Matter & Molokhia

illustration of Egyptian Molokhia Food

By Basmah Ahmed

“Egyptian Molokhia” Illustration by Yaansoon

I remember vines of tomatoes, cucumbers and baskets of eggplant but my favourite was always the Molokhia; a tall leafy green that grows on thick stalk. Although resembling spinach, when used by Arabs to make warm soup it is adored by children (the toughest food critics). 

I remember those stalks being brought into the backyard from the back of Amu’s (Uncle’s) truck after he visited the farm. They were almost as tall I was in 4 foot piles. I would help pull each leaf off, stem by stem for hours. My friends and I would compete with each other on who could remove the leaves the fastest before they’d be cut into even thinner pieces by our mothers’ knives that rocked back and forth at speeds that seemed too dangerous – even for adults. Some saved for now, and most stored for later. I remember this from my childhood, my mother and other families in our little Arab community in Hamilton growing food in the 4 months of the year that the weather here would allow. They would share vegetables and fruits that they had grown, swapping tips and humbly bragging about whose crops turned out the best. 

It mattered that I could watch and see how food grew, how it could be cut and torn and used in ways that would nourish our communities. That miracle is one that never gets old. You cannot tire of watching the magic of your people and the earth connecting together. 

In his book Divine Governance of the Human Kingson, Ibn Arabi, a Muslim poet, philosopher and scholar says the following: 

“As the whole universe is created from the primary elements of earth, water, fire, and air so is the body of persons. 

The Creator says: 

“They it is who created you from dust” (Quran 40:67) 

“We have created them from clay” (Quran 37: 11) 

“We have created the human being of formed dried mud” (Quran 15:26) 

The separation between us and the land is not one that is natural. It is not one that is sacred, and not one that is held in almost any ancient tradition especially not those of our indigenous land protectors. 

Yet colonial and capitalist policy will tell you that some bodies are made of matter that makes their belly unworthy of filling, that land belongs to some, and should be ripped away from others. Yet the land defies, and is dying to warn us that it is unsafe to continue this way. In the hands of capitalistic endeavors, white supremacy, and systems built off the backs of colonial theft, we were taught that plant beings are nothing but resources, water is nothing but a means of production, people are not worth much – you are not worth much. 

We know that under this model some life is preferred over others. Some bodies are preferred over others. Lightness over blackness. They have blocked, barred, pillaged, and destroyed. That clay matter did this, and yet it is only through a return to our essential being and our natural connection with the land,  that we can even begin to undo what we have been programmed to believe is right.  

We cannot mold this new story by shaping it off a model that has betrayed our most vulnerable.

In Arabic, the word for the people of Paradise is Muflihoon ( Moof – lee – hoon), which  comes from the root word Falah, which means farmer. This word is used to describe the winners who have achieved paradise It is the same word used to describe the farmer who tills the land; who waters it and harvests it only to see the fruits of their rewards after months of patience or who may only see it grow for generations to come.

 I know not everyone will agree that Paradise exists, or will even agree on how to get there but we can agree that gardens grow wherever seeds can find moisture, and can hold on to soil long enough to grow. If we are the earth as Ibn Arabi suggests, we must then also be the farmers. 

They cannot stop us from entering paradise despite continuing to build the gate that locks us from it. As farmers we can build paradise with our bare hands, extending ourselves into the dirt to excavate and create space for new. Remove the weeds, plant seeds collected from our ancestors and bury them firmly into the new soil that we’ve cleared. 

I know I am not just on the earth but I am of it, made of its same pieces, with all the nutrients I need to nourish my community. I am a pile of stalks  that will have young hands reaching for each leaf , mothers’ rocking them back and forth at speeds that seemed scary even for adults, yet transforming them into the meal that fills up a stomach that was told it was not worthy. Some saved for now, and most stored for generations to come. 

We’re not too different from those stalks of Molokhia. So I ask, what would it look like to know that the earth has enough to feed us? That we can put ourselves in the dirt and come out stalks that can nourish each other? What would it look like to believe the world can provide for us because we are it? I for one will be fighting to find out one garden at a time.  


Basmah is standing amongst forestry in a green long sleeve sweater and one-shoulder overalls on.

Basmah is a writer and poet who
is passionate about the urban food movement and loves getting her hands dirty in projects focused on access to food and connecting people with nature in unexpected places. She is most inspired by how spirituality/ancient traditions tie into the fight against climate change.

Where Abolition Meets Action

black and white photo of butterfly

A History of Women Organizing Against Gender Violence

By Vikki Law (Adapted for The Peak by Sonali Menezes

There is a growing movement toward abolishing prisons. Anti-violence organizers are calling on prison abolitionists to take gender violence seriously in developing initiatives to address the problem within this context. Fuelled by increasing recognition that women of colour, immigrant, queer, transgender, poor, and other marginalized women are often further brutalized – rather than protected – by the police, grassroots groups, and activists throughout the world, are organizing community alternatives to calling 911. These initiatives are not new. Throughout history, women have acted and organized to ensure their own as well as their loved ones’ safety.

This article examines both past and present models of women’s community self-defence practices against interpersonal violence by exploring methods women have employed to protect themselves, their loved ones, and theircommunities. Storytelling to connect past, present, and future efforts to current initiatives allows us to both envision a future in which police and prisons are not the sole solutions to gender violence and to know that such possibilities can – and, in some small pockets, do or did – exist. While activists and others increasingly embrace the idea of community-based accountability as an alternative to the police, many have difficulty envisioning what accountability processes might look like.

Storytelling to Connect Past, Present and Future

In 2004, Mimi Kim launched Creative Interventions, a resource centre to promote community-based responses to interpersonal violence. The group developed STOP (StoryTelling and Organizing Project), a resource for people to share their experiences with community-based accountability models and interventions to domestic violence, family violence, and sexual abuse. In their 2001 statement on gender violence and incarceration, Critical Resistance and INCITE! Women of Colour Against Violence challenged communities to not only come up with ways to creatively address violence, but also to document these processes: ‘Transformative practices emerging from local communities should be documented and disseminated to promote collective responses to violence’ (Critical Resistance and INCITE!,2001). By connecting past and current organizing initiatives from across the globe, ‘Where Abolition Meets Actions’ hopes to contribute to the conversations around safety and abolition as well as inspires readers to organize in their own communities.

The 1970s (women’s liberation: defending themselves and each other)

Women’s liberation movements of the 1970s allowed women to begin talking openly about their experiences of sexual assault. Discussions led to a growing realization that women need to take their safety into their own hands and fight back.

Some women formed street patrols to watch for and prevent violence against women. In Cambridgeport, Massachusetts, members of Women’s Liberation group Cell 16 began patrolling the streets where women often left their factory jobs after dark. Students at Iowa State University and the University of Kentucky responded, forming patrols on their campus. The lack of police and judicial response to gender violence led to increasing recognition that women needed to learn to physically defend themselves from male violence.

In 1969, Cell 16 established Tae Kwan Do classes for women. Unlike existing police offered self-defense classes that promoted fear rather than empowerment,Cell 16’s classes challenged students to draw the connections between their learned sense of helplessness and their role in society as women (Lafferty & Clark, 1970, pp. 96–97).

In 1974, believing that all people had the right to live free from violence and recognizing that women were often disproportionately impacted by violence, Nadia Telsey and Annie Ellman started Brooklyn Women’s Martial Arts (BWMA) in New York City. ‘I have felt that it [self-defense] is connected to self-determination,’ stated Ellman. By the mid-1970s, the concept of women’s self-defense had become so popular that women began taking training into their own hands to protect them from violence. Some of the programs and schools founded in the 1970s, such as the BWMA (renamed the Center for Anti-Violence Education or CAE in 1989) and Feminists in Self-Defense Training (FIST) in Olympia, Washington, continue teaching women’s self-defense today.

Although much of the 1970s rhetoric and organizing around gender violence presupposed that women were attacked by strangers, women also recognized and organized against violence perpetrated by those that they know, including spouses and intimate partners. In Neu-Isenburg, a small town near Frankfurt, Germany, a group of women called Fan-Shen decided that, rather than establish a shelter for abused women, they would force the abuser out of the house. When a woman called the local women’s shelter, the group arrived at her home to not only confront her abuser, but also occupy the house as round-the-clock guards to the woman until her abuser moved out. When the strategy was reported in 1977, Fan-Shen had already been successful in five instances (‘Women’s Patrol,’ 1977, p.18).

