In this episode, the first in a new series entitled "What Does Anthropology Sound Like," Dr. Sophie Chao and Dr. Bianca C. Williams join Contributing Editor Cory-Alice André-Johnson to discuss the intersections between activism and anthropology. As the primary focus of the series is to showcase the various forms anthropology takes, in addition to answering a few questions about style and method, both guest also share excerpts from their work as anthropologists and activists.
Through a written passage and audio recordings of aural landscape mapping, Dr. Chao reflects on the ways sounds and silence are used by West Papuan Marind in their land rights struggles against the encroachment of the palm oil industry. Dr. Williams champions the usefulness of anger in learning, organizing, and bringing about change, through an engagement with Audre Lorde's "The Uses of Anger" and audio from various Black Lives Matter protests she helped to organize as part of BLM 5280 in Denver.
BLM 5280 Videos by Gino Canella
Sophie Chao is a Postdoctoral Research Associate at the University of Sydney’s School of Philosophical and Historical Inquiry. She received a Bachelor of Arts in Oriental Studies (First Class) and Master of Science in Social Anthropology from The University of Oxford. Her PhD at Macquarie University was funded by an International Endeavour Scholarship and was awarded the Australian Anthropological Society Best PhD Thesis Prize and the Macquarie University Vice-Chancellor’s Commendation in 2019. This research was based on long-term ethnographic fieldwork in rural West Papua, where she examined how deforestation and monocrop oil palm expansion reconfigure the multispecies lifeworld of indigenous Marind communities. For more on Dr. Chao, please visit her website: https://www.morethanhumanworlds.com/.
Bianca C. Williams is an Associate Professor of Anthropology at The Graduate Center, CUNY. In her book, The Pursuit of Happiness: Black Women, Diasporic Dreams, and the Politics of Emotional Transnationalism (2018, Duke University Press), Williams argues that pursing happiness is a political project for Black women, while examining how they use international travel and the Internet as tools for leisure and creating diasporic relationships. She is currently working on two projects: an edited volume with Dian Squire and Frank Tuitt on plantation politics and campus rebellions in higher education; and a book on "radical honesty" as pedagogy, organizing tool, and disciplinary practice. Dr. Williams is the Executive Program Chair for AAA2020, which will be held in St. Louis with the theme "Truth and Responsibility." For more information on Dr. Williams, please visit her website at: https://about.me/biancaphd.
This episode was produced by Cory-Alice André-Johnson. Special thanks to Dr. Sophie Chao and Dr. Bianca C. Williams for sharing their insights and work. Deep gratitude and appreciation to Shelmith Wanjiru, the Executive Producer for this episode, and to Beth Derderian and Josh Rivers for their guidance, advice, and editing.
Intro and outro: All the Colors in the World by Podington Bear.
Logo designed by Janita van Dyk.
Referenced by Sophie Chao:
Casey, Edward S. 1996. "How to Get from Space to Place in a Fairly Short Stretch of Time: Phenomenological Prolegomena." In Senses of Place, edited by Steven Feld and Keith H. Basso, 14–51. Sante Fe, N.Mex: School of American Research.
Descola, Philippe. 1986. La Nature domestique: Symbolisme et praxis dans l'écologie des Achuar. Paris: Editions de la Maison des Sciences de l’Homme.
Feld, Steven. 2003. “A Rainforest Acoustemology.” In The Auditory Culture Reader, edited by Michael Bull and Les Back, 223–40. Oxford: Berg.
Gell, Alfred. 1994. "The Language of the Forest: Landscape and Phonological Iconism in Umeda." In The Anthropology of Landscape: Perspectives on Place and Space, edited by Eric Hirsch and Michael O'Hanlon, 232–54. Oxford: Clarendon.
Kahn, Miriam. 1996. “Your Place and Mine: Sharing Emotional Landscapes in Wamira, Papua New Guinea.” In Senses of Place, edited by Steven Feld and Keith H. Basso, 167–96. Sante Fe, N.Mex: School of American Research.
Whitehouse, Andrew. 2015. “Listening to Birds in the Anthropocene: The Anxious Semiotics of Sound in a Human-Dominated World.” Environmental Humanities 6, no. 1: 53–71.
Referenced by Bianca C. Williams:
Berry, Maya J., Claudia Chávez Argüelles, Shanya Cordis, Sarah Ihmoud, and Elizabeth Velásquez Estrada. 2017. "Toward a Fugitive Anthropology: Gender, Race, and Violence in the Field." Cultural Anthropology 32, no. 4: 537–65.
Lorde, Audre. 1997. “The Uses of Anger.” Women’s Studies Quarterly 25, nos. 1–2: 278–85
Williams, Bianca C. 2016. "The Anthropoliteia #BlackLivesMatterSyllabus Project, Week 8: Bianca C. Williams On 'The Uses of Anger' By Audre Lorde." Anthropoliteia, November 3.
[00:00:00] [Anthropod Theme Music]
Cory-Alice André-Johnson [00:00:14] Welcome to AnthroPod. I'm your host, Cory-Alice André-Johnson. Today we'll be discussing activism with Bianca Williams and Sophie Chao as part of the new series entitled "What Does Anthropology Sound Like" The series seeks to showcase the wide range of possibilities when fieldwork, methodology, and theory come together into some kind of anthropological product or production. This includes monographs, journal articles, and conference papers. But it can also take the form of poetry, theater, film, social media, social engagement, teaching, and more. Each episode in the series will focus on a different theme, inviting two anthropologists to share their work around that theme. All participants will also answer the same three questions about the relationship between doing anthropology and the theme of that episode, highlighting the various ways that they approach making anthropology. Let's get into it with today's theme: activism.
