll take attendee questions, you can submit questions on the q&a tab Kilo Zamora, faculty and Gender Studies, and Intersectionality Collective co-facilitator will be helping with the q&a. Thank you very much, Kilo. And before beginning, we just need to do a special shout out to Estela Hernandez, Transform’s Assistant Dean, who organized all of the infrastructure for this webinar. Thank you so very much Estela, we could not do this without you. And I also want to acknowledge and thank our live transcription interpreters and our sign language interpreters with us today. Okay, so let’s begin with our first question. What is intersectionality to you? And we’re going to go in the following order Andrea, Mecca, and then Christy.

Andrea Baldwin: All right. Thank you, everyone, for joining us today. Thank you, Wanda. Thank you for Transform for inviting me to be a part of this webinar. I’m truly grateful for this opportunity. And so to your question, what does intersectionality mean to me? Um, I think about this question, and I think it is important for me to state that the legacy of intersectionality as you rightly mentioned, as a concept, there’s these preceding tenets before its coining by Professor Crenshaw, such that when I think about what intersectionality means to me, and how I as a Black woman, a Caribbean immigrant from a working poor family, and deeply indebted to this history, and yet also not, and also not neatly implicated in it, at least in the ways that folks in the US often tell it and this is important.

And so what this means for me is that I think about the importance of Black women and other women of color, including from the Caribbean, and from the third world women, Women’s Alliance, who were all integral to intersectionalities conceptual development and activist roots very, very early on. And for, I’m thinking, for example, acknowledging scholars in the US, myself included because I’m here, who traced the concept as far back as Maria Stewart in 1830, or Anna Julia Cooper’s 1892 was publication of Voice from the Souls or Harriet Jacobs, 1860s narrative Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. Or Sojourner Truth, Ain’t I a Woman, which is to say that Black women in the US have been theorizing about intersectionality conceptually for a long, long time. Whether calling it double jeopardy, as with Frances Beal, and a number of other terms, including interlocking oppressions or simultaneity, for example, long before the term itself was coined.

Um, however, in terms of my own reflections about the historical legacies of intersectionality, and what it means to me, I think about how Nina Lykke calls, what she calls the nodal points along the theoretical trajectory of intersectionality. And how these hold a personal connection to me and my own feminist praxis and being and I’m particularly conscious of the epistemological and practical inflections and reflections of women who, like me are immigrant women, and who come from immigrant families, and are writing and expressing vividly how White supremacy, anti-Black racism, patriarchy, classism, heterosexism and also nativism impacts us. And finding connections across all across all types of difference, while also respecting difference, right. Um, and so while I’m thinking about the legacy of intersectionality through the theoretical interventions of folks I have mentioned previously, and also folks like Angela Davis and the Combahee River collective that you mentioned, Wanda, Pat Hill Collins, for example, also very important to me also our works from Audre Lorde and Shirley Chisholm, Gloria Anzaldúa, Maria Lugones and Jackie Alexander, who you mentioned. But also Caribbean feminists like Eudine Barriteau and Kamala Kempadoo and Carole Boyce Davies, and Denise Ferreira da Silva, and Rinaldo Walcott and others, who really provide the context in which intersectionality becomes a concept that has wider geographical resonances. Whose work allows the concept to travel, and to influence and be influenced by feminists from the Caribbean and feminist globally who are doing their own and similar theorizing such that there is what I might venture to say, a Creolization of the concept that applies to my full experience, right. And so when I’m writing up my dissertation in 2012, using the term that Kimberlé Crenshaw coined, I was writing about intersectionality in the context where it has to be in conversation with Eudine Barriteau’s Caribbean gender systems, it has to be in conversation with Edward Kamau Brathwaite’s work on interculturalation and acculturation. And the works, for instance, Rhoda Reddock and Pat Muhammad and Andaiye, and many more Caribbean feminist theorists.

So I guess what I’m saying here is that I came to intersectionality through the works of these Caribbean feminists such that intersectionality, for me, is about a deeper and a more expansive collaboration and understanding of my own feminist self, and my own communities. All of these things, whether in all of my all of my positionalities, whether in the Caribbean, or in the US, or elsewhere, and really intersectionality for me is about this requirement, and this deeper commitment to transnationality in my own scholarship, and a commitment to transnational feminist connections. And so I’ll stop there.

Mecca Sullivan: So I’ll just jump in first of all, you know, echoing Andrea and offering thanks to Wanda to Kilo to Estela. And also I want to thank Andrea and Christy as co-panelists, and of course, the interpreters. Very excited to be here and excited about this conversation. And I’ve got, I’ve already I already want to just kind of like jump in and start chit chatting. But I also think for me, it’s important, I would like to kind of ground my exploration of this question, what is intersectionality to you in the work of Audre Lorde for a lot of the reasons, in fact that both Wanda and Andrea have just mentioned. So I’m going to start with a quote from Audre Lorde’s biomythography Zami: A New Spelling of My Name, which comes out of 1982. “Being women together was not enough. We were different. Being gay girls together was not enough. We were different. Being Black together was not enough. We were different. Being Black women together was not enough. We were different. Being Black dikes together was not enough. We were different. It was a while before we came to realize that our place was the very house of difference.”

So as Wanda said, right, coined in 1989 by legal studies scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw to describe specific simultaneous impacts of racism and sexism on Black women’s legal, civic, sociopolitical experiences in the US. The term intersectionality has been taken up in academic activist and cultural discourses as a signifier of multiple difference. In these conversations, the intersection has served as a way of naming the simultaneous concurrent and mutually implicating functions of several power structures, including racism, sexism, classism, heterosexism, homophobia, pseu-sexism, transphobia, xenophobia, ableism, and Eurocentrism. As well as the sociopolitical locations of subjects and communities that are impacted by multiple forms of oppression. As Andrea has pointed out, right, the history of intersectionality begins long before the terms coining. So I really appreciate the implication of writers like Anna Julia Cooper, you know, Lorde, in fact, right, even sort of before this moment of intersectionality is pointing at you and I, Harriet Jacobs.

You know, Black women writers have been narrating speaking and singing from the intersection since long before 1989. The works of writers like Lorde, June Jordan, Pat Parker and Ntozake Shange, Gwendolyn Brooks, Bessie Head, and many others have long theorize what the Combahee River Collective in 1977 statement calls the “interlocking vectors of oppression,” that shaped Black women’s experiences of difference. Illuminate the larger workings of power, and shape the conditions of possibility for our radical visions of freedom. So following these writers, then I see intersectionality as a way of describing Black woman’s multiple relationships to difference in power, and using those languages to explore the complex implications of power at large. And I say it’s a way of describing difference in power, precisely because the writers that I’m most kind of animated by are really invested in animate- or in highlighting and revealing the crucial place of linguistic and artistic expression in intersectionality theorizing.

For Lorde, standard legible languages of identity are quote, “not enough” to describe the locations of her difference, right? And we get that in the repetition of that passage, that I read, so in 1982, she invents the biomythography as a new language. Literally, the subtitle is “A New Spelling of My Name.” It’s a new language for naming her multiple subjectivities, a textual location that can quote “house representations and interrogations of her place within social power structures.” And so the genre of the biomythography for those who haven’t read and I encourage you to do so, posthaste like run out and read it now. It is rooted in memoir autobiography, but it incorporates aspects of fiction, poetry, lists, song lyrics, myth, you know, and mythology and several other textual forms, in order to tell her story of Black lesbian becoming in which differences of not only race, gender, class and sexuality, but also disability, reproductive status, immigration status, health status, fatness and many others are a crucial part.