Anti-violence organizing in communities of color

Communities of colour in the USalso developed methods to ensure women’s safety without relying on a system that has historically ignored their safety or further threatened it by using gender violence as a pretext for increased force, brutality, and mass incarceration against community members. In 1979, when Black women were found brutally murdered in Boston’s primarily Black Roxbury and Dorchester neighbourhoods, residents organized the Dorchester Green Light Program. The program provided identifiable safe houses for women who were threatened or assaulted on the streets. Program coordinators, who lived in Dorchester, visited and spoke at community groups and gatherings in their areas. Residents interested in opening their homes as safe houses filled out applications, which included references and descriptions of the house living situation. The program screened each application and checked the references. Once accepted, the resident attended orientation sessions, which included self-defense instruction. They were then given a green light bulb for their porch light; when someone was at home, the green light was turned on as a signal to anyone in trouble. Within eight months, over 100 safe houses had been established (Dejanikus & Kelly, 1979, p.7).

At a 1986 conference on ending violence against women at UCLA, Beth Richie spoke about a community-based intervention program in East Harlem, a New York neighbourhood that was predominantly Black and Latino. Community residents organized to take responsibility for women’s safety. ‘Safety watchers’ visited the house when called by the abused person or the neighbours. They encouraged the abuser to leave; if the abuser refused, the watchers stayed in the house. Their presence prevented further violence, at least while they were present. One attendee noted; ‘in these communities, people do not call the police fearing more violence from the police. Men are not going to jail because the communities are working together’ (Bustamante, 1986, p.14).

Contemporary organizing against gender violence

Recent legislation, such as the US Violence Against Women Act (1994), recognizes the problem of gender violence and seeks to increase police responsiveness but does little to protect women who are politically, economically, or socially marginalized. Instead, the focus on criminalization and incarceration often places them at further risk of both interpersonal and state violence as well as of arrest, incarceration, and, for immigrant women, deportation (Critical Resistance and INCITE!, 2001).

Knowing this, women have acted both individually and collectively to defend themselves. Sex workers, for instance, have organized in different ways to protect themselves from violence.

In March 2006, police responded to the murders of three sex workers in Daytona Beach, Florida, by cracking down on  the sex trade. Recognizing that the police response did more to target than to protect them,street-based sex workers armed themselves with knives and other weapons to protect themselves and each other and to find the killer. In 1995, Stella Sex Workers Alliance was formed in Montréal by sex workers, public health researchers, and sympathizers. Sex workers are equipped with information and support to help them keep safe. Stella compiles, updates, and circulates a Bad Tricks and Assaulters list, enabling sex workers to share information and avoid dangerous situations. They also produce and provide free reference guides that cover working conditions, current solicitation laws, and health information. Stella also advocates for the decriminalization of sex work, recognizing that the criminalization renders sex workers vulnerable to both outside violence and police abuse (Stella, n.d.).

Sex workers are also taking direct action to stop sex trafficking. In 1997, former sex workers began guarding checkpoints along the Nepal–India border to rescue adolescent Nepalese girls from being smuggled into India. The idea emerged with the women living at Maiti Nepal, a home in Kathmandu for women returning from Indian brothels. Many of the women, who had been kidnapped as adolescents and sold into the sex industry, were ashamed and angry about their experiences and wanted to transform their anger into action. They set up four guard posts along the border and began monitoring for human trafficking. During the first three years, the women caught 70 traffickers, saving 240 girls from India’s brothels.

Women marginalized by other factors, such as racism and poverty, have also organized to protect themselves against both interpersonal and state violence. In 2000, the police murders of two young women of colour sparked a dialogue about violence against women among members of Sista II Sista, a collective of women of colour in Brooklyn, New York. Their response was to form Sistas Liberated Ground, a zone in their neighbourhood where crimes against women would not be tolerated. ‘…Our dependence on a police system that was inherently sexist, homophobic, racist, and classist did not decrease the ongoing violence against women we were seeing in our neighbourhoods. In fact, at times, the police themselves were its main perpetrators,’ members of the group stated in 2007 (Burrowes, Cousins, Rojas, & Ude, 2007, p.229).

They instituted an ‘action line,’ which women could call, to explore the options that they – and the group – could take to address violence in their lives. Sister Circles were also established where women could talk about violence and other problems in their daily lives and encouraged the community – rather than the individual woman – to find solutions. In one instance, a woman at the Sister Circle talked about the man who had been stalking her for over a year and, in response,members of the Sister Circle confronted the man at the barbershop where he worked. His male co-workers told the stalker that, if he continued to harass the woman, he would be fired, so he stopped stalking her (Ude, 2006).

Creating communities to deter violence

Not all strategies to prevent gender violence are easily classified as ‘policing from below.’ Some grassroots groups and coalitions recognize that building communities is the first line of defense against violence and are organizing to create social structures and support networks that can collectively address harmful situations. In Durham, North Carolina, in the aftermath of the 2006 rape of a Black woman by members of a Duke University lacrosse team, women of colour and survivors of sexual violence formed the UBUNTU coalition. UBUNTU works to ‘facilitate a systematic transformation of our communities until the day that sexual violence does not occur’ (UBUNTU). Alexis Pauline Gumbs noted: [Our] responses [to violence] were invented on the spot … without a pre-existing model or a logistical agreement. But they were also made possible by a larger agreement that we as a collective of people living all over the city are committed to responding to gendered violence…I think it is very important that we have been able to see each other as resources so that when we are faced with violent situations we don’t think our only option is to call the state. (Piepzna-Samarasinha, 2008, p.81)

UBUNTU members began organizing around the idea of a Harm-Free Zone – an area in which violence would be addressed by the community rather than by the police. ‘A lot of times we talk about community as if it already exists, but I don’t actually think that we have autonomous, completely sustained community. We live with all sorts of dependence on the state, [on] outside institutions. We have a lot of work to do to have the type of communications and support that would fulfill the needs of our community,’ stated Gibbs in 2009. Like the Dorchester Green Light Program, organizers of the Harm-Free Zone brought these ideas to the communities of which they were already a part. ‘Those of us who came together were already working in those settings…for each of us, we’re thinking about how we bring that analysis and that ideal into our preexisting communities.’

Conclusion

Many early anti-violence efforts addressed immediate instances of gender violence, often focusing on the physical aspects of self-defence or a direct response to violence. Women’s organizations taught self-defense classes, confronted abusers and assailants, and formed protective groups to escort each other safely through the streets. In contrast, contemporary organizing often utilizes a multi-layered approach, creatively addressing not only immediate instances of violence but also creating dialogue to challenge and change some of the root causes of gender violence. Despite these differences, each project emphasizes the importance of community – as opposed to individual – actions and responses. None of these projects would have succeeded without a collective sense of responsibility toward each other.

While not every project and group explicitly identifies as an abolitionist group, their practices work toward a radical re-envisioning of creating safety without relying on police. These models are important for imagining and then realizing abolitionist principles.

By examining the variety of approaches in their vastly different contexts, we can begin to connect the abstract ideal with concrete actions that make another world possible. We should be drawing lessons from these projects and approaches to create models that work for our own locations and communities.


Victoria Law is the author of Resistance Behind Bars: The Struggles of Incarcerated Women, editor of the zine Tenacious: Art and Writings by Women in Prison, and a proud parent. She has written extensively about the intersections of incarceration, gender and resistance for various news outlets, including Al Jazeera America, Bitchmedia, The Guardian, The Nation and Truthout.

Sonali is a little brown femme living in southern Ontario. She’s a student, artist, zinester, and maker of things through her itty bitty-business GlitteringMagpiee. She enjoys living gently and cuddling with her cat.

Intervention & Intersecting Experiences

Illustration of many small flowers coming from one stem

By Kim Katrin Milan

Slave patrols and Night Watches, which later became modern police departments, were both designed to protect the ‘property’ of slaveowners. Enslaved African people were that property. “Slave patrols helped to maintain the economic order and to assist the wealthy landowners in recovering and punishing (enslaved African people) who essentially were considered property.” That is still largely what they do.