CA [00:01:09] First, we'll hear from Dr. Sophie Chao, postdoctoral research associate at the University of Sydney's School of Philosophical and Historical Inquiry and Honorary Postdoctoral Fellow at Macquarie University. She will present some of the work she has done in conjunction with West Papuan communities to resist the encroachment of the palm oil industry.
CA [00:01:30] Welcome, Dr. Chao.
Sophie Chao [00:01:32] Hi there.
CA [00:01:33] So my first question is why did you choose to make this piece and in this way?
SC [00:01:38] I chose to write about maps because making maps with indigenous Marind was one of the best ways in which I came to understand the meaning of the landscape to these communities, the ways in which it's alive with human and more-than-human life, the way it's inscribed with pasts, with memories, and with emotions. So much of mapping is about a tuning to the fine details of the environment of the forest, of its different species and of their movements. So, for me, mapping was really both an ethnographic method and an activist mode of research. This landscape we're mapping is such a contested geography that is very much sought after by the government and by corporations for profit making for palm oil production. But that's also one that indigenous peoples are struggling very much striving to protect and to have their rights recognized to try to, you know, bring out these GPS coordinates, these new metrics, and the way these new metrics were accompanied with sounds of birds, sounds of stories and songs to sort of show, you know, how numbers, stories, songs together participated in giving flesh meanings to these spaces. What I did do is try to really bring out in the text the really diverse array of acoustics that enliven the landscape that we were trying to map. So, from the songs that were being sung by my fellow members to the stories they were telling me about the species that we were not seeing but simply hearing. I also tried to really describe or flesh out the dissonances that we were mapping. So, the sounds of destruction, the sound of chainsaws and bulldozers that sat uncomfortably alongside the cry of birds or the sound of the wind of water, of rivers, and so on. And then thirdly, and just as importantly, the sound of silence or the absence of sound, which is something that has to be recorded.
SC [00:03:37] Many of my informants were adamant about this because it speaks to the impacts of overwhelming human domination over space and the killing of the sounds that embody the multispecies liveliness of this foreign landscape that is now being jeopardized by mono crops, by monoculture, and a homogeneous conception of what nature should be and how productive that nature can be.
CA [00:04:01] Tell us about a particular stylistic element you used and why.
SC [00:04:05] One stylistic element that I thought was powerful in terms of conveying these conflicting ways of understanding and representing the landscape is the section where we've just encountered this bird sitting somewhere high in the canopy. And one of the elders that I'm walking with insists that I map the sounds because this was a very meaningful encounter with a species that this elder's clan shares common descent from ancestral spirits. And so, we were in the forests and I could hear this this whistle somewhere in the foliage. And I was holding this GPS. So, I map with one beep, I map the coordinates of the space we're in. And then my friends start telling me the story of this bird, this black-crested bulbul, or Rau. They began to tell me its origins. They began to tell me its journeys across the landscape. They began to tell me where it rests, where it nests, where it goes to sing its last song or where it goes to die. And then they start crying as they tell these stories because they remember their pasts. They remember the stories of their ancestors. They remember the travels. And all of these different facets of the story lifeway of the bird and the humans I was with, I write one after another in a sort of list of anecdotes that seems disjuncted, but to Marind very much crystallized in that one sound, in that one space. And in that one GPS point. And so, at the end of the paragraph describing, you know, this sort of a multispecies symphony that was the space I was in, I simply write beep, the sound of my GPS, whistle, the sound of this bird kin, then the GPS coordinate itself: S, 7 degrees, 11 minutes, 202 seconds. E, 140 degrees, 30 minutes, 366 seconds, and then finally: khaw, the Marind name for this ancestral bird spirit.
SC [00:05:55] And then I leave it there because I think, you know, the narratives that preceded this listing of the different facets of the place and of the bird form a beautiful contrast with these simple numerics, simple words both in English and in Marind which sort of sit together somewhat awkwardly, but that communicate, to me at least, all of the multiple ontologies that collide or that come together in this one experience and in this one space.
CA [00:06:19] Why is activism anthropological or why is anthropology activism?
SC [00:06:25] I have certainly always been one to believe that anthropology stems from a desire, you know, not just to study and understand the world or plural worlds, but also to harness one's knowledge of one's own world and the ones one has the privilege to immerse oneself and be a guest in order to effect a change for the better for the communities we work for, in line with the ethics, the principles, the aspirations that they themselves have. So, I've always taken that as a basic tenet of my approach. I mean, I suppose the desire to practice cultural relativism, to understand how worlds multiply along the lines of the perspectives of those who inhabit them really is at the core of anthropological practice and in that sense is already a form of activism. The desire to unflatten ontologies from one singular, homogeneous model towards the idea that we may in fact inhabit companion worlds that sits more or less comfortably alongside of each other. I think in addressing the plurality of ontology, anthropology is always activist in the sense that it accounts for the deep power imbalances that exist in and across these different worlds and ontologies. The position of the anthropologist, him or herself, in the first place is often one of power. The ability to be able to visit these places, to live with these communities, the institutional infrastructures that enable us to do the work that we do. And so, for me, really, activist research or doing something back for the communities that host us is really sort of a basic line in terms of acknowledging and harnessing these power dynamics to effect a change in that dynamic. Now, of course, this shift position already is one that often comes up when one thinks about the relationship between anthropology and activism. I personally certainly find it challenging. I came to this research from an activist background.
