CENTERING THE LIMINAL 

"I am hoping that in the dialogues the Great Writer has generated between his eviscerating confessional and the #MeToo movement, there can be a generative space that makes room for the third world other, not as the native informants as Spivak would have us marked, but rather, as bodies that carry forth epistemic advantages while not fully belonging in the white spaces, bodies who are interested in constructing a new mythos as dreamed up by Anzaldua, bodies that are grateful for the manifesto of rights and proclamations and promises authorized by the collective behind Combahee, and bodies that are interested in articulating themselves through their experiences and positionality, vis-à-vis the works of Theresa de Lauretis and Linda Alcoff: a deeper site-based knowledge that allows for women’s mutable and ever-changing experiences to be represented, interpreted and spoken about.

I am arguing for a radical feminist positionality that emerges out of the liminal zones, women perched forever on various borderlines, fronteras, who can reorient the imperial gaze, the colonial gaze, the hierarchical gaze of even their lovers who participate in the old economy of rating women’s bodies and ontologies against one another, so that women are named authorial subjects, able to control their stories, and no longer remain in the shadow of the Great Writers, Thinkers, and Philosophers."

—Shreerekha, "In the Wake of His Damage"

 TRANSLATION AS AN ACT OF HOSPITALITY 

"I think that most of us believe that translation is a wonderful thing.  But there are also questions about who or what gets to cross a border. I spent some time in Myanmar for work these past few years and trying to learn more about the refugees fleeing that country, and reading about the refugee crises in the Mediterranean, and considering the discourse around the US border with Mexico–I felt dissatisfied with many of the conversations I was hearing about translation—which primarily emphasize technique.

I wanted to think through what it might mean to take in the voices, narratives, ideas of others. The way that we receive texts from other places, is not disconnected to me from how we receive people from other places. What do we expect from them? How do we greet them? I’ve been curious about this. What kinds of intimacy are possible between two very different languages and cultures?"

— Madhu Kazu, in conversation with Raj Chakrapani of the Rumpus

LANGUAGE + LOSS + REPAIR

"It would be inaccurate for me to say that translation is nurturing. Translation from my first language, Telugu, is actually quite painful for me. (I enjoy translating from other languages.) It’s painful because I’m constantly reminded of loss. I was brought to the US when I was five, and mostly stopped speaking my first language. That language is a love of my life—I think of Dante’s evocation of the emotional call of the “language of the cradle”—and it feels very far away from me most days. I do translation from Telugu as a way of reckoning with that loss, so that the loss is not simply a disappearance or void. If the work is nurturing in any way it’s because it’s a way of staying with loss, mourning—which is to say remembering. Translation for me is repair work."

—Madhu Kaza, in conversation with Raj Chakrapani of the Rumpus  

GENTRIFIED THINKING 

"There is something inherently stupid about gentrified thinking. It's a dumbing down and smoothing over of what people are actually like. It's a social position rooted in received wisdom, with aesthetics blindly selected from the presorted offerings of marketing, and without information or awareness about the structures that create its own delusional sense of infallibility. Gentrified thinking is like the bourgeois version of Christian fundamentalism—a huge, unconscious conspiracy of homogeneous patterns with no cognizance of its own freakishness. The gentrification mentality is grounded in the belief that obedience to consumer identity over recognition of lived experience is actually normal, neutral, and value free.

"Making people accountable is always in the interest of justice. Those who are dominant, however, hate accountability. Vagueness, lack of delineation of how things work, the idea that people do not have to keep their promises—these tactics always serve the lying, the obstructive, the hypocritical. 

I've noticed through my long life that people with vested interest in things staying the way they are regularly insist that both change and accountability are impossible. 

'It's never going to change,' a wealthy, white, male, MFA-trained playwright told me about the exclusion of women playwrights from the theater in the United States. 'And if you try, people will say you are difficult.

On the other hand, Audre Lord—black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet—told me, 'That you can't fight city hall is a rumor being spread by city hall.'

As we become conscious about the gentrified mind, the value of accountability must return to our vocabulary and become our greatest tactic for change." 

—Sarah Schulman, "The Gentrification of AIDS,"
 Rebellious Mourning: The Collective Work of Grief

LIVING WITH WHAT WE HAVE CREATED, SHAPING THE WAY WE MOVE WITH IT 

"Tokyo is a city that wants to cling to the myth of 'safety' as it tries to maintain the function of capital, keep the economy alive, and continue holding onto real estate values. It is, as it were, the stronghold of the nuclear safety myth. Neither the government nor the residents would want to acknowledge the radioactive contamination too easily. In addition we will need a spatiotemporal imagination in order to envision how we are going to live in the post-nuclear disaster climate. To do so, we will need a different position and different thinking from the activisms centered on street demos and protests in a traditional sense—those that act in a shorter span of time. Hereafter the people will have to live with radiation for decades to come. Even if Japan decides to phase out nuclear energy or shut all nuclear reactors, the effects of the accident will persist and stay with us a great deal, for a long time. We cannot seal it off as if it had never happened. How do we live with the 'rupture' of time and space that was brought up by this event?