I think that as Black people it is important that we set up community-based support systems so when we need help, we have places to call with people who aren’t going to murder us with impunity. Ciphers, kitchen circles, neighborhood watches and healing justice spaces are a few of the many responses that we have developed collectively. Personally, with folks that I know may be vulnerable for violence, I have been part of a phone tree of people they can call in an emergency. Structures like this are important for finding ways to navigate intimate violence while finding ways to evade the increasing levels of violence from service providers. Black women between the ages of 18 to 35 are most likely to die due to domestic abuse. Black Trans* women are disproportionately targeted. We are always the ones to take the best care of ourselves; these structures have been flexible and changing and have always been more reliable than anything external. These structures are significant for all Black people and is one of the many reasons why remaining grounded in acknowledging multiple and intersecting forms of systemic violence as we continue this work is an absolute necessity. We have so much to learn from each other, and so much misogyny and gender-based violence that will continue to plague our communities if we don’t address them.

“Here’s the truth: friendships between women are often the deepest and most profound love stories, but they are often discussed as if they are ancillary, “bonus” relationships to the truly important ones. Women’s friendships outlast jobs, parents, husbands, boyfriends, lovers, and
sometimes children…it’s possible to transcend the limits of your skin in a friendship…This kind of friendship is not a frivolous connection, a supplementary relationship to the ones we’re taught and told are primary – spouses, children, parents. It is love…Support, salvation, transformation, life: this is what women give to one another when they are true friends, soul
friends.”

– Emily Rapp

So often this work that is unpaid and life-changing isn’t valued in the movements that are formed or in the institutions providing resources. Especially as Black women in this work, the violence that we navigate is not only street based but is also in our homes. I don’t think that counseling programs that are set up by these racist white institutions run by people with declared and undeclared prejudice against Black people are ever going to work to ‘rehabilitate’ our communities. They might provide a service, but they don’t provide care. When I ask for more in these situations of domestic violence I am thinking of community-based healing work, transformative justice, things that would involve our peers, that involve Black women, other Black people – I am interested in the ways that we change families, and communities and shift paradigms. As Black people we transform the world all the time! From Hip Hop to Jazz, we impact culture globally – as well as locally. I am completely convinced of our capacity when we are honest about the ineffectiveness of existing institutions. I am so interested in movements around transformative justice and prison abolition. Generation 5 has some really amazing approaches to healing domestic violence and child abuse and to healing communities via justice circles as held by Indigenous communities across North America. These processes recognize the need for healing to happen within communities and for accountability to grow, rather than to attempt to disappear social problems by disappearing people.

The things that are currently in place clearly don’t work and prison definitely doesn’t. With only five percent of the world’s population with twenty-five percent of the world’s prison population; if prison worked, the United States would be the safest country in the world. I am suggesting that things should be radically different.

We need to be willing to trust in our capacity to create the solutions we need in our own communities. We have a responsibility to make this world more ethical than the one we came in to.

Links:

Generation Five

Centre for Justice and Reconciliation


Kim Katrin Milan is a daughter of the diaspora, Arawak, West African, Indian and Dutch, hailing from Trinidad and living between Toronto & New York. Kim Katrin Milan is an award-winning internationally acclaimed artist, educator, and writer. Kim is the co-founder and the Executive Director of The People Project, 8 years in the making; a movement of queer and trans folks of color and our allies, committed to individual and community empowerment through alternative education, art activism, and collaboration. A public researcher and human rights educator, she shares over 80 unique resources and presentations as well as delivered hundreds of workshops around race, gender, power, privilege, consent, creation, food and entrepreneurship. Kim also engages in community based healing initiatives including teaching Queer and Brown Girls Yoga. Check her out here

School – to – Prison Pipeline

illustration of the school to prison pipeline complex

How does the education system and the school-to-prison pipeline contribute to the over representation of black people in the Criminal Justice system?

by Chinwe Nwebube

The school to prison pipeline is a term used to describe the push of students out of schools and into prisons and represents a failure in our current education system. Black students are disciplined more harshly and often achieve lower marks due to disparities in teaching and treatment. Therefore, the school to prison pipeline can be considered a leading factor in the overrepresentation of black folks within the prison system. At its core, the school to prison pipeline is a result of the education system’s inability to meet the needs of its students. Specifically, the presence of anti-black racism in the education system has resulted in the large flow of the pipeline. Anti-black racism is global, insidious, and pervasive. It is the hate and fear of black people which in turn, drives national politics. This increases the representation of black people in prisons. Due to a system that is fundamentally driven by the dehumanization and exploitation of black bodies, there is a lack of effective and unbiased systems within the school. Ultimately there is a disparity between the degree of discipline between white and black students. A school system rooted in anti-black racism, discriminatory discipline and discrepancies in quality of education are factors that will be further examined in order to understand the role the pipeline plays in moving black youth directly to juvenile facilities and prisons.

School System Rooted in Anti-Black Racism

Critical race theory states that racism is a “normal and ingrained feature of our landscape” because racial privilege and related oppression are deeply established from both our history and our law (Brewer and Heitzeg 2008). The legal formation of race has produced systemic economic, political and social advantages for whites (Brewer and Heitzeg 2008). The abolition of slavery did not abolish the hidden racism in the law, but rather, created new methods of redirecting the law in favor of whites (Brewer and Heitzeg 2008).

The ideal instructor in society is one that has the ability to teach without bias or influence from the educational systems; One that would provide equal and substantial instruction to all students. Evidently this is not the case, as societal hierarchies and power dynamics based on race play too strong of an influence. The majority of instructors today in the United States are white women. These instructors often enter the education system with preconceived notions regarding students of colour and of low socioeconomic status (Irizarry 2010). Their curriculum reflects this idea and reinforces these stereotypical identities rather than challenge concepts of discrimination and oppression (Irizarry 2010). Due to this traditional Western mindset, many teachers are aversively racist. Aversive racists claim that they do not hold prejudice based on race however subconsciously feel unease towards people of colour (Irizarry 2010). Since instructors are unaware of their ineffectiveness in the classroom, it is difficult for change to occur in these institutions. The products of aversive racism in the classroom are disparities in the discipline and teaching of white students compared to students of colour.

Discriminatory Discipline

The school to prison pipeline flows in one direction. When black students are involved in the criminal justice system, it is difficult for them to re-enter the education system. There are policies set in place that encourage police presence at schools as well as harsher tactics, and automatic punishments that result in suspensions (Teaching Tolerance 2015). These “tough on crime” policies are large contributors to the flow of the pipeline (Teaching Tolerance 2015). Studies show that African Americans have a higher chance of suspension, expulsion and arrest than white students (Kim, Losen and Hewitt 2010, 34-50). Black students only make up 16% of the overall juvenile population in the United States yet make up 45% of juvenile arrests (Kim, Losen and Hewitt 2010, 34-50). When students of colour and white students commit the same offence, students of colour have a higher chance of being suspended, expelled or arrested for committing the same act (Kim, Losen and Hewitt 2010, 34-50). For example, in 2006 the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit on behalf of Native American students claiming discriminatory discipline towards these groups of students (Kim, Losen and Hewitt 2010, 34-50). They alleged that it is was three times more likely for a Native American student to be suspended and twelve times more likely for them to be reported to the police, than a white student (Kim, Losen and Hewitt 2010, 34-50). The ACLU found many instances in which discriminatory discipline occurred (Kim, Losen and Hewitt 2010, 34-50). For example, a Native American student was arrested for putting a white student in a headlock and stating “he would break his neck”. However, a white student told a Native American girl that he wanted to “kill Indians” and see her “blood all over” and was not arrested (Kim, Losen and Hewitt 2010, 34-50). In another example, regarding the case of Sherpall v. Humnoke School District No. 5, the federal court found that the Arkansas school district discipline system was racially discriminatory (Kim, Losen and Hewitt 2010, 34-50). Teachers in Arkansas referred to black students as “niggers”, “blue gums”, and “coons” (Kim, Losen and Hewitt 2010, 34-50). It has been argued that higher rates of expulsions for students of colour may correlate to high rates of bad behaviour in school (Skiba et al. 2002). If so, the disparity in punishments would not be of racial bias (Skiba et al. 2002). Since there have been no such studies investigating this theory, one cannot argue that high rates of disruptive behaviour is valid reasoning for the disproportionality in punishments (Skiba et al. 2002).

The aversive racists placed in a teaching position, though subconscious, feel unease towards students of colour. These teachers have preconceived notions of blackness being threatening and dangerous due to an inherent fear of black people. This has been reinforced through a singular narrative that describes a monolithic black experience. They have a deep rooted fear of black students: a result of our country being built on the foundation of anti-black racism. In order to eliminate the threat of black students in the school permanently, they are lead into prisons by any means possible. As previously discussed, this includes more tough-on-crime policies and harsher disciplinary action. The close surveillance of poor black neighborhoods by police is a strategic way to target these communities and schools. As a result of white supremacy, black folks live in conditions that have made them more vulnerable to criminal activity and arrest. Discriminatory discipline can be considered a leading contributor to the school to prison pipeline ultimately resulting in a higher incarceration rate of black individuals. Discriminatory discipline is only a factor because of the creation of aversive racists due to an anti-black racist rooted education system. If anti-black racism could be eliminated from the education system, it is possible to greatly decrease the overall flow of the pipeline.