SC [00:08:21] I worked for a human rights NGO in Indonesia with the same communities that I did my PhD research with. So that required a very sort of nuanced rebalancing or discussion about expectations on the part of the communities as to what my work was about and what it could achieve in concrete terms for them in the now or for them in future generations. And that was a very important discussion to have, because anthropology is not activism. They are not mutually exchangeable roles. But I think having those conversations about the differences between the two, between the synergies across the two are ones that take place most productively in the field with the communities with whom one is trying to practice activism or whom one is trying to support, in my case, in land rights struggles and advocacy. So that relationship, I think, again, is one that one can bring to the field, that one can theorize with or interlocutors in order to find a nuanced, transversal way of working across these disciplinary divides, across positionalities, whilst at the same time never relinquishing, at least from my perspective, the idea that giving back is really a basic tenet of the anthropological ethos that the method as a theory and a way of being in the world.
[00:09:35] [Marind singing]
SC [00:09:48] At the break of dawn, a group of elders from the Marind village of Mirav in rural Merauke Regency (West Papua) headed east to map the customary territory of the Basik-Basik clan. Equipped with two GPS units I had brought to the field and gifted to my companions, we started walking. Basik-Basik elder, Yakobus, led the group, humming tunes of his childhood and regularly calling out our names—a Marind habit that ensures peoples’ souls are not captured by evil spirits dwelling in the forest and swamp. I followed Yakobus, picking insistent leeches off my arms and legs as they undulated up from the moist hummus or dropped down from the overhead foliage. Beneath our feet, the forest floor was a colorful patchwork of rotting leaves, scrambling red ants, and bright blue cassowary plums—the favorite treat of the towering forest ratite. Yakobus stopped abruptly in his tracks.
[00:10:47] [Singing stops. Silence]
SC [00:10:48] He stood in silence, looking up into the lush canopy. Suddenly, Yakobus pointed upwards and turned to me, saying, “There it is. That’s our first point. You can map that.”
[00:10:58] [recordings of mapping with Marind elders play in background]
SC [00:10:58] I could not see anything in the foliage and was unsure what Yakobus was trying to show me, or what he wanted me to map. He said: “Can’t you hear it? Can’t you hear the whistle of the khaw (black-crested bulbul) up there? That’s one of our amai (animal sibling or grandparent) telling us it knows we are here. It sings for us to continue our journey. This is an important place because it is where we met the khaw amai, so it must be mapped. Put it into the machine.” Luckily, a technologically savvy friend of mine had set up audio software in my GPS, so I was able to record the shy whistle of the bird whose yellow and black plumage remained invisible to my eyes.
SC [00:11:46] Yakobus proceeded to tell me the story of the khaw amai, which he also asked me to record. How the khaw sprung feet first and head last from the fertile soils of the Bian, marking its crest with dark blotches. How the bird received the power of flight after drinking from the river, allowing it to circle the sun and catch sunlight under its wings, which from that day on were tainted bright yellow. How the whistle of the khaw guided the ancestors of the Basik-Basik clan as they traveled across the land in search of sago. How the bird sings at dawn to mark sunrise, and today still, protects Marind generations as they walk the forest. Yakobus went silent. Then, slowly and in a low, hoarse voice, he began singing the ritual song of the khaw. The other group members lowered their heads in respect and joined in. Tears welled in their eyes as they remembered their childhood, their mothers, and the sago groves that once flourished in abundance around their villages. The GPS continued to record the sound of this place through the stories and songs of human and bird, interrupted every so often by heavy sobs, sighs, and silence. What mattered, I realized, was not so much what my companions could see in the landscape but what they could hear within it, and how this made them feel—happy, sad, nostalgic. I wondered how a single red dot on the map, a series of digits, could convey the affective textures of this multispecies symphony of a place. Beep. Whistle. S 7˚ 11’ 202” E 140˚ 30.366”. Khaw.
SC [00:13:36] After a few minutes, the song of the khaw grew faint. The mapping team advised that we follow it to other "important places." Guided by the flight of the black-crested bulbul, we roamed the forest as my friends pointed out the fruit trees from which the bird feeds, the sago groves in which it nests, the mound where it first came into existence, and the marshlands where it goes to sing its last song. The coordinates of each of these places were recorded on the GPS as part of an intricate khaw life-map, along with the locations, beings, and events that made the bird and its environment "alive." These included the names of Marind ancestors and peace-making rituals, the death of a wise woman from suanggi or black magic, the gakhul trees from which Marind fashion spears and harpoons, and the ngef shrubs whose white-pink inner bark is used as an analgesic. Landmarks incorporated the sago grove where wild pigs come in search of food, the resting place of the snake amai, and the shallow sleeping holes of the elekh fish, submerged in the wet season.
We mapped as acoustic coordinates various species of birds, the wind, the river, swaying bamboo shrubs, and the sound of sago-pounding in a nearby grove. We also incorporated sounds co-existing awkwardly with the "poetic cartographies of rainforest trails" (Feld 2003, 227)—roaring bulldozers, distant chainsaws, passing trucks, and the call to prayer of mosques built for local Muslim migrant communities. To these we added the solemn toll of the Bayau church bell, the xylophonic Für Elise chime of the state primary school, and the triumphant, if crackly, national anthem, trickling from military garrison megaphones in between shrill crescendos of stubborn static. At the boundary of a nearby oil palm plantation, my friends insisted we map the most deafening sound of all:
“Listen carefully, child,” Elder Yakobus said. “Tell me now, what do you hear?” I responded, “I’m afraid I hear nothing at all, Elder.” To which Yakobus replied, “Exactly. Map the silence. Put it into the machine.”