We can also think about Ntozake Shange’s 1975 choreopoem For Colored Girls Who Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Wasn’t Enough, right. Where Shange sort of uses the invents the genre of the choreopoem to meld stage forms, dramatic forms, poetry forms, musical forms, dance forms, and several others to talk about Black woman’s experiences of sexual assault, sexual autonomy and desire.

So, for me in my work, especially in the poetics of difference, queer feminist forms in the African diaspora, I’m thinking about how these sort of new and Vintage honors that I read a sort of linguistic rearticulations of intersectionality how they connect with, you know, subtler and perhaps, you know, differently nuanced, expressive forms and kind of destabilizations of form of genre in Black and Afro diasporic, feminist and queer cultural practice at large, right. And so in other words, those writers who are not sort of naming and inventing new genres, like the biomythography, the choreopoem, but who are using intersectionality as a guiding principle in their creative practices, and who asked readers, viewers, listeners to do the same as an interpretive strategy, right. What happens when the center intersectionality as we’re engaging language in any aspect of our cultural experience? And so here I’m thinking about Black feminist forms of experimentalism by Canadian Trinbagonian Poet Dionne Brand, Nourbese Philip, South African lesbian photographers Zanele Muholi, queer Afro Cuban hip hop group Krudas Cubensi, and American rapper Missy Elliott, all of whom invite readers into an intersectional reading strategy, asking us to participate in multiple forms of difference and in fact, to navigate multiple forms of difference in the form of properties of their texts.

Reading these writers for their intersectional engagements reveals that intersectionality is, among other things, a language and that’s what it is, for me. I see intersectionality as not only a metaphorical spatial location, right, the intersection of race and gender, for example, but also as an artistic tool and a reading strategy. It offers what I call in the voice of difference, I’m sorry, it offers what I call in my writing a poetics of difference and approach to creating, arranging and interpreting expressions of both difference and power. That allow us to examine the overlaps and simultaneity is right that often get lost in normative modes of expression. These poetics and interpretive tools ask us to touch difference in new ways, and acting forms of radical creative visioning, that can express experiences, the multiplicity and complexity and simultaneity in ways that normative English probes cannot reach.

Christy Glass: Well, thank you so much, Mecca and Andrea, and thank you, Wanda for facilitating this conversation. And thanks to Kilo, and Estela, and our interpreters, and captioners for making this event accessible. I’m humbled and honored to be part of this conversation. And before we began, we were talking about how hungry we all are to be in conversation about important things. And this feels really important. So for me, intersectionality is a critical lens for understanding how power works. Patricia Hill Collins says that intersectionalities requires an attentiveness to power relations and social inequalities in their relationship. So it’s a lens through which we can understand how race, niativity, disability, gender, class and sexuality are reciprocal, reciprocally constructing phenomenon.

And for me, it takes as a starting point, the questions about who was left in the margins who was rendered invisible? And what does this rendering reveal about how power works? Jennifer Nash writes “that to think intersectionally is to consider how gender is made through race, class and sexuality and vice versa. And to theorize how gender is inhabited, lived and negotiated, in particular distinctive and varied ways.” Now, I just want to echo the incredible complexity of the history of this concept. And I want to be sensitive to Jennifer Nash’s caution about trying to distill the complex genealogies of intersectional thought into a single story, which I think happens often, but I do think it’s really vital to note that intersectionality was born out of social movements and activism. Kimberlé Crenshaw writes that intersectionality was live was a lived reality before it was a term. So intersectional knowledge and intersectionality as an analytic framework, is rooted in the lived experience right emerged out of a community of Black women activists across history, including many queer Black women, thinking deeply about their lives and their social location, and the systems and structures that shaped their lives. And through the sense making, building community and organizing for liberation. And for me, this this history is important because out of this history, comes some of the most significant qualities of intersectional thought, right. The theory of power that centers knowledge, garnered through lived experience. And the praxis that emerges from that. The centered on movement building, and radical social transformation. So the history for me reveals some of those most important constitutive elements of intersectional thought. And as a social scientist who studies organizations, I joke that you know, my work, I’m trying to make organizations sexy again, whatever but, this as an analytic framework, intersectionality informs my work in important ways, because it requires complexity and nuance, when approaching questions about inequality and power.

So Patricia Hill Collins argues that an intersectional analysis requires us to approach the world in at least two levels, right, the biography, the personal lived experience, and the, you know, experience of confronting institutions that render oppression or privilege. And so to account for this complexity, right as both an incredible challenge, but also, I think, the power and the urgency, of intersectional thought, and for me, one of the things that’s really influenced my thinking about the world at these two levels is the metaphors that Kimberlé Crenshaw used in kind of bringing this concept into the academy. And it was the metaphors of the intersection in the basement right because both of these metaphors, the intersection and the basement require us to hold these multiple scales at once the institution, institutional arrangement of power, and the lived experience within the institution or within institutions. For me, these metaphors are vital because they reveal the complexity of intersectional thinking and, in particular, the example that Crenshaw used in her early work of Emma DeGraffenreid who was one of the plaintiffs in a legal case that she selected to illustrate the concept of intersectionality. And what Crenshaw did with the story of Emma DeGraffenreid, right, is to track the ways in which the experience of, interlocking experiences of Blackness and womanhood rendered Emma De Graffenreid invisible within the legal frameworks. And so by starting with the biography of Emma DeGraffenreid, the lived experience, Crenshaw was able to reveal the failure of the systems. First, her exclusion within the workplace. And second, the ways in which the legal system render that exclusion invisible. And this informs my own work on workplace justice in a lot of ways.

I study organizations as key sites of power and for me, organizations are critical sites where cultural, economic and political systems are translated in ways that reproduce hierarchies of status, race and gender. I study the ways in which Audre Lorde’s concept of the mythical norm of the ideal worker is produced and reproduced through formal policies and informal practices in the workplace. So through my work I try to make visible or legible, how unearned racial class and gender privileges come to be viewed as natural as skill or talent. And then on the other side, right, the embodied labor that outsiders have to perform to negotiate identity and belonging in the face of everyday mundane forms of racial and gender violence. So for me, an intersectional lens provides this vital insight and language for understanding and describing why and how systems support and ease the progression of some bodies, and not others. I’ll stop there.

Wanda Pillow: Okay, I want to take the class that has all of the readings, right, and music references, because maybe that’s a piece of what I know. I would get so frustrated, sitting on dissertations or master’s theses, even just like 15 years ago, and people would just drop the term intersectionality, maybe Crenshaw would be cited, sometimes Crenshaw would even be as cited. But what I’m hearing here is that how we’re coming into intersectionality really matters, right? And if someone’s introduction or knowledge about intersectionality is two essays by Crenshaw, we’re all saying you’re missing a whole depth, right? That is, like necessary, right?