Discrepancies in Quality of Education

Higher incarceration rates are a combination of “tough-on-crime” policies in the criminal justice system and a lack of quality education that provides needed skill for employment (Hammond-Darling, Williamson, and Hyler 2007). Hirschi’s control theory states that society is a set of institutions that act to control and regulate rule-breaking behaviour (O’Grady 2011, 88-115). If an individual is bonded to society and conventional activities, they will not engage in crime (O’Grady 2011, 88-115). People abide by the law because they are tied to conventional society by social bonds; Social bonds are the degree to which an individual is integrated into the ideals and social ties of the community (O’Grady 2011, 88-115). The weaker the social bonds, the more likely an individual is to engage in crime (O’Grady 2011, 88-115). The lack of involvement in conventional activities results in a higher chance of crime participation (O’Grady 2011, 88-115). Unemployment due to a lack of education will decrease the degree to which an individual is involved in these conventional activities (O’Grady 2011, 88-115). As a result, one is more likely to engage or be exposed to criminal activity (O’Grady 2011, 88-115). Studies have shown that schools with large populations of black students have fewer resources than schools serving mostly white students (Hammond-Darling, Williamson, and Hyler 2007). Minority students are often segregated within schools and are targeted more as a result (Hammond-Darling, Williamson, and Hyler 2007). Many of these schools are so overpopulated that they have a more complex schedule that shortens school days and school years (Hammond-Darling, Williamson, and Hyler 2007). Exclusion from the classroom disrupts the student education and removes them from a structured environment, which can increase the likelihood for deviant behaviour (Kim, Losen and Hewitt 2010, 34-50). The most unequal education system lies in the United States as it provides students with significantly different learning opportunities based on social status (Hammond-Darling 2005). For example, Goudy Elementary School in Chicago which served mainly African American students, used fifteen-year-old textbooks, did not have any science labs, art or music teachers, and had two working bathrooms for 700 students (Hammond-Darling 2005). In the neighbouring town of New Tier that is 98% white, they provided its high school students with superior labs, up to date technology, multiple gyms and an Olympic pool (Hammond-Darling 2005). Also in 2001, students in California’s most segregated minority school were five times more likely to have under qualified teachers than those in predominantly white schools (Hammond-Darling 2005). Attention to these systematic differences is vital to improve the overall education system. If people do not recognize that students have different realities based on their social status, policies will continue to be created on the notion that it is the students, not the school circumstances that are the root of the unequal education.

White supremacy is the belief that white people should control society due to the belief that they are superior to all races. It is critical to also note that this belief of superiority is upheld by different systems of oppression such as patriarchy, capitalism and heteronormativity1. As mentioned previously, racial privilege and related oppression are ingrained features of our history and therefore are ingrained features of our present. White people dominating our society includes them dominating our education system.

1. A worldview that promotes heterosexuality as normal or preferred sexual orientation. The way in which gender and sexuality are separated categories based on a hierarchy.   

As a result, it is predestined that whites should have a better education than all other races. This includes better teachers, teaching facilities and materials. Education lays the foundation for the direction of people’s lives; it is necessary for social, political and economic participation. Since the system is created in order for white people to have the best education, they are technically the only race “fit” to participate in society. That leaves the rest, namely the black population, uneducated and therefore unable to participate. With this criteria, only one system is deemed “appropriate” for black individuals to contribute to: the prison system.

The school to prison pipeline is a main contributor to the over-representation of black people in the prison system. There is a discrepancy between the degree of discipline and quality of education between white and black students. Programs are being put in place in order to abolish the structure of the education system. For example, the Cradle to Prisons Pipeline is a campaign to reduce detention and incarceration by increasing support and services that are a necessity for children (Children’s Defense Fund 2015). This includes access to quality early childhood development, education services and accessible health and mental health programs (Children’s Defense Fund 2015). The Black Community Crusade for Children (BCCC) also aims to dismantle the pipeline through education by expanding programs like Freedom Schools designed for black students (Children’s Defense Fund 2015). The Black Lives Matter movement also inspires communities to fight against the school to prison pipeline as an example of structural racism (Rethinking Schools 2015). When oppressive power structures that are structural and institutionalized are ignored, the over representation of black people in prisons is normalized (Brewer and Heitzeg 2008). When the law ignores racism, black people continue to be abused, manipulated and exploited while the structural persistence of racism is ignored (Brewer and Heitzeg 2008). In society it is important that we aim to establish equity as opposed to equality. Equality disregards power dynamics that are prevalent in society (ie. white supremacy, anti-black racism, etc.) and seeks to treat everybody the same. We must learn to recognize and navigate through these relationships. Ultimately the school to prison pipeline is rooted in anti-black racism. This must be fully addressed and eradicated to fix the system permanently.

References

Brewer, Rose M., and Nancy A. Heitzeg. 2008. “Racialization of Crime and Punishment: Criminal Justice, Color-Blind Racism, and the Political Economy of the Prison Industrial Complex.”American Behavioral Scientist 51(5): 625-644.
Children’s Defense Fund. 2015. “Cradle to Prison Pipeline Campaign”. Last Modified November 2015. http://www.childrensdefense.org/campaigns/cradle-to-prison pipeline/?referrer=https://www.google.ca/
Gender and Education Association. 2011. “What is heteronormativity”. Last Modified November 2015. http://www.genderandeducation.com/issues/what-is-heteronormativity/
Hammond-Darling, Linda., Joy A. Williamson., and Maria E. Hyler. 2007. “Securing the Right to Learn: The Quest for an Empowering Curriculum for African American Citizens. The Journal of Negro Education 76(3): 281-296.
Hammond-Darling, Linda. 2004. “The Color Line in American Education: Race, Resources, and Student Achievement.”Du Bois Institute for African American Research 1(2): 213-246.
Irizarry, Jason M. 2010. “Redirecting the teacher’s gaze: Teacher education, youth surveillance and the school-to-prison pipeline.” Teaching and Teacher Education 26(5): 1196-1203.
Kim, Catherine., Daniel J. Losen., and Damon T. Hewitt. 2010. The School-to-Prison Pipeline: Structuring Legal Reform, 34-50. New York: New York University Press.
O’Grady, William. 2011. “Classical Sociological Explanations of Crime”. In Crime in Canadian Context: Debates and Controversies, Second Edition, 88-115. Oxford University Press: Toronto.
Oxfrod Dictionaries. 2015. “Heteronormative”. Last Modified November 2015. http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/heteronormative
Rethinking Schools. 2015. “Black Students’ Lives Matter: Building the school-to-justice pipeline.” Last Modified November 2015. http://www.rethinkingschools.org/archive/29_03/edit293.shtml
Skiba, Russel J., Robert S. Michael, Abra C. Nardo., and Reece L. Peterson. 2002. “The Color of Discipline: Sources of Racial and Gender Disproportionality in School Punishment.” The Urban Review 34(4): 317-342.
Teaching Tolerance. 2015. “The School-to-Prison Pipeline.” Last modified March 2013. http://www.tolerance.org/magazine/number-43-spring-2013/school-to-prison

Black and white Headshot of Chinwe smiling

Chinwe Nwebube is a second year Nigerian-Canadian student majoring in Human Kinetics at the University of Guelph. She currently acts as the Communications and Promotions Officer on the CJ Munford Centre Collective, a center for racialized students on the University of Guelph campus. After witnessing the outburst of racism that took place after an on campus rally in the fall, she was motivated to further investigate institutionalized racism. This resulted in her writing this essay about anti-black racism within the education system and its contribution to the over representation of black people in the prison system.

Coming Home: An Interview With Tina Reynolds

by Savannah Taylor

I had the privilege of chatting with Tina for the second time for The Peak about her work with incarcerated and formerly incarcerated women in the state of New York. My intention upon interviewing her was to chat on what has led her to where she is today. Admittedly, I expected a play-by-play account of all the brilliant advocacy work she has done. However, what ensued touched on something much more beautiful and something many of us can relate to… Family and sisterhood.