SC [00:15:53] The maps produced by Marind land rights activists in the Upper Bian differ from conventional maps in several respects. First, conventional maps, such as the government map described earlier, identify places primarily though the medium of vision—technological or human. In contrast, sound is the primary means through which Marind develop what Feld and Basso (1996, 11) call a "sense of place," or the bodily and affective ways in which place is known, imagined, remembered, and lived. Like other Melanesian societies for whom songs and sounds epitomize and communicate peoples’ sense of belonging within the landscape, Marind mappers situate themselves in relation to spirits and species of the forest by way of bio-acoustic encounters, such as those between my companions and the khaw bird. Knowing what to map thus requires knowing how and what to hear within the living landscape, in a practice that Feld (2003) calls "acoustemology," or knowing through hearing (see also Kirsch 2006, 48–60).
Second, conventional maps are relatively stable representations of permanent physical sites and objects in the landscape, which exist independently of the mapper. Their legibility relies on legends or map keys that list the symbols and codes used to classify different types of locations. In contrast, places become meaningful to Marind as the sites of transitory sensory encounters with beings, like the khaw, who are constantly on the move. The referential value of mapped places consists of the stories of the species heard as well as the relations that human mappers entertain with that species. For instance, to follow the call of the khaw is to trace the life-flow of the bird across space and time, as well as its relations to the many humans that have and continue to be guided by its song. Mapping, in other words, is both a kinesthetic and affective practice. It involves tracking moving beings across the landscape and it is deeply moving for those involved (see Casey 1996, 23; Kahn 1996, 168).
SC [00:17:47] Moreover, the sounds mapped by Marind land rights activists also evade categorization because different sounds mean different things to individual mappers based on their own life stories and relationships with the species encountered. Unlike the fixed codes of cartographic legends, the meaning of these sounds cannot be described out of the context in which they are heard. Furthermore, each sound is the crystallization of many other sounds, species, and stories. The protracted narratives that flesh out their dispersed meanings resist reduction to a single and unifying symbol or code.
The primacy of sound in the phenomenology of Marind mapping also arises from certain qualitative properties that differentiate sound from vision. Drawing from his fieldwork among Umeda in West Sepik, Gell (1994) notes that sound is a primary indicatory of presence and activity in forest ecologies where dense vegetation occludes much from sight (see also Descola 1986, 237). In the Upper Bian, these include the khaw perched high up in the sago palms, the chainsaws gnawing away in the concessions, the grumble of the cassowary in sacred bamboo groves, the national anthem crackling in the military garrisons, and the felt-but-not-seen caress of the wind. As they travel across space, sounds also connect humans and forest beings as emitters and auditors, even as they are physically removed from, and invisible to, one another. One cannot see or be in multiple places at the same time, but one can hear different sounds in a single place and moment.
Finally, the sonic coordinates of maps produced by Upper Bian Marind resonate with meaning because of the way they juxtapose the sounds of the forest and the sounds of its destruction. In this regard, they constitute powerful sensory embodiments of the radical transformations taking place within and upon the landscapes mapped. These sounds impact upon those who hear them in spatial and affective terms.
SC [00:19:48] When one hears a sound, one gauges its proximity, approach, retreat, direction, and one’s own position in relation to it. Some sounds, such as the song of the khaw, invite one to follow as the bird travels the landscape. People remember with fondness their origins and pasts through the cadence of other beings’ lifeworlds in ways that enhance their sense of belonging within the landscape. Other sounds, in contrast, warn of approaching threats which can then be anticipated or avoided—bulldozers hashing away at the forest, military trucks rumbling along the roads, or pesticide-spraying helicopters buzzing overhead, spreading their milky veil of hazy toxins. The deafening silence of the plantation also participates in what Whitehouse (2015, 66) calls the "anxious semiotics" of landscapes overwhelmingly dominated by man. Silence, too, must be recorded, for it represents acoustically the obliteration of life caused by the expansion of oil palm. Sonic absences and dissonances thus capture powerfully the reality of disappearing forests and invading plantations. They produce disturbing cacophonies that mirror the disrupted geographies and lifeworlds of the beings caught in their midst.
[00:21:07] [Marind drumming and singing]
Cory-Alice André-Johnson [00:21:51] Next, we're gonna hear from Bianca C. Williams about her organizing with Black Lives Matter. Dr Williams is an associate professor of anthropology at the Graduate Center CUNY. In her book, The Pursuit of Happiness: Black Women Diasporic Dreams and the Politics of Emotional Trans Nationalism (Duke University Press, 2018), Williams argues that pursuing happiness is a political project for black women, while examining how they use international travel and the Internet as tools for leisure and creating diasporic relationships. She is currently working on two projects, an edited volume with Diane Squire and Frank Tuitt on plantation politics and campus rebellions in higher education and a book on radical honesty as pedagogy, organizing tool, and disciplinary practice. Thanks for joining us, Dr. Williams.
Bianca Williams [00:22:42] Hi. Thank you very much for having me.
CA [00:22:45] OK, let's get right into the first question, which is why did you choose to do this piece and in this way?
