Imagining Worlds Otherwise: Learning from Black Feminist Curiosity, with Ayanna Spencer

“[We] have to be curious about what has to happen in the space between where we are and where we want to be.” ~ Ayanna Spencer

Ayanna Spencer joins guest host Julie Williams-Reyes to explore protest as a radical form of curiosity and how that has unfolded in Ms. Spencer’s journey to, and work with, Black feminist theory. (Recommended reading list, below.)

Listen to Choose to be Curious #126: Imagining Worlds Otherwise: Learning from Black Feminist Curiosity, with Ayanna Spencer

I’m so pleased to share the second in a collaborative series of interviews hosted by graduate and undergraduate students who were enrolled in the fall 2019 class Topics in Philosophy at American University.

As part of their final papers, students conceived and pitched potential episodes and interviews for Choose to be Curious. It was a privilege to listen to their presentations and hear their ideas. 

Guest host Julie Williams-Reyes explains what brought her to this conversation, a journey that embodies my own working definition of curiosity — to act on the idea that there is opportunity in the unknown:

In my endeavors to critically explore the ways in which curiosity motivates and shows up in the world of protest, there was no doubt that Black Feminists, Black women, Black folx, and BIPOC more generally, have a deep seeded history in the practice of radical protest, radical curiosity, radical imagination, and in striving for worlds otherwise.

In a world marked by colonial, capitalist, and patriarchal domination, survival in itself is an act of resistance and an act of curiosity. It is a form of protest that affirms that the lives, histories, and futures of BIPOC peoples cannot merely be erased nor relegated to oblivion. Marginalized lived experiences who survive and protest in the name of dismantling the aforementioned system of domination are radical sites of curious resistance rooted in the belief that not only are other worlds possible, but they are tangible realities meant to be realized in the now. Not soon, not later, not sometime, but imperatively, in the now.

In light of our socio-historical context, our conversation in this episode focuses its lens on Black feminist practice in the US context. With that said, it is imperative to keep in mind that the tradition of Black feminist theory and practice is transnational, it is worldly, and any action taken here in the US is informed by the greater historical situation at play. The US context is one thread of the lineage of Black feminist resistance that necessarily connects with Africana, Afro-Caribbean, Afro-German, Palestinian, and many more legacies of resistance. Being curious about the interconnectedness of these threads exposes the entrenchment and multi-dimensionality of the hyper-capitalist, colonial, patriarchical system of domination at play. The system is structural, institutionalized, economic, political, cultural, and transnational.

In this way, an act of resistance and protest led in the US must, through the embodiment and practice of curiosity, reinforce protest as interconnected with the struggle of BIPOC from the system of domination and oppression everywhere. Carol Boyce Davies confirms that “any contemporary cultural and political work that wants to move out of fixity and specific imperialistic interpellations has to account for its particular location, articulate its own specificity, and move toward the recognition of the existence of other cultures and political realities in some cross-cultural or translocational way (Left of Karl Marx, 2008).” This practice of curiosity is fundamental to imagining and creating worlds otherwise.

Learn more about Black Feminist thought with this recommended reading list provided by Ms. Spencer:

M. Bahati Kuumba’s Gender and Social Movements 

Beth Richie’s Arrested Justice: Black Women, Violence, and America’s Prison Nation

Charlene A. Carruthers’ Unapologetic: A Black, Queer, and Feminist Mandate for Radical Movements

Aishah Shahidah Simmons’ film No! The Rape Documentary and anthology, Love with Accountability: Digging Up the Roots of Child Sexual Abuse

bell hooks’ Sisters of the Yam: Black Women and Self-Recovery

Alice Walker’s In Search of Our Mothers Gardens

Toni Cade Bambara’s The Salt Eaters 

Barbara’s Smith’s Home Girls: A Black Feminist Anthology 

The Edited Collection- All the Women are White, All the Blacks are Men, But Some of Us are Brave: Black Women’s Studies 

Our theme music is by Sean Balick. “Valantis” by Cauldron, via Blue Dot Sessions

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