In order to really understand and put to work, even the type of intersectionality that Crenshaw, right, was defining. So, I want the syllabus. I want this class. When I’ve taught intersectionality, I do sometimes, I start with the Crenshaw piece because that’s what people are expecting, right? But then we go back, right, to earlier feminism, most– some of which have most of which have been named already today. And sometimes students are like, “well, why are we reading this work? The term intersectionality is never even mentioned.” And it’s for exactly the reasons that have been stated right here today, I think that maybe helps understand. Or let me ask it this way. So if Crenshaw’s work, you know, some people say, well, Crenshaw was speaking to a legal structure, context. So can it be extrapolated into other ways of doing analysis? I think we’ve already spoken to that. But I don’t know if you have an initial response to that.

Mecca Sullivan: I’ll jump in, I think this is why I really appreciate to see you know, bring us back to the story of Crenshaw’s coining of that term, right? The story of Emma DeGraffenreid is a narrative account. And in fact, there’s an interesting history of legal storytelling as sort of political practice. So of course, for me as a literary scholar, and as a fiction writer, right, I’m thinking, well, this really sort of, it gives us a direct route into thinking about the history of intersectionality as something that’s actually already beyond legal studies, right? It happens to be that it’s the term is coined in Legal Studies publications, and I would even go so far as to say that it might even just might even be at least the fact of that particular publishing venue, right. Where this word starts to emerge in academic discourse, that, you know, might create a false sense of sort of direct origination, right? And I think, you know, Crenshaw is, of course, very clear that she’s actually sort of interpreting a story a narrative account, part of sort of history of legal storytelling, that is also building on several other narrative expressions of lived experience, as we’ve all said. So I guess that’s all to say, I think, in some ways, it’s the institutional sort of aspect of our engagement, I think that sometimes pretends or confuses the longer sort of more complex histories, right, that it’s not about taking the legal studies term and applying it elsewhere. It’s just noticing that the term sort of originates, you know, in Legal Studies in a way that’s most legible to us, but actually, it’s got this whole longer lineage and a broader lineage and legacy as well.

Wanda Pillow: And some of the other terms that we’ve talked about, sometimes intersectionality is picked up and talked about is interlocking impressions, right? And that focus that I was hearing across each of you this focus on, on lived realities, right? This is a theory and an analytic that is coming out of lived realities, is coming out of activism is coming out of a desire for change and need for change to occur. And I like also thinking about intersectionality as a way to read power and to read power arrangements. Sometimes I think what causes confusion when I’m, you know, teaching a class on intersectionality, or when working with students about how to use intersectionality. I guess that really becomes part of the issue is like, how do we do intersectionality in a way that’s actually intersectional? Because sometimes it ends up being taught, or we even have, you know, some figures out there we can use in our teaching, that make intersectionality look like an additive model. Right? I take this, I take, for example, disability, plus gender plus race. So and I’ve even seen it quite often written about is more of an additive model versus an intersectional model.

And I’m going to take us back to Audre Lorde. We’re not going to get enough of Audre Lorde today, but an Audre Lorde’s 1983 essay, there is no hierarchy of oppression, and Lorde states that she cannot separate her identities of woman, Black and lesbian, and that an attack on any of these identities is an attack on all of them. And then Lorde goes on to emphatically state, “I cannot afford the luxury of fighting one form of oppression only.” And when I teach this, right, this Audre Lorde essay, we’re very moved by it but then still left with the question of but how? How do we do intersectionality in ways that don’t create hierarchies of oppression, or don’t collapse into that additive model?

Christy Glass: I’ll jump in, I think, I think one of the things that that, you know, like you, Wanda, in the labor of teaching I come up against is reducing intersectionality to rather superficial identity claims. And you know, you know kind of the identity Olympics model. And in Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor’s recent book, How We Get Free, she traces the use of identity politics to the Combahee River Collective statement. She says she writes it that was the first use of this term. And the term grew out of recognition that these overlapping identities, expose the members of the collective to unique forms of oppression, but also emerged out of recognition that their shared experience could serve as an entry point into activism.

So for the Combahee River Collective, that identity politics was part of the articulation of analysis of power, that sought to validate Black women’s experience and on the other hand, facilitate their engagement in radical political organizing. So inherent in the use of that term, was an analysis of a systemic critiques of colonialism and imperialism and capitalism. Right. So rather than narrowing the political vision to the individual and identity claims at the individual level, the term was recognition of the potential expansiveness of identity as a pathway to movement building, but I think that’s often lost. And part of I think, the work of ours is to explore why the political impulse of intersectionality is often deemphasized right? Why we often overlook the deep political and structural critique inherent in the analytic and move to more kind of superficial applications or understanding, I think that’s part of, you know, the hard work of doing intersectionality.

Andrea Baldwin: I would also like to respond by saying, I think that when we look at the whole, I think that actually the answer to the whole, I believe, is actually already happening, right? So when we read Lorde’s essay, and then we put the essay in conversation with works of contemporary social justice activists, who have been influenced by intersectionality, and the activists’ works that are using to frame the this new kind of vision of this social justice movements, it is evident that the folks, particularly the activists on the ground, are engaging with intersectionality, not simply as an analytical framework, but also a praxis right? And they’re– and so like Christy said, at the core of intersectionality, is an analysis and a critique of power structures. But what I think that these new these more contemporary activists are doing is that they’re saying that while there are multiple power structures that produce differences, and hence we have like, oppression based on gender, and race, and all of these other categories, they’re also saying that at the core of these structures, is a settler colonial system that is inherently anti-Black, patriarchal, and global. So if we start from this very basic premise, that there’s this settler colonial system that produces all of these other structures, we can see how we are all despite our differences implicated in a system and impacted in this structure. So when we remember that Audre Lorde also wrote in ’84, that in a society where the good is defined in terms of profit rather than in terms of human need, there must always be some group of people who through systematize oppression can be made to feel surplus and to occupy the place of the dehumanized, inferior. And so many of us, despite our differences, and the differential power relations between and among us, are still very much part of and make up this surplus dehumanized group, even though our oppression, like hits us differently, right?

And this it goes back to the work of, for instance, Sylvia Winter, who would refer to us as all belonging to this archipelago of human otherness, right. And so because for me, intersectionality is preoccupied not only with identifying social problems, but also with strategies for social movements that respond to the embodied and the dispersive and the hegemonic and the sociopolitical violence of White supremacy. Its dynamism and its analytical frame, and, and its praxis enables us to articulate and critique home multiple systems of power are enacted upon us, subordinating us as subjects who have these very different, but also very complex experiences and narratives. While developing these intervention strategies that are evident in many social justice movements today. So I’ll give you an example when we look at for instance, Charlene Carruthers work, when she’s writing about a Black queer feminist act– from the perspective of a Black queer, feminist activist, she writes that, “if our liberation movements has people on the sidelines, are absent altogether, then it is not really liberatory.” And this brief statement alone demonstrates for me how movements need to– that activist and folks who are really doing intersectional work, that they recognize that although we have these differences, that we they cannot be, they have to be non-hierarchical. So if we are to achieve some semblance of social justice, we need to make sure that we’re not leaving anybody on the sidelines. At the end of the day, we’re all screwed by this system, right?

And so when Kimberlé Crenshaw also explains that Black woman in that same article in 1989, that Black woman can experience discrimination in ways that are both similar to and different from White women and Black men. This is what she’s talking about. This is exactly what she’s talking about, and to a failure to recognize the similarities, but also a failure to recognize these differences Is a missed opportunity. And so going back and I know Wanda said we were going to keep talking about Lorde, but going back to Lorde because Lorde says this, she says, “a failure to recognize our differences is a failure to reach beyond the first patriarchal lesson.” We cannot, like the power structure tries to do divide and conquer, but rather, she says, “we need to define and empower,” and this is the language that intersectionality allows us to do, it allows us to define and empower. And I’ll say one more thing, when I think about this, the whole of this whole, you know, differences and hierarchal differences, I think about I always have to go back to how I as a person who is from the so called Global self, is thought about through the Western lens, right? And so when I think about capitalism, and I think about colonialism, and White supremacy and how it produces conditions that are global, such that we’re all in our varying areas oppress.