BW [00:22:49] Michael Marshall was a person who was living on the streets, who was struggling with mental illness, and he was arrested by Denver police for entering private property and was asked to pay one hundred dollars bond and could not afford it. So he was brought to some downtown detention center and was killed in custody by the sheriff. He was choked to death. His niece, Natalia Marshall and his family had been organizing for months to get the tape of his death, of his killing, released to them so they could see what took place. And the city, including the mayor, was refusing to release the tape. In Denver, one of the largest MLK celebrations in the country is the marade, which is a combination of a march/parade. Over tens of thousands of folks come every year to celebrate MLK Day. And that particular year in 2016, the National and Global Network of BLM asked that chapters participate in an action or a social media campaign or some way of reclaiming MLK. So reclaiming Martin Luther King Junior's dream and his words and actually applying it to today. Many politicians were giving kind of flowery language around equity and equality and diversity. And we wanted to reclaim MLK words to actually lead to some type of economic, political, or social change.
BW [00:24:17] So we decided to use the marade as an opportunity to organize with other community folks, to get the city to pay attention to what was happening around police violence and police brutality. There were numerous cases of police violence in that year and of course, still today. So Paul Castaway was killed that year, Jesse Hernandez had been killed, and their families had been organizing for a while to try to get some form of justice. And we hoped that taking over the marade, redirecting the marade and putting it on a different path than it normally had been, and then making some type of speech would galvanize and help mobilize the community to ask the mayor to release the tapes. The speech you all are hearing is by Amy E. Brown, who was one of my co-founders of Black Lives Matter 5280. The Denver chapter of BLM, which was co-founded by myself, Amy Brown and Rev. Dawn Duval Riley, in May 2015. You hear Amy giving a speech at the Denver marade. So what you hear is the anger and frustration that Amy, our chapter, our community, thousands of people in Denver have been feeling around a variety of issues that were leading to economic and political injustice in the city, not only around police violence and police brutality, but being pushed out of cities because of increase in rent and lack of affordable housing, increased militarization of the police, all these things is what Amy was kind of giving voice to. We wanted to offer an intersectional analysis so that we could demonstrate to the city, especially the mayor, that we understood that these things were intersectional, that they were not separate at all. These issues that we were experiencing as a part of the Denver community as black folks were connected.
BW [00:26:12] For me, anthropology has always been about organizing activism and publics, and emotion is a huge part of that. Emotion is a form of data and knowledge and an energy that can be used to make change in the world. And anthropology that is about the public should be paying attention to both emotion, organizing publics, and activism.
BW [00:26:33] The blog Anthropoliteia asked us to write about a text that we were finding useful to teach during the Movement for Black Lives. And it was part of their Black Lives Matter syllabus project. I'm going to read a piece that I wrote about teaching with anger November 2016 when I was both organizing with BLM, I had also just submitted my file for tenure review. I was having a really rough time during that process, in an ethnic studies department at that, and was also truly saddened deeply by what was going on in our country and was having a tough time, not only myself, but with my students wrapping our heads around what was happening during that election and the campaigns before the election in that month. So I was asked to write about BLM and decided to write about the useful texts of Audre Lorde's "Uses of Anger" and to think about how it was influencing my pedagogy.
CA [00:27:36] And can you tell us about a specific stylistic choice you made and why?
BW [00:27:42] You hear Amy's voice as she's giving the speech. If you go to the YouTube video, you can see that there's five black women standing up there, arms locked with her, protecting her as she is giving this speech. We were worried about safety. We wanted to affirm one another. We wanted to lock arms to make sure that we remain connected. We wanted to show Amy that we were validating and encouraging the fact that she was speaking our truths. Again, as a chapter, I am really thrilled by the work that we did that day because we knew that the structuring, the practice, the hours and days of thinking through how to keep one another safe. It's one of my proudest moments in a demonstration of the emotional, physical and spiritual work that anthropology and organizing have prepared me for. It's the type of change and action that I strive to participate in on a regular basis. And like my mentor, Lee D. Baker, taught me, it's the type of critical observation and participation I try to train my students to be committed to. BLM as a black women led, queer centered organization, it was important for, I thought, I mean, we thought the city to see five black women up on that platform. One person speaking for all of us. What you don't see or hear on the video is the crew of folks holding space for us. The cis men who are kind of surrounding us and creating a circle around us. Make sure no one is able to access the platform. The folks of color allies and the white allies who are also holding space, acting as liaisons with police, ensuring that the police and the mayor's private security who are surrounding us and trying very hard to intimidate us to get off the stage weren't able to actually get near us.
BW [00:29:37] So it was both in the speech itself and the action of redirecting tens of thousands of folks to march where we needed them to march. All of it was a collective and collaborative work that I'm super proud of. And the fact that we were able to help and assist the families organizing and getting that tape released was really important to us. I want to shout out Gino Canella, who is the person who recorded that speech and made that video that you see on YouTube with the subtitles. Gino was one of our allies at BLM who often worked to document our actions in the community. There's another video that Gino did of a solidarity event that we organized with the Minneapolis chapter of Black Lives Matter. After Jamar Clark was killed by two police officers, the Minneapolis chapter and other community members decided to sit in around the police precinct for, I believe, several days, probably almost two weeks. And during that time, white supremacists came and shot at the protesters, injuring five folks and sending them to the hospital. This was in November of 2016. In that video, there is a community member, a black woman, who says that anger is what get stuff done. And instead of stuff, she said another word that I won't say right now. But she was giving voice to something that I felt very strongly about. And that I continue to theorize in my research is that anger, and emotion more broadly, is full of data and knowledge. And it's something that I learned from Audre Lorde's "Uses of Anger" years ago and something that I continue to experience regularly, both in my teaching and my organizing. That emotion is full of data and knowledge. That anger in particular is productive and useful if it is channeled in action.