Although neither Tohoku nor Tokyo would happily admit, we will most likely have to live 'together with radiation.' Under such circumstances, we will have to consider how we are going to create resistance from within the aspects of life's necessities: food, clothing, shelter, living space, cohabitation space, and our own bodies. Three months have passed since the accident. We seem to be at a turning point now, and our tasks will keep changing in half a year, one year, and five years from now." 

— Mari Matsumoto in an interview with Sabu Kohso, "Rages of Fukushima and Grief" 
Rebellious Mourning: The Collective Work of Grief 

LISTENING FOR OUR TIMES

by Allison Corbett 

A year ago, on the day of Trump’s inauguration, I found myself in a gloomy Washington DC, bleary-eyed and downcast, on the eve of the National Women’s March. I was overwhelmed by our political situation. I wondered what on earth I should or could do to push back on the hate and regressive policies that came with Trump’s election.

As protests spread throughout the country and crowds of people swarmed JFK to shut down Trump’s Muslim ban, I was far from my New York City home and far from any of the ostensible sites of resistance featured on my newsfeed. I was shuttling between my parents’ home in Virginia and other parts of the country, conducting interviews for The Language of Justicean oral history project that documents the stories of language workers and organizers that facilitate multilingual movement building.

I felt extremely blessed to be able to listen and learn from the stories of these narrators. In many ways I felt that I was right where I needed to be. Yet I was haunted by the contrast between the urgency I felt around the need for protest, political change, and resistance and the slow work that I was doing as an oral historian. In order to carry out this practice of listening and recording, I removed myself from these perceived sites of action. During the course of my interviewing around the country I became less itchy about all of the work that I was not participating in by virtue of doing this project, but I have continued to feel this tension. I wrestle with this question with renewed urgency—what is the role of an oral historian in working towards collective liberation?

This question necessarily asks us to examine our ideas of how change works. Healer, author, and movement facilitator adrienne maree brown suggests in her recent book,  Emergent Strategy, that “What you pay attention to grows.” So what do we want to grow in our communities and in our movements right now? What does it mean to give so much energy to efforts born in reaction to this foul-hearted leader at the helm of our country? How does it shape our futures when we feel forced to respond to the pressure and pace of lightning-speed news, tweets, and executive orders?

It can feel like nothing we do will bring about enough justice quickly enough. But it is essential that we keep a dual focus and are able to think dialectically in this moment. We need (and owe much gratitude to) the people on the frontlines that are pushing back on the policies that are regularly being thrown at vulnerable communities, but we also need to be visionary.

As historical sociologist Immanual Wallerstein, asserts, “…people need to have less pain immediately.” Yet he reminds us, that that relief “doesn’t transform the world.”Lifelong thinker, organizer, and Detroit activist Grace Lee Boggs says, “Every crisis, actual or impending, needs to be viewed as an opportunity to bring about profound changes in our society. Going beyond protest organizing, visionary organizing begins by creating images and stories of the future that help us imagine and create alternatives to the existing systems.” It is precisely in this visioning process that we as oral historians can play a role. So the question becomes, how can we share stories, complicate narratives, and facilitate listening that assists in visioning to buttress the work being done on the frontlines?

At this year’s Oral History Association Annual Meeting in Minneapolis I was struck by the title of the plenary session, “Documenting Activism in the Age of #BlackLivesMatter and Standing Rock.” What if instead of focusing our energies so much on declaring this the “Age of Trump,” we remembered that this is also the miraculous age of visionary movements? How can we, with our work as oral historians, lay the foundations for the world that we want to live in?

I was inspired to begin The Language of Justice because I believe that the work of creating multilingual movements models the world that I want to live in. Not only does having a multilingual space allow for the necessary work to get done by people in movements, it alters the way we relate to each other, our ability to listen to each other, thereby transforming us in the process of transforming our world.

Whatever form it takes, the work that oral historians do to advance positive social change and collective liberation should be rooted in the unique strengths of our discipline. There is no one path that is guaranteed to lead us to a more just future. The opportunities are countless and the entry points are multiple. As the saying goes, “to change everything, we need everyone.”