Do you wanna introduce yourself and what you do?

Tina: I am the co-founder and chair of WORTH (Women On the Rise Telling Her Story), which is a volunteer organization that is led and run by currently and formerly justice-involved women. We’ve been around since 2008, and we’ve done some phenomenal things, like changing legislation and policy and bringing about laws that impact women who have experienced incarceration. Two years ago, I began working at The Child Center of NY to develop and implement A Vision for Tele-Visiting (AVTV), a program that offers the logistical, emotional, and wraparound support to assists families in maintaining meaningful relationships during a parent’s incarceration and preparing for a successful reentry into family and community life. We provide reentry support, family support along with youth activities, leadership development and tele-visits, as well as mental health support and wraparound services, such as job placement assistance and benefits counseling. The Child Center has a powerful community presence, reaching more than 26,000 children a year. It’s located in Queens, NY, which includes neighborhoods where the numbers of children impacted by parental incarceration are among the highest.   What better place to offer services to children with justice-involved mothers?

So WORTH, from what I remember from the last time we chatted, came out of your own experiences from being incarcerated, correct?

Tina: Yes! WORTH came out of the experiences that I had and many other women had from our incarceration. We came out of prison with a feeling that there was not much ready for us to become successful and remain out in the free world. So, we began by having conversations amongst ourselves to see how we could support each other and support our sisters coming home.

Did you wanna touch more on your new program that WORTH is focusing on now?

Tina: We are focused on our partnership with The Child Center to provide services through AVTV, which in turn focuses on mothers and children within New York State Facilities, for women in NYC who are housed in Bedford and Taconic correctional facilities. We also offer tele-visiting services within Rikers Island’s Rose M. Singer Center for women, where we offer services to families, youth, and mothers with children. There is this tele-visiting boom happening within the nation, and not all programs are thinking about the relationship between the child or family member and the justice-involved person. Here in New York, there are organizations like The Osborne Association, Hour Children, and The Child Center who always put the child first, and honour the relationship between the child and his or her parent.

It is important to offer supplemental services to physical visits–although it is very important for children to see, feel, and touch their parent through physical visits–in addition to offering families a safe space to heal and move forward with their lives. We have three sites in Queens and a tele-visit can basically be done every day. We facilitate visits in Bedford Hills and Taconic Correctional Facilities, as well as Rose M. Singer centre in Rikers Island 1.


1. Westchester, Bedford, Taconic and Rikers Island are all prisons located in the Tri-State Area

It’s interesting because the program originally started out with the focus on just the state facilities, but after talking with the CEO of The Child Center, Traci Donnelly, she agreed we should offer tele-visiting to women with children because there was the possibility of continuation of services if Mom was transferred up state. She also envisioned us working with youth and opening visits up to families.

Before you were with WORTH and before you started organizing, who was Tina? What was Tina up to?

Tina: (laughs) well that’s a long time ago. I really did not know who I was; I knew who I wanted to be, though. I knew I wanted to help women and children. I didn’t know how I was going to do it, so I became involved in an organization and began sharing my story about my experience as an incarcerated woman. I had been home for about 12 months? I began pursuing an undergraduate degree and raising my last two children and reuniting with my other children, changing my life through the love of others and being really grateful for being out. So my primary focus was on my family because I have seven children and I’d been out of their lives for so long. In the first 5 years, my efforts were to basically reunify with my own children. To establish a relationship with them or assist them with establishing a relationship with each other. They were raised by various family members throughout the tri-state area…so they were pretty much dispersed throughout New York and New Jersey. Reunification is difficult and challenging. I had to swallow my pride, be strong, give voice to my emotions, and remain humble. My main focus was for my children to have a relationship with each other, grow and live happy lives. I am happy my family stepped in and supported them through my incarcerations.

It sounds like you had a very solid foundation of focusing on your family unit. Did that carry over to your advocacy work and WORTH?

Tina: It certainly carried over. My family experiences through my incarceration and the unification process with my children certainly intersected with my work. I often found myself speaking with sisters who had experienced the same situations and the challenges of unification with their own families and children. They were facing the challenges of the choices their family members had made who were taking care of their children in their absence. So, I always wanted to make sure I focused on those issues in regard to reproductive health but also family stability once Mom came home. Because it’s so important! Mothers tend to think about their children during their incarceration. They think and wonder about their safety and who their friends are and whether they’re faring well and things that they have missed as far as conversations–as well as, the “firsts” in any child’s life; regardless of how old they are, there are always “firsts” that happen in your child’s life that you are definitely missing if you are incarcerated and you can’t get those times back. So, I’ve always been about doing the work but also realizing that there are challenges around re-establishing relationships with those you love. And continuing to strengthen those relationships as you are out, being true to yourself and asking your children to be true to themselves and coming up with some specific guidelines of how you would engage with them and how to be with them. Since you being there physically is such a big missing in their lives during incarceration, even if you see them regularly, speak with them regularly during your incarceration, you are still not there. Each one of my children are different people and each one of them have/had different needs. While they wanted me in their lives, there were certain things that they wanted from me and I had to realize my own limitations. Not always monetarily, but emotionally, because as I was growing through my process of being home, I was also growing through my process emotionally   of being the person who I am today. I hadn’t really spent that much time learning who I was, and so I could do things but I wasn’t attached to the emotion behind the things I did.   I wanted to be attached to the emotion; those were the most difficult challenges because I had spent so much time without feelings in order to survive in a very selfish and selfless world.

How do you feel like your communication/unification process has changed since you started your advocacy work to now?

Tina: Well, basically, so much has happened in my advocacy work in relation to my children. I’ve been an editor in an anthology, Interrupted Lives: Experiences of Incarcerated Women in the United States, where I shared a story about my last daughter and reuniting when she was 20 years old. Now, some 9 years later, she is in my life and she has three children and is married. My other children have gotten married. My daughters were married first and have strong and stable relationships with their husbands. My sons are not married yet. My children and I have always communicated, and my communication is unique to each child. I speak with some more than others. However, we have always communicated. It has transformed over the years into a relationship of dignity and respect and love. My advocacy work is all my children see and know I do, they observe my commitment and dedication to others.   They are an integral part of my growth. Advocacy is an integral part of my growth, sisterhood is a big part of who I am.

Do you feel like WORTH is a place for women to come and rebuild things that have been lost or forgotten while they were incarcerated?

Tina: So even WORTH has transitioned and transformed into something different. We closed our office in Manhattan a few years back and now we’ve been working specifically on this tele-visiting. . Our mantra has always been “once you’re a member of WORTH you’re always a member of WORTH” because it’s a volunteer organization. Women were inspired and moved towards gaining employment and seeking a higher education while volunteering at WORTH. It’s always been a volunteer program and because of our movement women have gone on and done different phenomenal things for themselves in their lives. They come back and touch base and we end up being in certain spaces together. We were able to join as a group of women to the National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls and the Formerly Incarcerated and Convicted Peoples Movement. It is always inspiring to meet so many women across the nation who have been impacted by incarceration and gone on to do phenomenal things. So, WORTH has grown as I have grown, and it hasn’t looked like something that I wanted in the beginning, but when things transform, it’s just like relationships with your children. You have this idea of how this relationship is going to be. It doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s gonna turn out like that. So, how do you adjust to the ways in which it does turn out and how can you keep moving forward knowing that that’s your position in the world and that’s the purpose you’ve been placed here for? So, through the transition of WORTH, in many ways, it’s not where we were before, but what can we look like in the future? So working within the prison now, we’re looking at it from a perspective of having leadership coming out of the facilities we are offering services in. Having the women come in and join us in this process and guide us from that place (because we’ve been home a lot longer) where they see the impacts of incarceration on themselves and their families being different within this world of social media and technology. We have to give folks that are coming out a safe space and a chance to be fully self-expressed.

How would you describe WORTH now then? Is it still a sisterhood?

Tina: It is still a sisterhood! It is always and will always be a sisterhood of women. There are so many women who have been a part of WORTH that it will never not be a sisterhood. Because of our experiences–some of us have experienced incarceration together, gone through education together or organized together. So, it will never not be a sisterhood… We are continuing the work moving forward, we’re just doing it differently. It’s sort of transformed into something else.


Tina Reynolds
Tina Reynolds is Co-Founder and Chair of Women on the Rise Telling HerStory (WORTH). WORTH is an association of formerly and currently incarcerated women who have been empowered by their own experiences while involved in the criminal justice system and beyond.  Reynolds has received a Master in Social Work from Hunter College and is currently an adjunct professor at York, CUNY in the Behavioral Sciences Department teaching “Impact of Incarceration on Families, Communities and Children” and Human Development.

