Positionality Statement: Take Space
Another world is possible.
“I come from the other world.”
-Arundhati Roy, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness
I identify as a Jamaican-American writer, geographer and poet. I speak and write only in English, which is congenitally limiting and colonial. I have been to over 45 countries during my nearly three decades of life. I am able to travel more easily because of my class and my American passport. I can sometimes get away with things that others cannot because of my American accent. Both of which (the American accent and passport), upon presentation, can—at times—eclipse my Blackness. I have grown up and remain middle-class, which also at times is a greater defining feature than my Blackness. While my family nor I are rich, my middle-class status has endowed me with high levels of social capital and a proximity to privilege. More than anything, being middle class has meant that I know how and where to access resources and can use elite language—such as this—that grabs the ear of those who benefit from my subjugation. My American privilege often causes me great concern, but allows for my Jamaican identity to be mostly symbolic and uninterrupted by the geopolitics of power that restrict the mobility of those who come from what we inaccurately call the “global south.”
What I connect to more than my American citizenship, is my Black placelessness. I am deeply connected to a Black diasporic identity, which is not beholden to one country. I encounter variations of Blackness and the influence of Black culture most everywhere I go. Indeed this is why it is so appealing to me as a framework for more expansive and inclusive realities. Blackness is not a specific geography, although it is inherently geographic. Blackness does not belong to a specific nation-state, though it is often seen as being inherently American. It is a global, political identity and collective consciousness. Blackness results from past and continual displacement, as well as resilience and resistance-innovation. Blackness is adaptability, it is evolution. Blackness is humanness, because first and always we are human. Reclaimed Black identity is an evolutionary response to colonialism, it is a refusal to be defined by borders that were not drawn by us. The saying goes, “we did not cross your borders, your borders crossed us.”
As my understanding of my identity continues to develop, I’ve now begun to situate my Blackness more directly in spaces of radical geography, environmental analysis, queerness and a politics of ‘de-‘ : decolonization, decentralization, and decommodification. Even as a contested concept, I understand decolonization as necessarily including decentralization and decommodification. The centralization of power and control to certain geographies was a colonial strategy, which has extended itself into cultural and environmental imperialism. When culture and resources are centralized and monopolized with the intention to create as much profit as possible, they become commodified and thus extractive to the groups from which they were born. This has, in many ways, been the case with mainstream Black identity and feminism.
The centralization and monopoly of Blackness as quintessentially American reinforces American imperialism, of which patriarchy and capitalism are integral. It has made Blackness and racism an island situated in the U.S., divorced from the global forces that perpetuate racism and the European histories that created it. Similarly, a feminism that is centered in the U.S. and Europe, amplifying the voices of mainly White women, is hardly a feminism at all. The feminism I’ve come to know will not be centralized and Western, it will be globally networked and from the soils of countries in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean.
I believe that decolonization must come with the decentralization and decommodification of Blackness, feminism, and environmentalism. So long as there is capitalism, there will be racism, patriarchy and the concentration of abundance controlled by a select few. Capitalism is a form of extraction, a form of violence, that thrives because of the power and social control produced by racism and classism. It needs imperialism to continue changing. Like a cancer, when our bodies try to rid itself of this disease—capitalism transforms finding new ways to embed itself into our lives so that we cannot tell that it is killing us. Some of us are dying more slowly, but we are all dying. Imperialism works like arteries carrying this disease to ever more remote places, the veins of capitalism. We must be clear and careful not to support any extensions of imperialism that claim to be authentic or universal. We must be clear and careful to state our position, privilege and pronouns: Middle-class Black cis-womyn geographer, holder of American citizenship, and responding to she/her/we.
As I seek out alternative spaces of belonging and pathways to a co-collaborative / collective future, I am acutely aware that inclusion is not enough—we need co-creation. As I continued to search for the other world, I realized that some of us—those of us deemed ‘other’—are the other world. In my search for justice, equity, sustainability, and healing spaces, I witness new frontiers being created and impossibilities being mapped. I recognize that one of the new frontiers for ‘Blackness’ is Europe (really an old frontier depending on how one understands history). I recognize that womyn are the architects of solutions for climate crises and environmental violence. I recognize that certain geographies are not peripheries, rather calling them that comes from a specific geographic ideology. This ideology is continually reinforced through knowledge production and historically imposed by those claiming to be the majority, when in reality they are the global minority.