I’m thinking, for example of the killing of Black people by the US state, not only by the US state, but by vigilantes, right? And I’m thinking about the #BlackLivesMatter. But I’m also thinking how this is connected to the whipping of Haitian folks at the US southern border. And I’m thinking about the experience of Caribbean women regarding sexual assault and the regional movement called #LifeInLeggings and I’m thinking how that is linked to #MeToo. These are very different people right? And I’m thinking how these two things are also linked to my experience and the #BlackAndTheIvory, right? And while these are all very different groups of people, all experience very similar and different oppressions in in very specific in particular ways. I’m thinking how our social justice movements and our liberation movements just cannot allow us to sideline any one of these schools. We’re all in our difference in our similarities necessary we cannot get to a system–a point of liberation if we pedestalize one movement over the other and I’ll stop there because I know I’ve said a lot.

Wanda Pillow: No, let’s keep it going. Go Mecca.

Mecca Sullivan: Yeah, I was just going to kind of jump in. I mean, I you know I couldn’t agree more. I also just I love that we’re all Audre Lorde fans in this space. This is great. I feel like you know, among my people, but yeah, I mean, I really appreciate, Andrea, your emphasis on the kind of the concept of intersectionality as practice, right. And it makes me think of the Combahee River Collective, you know, in their statement, right, the notion of an integrated analysis and practice. And that’s, that’s their definition of Black feminism. They see Black feminism as an integrated analysis and practice. And like you Wanda, you know, students, of course, are always sort of curious, well, how do we do intersectionality? How do we talk about intersectionality in a way that is sort of usable, practicable, right? And so I sort of, I always find myself and you know, for myself and leading them back to that notion, integrated analysis and practice, we are constantly always doing and thinking, thinking about what we’re doing, doing what we’re thinking about, right. And the notion that practice as a kind of perceptual imperative that we have to continue to do this work, even when it feels really difficult, and we don’t know how to do it.

So in some ways, and I think this is echoing what both Christy and Andrea have said, even as continuing to ask the question, how do we keep talking about these differences, as they seem to be proliferating? As there seem to be more and more differences to talk about? More and more languages for power structures to name? But I think for me, too, this is where a focus on storytelling literature and creative expression is very helpful. Because of course, if you, you know, if you’re looking at the story of a person there is there’s you’re never going to sort of assume that first they’re going to deal with their race, and then they’re going to deal with their gender, right? I mean, it’s intuitive, if we’re talking about actual lived experience of humans, to try and find ways to understand the kind of mutuality and simultaneity of these various forces that shape a life.

As a creative writer, this is, you know, in some ways, sort of like a strong character, a part of what what compels us about strong characters, is that very complexity, right? That we read into there multiple ways of navigating all of the dynamics that are impacting and shaping the circumstances in which they find themselves. And, you know, I say that to say, I recognize that on certain levels, the recourse to the poetic and to the narrative, is, you know, it sort of feels abstract in some ways, and it feels, you know, perhaps maybe separate from or adjacent to what we might think of as a theoretical or political praxis. But then, as folks have said, Lorde, and others remind us, that is a colonial logic, right? And it’s a gendered logic, the logic of where poetry is a luxury, right? We’re in poetry is something, you know, superfluous and inaccessible and unnecessary. But we have to sort of question, you know, that, that logic, and, you know, thinking about sort of how we understand knowledge, power and value, you know, in ways that can lead us back to the theoretical and political movement and action of some of these creative texts and of language more broadly.

And the last thing I’ll say about that is, so for me, you know, Lorde is also really interesting here to, right, the question of sort of how do we talk about specific differences and talk about difference more broadly, at the same time in ways that are affected. You know, in addition to all of her literary works, and of course, for me, the biomythography is one way of doing that. But also, we kind of move through Lorde’s, you know, view and her discussion of herself in interviews, and all of the different ways in which she describes her own difference in her own identity. And I’ll just read a few. So in Zami, as a child, she says that she’s grown up “fat, Black, nearly blind and ambidextrous, in a West Indian household.” Then in the essay Age, Race, Class and Sex, Women Redefining Difference, she identifies herself as a “49-year-old Black, lesbian, feminist, socialist mother of two, including one boy and member of an interracial couple.” And we can think of many other sort of catalogs of identity that Lorde offers us, Black, lesbian, feminist, warrior poet, Black lesbian poet, cancer survivor, right? That for Lorde in these catalogs of identity, she’s not only naming all of these specific differences in specific sort of locations within power, but also calling attention to difference itself, right, that’s a get any one part of this difference that she’s laying out.

First, we have to understand that it’s multiple, that it’s changing, that it changes multiple times over the long arc of her career. And I see that as a kind of instantiation of the integrated analysis and practice that the Combahee River Collective is asking us to take up, right? Sort of the work of that, that kind of thinking. And for me, you know, when I talk with students about this, you know, I always say, you know, it might seem abstract again, but we can all think of a poem we read or video we watch or you know, a song we heard, that made us feel something, that made us think something, that made us do something different in the world. And I think that’s a really helpful way of understanding the kind of power of intersectional creative and linguistic expression. That, you know, this new way, a different way of thinking a different way of speaking, is also deeply political, and has a lot of, it has a lot to offer us in terms of envisioning the liberatory features that we’ve been talking about.

Wanda Pillow: I really like the turn that our conversation took from what does intersectionality do? And it became more about what does intersectionality require us to do? So, and I think that’s such a key point, like a key shift, right? If we’re talking about talking to other people about intersectionality, or how I’m incorporating it in my own life, or where I want to get pedagogically, right, within a classroom. So this this focus on, well, what is it that intersectionality actually requires me to do? And I thank you for taking us back Mecca to that integrative analysis. Right? I think that’s so key. And I, sometimes too with, with students, at first, when they’re just coming to this awareness, it’s like, well, part of what it requires me to do is to pay attention, right, and to be present in a whole nother kind of way. And this could be paying attention, also, you know, to a poem, to a narrative, to an interaction, to the kinds of structures of power and discourse, right, that I’m seeing around me. But maybe that’s the way to get into and think about intersectionality. As far as all the ask, what is it require us to do? What kinds of practices? Yeah, does it then yield?

I want to ask, and we can keep on with that question. And that focus for a bit more, too. But I also want to address what does intersectionality do to Whiteness? And what does intersectionality require of Whiteness? Because this has been part of right, the cultural, very political debate that’s occurring still within the United States. But it’s also a question that gets asked in all forms of activism, and it gets asked within our courses, too, so let’s take a few minutes and, and respond to that. What does intersectionality do to Whiteness? And what does intersectionality require of Whiteness?