Illusions of Access

blue and grey sun ray

A conversation about ASL, interpretation and inclusion.

With Kylie Brooks, Alex Lu, Sage Nobel facilitated by scout huston

           As someone connected to queer/trans communities, social justice communities, disability justice communities, and Deaf/Hard of Hearing communities, I am often in conversations about “the right ways to hire ASL (American Sign Language), interpreters”. Finding interpreters for events can be a tough process, however building connections with Deaf people/communities is about so much more than booking interpreters! The following conversation is meant to complicate the narrative around access, inclusion and ASL interpretation. The transcript has been edited for the purposes of length, clarity, and flow- with the permission of all involved.

scout: my first question was: what does the idea of “accessibility” mean to you both?

Sage: From my own perspective, genuine inclusivity and accessibility looks like this: Recognizing that each individual may have a different set of access needs and may have various types of accommodations. The best thing is to do, is to simply, ask the participants what their access needs are. Like being Deaf-centric and ASL-centric can be two different things.

For me – Accessibility means the freedom to navigate the world with minimal barriers with the necessary accommodations.

Alex: Well, for myself, the one thing that I’ve been trying to really push back on in my accessibility work is that, I think accessibility has been distorted to mean a checklist of physical accessibility items. Which is to say, when I worked as the accessibility director for BCRAD (British Columbia Rainbow Alliance of the Deaf), every time I had a collaboration, the same question would pop up over and over again – “What is X, Y, and Z that we have to do to be accessible?”

And it’s the mindset that tends to be a bit toxic. You can go through all of the physical motions of having accessibility, but unless you foster a space where people feel like they’re included, it’s not really accessible. I try to look at it more holistically. For instance, culturally, what do people need? Socially, what do we have to do to make people feel like they’re part of a community? How do people feel like they have a voice and say? Do they feel respected in a space?

These are all as important to accessibility as having an interpreter or a ramp.

I think it sometimes goes against conventional ideas of event planning, which is structured and supposed to be very dogmatic in how you follow out a plan.But in practice, the advice I give is – event planning really isn’t like that, it’s super organic. Especially when you’re dealing with the Deaf community, word-of-mouth is really the best way to get people to your event, for instance.

scout: Sage, would you be into talking a bit about what Deaf Spectrum is and why you started it?

Sage: A little bit about Deaf Spectrum – our goal is to bring greater accessibility for Deaf locals in the Greater Toronto Area who use American Sign Language. Right now, we are producing sign language videos that contain event promotion information and grant information. We are planning on expanding our sign language translation video services. In the future, we are planning to host a series of workshops to provide sign language interpreters training to be competent in their field. There’s more to this but I don’t want to give all my ideas away yet.

We also started up tutoring services – and hopefully, some Deaf interpreting services.

Basically, our goal is to have an all Deaf team and to empower each other. One of our goals is to providing training programs in ASL and teach members of the Deaf community usable skills that can increase employment.

Kylie: I work with them re captioning (on hold for now) and booking stuff.

scout: Awesome! So, is there any advice you would give to someone who is trying to make an event more inclusive to Deaf folks?

Sage: To make an event more inclusive – I would suggest hiring interpreters and Deaf interpreters. Providing captioning whenever possible. Scent free spaces. Wheelchair accessible. Gender Neutral bathrooms. And actually reaching out to the Deaf community – produce vlogs and etc. It’s important to distribute the information as much as you can. Get in touch with Deaf folks who have access to networks/community.

Alex: Personally, speaking from experience – sometimes, even at events that have interpreters, I don’t feel totally engaged. A lot of the time, the reason you’ll go to an event is to feel connected to the community and to involve yourself with other people – but I feel like a lot of hearing people aren’t willing to take the leap to bridge a communication gap. It may be experimental, but one thing I would like to see event organizers do is decenter spoken language as the primary mode of communication. Maybe have notepads around, encourage people to approach Deaf people, etc.

Sage: That’s an amazing idea, Alex.

Also, I find myself more comfortable participating in events where I know there will be signers there. It doesn’t matter if they are not that fluent, but it’s nice to have someone to chat with, rather than just wandering around, looking as if I’m lost.

Alex: Yes! This is also why it’s important to engage at a community level, rather than just at an individual level. If there’s a group going, I’d feel a lot more comfortable. But still, it’s important to address how to break down these communication barriers, so it’s not just the Deaf people sitting in a corner all night and talking between ourselves – as enjoyable as that might be still!

Scout: totally- Kylie, you’ve talked about this before- but there is an idea that once you hire interpreters deaf people will feel totally included and welcome, which isn’t always true.

Kylie: Right.

Sage: And – often, I noticed that sometimes when people try to hire interpreters, they don’t ask you who’s your preferred interpreter is. they just refer to the queer & trans friendly list… which is kind of out dated and has heterosexual interpreters. this shouldn’t be the default in queer & trans spaces.

Kylie: Yeah, it’s important to match the right kind of terp to the space. I think it’s important for interpreters getting into this to… well, not just know their stuff but actually take reasonable risks and learn from mistakes.

scout: what are some ways that people can navigate finding an interpreter that is a good fit?

Sage: I think the first step is to ask the deaf people interested in the event, ask them who their preferred interpreters are.

Alex: It’s a little tough because I understand sometimes people don’t have the resources and connections just to directly ask Deaf people. I think that’s one issue actually – that the burden always falls upon Deaf people. I don’t know the schedules of interpreters or all their specialities and everything.I feel like ultimately, people just need to do more research in general. Like, instead of hiring the first interpreter you find, can you try to look up some testimonials? Have them elaborate more about their expertise and experience?Mostly, I think the key issue that people aren’t aware they need specialized interpreters for queer/trans events. I feel like it’s actually a pretty easy thing to verify – look up who’s interpreting for other events, for instance! Ask the interpreters themselves. But it just gets glossed over because people assume all interpreters are the same.

Sage: Like, there are some events where there are poetry and songs. That is more suitable for a Deaf interpreter, I think. Like, performances, in general.

Alex: Definitely. But there also isn’t awareness that Deaf interpreters are a thing. That’s part of the reason why I want to push back against the “accessibility checklist” idea – there’s so many subtle distinctions that it fails to make about the complexities of accessibility. The other thing I want to add in is that – I think we need to be mindful of cultural issues in interpreting too. For instance, poetry or songs have traditionally been handled by hearing interpreters, and I think a lot of Deaf people put up with it because of access – but at the same time, the language, at that level of abstraction, metaphor and expression, really belongs to Deaf people. Sage previously mentioned hiring Deaf interpreters, and I think that’s something people need to do more often. Not only do they do the source material more justice, but it’s just a matter of cultural reappropriation – it has to come from someone inside of the culture.

scout: are there some specific questions that you would recommend asking interpreters to see if there are a good fit?

Alex: I’d say ask them about the previous events they’ve done.But also, just ask them to be honest about their experience, and ask them if they can pass the job to another interpreter if they don’t feel up to it.

Kylie: I’d ask specific questions. hmm, “do you know what pronouns are?”

Sage: maybe, if they have taken some kind of anti-oppression training?

Kylie: Also, I think it’s maybe a good idea to ask the interpreters what they know about disability. Not as in, “do you support disabled people?” Specific questions.

Alex: Yeah, that’s important too. I remember once attending a BLM panel, and there were white interpreters. So I was like, “okay”, because I mean, access, right! But then I started feeling really uncomfortable watching the rage of black women being articulated through white people. That’s another issue here, isn’t it, that we really don’t have a lot of BIPOC interpreters. Again, part of that is the discriminatory nature of the interpreting program. I feel like it’s racially unbalanced too. Actually, that’s a major issue – I remember surveying the Deaf community in respect to HIV healthcare, and part of the reason why STD transmission rates along Deaf- queer men are so high is because they’re embarrassed to bring interpreters to medical appointments due to the demographics – male and queer male interpreters are just so rare. As a result, they don’t get proper medical intervention and counselling. I think interpreter demographics and diversity is at the root of a lot of social problems in the Deaf community

Sage: We need to feel supported as a whole, not just because of our deafness, but as a whole person.

Alex: Sometimes, I feel like people don’t even notice me at an event, lol. Like, I’m in my own bubble with the interpreter, and it’s the hearing people operating in their own world.