A critical part of decolonization is recognizing that, as Canadian Black feminist geographer Katherine McKittrick says, these geographies are “ongoing and innovative spatial practices that have always occurred, not on the margins, but right in the middle of our historically present landscape.” In other words, decolonization is recognizing that we are already here and have been. Recognizing that we have been and are producers and purveyors of knowledge. We are the extensions of our ancestors, made up of their ashes and spirits, and they were uncolonial. I’ve been considering uncolonization rather than decolonization. The reason I prefer to use uncolonial as opposed to decolonial is because I do not believe we can, should, or need to try to reverse colonialism. The latin prefix ‘de-’ connotes reversal. We cannot and are not to reverse colonization, rather we need to undo it from our bodies. We must shed the layers of colonization from our mind. Reminding ourselves of the uncoloniality of our ancestors. The indigenous and first nations peoples around the globe, as well as those who populated the ancient civilizations on the continent of Africa, were uncolonized. So can we start from indigeneity.
Through spaces of recognition, liminality, and borderless cultural practices we have the opportunity for Blackness, feminism and environmentalism to work towards liberation. In a time when right-wing politics are sweeping the globe, governments are limiting women’s rights to our bodies, and climate change disproportionately affects women and people of the global majority. Now more than ever we must realize there is no separate survival. And if we are to survive, we have to fully embrace uncoloniality, decentralized ideologies and decommodified culture. My identity and how I identify is entangled with all of the work that I do. My privileges and subjectivities are threaded through how I show up in the world. My writing and witnessing are from the myriad and complex positions that I occupy, as well as my values. To be silent about the realities of my position is a disservice to the research and resistance that will eventually lead to liberation. How I’ve chosen to live my life is an attempt to redistribute privilege, resources, and space. Having space to just be is a form of freedom. Taking space is, as Adrienne Maree Brown says, the “tiny reparations we give to ourselves.” Let’s get free together and take space.
Additional Notes on My Values:
The goal is to decolonize and decentralize. Centralization is foundational to colonialism and White supremacy. Using tools like surveillance (Foucault’s Panoptican, if you will) and the globalization of economics (World Trade Organization agreements, if you will) to further hegemony and Western geographic dominance. Liberation will be uncolonized and truly networked through localized communities and sustainable ecosystems. In other words, let’s build some new shit not confined to the structures we have now.
Racism is a form of social control necessitated by capitalism. Environmental and other forms of racism thrive because we think we are not like them, and we are just glad the problems are not in our immediate proximity. Racism is an issue of human empathy; the greatest example of false consciousness is that we don’t think we are each other. And because of this grave misunderstanding, we are now destroying ourselves. See, if we are each other, then we wouldn’t want ourselves to suffer.
Charity is not a substitute for justice. When thinking about climate change and racial equity we cannot let perpetrators off the hook because they participate in philanthropy or charitable development. In fact, philanthropy exists because of systemic inequity. It is a fundamental imbalance of resources, wealth, and power. Philanthropy needs structural inequality to exist. If we want true justice and radical change, we have to work beyond philanthropy and charity.
I often overstate my Jamaican identity as an attempt to reframe theoretical assumptions about (my) Black Americanness. It has been the case that Caribbean scholars, and particularly women, are subsumed into the broader category of Black American scholarship. Women like Audre Lorde, Sylvia Wynter, Barbara Christian. While it is known that they are Caribbean, often their work is situated in Black American Thought without fully acknowledging how their nuance and positions are heavily produced from their Caribbean identity. As Barbara Christian once wrote: “Periphery too is a word I heard throughout my childhood, for if anything was seen as being at the periphery, it was those small islands which had neither land mass nor military power.”
Progressive spaces have largely forgotten about or ignore working class struggles. In these spaces, we have sometimes set aside the stifling nature of class (particularly poverty) in order to over-extend the power of race. We use elite language and jargon peppered with words like: oppression, marginalization, resistance, and resilience. I am guilty of this; I am still learning how to decolonize my language. English is inherently limiting because it is a colonial language, I only know colonial languages. Progressive spaces often do not practice a class analysis that is central to anti-capitalism, collective power, and liberation. Because of how and where I work, I am often with others who have also developed social capital and access to resources even if they are cash-poor and lacking wealth. Our work is not comprehensive if we do not work along side and along with all people who are the most financially marginalized.
Katherine McKittrick, Demonic Grounds, 2006: University of Minnesota Press. Adrienne Maree Brown, PGM One Summit keynote: May 9, 2019.
First published June 3, 2019