To my CCW cyphers,
I just arrived to Denver today and so I want to situate myself on this Land. I begin this letter to you by acknowledging that the land on which we are meeting is the territory of the Cheyenne and Arapaho peoples and all of their ancestors, past, present, and future. Here on this Land, I am committed to undoing white settler colonialism in the ways in which I work, speak, and act as part of my acknowledgement. As a descendant of enslaved Africans on stolen lands, I am among those whose lived realities sit at the intersection of what I call an INTERTWINED ABOMINATION — kidnapped from one land and forced to labor on stolen land… as such I am called to work towards a sisterhood of abolition and decolonization against apartheid, settler colonialism, genocide, and settler occupation everywhere.
For a visual description: I am a light-skinned Black woman wearing three afro-puffs down her head in an afro-puff/mohawk fashion. The puffs are in the color of brown and gold in T27 Marley Hair. It’s giving the lowwww-key version of a HIGH-key Lady Charlotte of Bridgerton. I am wearing a black cowl neck shirt and black pants with a very long jewel green bib necklace and very large silver hoops. Thank you to disability justice activists/theorists who have charged us with making such visual descriptions so that we might all see our bodies and our multiple selves in deeper ways.
We have come together on this day of the conference to move towards radical imaginings. For something like that, I always turn to Black feminisms and go way back for inspiration, examples, and ways forward. This time I found myself sitting with Combahee River Collective Statement as I have so many times in my life. What I am sitting with today is how current this statement feels for me, especially these words:
We realize that the liberation of all oppressed peoples necessitates the destruction of the political-economic systems of capitalism and imperialism as well as patriarchy. We are socialists because we believe that work must be organized for the collective benefit of those who do the work and create the products, and not for the profit of the bosses… We are not convinced, however, that a socialist revolution that is not also a feminist and anti-racist revolution will guarantee our liberation…
A political contribution which we feel we have already made is the expansion of the feminist principle that the personal is political… Even our Black women’s style of talking/testifying in Black language about what we have experienced has a resonance that is both cultural and political…
We exist as women who are Black who are feminists, each stranded for the moment, working independently because there is not yet an environment in this society remotely congenial to our struggle—because, being on the bottom, we would have to do what no one else has done: we would have to fight the world.
When I return to the Combahee River Collective Statement today, I do so as a writing teacher, as a community literacies practitioner, as a literacies/composition educator. Almost 50 years later, the Collective’s words still galvanize, the ideas still ring true, the impact still remains the same for me. 50 years later! So I ask us here, as part of our radical imagining, as part of how we do our philosophies of writing and literacy in communities: what are your words/ collective manifesto/ call to political action that will embolden the most marginalized amongst us, not just today, but 50 years from now? This means something very different from what schools and school literacies present to us: a way out through bourgeois middle class consumptions and assimilations. That’s not a future— that’s just more of the same of what we already have. Radical imaginations change the very purpose of literacies and writing— because you don’t look to the here and now; you charge yourself for wide-away and far-far-away futures with the conviction that the future is moldable.
This is especially critical for me right now because this moment asks us to shrink back and make smaller demands. We see DEI programs being banned and cut. And while we must fight these bans and cuts for what they represent, we have to remember we were always asking for more anyway. Many of us were deeply enmeshed in challenging the neoliberalist, for-profit, white comfort work of DEI projects, quoting decades of criticism by Sara Ahmed practically from memory. Now we are asking and fighting for the thing that never went far enough.
After the 2020 murder of George Floyd, countless people saw that it was lucrative to present themselves as anti-racist” from schools to professional journals to Target advertisements to university think tanks. White racist, heteropatriarchal backlash came soon and swift, like it always does, and those same folx hightailed it out, all after claiming abolition and the Black Radical Tradition, but won’t even say and think FREE PALESTINE right now or challenge their publishers who are honoring racist school districts’ book bans.
That’s not the future. That’s not our radical imagining. And that’s not the kind of writing the Combahee River Collective did 50 years ago. I’ll end here with the Collective’s words: “As Black feminists and Lesbians we know that we have a very definite revolutionary task to perform and we are ready for the lifetime of work and struggle before us.” Let’s radically imagine 50 years from today, 50 years at least, of future-making against the world we have now. Understanding the Combahee River Collective demands no less than that.