Sage: Sometimes, I’m wondering, if they see us chatting with the interpreter, that we’re busy. we’re chatting with the interpreter because we have no one else to talk to!

Alex: Yeah, I feel bad doing that sometimes because I’m like “Oh, do I seem uninviting?” But what am I supposed to do? Stand around and stare at the wall until some hearing person is generous enough to talk to me?

I mean, okay, I would be totally cool with approaching people, but keep in mind I’ve been socialized to literally not know how hearing people start conversations with each other. Like, I don’t have that experience at all. So when I’m in a majority hearing space, I’m suddenly hyperconscious – oh god, what if I violate some kind of hearie norm or something?

Sage: Hearing people have been oppressing us since forever. so we do have some kind of innate fear of dealing with hearing people.There have been some situations where hearing people think that we are so hard to communicate with, that we are not important enough for their energy to try to communicate with us.

Alex: I think it’s less an innate fear for me, as much as it is a bunch of gaps in my knowledge of how hearing society works.

Kylie: Like I’ve had experiences – and others have seen – where I try to ask to clarify but they refuse. Or, people refuse to type on my communication device after being told – for various reasons but still.

Alex: I fake it a lot since I’m oral Deaf, but when it comes down to it, I sometimes have no idea how to behave in a hearing environment. It feels like there’s all of these rules and stuff that I’m not aware of. Because I’ve been missing that context since birth, since no one bothered to include me in things, right? And then the other issue is that sometimes Deaf folks don’t have the language to deal with things right? I’m lucky, but come on, sometimes we have ridiculous standards of language in social justice spaces. It becomes inaccessible. If you don’t know the right words, you can’t fit in.

Kylie: Also, the kind of normative language in the SJ community is my normal way of thinking – my native dialect. So yeah, I think also important to help each other if struggling to explain stuff

Sage: We are soooo excluded from the mainstream community already. I feel that we have a greater need to focus on community building, to gain knowledge about our rights – to be included in more mainstream spaces. It honestly feels like people don’t care.Sometimes, I have those followers on facebook who like my statuses when I post about audism… that’s all they do. they like the status. but they don’t do anything about it. why don’t they learn sign language? Why don’t they invite us to hang out with them one on one?

Alex: Yeah, that’s one other thing. One-on-one interactions are so much easier for Deaf people, in my opinion, if it’s a hearing person. I feel like the one big thing I love about Deaf groups is that is someone goes to the washroom or something, someone else will tend to fill them in the conversation. But I’ve rarely ever seen that happen with a hearing group. It’s more like, they expect you to blend in, rather than ensuring everyone’s on the same page before moving on. I think the other thing is that I just feel so tokenized in these spaces, actually. Like, I’m oral, and a lot of places like to invite me because I can give presentations in formats that hearing people like. And then I’ll be the only Deaf person, and I’ll give like, this presentation on accessibility and it’ll be an annual thing, but then I’ll never ever see Deaf people attending other than me. Even though they’re like “oh, we’re learning! We’re improving!” Where’s the improvement? It feels like they’re using me to pay lip service to accessibility because “hey, I’m the lone Deaf person there! It’s accessible!” When really, it’s not.


Sage Lovell
Sage Lovell is a twenty-something Deaf queer multidisciplinary artist and community educator who likes to work their magic. In their work, Sage reflects about their lived experiences of struggling in an ableist, sexist, capitalist and oppressive society that only welcomes those who fit their standard set of expectations and norms.  Through sharing stories and lived experiences, Sage discovered a beautiful loving supportive community full of folks of all identities.

Kylie Brooks
Kylie Brooks is a Black Deaf Disabled queer trans woman, using she/her pronouns. She is an online social justice activist that focuses on the interconnections of oppression.

Alex Lu
Alex is a graduate student studying computational biology at the University of Toronto. He also serves as a director-at-large for OPIRG-Toronto and for the frank theatre company, where he addresses Deaf/queer issues and advocates for accessibility from an intersectional perspective.

My Gender is Sacred Femininity

Illustration of a women looking at a moon text reads "she asks me not to get rid of monsters, she knows the interruption of love by trauma, is inevitable like a sun that sets the orbit of planets a moon illuminating the unseen certain as a body ready to heal move and be moved from orpheus and eurydice"

reflections on community, astrology, healing, and the universe

by Shaunga Tagore

         I was born in the sparkle of a Gemini Sun, just as it was setting on the horizon, and the constellation of Scorpio was Rising on the horizon. I was born on the eclipse of a full Sagittarius moon. I was born carrying wounds that ancestors never got to reconcile in their lifetime. I was born to be a storyteller, to create magic out of madness. 

              In the Fall of 2015, my friend Hisayo and I made a date to drink wine and chat about trauma (because what else would two Scorpio-types do on a Tuesday night?). 

     We chilled in my old apartment over-looking Wallace-Emerson park in the west end of Toronto; a cozy run-down dwelling that held me during a year of many changes and learnings: a shocking, painful break-up; the weekend I burnt writing from dozens of journals I had been carrying around with me for over ten years; and where I learned to talk to ghosts and cast spells for the first time in my life. As the evening went on, Hisayo and I chatted and ranted about community, relationships, and how trauma and power dynamics impact how we build these things. We talked about whether we found differences between dating people on feminine or masculine spectrums, as well as how we experienced our own genders in relationship to that. At one point I blurted out in a tipsy stream of consciousness, you know, maybe my gender is just actually just Sacred Femininity! Thank you to Hisayo for their wide eyes and finger-waggy encouragement: Shaunga, that is brilliant. You need to write that shit down!

     My gender, my healing, my art and my sense of being are all expressed through the Sacred Feminine. This is the place where I ground myself, move forward from, and access my intuition, intentions, actions, and decisions.

     Sacred Femininity is my connection to the universe, my relationship with my ancestors, my trust in Spirit. The Sacred Feminine is evident and glistening everywhere around us – inside the memories of rocks, the medicine of plants, the rhythms of ocean waves, the transformation of ocean depths, the surrender in riptides. It is in the wisdom and interdependence of trees, the growth and lessons of mountains, the destruction and creation of volcanoes. Sacred Femininity is in the cycles of planets, the inspiration of stars, the mysteries and unknowability of our galaxies. Sacred Femininity is our universe, our Mama Earth. She is the home that holds us all. Without her, we wouldn’t be here. We wouldn’t have bodies or breath. We wouldn’t have anywhere to live.

     It has taken me 31 years (the age I am now) to re-remember my relationship to this sacred knowing, to Spirit. It’s taken me this long to work through enough trauma related to displacement, violation, memory-loss, and denial that hindered my relationship to spirituality since childhood. Now I am finally able to create a clear channel between myself and Spirit, and honour the Sacred Feminine in myself and around me in a new way, and many old ways.

    And I feel like a weirdo. It’s hard to explain to people how and why I live the way I do when conversations about trauma and Spirit are not valued in many queer communities; when they are often seen as separate from activism, justice or politics. Especially over the last year as I have been embracing this part of me more fully, I have been witnessing my relationships changing with people who don’t quite know what to do with it.

    Spirit and Femininity have always been the central target of white masculinity (or in long form, the Colonial, Capitalist, Ableist Patriarchy Cis-Tem). White masculinity is confused by Sacred Femininity. Terrified of her. Always in attempt to control, harness, deny, minimize, belittle, erase, suppress, violate, exploit, interject into and mansplain away.

     White masculinity’s laws are directly in conflict with Spirit Law embedded in the universe, Mama Earth, and her guidelines of how we should respect the home she offers us. Spirit Law is governed through sustainability, balance, mutuality, consent, self-determination, personal agency, interdependency, collective growth and ongoing change.

     White masculinity’s cis-tem is not sustainable or balanced; it creates luxury for some at the expense of others, it doesn’t think about the future, it uses and exploits without regard for the consequences, it takes without consent. It denies our relationship to Spirit, to our soul’s purpose for being here on this planet, to the unique configuration the stars and planets formed the minute we were born and that gave us a story in our bodies to fulfill.

     White masculinity knows that if you violate Spirit – our relationship to an awesome life force, our connection to creation, to existence itself – and if you deflate the people on the planet who most fiercely honour and embody this connection, then you can conquer the planet as a whole. This is why colonization has always and continues to centrally target Black and Indigenous women, 2Spirit, transwomen, gendervariant people, women of colour, healers, witches, caregivers, artists, and other channels of the sacred divine, including Mama Earth herself.