Christy Glass: I’m happy to start, Wanda. This question about what does it require of us? I think first as scholars and teachers, right, we have to ask hard questions. Mari Matsuda says that we have to ask the other question, right? When we’re, when we’re looking at the sexist discourse, we have to ask how, where, and with what consequence, race, or racism or able bodiness or heteronormativity are layered in? And I think, you know, to the, to the question of, you know, what to do with Whiteness, Sara Ahmed calls, refers to the concept of the labor of insistence, right, the labor required to gain insight into what is real. But also the labor of withdrawing our consent and complicity from a racialized gender system from White supremacy. I think part of what that requires of us is at least two things, you know, interrogate our institutions, universities, the places where we do the labor of intersectionality. Our sites that reproduced power, privilege and prestige and White supremacy, right. So but these are also the sites where deep intersectional thinking and community building as possible. So we have to kind of dwell in that contradiction that our institutions are complicit in reproducing a gender a racialized gender system. And these are sites where we can actually engage in this work.

I think one of the most important things going back to Andrea’s point that she made earlier. One of the most important things I think that intersectionality requires of us is to organize is to build an organize. I was socialized into academia through a union that was deeply integrated in a community, a coalition of unions and community organizations. And I find myself thinking more and more about that as a model. Because that experience taught me the importance of community and solidarity for advancing shared values in a powerful institution. And so I wonder, you know, I have more questions than answers, but I wonder how we can organize, right? How we can do the work of movement building, within our institutions and in partnership, partnership with others in our community, because, you know, I see organizing as a potential for creating space to study alternative models, right? Audre Lorde writes that we have to collectively examine the ways in which our world can be truly different.

And I feel like we’re all in such a moment of triage this kind of constant crisis mode, that actually having space and time and and and kind of mental capacity to ask the kinds of questions we need to be asking right? Space to explore the alternatives. What are the models that give us hope and sustenance? You know, what are the characteristics of an academy and economy a democracy? That doesn’t leave Black women and queer folks and disabled folks behind right? Space to discuss tactics. Who are allies? Who are potential allies? How can we strategically frame our vision in ways that resonate with powerful gatekeepers? How can we neutralize opposition, and of course, the work of organizing depends on building spaces where this work becomes possible. So spaces where the doing of intersectionality and where our thinking and doing can grow and evolve in new ways. Sara Ahmed writes that a movement is also a shelter. So I think, you know, for me, going back to Andrea’s point about praxis, right? How can we organize? What are those opportunities? What are the characteristics of those spaces that can nourish this kind of work, theoretically, but also very, very practically?

Wanda Pillow: Nice. Andrea and Mecca, do you have anything you want to add?

Mecca Sullivan: I can. Unless you want to go, Andrea? Okay. Um, yeah, I mean, I, you know, I agree and Christy, what you’re saying, it makes me think about, again, for me, you know, part of the development of these kinds of collective collaborative political praxis right, those organizing, it also requires a reach beyond the forms of knowledge that we value, right, or that we are trained and taught to value for me. And so, you know, it makes me think about, I think, for me, one of the things that intersectionality asks of all of us is to kind of critique our understandings and our valuations of both knowledge and power. As I said, whose knowledges are valuable and viable, you know, once we sort of destabilize the primacy of academic knowledge, for example, or academic kind of circuits of knowledge, and suddenly, we’ve got access to these broader, you know, not only stories of power and difference, but also critiques, right of power and difference. And we’ve got, you know, access to stories of, you know, collaborative histories of organizing. Stories of sort of activist work, right, that perhaps don’t register as such, within the languages that the academy offers us or has offered us up until this point. And so for me, that then also speaks to the importance of, you know, sort of engaging from– engaging poetics in a different way engaging poetics as something that is about lived experience, within the you know, on the page, the stage, what have you, but also in our sort of broader experiences with culture. And that brings me to this notion of kind of the reading praxis, right. And so I spent a lot of time thinking about what a Black queer feminist reading praxis does for us, I do think it can, in fact, be a kind of a building block for a collective collaborative theorizing, if not organizing, right? Like the kind of the ideating right, the kind of dream work that has to happen before, you know, the kind of more legibly political movement building can happen. And that is something that I see happening in a lot of the forms we’ve talked about.

You know, Anzaldúa’s Borderlands, right, is another example for me where you know, she calls it an “alto historia” which is kind of translates maybe to autobiography, except it’s more like auto-history, right? What does that mean to Anzaldúa? What does it mean to for her as Chicana lesbian writer to speak to and for a broader history in multiple languages? So that’s an example of a text that literally requires intellectual labor of us, right? If we are– so she’s writing in multiple forms of both English and Spanish. If we are only English language speakers, then we have to either do the work, right, perform the labor of figuring out what is being said to the nearest, you know, possibility. Or sit with the relative powerlessness of not knowing, right? Suddenly it shifts the locus of power. And we as, as readers, you know, sort of trying to engage the meaning of the text, either have to be, you know, challenge ourselves to do that laborer, or, again, feel the relative powerlessness of unknowing. And I guess that is, in some ways, a way to think about the second part of the question, sort of, what is intersectionality ask of Whiteness or require a Whiteness? I want to think of it as what does it do to Whiteness? And I feel like what it does is it destabilizes it, right? I think it says Whiteness is actually not the center of this conversation. And it requires, you know, of those who identify with or depend on Whiteness in whatever way it requires them possibly, to do various forms of work, right, and perform various kinds of labor. And, for me, very importantly, to feel at least sort of briefly within the encounter with the text or with the moment to feel the relative powerlessness of not being at the center. And then to sort of do with that feeling and with that learning what they will. And so for me, that’s that these are all really important interventions that have to happen in order for the movement, you know, the kind of more legible movement work to take place.

Andrea Baldwin: Yes, yes, and more yes. So I kind of inverted the question. And I started with what does intersectionality do to Whiteness? And I wrote down “intersectionality makes Whiteness lose it’s damn mind,” like that’s what I wrote down. And, I mean, I’m constantly going back to settler colonialism and coloniality and decoloniality. Because for me, intersectionality has is a, it has this global resonances for me as a Caribbean woman. And so when I think about how coloniality has said, or has, has formed us into when we think about Black and Brown people and women and queer folks and Black folks, and folks with disabilities, how they how coloniality has signaled us and brought us into being as non-persons and as non-human. What with if we if what we’ve been saying for the last hour is that intersectionality is forcing us and calling us to, to critique and analyze this structure and these structures that are built in a colonialist system, then what intersectionality is doing to Whiteness, it’s is causing Whiteness to question itself, like Mecca said to decenter itself, right? And, White people are losing their mind.

That is, I mean, when you think about all the pushback right now, in terms of how intersectionality has made Whiteness so uncomfortable, that we are hearing things like intersectionality is a legal theory that has been applied. The same question that was asked earlier, as a lawyer, I’m saying that law does not occur in a vacuum, right. And so when we think about how Whiteness has become very downright combative, and dishonest, when it engages when we think about Nash, that’s what Nash is saying. In the academy, um, intersectionality is being used to oppress people, people who have been oppressed in the academy. And so that is what intersectionality I think, in the ways that we use it correctly. And we use it in the ways that it — and not co-opt it, that is what it is doing. Right? And so what does it what does it ask of us? What does intersectionality require us to do? It obviously requires the continued to directly challenge mainstream hegemonic dominant theories of knowledge, language, power and politics, right. But for me, personally, it allows it also requires me and I think us to think beyond intersectionality. And to think in decolonial ways, especially as the concept itself has been co-opted to use against those who are oppressed. And doing this also requires that we be reflexive. And to be reflexive, we need to be honest, and by honest, because what is happening is that there’s a lot of dishonesty happening right now around are theorizing and are and are doing, and by honest, I mean that we need to also interrogate the ways in which our individual and collective agency is bound up in a process and a system of colonialization. That is, how are we even as we talk about liberation, social justice, and intersectionality? How are we complicit in the processes and the systems that we are fighting against? And so what I’m saying here is not that we need to engage in any type of narrative that blames oppressed people for their oppression, but rather that we need to consider how for instance, Cydia Hartman is theorizing about a type of consenting agency that is happening when we engage with these systems and how being honest and open about discussing and addressing these can help us to get to a deeper place of consideration. And so what does it require of me? What does it of us? But I’m thinking more personally, what does it require of me?