WHY FICTION 

"In Zahra's Paradise, we have approached history through the prism of fiction. Neither of us was in a position to document the facts about Iran's presidential elections. Nor did we want to mislead our readers by presenting Zahra's Paradise as an objective work of history (or journalism) with any definitive claim to the truth or any pretense of neutrality. We have not set out to establish the facts about the nature and extent of fraud in Iran's presidential elections. 

What mattered to us when we started this project, and what matters to us now, is witnessing the plight and reversing the tragedy that has befallen the Iranian people. That tragedy is personal. Its details and dimensions are unfathomable. It is also legal, political, religious, and cultural. 

It was hard for us, like millions of other people outside Iran, to watch Iranian mothers and fathers grieve over the loss of their sons and daughters in Zahra's Paradise—the actual cemetery—and not feel singed by their grief or touched by their dignity. That is the origin of this work. It is their gift to us. And ours to them." 

 

— Amir & Kahlil, "About Origins," Zahra's Paradise

THE BACKDROP OF OUR NATIONAL LIFE 

"I used to think the lack of news coverage of the death of people of color was negligence on the part of the media, but it's bigger than that; perhaps it's cultural, systemic. Some death and injustice is expected, not shocking or newsworthy, because it's been in the backdrop of our culture since the inception of the United States." 

— Lee Sandusky, "Dust of the Desert" in Rebellious Mourning: The Collective Work of Grief

ON COLLECTIVE GRIEF 

"Our grief—our feelings, as words or actions, images or practices—can open up cracks in the wall of the system. It can also pry open spaces of contestation and reconstruction, intervulnerability and strength, empathy and solidarity. It can discomfort the stories told from above that would have us believe we aren't uman or deserving of life-affirming live—or for that matter, life affirming deaths." 

— Cindy Milstein, Prologue, Rebellious Mourning: The Collective Work of Grief

ALWAYS READ THE ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

“I wrote Shadowhouse Fall during a time that historians will look back on and describe as ‘tumultuous,’ although really, for many of us, most of this country’s existence could bear that label. We marched, we chanted, we wrote. We lay down our bodies in intersections, highways, and bridges, in malls and jewelry stroes, and we stopped business as usual, first just for a moment and then for many, many moments, to declare that Black Lives Matter. Thank you to those who led the way both in the streets and in the tweets, and especially to the young people at the forefront of this movement; there is so much power in what you’ve done and the world you are creating, so much courage and wisdom in your vision. This book is for you.”

— Daniel José Older, Shadowhouse Fall

ON WORSHIPPING THE DEAD IN [US]AMERICA

“We get the day off for Columbus Day, y’all. He dead. We celebrate Christmas! Jesus ain’t die? They got statues up for dead guys that owned people. Name buildings after ‘em. Entire colleges that they bully us about getting accepted to. America don’t workshop the dead? C’mon now! America worship the dead! It’s cool when white America do it, but we can’t worship our dead?” 

— Daniel José Older, Shadowhouse Fall

FRIENDS + LONELINESS 

"We spend our lives trying to discern where we end and the rest of the world begins. There is a strange and sorrowful loneliness to this, to being a creature that carries its fragile sense of self in a bag of skin on an endless pilgrimage to some promised land of belonging. We are willing to erect many defenses to hedge against that loneliness and fortress our fragility. But every once in a while, we encounter another such creature who reminds us with the sweetness of persistent yet undemanding affection that we need not walk alone."

— Maria Popova on the book Big Wolf & Little Wolf

ON THE WHITE SUPREMACY OF DONALD TRUMP 

"To Trump, whiteness is neither notional nor symbolic but is the very core of his power. In this, Trump is not singular. But whereas his forebears carried whiteness like an ancestral talisman, Trump cracked the glowing amulet open, releasing its eldritch energies. The repercussions are striking: Trump is the first president to have served in no public capacity before ascending to his perch. But more telling, Trump is also the first president to have publicly affirmed that his daughter is a “piece of ass.” The mind seizes trying to imagine a black man extolling the virtues of sexual assault on tape (“When you’re a star, they let you do it”), fending off multiple accusations of such assaults, immersed in multiple lawsuits for allegedly fraudulent business dealings, exhorting his followers to violence, and then strolling into the White House. But that is the point of white supremacy—to ensure that that which all others achieve with maximal effort, white people (particularly white men) achieve with minimal qualification. Barack Obama delivered to black people the hoary message that if they work twice as hard as white people, anything is possible. But Trump’s counter is persuasive: Work half as hard as black people, and even more is possible."

— Ta Nehisi Coates, "The First White President"