BW [00:31:35] If we were to talk about sound, activism, and anthropology, I would say that anthropologists have tools that can help people better understand how voice and narrative can be heard. So creating multi vocal and collaborative narratives about how meaning and truth can be affirmed. Talking openly about shared experiences both in written and verbal call and response. That community aspect is important. You hear that community aspect in that video with Amy giving her speech, right? You hear people repeating words she is saying, calling back to her, affirming the experience and the meaning in that moment. And it can be used to hold folks accountable to discuss deep responsibility and accountability as we interrogate power, how people are creating communities, how they experience belonging or not in those communities. I believe that anthropology has gifts that can do that and that we can be recognized. We're having really important conversations about citations and citation practices thanks to people like Christen Smith and Cite Black Women as a collective. And I think that anthropologists who are interested in pushing anthropology and thinking deeply about how power operates in our discipline and making a more equitable world can use voice, sound, and narrative to do these things.
CA [00:32:51] And my last question is. Why is anthropology activist or why is activism anthropological?
BW [00:32:58] For some in anthropology, my desire to be both an activist and an outspoken anthropologist is probably extra. It's probably a bit too much. I've been told that. I'm fine with that. I grow more fine with that every day. But it comes from a genealogy and a legacy of black anthropologists, particularly black feminist anthropologists, who taught me that anthropology should be grounded in activism and advocacy. That that was not something weird or, you know, strange to the discipline. That this is what we do. Where and how those folks protest, advocate, and resist may look different, but for me, this is what I came to the discipline to do. For me, anthropology is an activist discipline. It's how we use it and how we should use it. And I understand that not everyone feels that way and that not everyone agrees or that not everyone is committed to that practice. And that's fine. Folks like DuBois, hurston, Faye Harrison, Katherine Dunham, Deborah Thomas, Gina Ulysse, Lee Baker, John L. Jackson, Johnette Cole, Daná-Ain Davis, Cheryl Rodriguez. You know, A. Lynn Bolles, those folks, they created space for me to be an activist anthropologist in the way that I've always wanted to be. They may not do it like me. I may not do it like them. But we all do it in our own way. Anthropologists continue to push the boundaries of what anthropology is. And these folks hold that discipline accountable while making room for those of us who come behind them to resist, and protest, and interrogate what our responsibilities are as anthropologists and the business of truth telling, truth making, and making a more just and equitable.
BW [00:34:39] Other folks that are already doing this work that I see. I mentioned Christen Smith, Maya Berry, and Sarah Ihmoud and their crew who are talking about fugitive anthropology and pushing us to think deeply about gender and sexualized and racialized violence in the field. Tami Navarro, who is pushing us not to forget the Caribbean and the African diaspora, her work at Barnard's Research Center on art and Caribbean feminisms. Nicole Truesdell and her transformative practice institute that is really thinking through antidiversity, not to be confused with diversity work, but antidiversity work and pedagogy and how they work institutionally within higher education. Nicole is doing that work at Brown. And again, just the countless anthropologists I saw in the streets and on university quads protesting and fighting during the movement for Black Lives. And I feel like all of us are trying to push how we use the gifts of anthropology to do activist work, how we use our tools, not training to do that work.
BW [00:35:38] Moving from anthropology and the classroom to organizing spaces outside the academy forced me to grow in a variety of ways. I had to recognize that failure is a regular part of the job. Organizers know that failure is embedded in the work and will happen more often than not. The point is to learn from it and keep trying and to try your best to learn quickly from that failure. One of my graduate students in my seminar, Reimagining the Humanities for the Good of the Public, Diane reminded me about this. This semester. Diane said that there is a lot of avoidance of failure that happens as we train graduate students to be academics in particular. And I was reminded that those failures are intentionally left out of our stories, our truths as anthropologists. So it would be great to see us be more vulnerable and more open about failure and how failure is actually part of what we do. I cringe sometimes thinking about what I didn't know, the people I chose to cite in the earlier writings, not knowing their politics or even lacking a philosophy or citation practice. The things that guided me and some of my decisions early on, I kind of cringe, do I think about them? It was activism that taught me that the mistakes I make in the classroom, during fieldwork, during conferences, even now in this podcast, if I pay attention, if I admit to them, if I try to be vulnerable with them, they can teach me. I try every day to submit more to that committed learning process.
BW [00:37:05] I learned in my activism that anthropologists can be very good at asking good questions. In my chapter of BLM, I was kind of someone who was responsible for always trying to get us to ask the best questions that would offer us the best lenses to understand what was happening, what it meant, how power was operating and what could be done. This could be a very slow process and can be frustrating for folks who want to get some solution quickly. It is true that many members of my crew were regularly frustrated with me, but I think that asking the best questions is one of the gifts we get from our training and can help us get to the best solutions quicker and more effectively. In conclusion, I would just say that because of its beginnings and the way it has been used throughout time, anthropology will always be readied tool for colonizers and our oppressors. It's in its nature. But I believe that there is room for resistance, protests, activism, insurrection, and rebellion in these spaces, also. I know that more sounds like the ones in this video, the emotion, the intersectional analysis, the affirming call and response, the brave and vulnerable truth telling and truth making, the holding institutions accountable, those things that I saw during the Movement for Black Lives will be hopefully the sounds I hear in anthropology as it creates a new self, a new discipline, new institutions, today. It's anthropology I dream of seeing. It's one I'm committed to help build. It's one I'm thrilled to see colleagues, peers, and my students really begin to participate in and create for themselves. It's anthropological activists work that is about saving lives, saving souls, and being heard. Anthropology may never be a comfy home for most of us marginalized folks. Many of us ain't leaving, though. We've been here. We are here. And we're committed to writing, acting up, reminding you in podcasts, articles, and books, through teaching, organizing, and art that we will use the discipline's tools to do resistant and revolutionary work. And when they no longer are effective, when they no longer can actively be used to do that, well, we'll create new ones, but we will remain anthropologists.