And for example, when I think about my situation, I think about how do I personally reflect on how I, as a Black woman, assistant professor, who was currently going through the tenure process, might hesitate to speak up about an issue that is unethical and unfair for other Black women who experienced university in similar in different ways. For example, Black women who experienced the university as contingent faculty, or graduate students are, I mean, at Virginia Tech right now, graduate students are currently fighting and being refused a living wage. Right? And how am I, if I’m using intersectionality, If I am, if I’m saying intersectionality require something from me, how do I also be honest and what I’m thinking in terms of if I speak up, does that have a chance of jeopardize it jeopardizing my getting tenure? And how I might be complicit because I’m, I’ve convinced myself that I need to get tenure to be able to speak later. Right? And this is just one example of my own personal question of what does an intersectional approach practice praxis require of me? I’m not saying that this is currently what is happening in my life. But these are just questions that I think are very important questions that we need to be honest, every time every single time we’re in a situation, particularly ones that require us to be in solidarity.

Wanda Pillow: Hmm. Yes. I’m just thinking, what a first webinar conversation to kick off our three-year collective around what is intersectionality and what it’s requiring of us. And there’s been a theme coming up since we started this conversation. And I want to ask about and turn us to what intersectionality’s relationship with then? We’ve mentioned settler colonialism, coloniality. But what is intersectionality its relationship with decolonialism? Is that are you all saying, are we all saying that this is part of what if we are doing intersectionality we’re actually simpatico with decolonialism? Is that what we’re saying here? Because, you know, we’ve had quite a wealth of works published, I think, particularly over the past 10 or 15 years that have been looking at the nation-state, settler colonialism. But looking at it really through Indigenous Pacific Islander and Black diaspora lenses, right? Really exciting new work, and certainly, our earlier works — Audre Lorde included — and Indigenous feminisms, were always talking about the state, right? And always talking about colonialism. We’re not going to get to any of this, what can intersectionality do? Unless we are attending? Yep. To settler colonialism and the power dynamics of that. So, what are we saying about intersectionality and decolonialism? What is the relationship?

Mecca Sullivan: Oh I’ll go first. I mean, I think yes, I think intersectionality absolutely is, is anti-colonial and decolonial. Particularly given the kind of histories that that you’re charting, right. I mean, you know, again, if we’re thinking about intersectionality, as sort of one, one language, one iteration for a long standing discussion of the multiple relationships between power and difference, particularly as they impact race and gender subjects, let’s say, right, then I think absolutely. It has been, you know, it’s been transnational. It’s been anti-colonial, decolonial. I mean, even if we’re, even in the kind of collaborative history we’ve charted to together today, right, like, if we are thinking about intersectionality, as a term, you know, as a language that has a kind of etymology, extending from, for example, Harriet Jacobs. Well, that’s a transnational conversation then right, because we’re talking about transnational migrations through the American slave trade, right. So you know, that if we’re sort of tracing these histories as fully and complexly, as we can, that I would, you know, I would argue that absolutely, it’s always been, you know, anti-colonial decolonial has always been thinking about the nation. I will say, it’s also always been sort of interrogating the fixity of genders, right. I mean, you know, it’s also always been thinking about ability and disability, right in various forms of mobility, age, all of these things, I think, have always been part of, you know, what we are now for the moment terming “intersectional analysis.” And it brings me back to Andrea, your last point, which I really appreciate it that like, you know, intersectionality has to also sort of theorize, move beyond itself, right. That like what happens when the language of intersectionality doesn’t, you know, doesn’t serve us because it’s been sort of misconstrued and misread, right, and weaponized, maybe.

And I think that that’s, you know, if we go in that direction, I think it’s also important to recognize that this is one language in a long history of languages that, in fact, you know, perhaps the word doesn’t, because language changes, meaning perhaps the meaning of the word isn’t as legible, you know, in the ways that we would want it to be. But the the concept has been there, right, and will continue to grow. This is also, you know, from me, the Combahee River collective, they talked about a constant self-reflection, that we need to kind of take up as Black feminists or folks who are committed to a Black feminist praxis, right. That we’re constantly thinking about our multiple relationships to power. You know, June Jordan talks about this, especially in the context of labor and transnational engagement in her essay, Report from the Bahamas. But what does it mean to sort of think about my own relationships to power, the ways in which I might be a, quote, “monster” in the experiences of another person who was like, and unlike me, in perhaps another part of the world. All to say, I think that yes, this has absolutely been, you know, sort of transnational concerns and critiques of the state have always been part of intersectional analysis, whether we’re calling it “intersectional analysis” or not, the concept has always been there.

Christy Glass: I would just add, for me this, this goes back to the points Andrea made in her in her opening comments, right, like, how can we be expansive, and our intellectual and practical linkages? And Jennifer Nash writes about this right, the policy, the possibilities and opportunities for linking intersectionality more intimately with transnational, transnationalism. And I would add critical, Indigenous and decolonial thought, including, as Andrea said, at the beginning, the work of Caribbean feminists and other non-western feminists.

Nash asked like, what, what if we embrace a vision of intersectionality that is capacious enough to center women of color generally, and that insists on the intimacies between transnationalism and intersectionality in terms of their construction, use in academia and in movement building? And how might this engender a generative feminist connections that, you know, allow our understanding of intersectionality to grow and expand and change in unpredictable ways. But I think I think to do that requires the centering of Indigenous, Black and anti-colonial knowledge and critiques that reflectiveness that both Mecca and Andrea have talked about. Legal Indigenous Scholar Sara Deer calls for, you know, presents a model of what this could look like for us. She argues for a tribal-centered analysis of knowledge, the development of research and research methods initiated by and for Native women, that kind of can supplant the legal bureaucratic knowledge that rejects and ignores and erases Indigenous approaches to data and data analysis. And she makes the case that these types, you know, as an example, these types of approaches, force us right, there’s guidance here for all of us, because it kind of forces us to critically evaluate what we are doing when we are doing research on what counts as evidence, right and what can collaboration look like — deep and meaningful collaboration — with each other with communities in the doing of research and work that reflects the lives and concerns of communities and, you know, how might rethinking how we approach our work. Help us also rethink fundamental questions about our disciplines and disciplinary boundaries and even the meaning of authorship and beyond.

