by Jallicia Jolly (10/25/16)
Step into our 2016 anti-black and anti-women police state. We see the race-neutral and gender-biased approach to governing and policymaking. We witness the systematized efforts to weaken black political organizing and undermine women’s health. We feel the trauma of survival in our captivity in a world that institutionalizes the dynamic dehumanization of marginalized groups. We smell the stench of a notorious, fear-based election of our 45th president.
This post’s pithy title is directly inspired by literary critic and black feminist scholar Hortense Spiller’s “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe: An American Grammar Book”, where she rethinks the black female subject in terms of the dispossession caused by the slave trade. Spiller’s groundbreaking article provided the vocabulary to talk about psychological violence Black women experience as they navigate the liminal, in-between space outside the normative ideas of whiteness and American-ness. Where the grammars – anti-black violence and anti-woman – coalesce, we see the disposability of the black and female body.
I invite us to invest in the revolutionary grounds outlined by Spiller. As we recognize the insurgent potential of Black women, we can see the dispossession that characterizes black life in the era of electoral politricks – what I consider the election period characterized by individual career progressions and self-interest conveyed in empty campaign promises. While the complex articulations of power and meaning in this political moment have foregrounded the suffering of Black women in particular, we see the terrors manifest in multiple bodies and communities. Where the terrors against the multiply marginalized collide, we also see the flickering embers of our liberation.
How did we get here?
Etched along the contours of our North American political borders are deep tensions and anxieties. Amidst the fraught intersection of law, gender, and race, ferocious attacks on the lives of people of color, as well as the poor, the working-class, the incarcerated, and (un)documented immigrants, become commonplace and integral to the American cultural grammar. Laws, media, and public discourse show us that we have reached a frightening climax of terror in this retrenchment period – where the lives of socially and politically marginalized people, particularly women of color, are low priorities in our national agenda.
At the core of this climax of terror is the ongoing debasement of electoral politics. This is manifested in what Clarence Lang describes as the “deregulation of campaign spending, the personal corruption of candidates purchased through massive amounts of money and career patronage, the use of vile demagoguery to conceal elite decadence and hegemony, and updated weapons of voter suppression against marginalized populations.” Concurrently, symbolic performances of progressive politics have mainstreamed extreme forms of suffering – police brutality, massive divestments in basic resources, and the exploitation of black grief and trauma. This character of dehumanization subjects our daily acts of survival to lethal and soul-killing scrutiny.
What’s going on?
Irony speaks volumes in the climax of terrors. As we see the departure of our first black president and the possible election of our first female president, we also see the only case of women charged and jailed for feticide in the U.S. brought against immigrant women of color such as Purvi Petal and Bei Bei Shuai in Indiana. Mike Spence, Indiana Governor and Donald Trump’s vice presidential running mate, is a far-right, racist, conservative, staunch opponent of women’s reproductive rights who has cemented subsequent attacks on women’s reproductive health rights. Our pretense of progress dissolves in the enactment of classed and racialized surveillance at the level of the body.
The contradictions pierce the depths of souls. Candidates offer symbolic representation and access amidst ongoing threats to access to basic resources such as water, quality health care, reproductive services. Though health care has not been central to the 2016 campaigns, we see reduced public funding for preventative health services such as STI counseling and testing, HIV/AIDS care and support, and cancer screenings alongside persistent health disparities and increased chronic disease morbidity and mortality.
The psychological toll is soul-killing. Black death and trauma remains central to the campaign of the Democratic Party. At the July 2016 Democratic National Convention, black mothers whose children had been killed by either police or white vigilantes, in the “Mothers of the Movement,” encouraged the public to vote for Clinton and thereby promoted her path for restoration and change. The assemblage of women who attested to Clinton’s “compassion and understanding to support grieving mothers” offers a profound illustration of the use of black female grief and trauma as a political strategy in solidifying Clinton’s connection to Black communities in general, and to Black women voters in particular.
The political moment thunders with immense terror, plowing through the efforts for meaningful justice and quality life. With every plunge, it carves bodies on the periphery of our morally malnourished landscape as repositories for a very distinct form of state sanctioned structural violence.
We must rewrite the scripts to our freedom.
These circumstances not only pose serious questions about accountability for how governments regulate our lives. They also invite us to reimagine strategies to address the distinctive challenges and vulnerabilities that strengthen our dynamic dehumanization. They demand that we remain strategically optimistic and fiercely abolitionist.
An abolitionist politic in the era of electoral politricks strikes at the heart of what it means to be human, black, and woman in the 21st century United States. The enduring legacy of racialized gendered violence such an approach targets gnaws daily at our hearts, minds, homes, classrooms and institutions. It reminds us that we must find systematic ways to address the terrors of the quotidian. To resist, organize, and strategize as we restore our souls. To thrive.
We invite you along the journey to re-explore what an abolitionist politics means in this moment. We dedicate this October – December 2016 blog series to abolitionist discourses that promote a revolutionary reimagination of the possibilities of living. That cultivate the creativities in our multiple affinities as it encourages us to engage with the meanings of freedom and personhood in the era of electoral politricks.
I invite you to taste the visions of liberation. To hear the calls for our individual and collective revival. To feel the clapback.
That’s the only way we can live.
About the author: Jallicia Jolly is a spoken-word poet, writer, and reproductive justice educator pursuing a PhD in American Studies at the University of Michigan. Ms. Jolly writes on trauma, health, HIV/AIDS, and reproductive justice among Black women in the United States and Jamaica. @iamjallicia (Instagram)
About the cover image: MOTHERS OF THE MOVEMENT, appearing at the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, PA. (MARIA HAMILTON, WANDA JOHNSON, GWEN CARR, GENEVA REED-VEAL, LUCIA MCBATH, SYBRINA FULTON, CLEOPATRA PENDLETON, and LEZLEY MCSPADDEN). The picture is a Creative Commons licensed image from ABC / Ida Mae Astute (via Flickr).