BW [00:39:26] "Every woman has a well stocked arsenal of anger, potentially useful against those oppressions, personal and institutional, which brought that anger into being. Focus with precision. It can become a powerful source of energy serving progress and change." -Audre Lorde's "The Uses of Anger."
Protesters Chanting [00:39:44] We can't be silent while our friends are gunned down.
Protester [00:39:47] It is not time for us to be docile here. It is not time for you to sit here and pacify your hearts because anger is what gets shit done.
Protesters Chanting [00:39.56] We can't be silent while our friends are gunned down. We can't be silent while our friends are gunned down. We can't be silent while our friends are gunned down. We can't be silent while our friends are gunned down
BW [00:40:05] There are moments when I can feel anger raging inside of me. If I'm honest, it didn't start with the killing of Michael Brown. It didn't start with Sandra Bland or Michael Marshall or Korryn Gaines or Trayvon Martin. If I think back to identify the moment when the simmering anger spilled over into my belly and I wanted to pull my hair out with frustration, cry deep pools of tears, scream at the top of my lungs, and run into the streets to ask people: what the heck is going on? Are you paying attention? It wasn't two thousand and eleven with the execution of Troy Davis. It was then that I slowly gave myself over to the anger. Day by day, trying to figure out how this well-stocked arsenal could help me do something productive, while recognizing that I also had the potential to eat me alive. Every year since 2011, either on my own or in the classroom. I've returned to Audre Lorde's the uses of anger. While some might challenge whether this essay is anthropological, I argue that the truth in these texts are the result of long term research, deep analysis, and of being there as an insider outsider in the field. It's as though Lorde watches with ethnographic eyes, black women fighting and organizing in our streets, in classrooms, at work, at church, in courtrooms, pushing back against police violence, the criminal injustice system, anti-black racism, heterosexism, and feminisms that continue to neglect us. She observed us when she was alive and now watches from above as we use our arsenals to the best of our abilities. As a researcher interested in black women and emotional wellness, as a professor that teaches critical race and gender studies, and as an organizer with Black Lives Matter 5280, "The Uses of Anger" as our own minder at the anger that shows up as I function in these roles is useful and even vital for societal transformation. Lorde argues that it is not a wasteful emotion or energy. It is essential to the fight that will eventually get us free.
BW [00:42:07] In the increasingly divisive political climate we are living in, both in the US and globally, anger appears in a variety of ways. I have spent quite a bit of time thinking about how anger shows up in my classroom and activist organizing and how I can use it effectively to teach inside and outside of classrooms. Although I do not have the space here to detail and theorize the complexities of anger in my classroom, the anger from myself and from my students, I will admit that it has been present. I admit this because when we feel anger as professors, particularly those of us whose anger is racialized as black and dangerous and gendered as feminine and irrational, we are frequently made to feel ashamed or urge to be silent about it. We are also encouraged to create safe environments where all students, regardless of identity and disproportionate access to power, can be comfortable and learn without offense. I have written elsewhere about my pedagogical approach: a radical honesty which encourages teachers and students to be honest about the experiences, identities, and emotions they bring into the classroom while examining how these are connected to power and privilege. My point here is that it makes sense that anger is showing up in teaching, learning, and organizing space, in this moment. How would it be possible not to express an experience anger as we seek effective ways to navigate, as Audre Lorde says, "the anger of exclusion, of unquestioned privilege, of racial distortions, of silence, ill use, stereotyping, defensiveness, betrayal, and cooperation"? How is it possible to learn critical race theory or engage in anti-racist organizing practices or successfully mobilize against structural systems of violence without feeling a fire in your spirit? Lorde's essay does a wonderful job of explaining the politics of anger and that all anger is not mobilized equally. As women of color are made to feel ashamed of their anger, while white women sometimes get stuck in guilt and have white tears, Lorde argues anger amongst potential allies or accomplices can be utilized to build alliances.
BW [00:44:11] She writes, "Anger expressed and translated into action in the service of our vision and our future is a liberating and strengthening act of clarification. For it is the painful process of this translation that we identify who are our allies with whom we have great differences and who are our genuine enemies. Anger is loaded with information and energy." With increasing incidents of white fragility and white rage erupting in community organizing spaces, and my classroom, I try to remember that while all anger is not equal, all of it can be useful for change if properly channeled. If we are willing to engage in the tough, deep, and necessary conversations Lorde describes in her texts, we can move towards a more equitable world. For now is the time the anger of those organizing against oppression can no longer be ignored or simply denigrated. And I ended that with another quote from Audre Lorde that says, "To turn aside from the anger of black women with excuses or the pretext of intimidation is to award, no one power. It is merely another way of preserving racial blindness. [BW: Sorry for the ablest language.] The power of unaddressed privilege, unbreached, intact. Guilt is only another form of objectification. Oppressed peoples are always being asked to stretch a little more to bridge the gap between blindness and humanity. Black women are expected to use our anger only in the service of other people's salvation or learning. But that time is over."
Protester Call [00:45:43] Show me what community looks like.
Protesters Response [00:45:46] This is what community looks like.
Protester Call [00:45:48] Show me what community looks like.