Andrea Baldwin: Yeah, for me intersectionality cannot work unless it is decolonial. And I’m saying this as a Caribbean woman who was educated in the Caribbean, who has traveled to the US as a fully formed, well-made person who came to work here. All of my education up to my PhD is in the Caribbean, and you come to this space and this is a space that says that everything outside of this space is not fully formed and well-made, right? And so intersectionality in order for me to find usefulness in the term intersectionality, I have to believe I have to engage and I have to it has to be to decolonial otherwise, then it does not apply to my fully formed self, right? Because if if everyone in that archipelago of human otherness, including those who are formerly colonized, and in the Caribbean, we know they’re still colonized countries, right? It cannot make sense unless it is decolonial for me, it just can’t. And that’s the short answer. For those who are wanting to say that intersectionality, for instance, is a legal framework, or comes out of that critical legal framework, then it has to be decolonial, because the law is the state. I mean, if you are critiquing the law, you’re critiquing the state, you’re fundamentally saying that this is wrong. These laws are bad. They’re affecting these people who have always been seen and other and if this is if, and this is for people that I don’t, you know, like, if that is if this if you’re saying that intersectionality is just legal, and that is the hill that you’re going to die on, you’re also dying on the hill, that is decolonial. Period.

Wanda Pillow: I’m going to move us into some questions that are in the q&a. And do keep, attendees, do keep putting your questions in there. Let’s look at. Sorry, I lost track of which one I wanted to start with. There’s some questions in here around who determines whether something is intersectional or not? And who gets to say they’re doing intersectional intersectionality? Which has been a debate started within the academy, right? And has been in there’s a piece of this too. There’s some comments in the q&a about well, has an intersectionality been coopted, right, and Black women’s erasure within those lack of citational practices. Which then also means there’s a lack of attention to the labor, right, that goes into this theoretical, theoretically, mythologically, but also in praxis and in pedagogy. And as Andrea, as you were describing, what happens, right within the academy, but if we’re taking up a question of who gets to say what intersectionality is, what’s our advice on that?

Mecca Sullivan: Okay, this is not, this is a really interesting question. And so if this sort of, you know, me kind of thinking through this really kind of provocative question. My first thought is to kind of question the question, or the terms of the question, right? Sort of, you know, this search for authorization, there is, I think, maybe it is an indication of a different question, you know, kind of attendant question that’s about sort of, how do we know when intersectionality is being done effectively, right? Because I think, for my mind, at least in, you know, an intersectional perspective would say that this is not something that is externally sort of defined or again, authorized, right. And in fact, we want to sort of move away from that sort of colonial or at least potentially hegemonic logic, where in, you know, there’s a kind of central locust of power that gets to say, that is good, that is bad, or that is right, you know, that that does it, right, or that does it wrong, right, that seems to be very much sort of complicit with and I’m just thinking this through.

But that seems to echo I’ll say, some of the logics of lack of knowledge production that I think intersection analysis wants to kind of weed behind, right, or sort of expand. And so I think maybe another question that’s related is sort of, how do we know when we’re doing intersectional analysis? And I think that brings us back to the conversation that we’ve had right? Are we constantly attempting to navigate multiple structures of difference in power? Are we constantly challenging ourselves to you know, to be attentive to, listen to, learn from and center multiple voices, including the voices of race and gender subjects, for example. You know, that have we committed to and are we continually committing to that integrative practice and analysis? For me that maybe is a is a question that, for me, sort of calls me a little bit further in my thinking of what intersectionality can do, right? Because if it stops with, you’ve done it or you’ve not done it, then it’s not it isn’t intersectional analysis. You know, talking to students, I often talk about the language of ally, right. And the notion of ally as an identity. Well, you know, how far does that get us? If you fight? If it’s a static fixed identity, then are you actively doing the work of alliance. Are practicing the kind of solidarity that that that identity, that language of identity sort of purports to convey? Or confer? And I think there’s a similar logic at play here. So that’s just initial thoughts.

Wanda Pillow: Yeah, okay. So I’m going to add in on that, and I do want to hear from Christy and Andrea on that, too. And, Andrea, I’m going to tack this other piece on for you just make it even more. But so there’s some conversation in the q&a too, about well, how do I support intersectionality? And I think pieces of that are also coming up in the q&a about, well, how would a person who is cis heteronormative and White, can that person be intersectional? And can they participate in intersectionality? And I think, pieces of this we’ve addressed but let’s return right, and hone in on some of those responses. And I guess there is another piece of this here, too, is can– can someone who is White be intersectional?

Andrea Baldwin: Okay that is a lot there. So, to the question about– there’s so many, um…

Wanda Pillow: Deal with it how you want, Andrea.

Andrea Baldwin: Okay, so, I was gonna weigh in and say that, um, how do we know if who can do intersectionality? I think that’s the gist of the entire thing who can do it? Yeah, I’m from and how do you do intersectionality, I think, um, for me, as Mecca, put it so well, like, this is an ongoing type of work that we’re doing, right. And my– the ground like, you know, my son says that “the floor is lava,” like the bar is on the ground, for me is “do no harm.” That is that is what it is for me in terms of doing intersectionality where and again, like my really good friend Tanya Jean says, like, “no move– no movement, no one is innocent.” So even in Black feminisms, you know, is not an innocent like there, there are things that happen all the time. As we are learning as we’re growing, as we’re moving forward, we learn not to say things that we took for granted before. We learned not to do things that we took for granted before. But I think if we are constantly doing that reflexive work and thinking through this, in, in the vein of intersectionality, was created, and has this trajectory and this history and this activist history, which means to to do no harm. That’s basically the bars on the floor. And that’s it, do no harm.

Do not, you know, we’re not we’re trying to, the folks that have been throughout history have been seen as non human and nonpersons. We are trying to say that these people are human, too. These people deserve the things, right. And so intersectionality, as a practice should be that we’re always trying to be decent human beings. Again, that’s the bar on the floor. And so if White people can be intersectional, in terms of how they do work in practice, yes. But your intersectionality cannot be used against Black people. Your intersectionality cannot be used against queer people. Your intersectionality cannot be used against disabled people. If you engage in intersectionality, which is I do not want to harm folks in the way in which I’m doing this work. In terms of you know, I’m going to use intersectionality in the academy to say that we want this one Black feminist, and we’re going to work her to death because we just are doing it for show and performativity then that is doing harm that is not intersectionality. And so if we go from the from the very low bar of do no harm, then we can all do intersectional work.

Christy Glass: Yeah, I would only add going back to Andrea’s earlier point about reflexivity and honesty, right. We have to be honest about our place in the world and our complicity in the systems that do harm. And I think we have to do the really hard work of recognizing the way in which White women have been and continue to be gatekeepers in the academy. Right? Doing harm, you know, getting a little bit of access and privilege and then slamming the door behind you and you know, keep you holding it shut. I also the these questions also, again, bring up Jennifer Nash’s recent work where she, you know, talks about the ways in which we often expect Black women to do the labor of gatekeeping intersectional, purity, right, that, that Black women are often, you know, expected to tell us what intersectionality is, and to tell us what’s co-optation. And, you know, I hope we can, again, be reflexive and honest about those kinds of expectations. And she also makes the point that I think is worth mentioning, potentially here that we often think about intersectionality in really limited ways is kind of a critique or corrective of White feminism, as opposed to an incredibly, you know, dynamic and rigorous paradigm in its own right. And I think both of those moves, right, expecting Black women to kind of patrol the boundaries of intersectional thinking and, you know, limiting our understanding of intersectionality as a critique of White feminism, both of those are reductive and center Whiteness. I think both of those moves are in the business of centering Whiteness. And my hope is that we can, we can again, to Andrea’s point, be reflexive and honest about our tendencies to do that.