Protesters Response [00:45:50] This is what community looks like.
Protester Call [00:45:52] Show me what community looks like.
Protesters Response [00:45:55] This is what community looks like.
MLK Protesters [00:45:56] [Cheering]
Amy E. Brown [00:45:57] [Speech] What we did not ask permission. We did not get permits. We were not invited.
MLK Protesters [00:46:02] [Cheering]
AB [00:46:04] And we are here to reclaim what is ours.
MLK Protester [00:46:07] Yes!
AB [00:46:09] Do not walk away from us!
AB [00:46:10] [Speech] Black women speaking at the feet of Dr. King. Our mayor turned his back and left.
MLK Protesters Call [00:46:17] Show me what democracy looks like.
MLK Protesters Response [00:46:18] This is what democracy looks like.
AB [00:46:20] [Speech] Because when you reclaim this day and you reclaim the truth of this day, it’s scary as hell.
MLK Protesters [00:46:26] Yeah!
AB [00:46:27] [Speech] And we have come to reclaim truth. We have come to unapologetically declare that Black Lives
AB and MLK Protesters [00:46:36] [In chorus] Matter.
[00:46:37] [music playing in marade]
AB [00:46:40] [Speech] Mayor Hancock, will you honor Dr. King beyond your poetic words this morning?
MLK Protesters [00:46:44] [Cheering]
AB [00:46:46] [Speech] Will you honor Dr. King by immediately releasing the tapes...
MLK Protester [00:46:50] Today!
AB [00:46:51] [Speech] showing the Denver Sheriff's deputies brutally murdering Michael Marshall.
MLK Protester Call [00:46:56] Release the tapes.
MLK Protesters Response [00:46:57] Release the tapes.
MLK Protester Call [00:46:58] Release the tapes.
MLK Protesters Response [00:46:59] Release the tapes.
MLK Protester Call [00:47:00] Release the tapes.
MLK Protesters Response [00:47:01] Release the tapes.
MLK Protester Call [00:47:02] Release the tapes.
MLK Protesters Response [00:47:03] Release the tapes.
AB [00:47:04] [Speech] Will you honor him by immediately dismissing the deputies involved in this brutal murder of our brother?
MLK Protesters Response [00:47:14] Dismiss the deputies.
AB Call [00:47:16] Dismiss these deputies.
MLK Protesters Response [00:47:18] Dismiss the deputies.
AB [00:47:19] [Speech] As you pledge to honor Dr. King today, will you honor his legacy of fighting for the poor? Will you return to your work tomorrow and immediately repeal the urban camping ban?
MLK Protester [00:47:31] Today!
MLK Protesters [00:47:32] [Cheering].
AB Call [00:47:34] Repeal the urban camping ban.
MLK Protesters Response [00:47:36] Repeal the urban camping ban.
AB [00:47:38] [Speech] Stop criminalizing homelessness.
MLK Protesters [00:47:40] [Cheering].
AB [00:47:42] [Speech] Elected officials, homelessness is your failure, no one else's.
MLK Protester [00:47: 47] Yes it is. Yes it is.
AB [00:47:49] [Speech] We cannot afford to live here. We have been strategically driven out of our home. Dr. King would be honored if you, Mayor Hancock, would hold developers accountable . . .
MLK Protesters [00:48:03] Yes! [Cheering].
AB [00:48:04] [Speech] to the promise of affordable housing.
AB Call [00:48:06] Affordable housing now.
MLK Protesters Response [00:48:08] Affordable housing now.
MLK Protester Call [00:48:11] Affordable housing now.
MLK Protesters Response [00:48:13] Affordable housing now.
AB Call [00:48:15] Change the name Stapleton.
MLK Protesters Response [00:48:17] Change the name Stapleton.
AB Call [00:48:20] Change the name Stapleton.
MLK Protesters Response [00:48:22] Change the name Stapleton.
AB Call [00:48:24] Demilitarize the police.
MLK Protesters Response [00:48:25] Demilitarize the police.
AB [00:48:29] [Speech] Honor Dr. King's commitment to community by diverting twelve million of our dollars to rehabilitation programs aimed at reducing, reducing our prison population...
MLK Protesters [00:48:43] [Cheering]
AB [00:48:45] [Speech] and providing mental health resources for our brothers and sisters in jail.
MLK Protesters [00:48:50] [Cheering]
AB [00:48:52] [Speech] We demand resources not retribution.
MLK Protesters Response [00:48:55] Resources not retribution.
AB Call [00:48:58] We demand our money be used for resources, not retribution.
Protesters Response [00:49:02] Resources not retribution.
AB Call [00:49:03] Do Black Lives Matter?
MLK Protesters Response [00:49:04] Black Lives Matter.
AB [00:49:06] [Speech] And although he is not here, we declare firmly that Mayor Hancock,
AB, BW, and other women on platform [00:49:12] [In chorus] your black life matters too.
MLK Protesters [00:49:15] [Cheering]
[00:49:23] [Athropod Theme Music]
CA [00:49:28] Thank you for listening to AnthroPod, the podcast for the Society of Cultural Anthropology. My name is Cory-Alice André-Johnson, and I am your host for this episode. I'd like to extend a warm thank you to both Dr. Sophie Chao and Dr. Bianca Williams for sharing their thoughts, insights, and work on anthropology, activism, and organizing. I'd also like to share my deep appreciation for Shelmith Wanjiru, the executive producer for this episode. We hope that you will tune in again to hear more episodes in our new series: "What Does Anthropology Sound Like."