Wanda Pillow: Great, yeah, um okay. We have some comments, just saying thank you for the conversation. And so I want to turn to a– put another couple of these together. And so our Dean of Transform, Dean Kathryn Stockton, is asking us to give an example of intersectionality that gets us to something powerful in, or against an institution. And there’s a question another question in here that’s asking another kind of question about that, too. Can institutions engage in intersectional work? I guess that’s what our three-year Mellon Foundation focuses about, too. So putting Dean Stockton and this other question about can institutions do intersectional work?

Mecca Sullivan: Well, I mean, it does seem to me that yeah, absolutely. You know, one of the many things that I think institutions offer us are spaces and resources, right? You know, tools for the kinds of well, various kinds of, of sort of knowledge production, circulation of knowledge and organizing, right. And so I think this is maybe, you know, an example of intersectional work happening through the institution. And, you know, I think, probably all of us in our classrooms, right, imagine that as a site where we do, you know, sort of radical, potent, powerful intersectional work. And I think, yeah, institutions, they really they do offer a lot in terms of, you know, spaces and resources that, you know, and gatherings of voices and storylines, right, that might not otherwise happen. So I think that there’s a lot of sort of power and strength and possibility there.

Wanda Pillow: We have a, and I like that, you know, Dean Stockton was like, give us an example. Tell us an example of this. And that is so powerful, and one of our colleagues in Transform is asking, is just saying, you know, it’s really different when Hillary Clinton tweets about intersectionality. And it could be any number of people, it doesn’t even need to be, right, Hillary Clinton, it’s very different than when Audre Lorde was speaking about it as revolutionary. And so this again, goes back to the sort of co-optation perhaps of intersectionality. But perhaps we’re at such a circulation of intersectionality. Now, and it has become this intersectionality wars in both academia in popular culture, political culture, that I feel like what we’re saying is we’re keeping our eyes on what it’s doing and what we are doing with intersectionality. And what intersectionality requires of us, as well as the kinds of text and relationality ease that we think are part of really doing intersectionality? And that that’s what becomes key in our teaching, too.

Andrea Baldwin: Yeah, definitely, I think, going back to Dean Stockton’s question about an example, like the example his whole university has turned intersectionality into diversity, like, it means the same thing across, like, intersectionality is not diversity. That’s not what it means. And to an end, we see this play out over and over again, we want to get all of these diverse bodies into these seats into these universities. So we’re gonna, we’re gonna have them, we’re gonna admit this quota of Black folks, or this quota of queer folks or this quota of women. And what that means is that we are, but by up in our diversity numbers, we are more intersectional. And that’s not true, because I mean, but because this is where we are sitting right now in terms of the university space, that’s, I think that example, is palatable to all of– or not palatable is not the word, is close to home for all of us.

Because what you know, when you when you bring in all of these people, then what are you doing, sometimes what we’re doing more often than not is harmful, because we’re not providing the resources that these students need. We’re not providing the the the faculty to help the students. And what that means is that, that faculty ended up with much more work. And so you’re saying, when you when you equate diversity and intersectionality, and you are bringing all of these bodies, because they’re all different went back to what Audre Lorde, you know, is saying, because they’re all different, but you don’t really respect that different, you don’t really respect that culture, you’re not interrogating the colonial system of the academy, it means that when you equate diversity to intersectionality, you are in fact doing harm. Right? Um, and so that would be my example.

Wanda Pillow: Nice. There is a I know we are getting, we’ve gotten a bit past our time, but there is a question in the q&a. And, and whoever submitted this, because it’s anonymous. I just want to encourage them, email me. I’m the only Pillow at University of Utah. So please email me the question is, is there a space in the approaches to intersectionality to consider nonhuman animals? And I think I would extend this question to say it’s about we’re back to the human-nonhuman and intersectionality right alongside and understanding a deep understanding of colonial and decolonialism gets us right there to this question, then it becomes not only about “animals,” right? It becomes about a relationality to space, to geographies, and to land. I love that question. Thank you for asking it, I would be happy to talk with that person by email and, and provide some readings and responses to that. So we’re going to turn it over right now, at this point to Dean Kathryn Stockton, Dean of the Transform School at Utah.

Kathryn Stockton: I think I’m kind of left with one word, which is “wow.” You know, and there were so many one-liners in this conversation, this conversation that just kept building and building and building, I tend not picture that there’s anybody n here who wants you to stop. Because as you keep going, then the next generative path happens, and next. So I’m going to take those one-liners, which I wrote down, they go about 100 feet deep, you know, each. And the beauty of that is we can keep coming back to this recording, to hear you, to sync with you, to think by your side.

It’s really just my happy task to say thank you and to say you are very much of our heart now. This is our inaugural event. This is beginning a three-year building of a collective that we hope is not just going to be a three-year process. But it’s going to be a process, yes, for this institution. So thank you, Dr. Sullivan and Dr. Baldwin coming from afar to visit us and of course, Dr. Glass who’s close at hand. And I just do have to say of course I love the emphasis on narrative. So I cannot wait to be immersed in the book. And of course, you know, I was at the book launch for Dr. Baldwin, which was its own phenomenal conversation and just an incredible segue into this one. So I want to say that of course what we are going to be building institutionally, structurally, but interpersonally and relationally is a Transformative Intersectional Collective. We are grateful to the Mellon Foundation for giving us that grant money. And I just want to give a little shout-out in case there’s here to our also our fellow PI’s, our principal investigators, at the other five and possibly six universities. I want to name them, because as soon as I named them you will recognize them as amazing souls whose work you have learned from as have I, Gayatri Gopinath at NYU, Tiffany King at University of Virginia, Elizabeth West at Georgia State, Karen Thompson at University of Southern California. And I believe also soon joining us Cynthia Oliver, at University of Illinois, Champaign Urbana. So I could not be more excited about this beginning.

And again, with such humility, we thank you for bringing just this incredible wisdom to our door to our screen. And I think we will feel very sewn some to the bone with you in these conversations. And we will be reading you trust me we are going to be reading your books. Those are going to be on our lists and indeed we might have to ask you back to converse a little more with you. Thank you, panelists, thank you Dr. Pillow for moderating in such a beautiful way. Of course, thank you Estela Hernandez for all the work and Kilo Zamora for being in the chat and making everything go so smoothly. It’s been a beautiful afternoon. And I feel I actually I’m gonna hazard some hope for something that we can collectively do together. So thank you all and enjoy the rest of your weekend.

Wanda Pillow: Great. Take care, everybody.

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U Giving Day 2022

What is the Transform Dolores Huerta Scholarship?

The Transform Dolores Huerta Scholarship for Social Justice Community Engagement provides a platform for students to gain experience and access to mentors for a new way of thinking about and applying the information gained in the classroom. This scholarship also supports students as they participate in community-engaged social justice work via an internship within the School for Cultural and Social Transformation (Transform) or a project of their own design.

Why donate to the Transform Dolores Huerta Scholarship?

Through internships and community-engaged learning, we assist our students in putting their intellectual excitement to work with trusted community organizations. We place high value on community-engaged learning that enables students to gain lived experience, develop mentorship networks, and build new ways of applying knowledge gleaned in the classroom.
Your contribution will help us establish a scholarship that will facilitate our own student-leaders’ efforts to put ideas from the classroom into forceful motion to change the world.