     When I think about when/how I have been the most hurt in relationships and community – whether romantic, friendship, work, within arts-collaborations, or activist pursuits – these are the times that my own Sacred Femininity has not been respected. When I have not given myself permission to respect the Sacred Feminine within a community, a relationship dynamic or in myself. These days I strive to make my moves and decisions by grounding in Spirit. This means I have been learning to recognize when the universe is talking to me. When she does, I trust the answer before I know the question. In my early 20s I made the decision to move to city half-way across the country in an instant, and now know that was Spirit talking to me. As an artist and creator, I receive visions for my plays and performances and I commit to those visions before I know what all the details look like. What I know for certain is that listening to Spirit never lets us down; the universe will never send us down a wrong path. Of course, none of this is “practical” according to white capitalist masculinity; none of this is “productive” or leads anywhere “successful.” It won’t be taken seriously by white masculine institutions or the people who uphold them. Even amongst community I can be treated like I am “flaky,” “irrational,” or others will attempt to control or devalue my way of being and creating. I’ve come to realize in the building of relationships and community – no matter where other people are at with their own trauma, journey, relationship to power, they need to at the very least accept and respect the Sacred Femininity in me.

     Here I come back to the confirmation that healing work is so important to pursuits of activism and justice, to change and liberation individually and out of collectively destructive global patterns. Healing is not about ‘fixing’ ourselves until we are not broken. Healing is about looking deeply inward and accessing the parts of our spirits and bodies that are so powerful, they have never been harmed. They are so divine, so sacred, they cannot be tainted by anything that attempts to destroy us. I believe this exists in everyone – a memory of the constellations that birthed us, a returning to an alignment with Spirit Law, a defiance of human-made cis-tems the universe was never meant to hold. As an astrologer, I learn a lot about this kind of healing, this returning, and about relationships and communities, from the 12 different zodiac constellations and planets. All the signs have different feelings about each other. They have different kinds of conversations: some may be supportive, some may be clashes or arguments, and sometimes signs can speak to each other without actually listening to what they other is saying (and how often do you see that happen in community…)

     When I do a reading for someone and analyse their individual birth chart, I see all the complicated and nuanced ‘conversations’ that happen all at once within an individual person. A basic example: we might be super reserved and cautious in new situations (Scorpio Rising, what up!), but playful and bold around who we consider family (perhaps a Leo Sun in the 4th house!). A unique combination of these ‘conversations’ surface when I do compatibility readings between two people, and they are definitely present when thinking about astrology as a whole (or if I were to imagine how community could function as a whole). The fact that the signs of the zodiac make a circle is significant to me. It tells me that in the midst of all these different kinds of relationships (where some signs are best buds, some signs are constantly in drama, some just don’t get each other) – everyone is needed to make the circle whole.

     In an art performance showcase, for example, you need all the signs to pull off an amazing show: you need the element of fire (Aries, Leo, Sagittarius) to boldly express themselves on stage, put creativity, passion and beliefs all on display and energize the room. You need the earth element (Taurus, Virgo, Capricorn) to create physical accessibility and comfort for the space, to make sure there is food backstage and everyone who worked to make the show happen is compensated fairly for their work. You need air (Gemini, Libra, Aquarius) to create language expressing the politics underlying the event, to create avenues of communication and consent between audience members and performers, and you need water (Cancer, Scorpio, Pisces) to open our hearts to give and receive, to know there is a deeper purpose to why we come together in this way – to feel, to be moved, to be transformed.

     In our individuals lives and communities, sometimes we go through times where it is important to be open to abundance and expansion (Jupiter), sometimes to learn about our own limits and boundaries (Saturn). Sometimes we might need to take risks and try something completely new to break free (Uranus), sometimes we are more in tune with our dream world, our hidden emotions (Neptune), and sometimes we transform ourselves entirely by letting go of deeply rooted patterns holding us back from our own empowerment (Pluto). When the lessons we need to learn might not always line up in harmony with our partners, friends, or the people we work, create or organize with, how do we keep room for each other? Respect each other? Be accountable to each other? How do we support each other and love each other while we may react differently in a crisis (Moon), find pleasure different kinds of relationships and romance (Venus), clash in the way we express our anger and sexuality (Mars), have trouble understanding the different ways we communicate (Mercury), and feel like we have really specific and unique purposes for being alive (Sun)? Healing is being curious about all of these questions. It is wanting to know ourselves in our unique story nobody else can tell. It is wanting to respect the divine, the Sacred Feminine in all of us.

     The Sacred Feminine implores us to ask of ourselves and one another: who are we in our genders, families, blood lines, ancestors, past lives, future lives, spirit karma? In our relationships to childhood, work, lovers, school, borders, displacement, immigration, police, violence, privilege, power? What are our joys and strengths? What makes us shine the most brightly, what is our best contribution to a good world? When are we doing our best, when are we acting in detriment to ourselves, and how does this impact our relationships and communities? It is having a conversation with ourselves and recognizing: this is a pattern I am stuck in, this is a habit I have, this is the impact on myself and others…and it no longer works for me. I no longer choose this. It doesn’t help me or the state of the world. It keeps me stuck somewhere I don’t want to be, and I am committed to change. Sacred Femininity, healing, community and justice is the opposite of denying our feelings, and hiding who we are from ourselves. It is thanking ourselves for surviving thus far, and wanting something more.

*Parts of this article have been previously published on www.shaungatagore.com


Shaunga Tagore
Shaunga Tagore is a performance artist, writer, astrologer, intuitive counsellor, arts-based educator and community organizer; a non-binary tenderqueer superqueero cat-lady magic-making weirdo. www.shaungatagore.com

Transformative Communities

A Conversation with Tina Reynolds

By: Savannah Clarke

Tina Reynolds was in Guelph on February 24th to speak on a Transformative Justice panel to explore the work that herself and other Black women are doing in their communities to keep each other safe, to resist police violence, and build alternatives to prisons. She took some time to sit down with our interviewer Savannah and share some knowledge.

Savannah: Can you start off with your name and some background on what you do and who you are?

Tina: My name is Tina Reynolds and I am a social worker, a junk-lecturer, I live in Brooklyn, New York. I teach at York College in New York City in the behavioural science department and I’ve been doing that for ten years. I have experienced being in prison and I have been an activist and advocate for over twenty years. Advocating for women, children and families and specifically changing the perception of women as they’ve been impacted by the criminal justice system

S: So what is the importance of meaningful relationships in the work that you do?

T: In 2004, we started an organization called Women on the Rise Telling Her Story (WORTH). One of the things that we did for our first strategic meeting was to make an agreement amongst ourselves that our relationships as women who have been impacted by the criminal justice system mattered and had to be put first. That we were stepping out and doing something that was very unique. We were collaborating with our sisters whom we had left behind. Within our own lives we were making a way for them to be able to have some stability once they returned. So, our relationships in establishing those conversations moved towards a co-creative, inclusive, collaborative vision of the organization and the way at which we would do our advocacy work. We knew many people working within the human services and criminal justice services. Some of us had gone back to school and received our degrees. We saw that the resources that were most valuable were ourselves and that we could actually leverage some opportunities for our sisters coming home through our positions in the work that we were doing. The relationships we established in these organizations and amongst ourselves became really important and vital in us assisting women and being there as a resource for when they came home. So relationships are really important.

S: It sounds like it sort of builds the foundation for your organization?

T: Absolutely. We built a foundation and moved through our relationships differently. We’ve all had our experiences that were different from our prison experiences. Within those prison experiences that we had, we came with our own individual passion around the impact and effects of our own prison experience. WORTH was never a mono-issue organization. We always held up and offered opportunities for women and saw that there was an need for dignity and for understanding for how every women served their time and how it is that they came home and what it was that impacted them the most and what drove them to do this work from a passionate place. Usually it was an issue that impacted them terribly during their incarceration that they fought really hard and adamantly for when they came home.

S: Earlier you mentioned your sisters and doing work for those that have been left behind, how do center the voices of those who have been most marginalized in our communities? More specifically from your perspective on working with women in prisons.

T: The organization is called Women on the Rise Telling Her story. It’s our her-story, it’s our linage, our story. Our stories are so important and they can mean different things for different people. What we’ve done with centering our stories is allow ourselves to be seen as experts and to see ourselves in dignity. We’ve been able to see ourselves as women who have had the prison experience and most importantly are not those experiences that we’ve had. We’ve taken our experiences, shaped and molded them to be shared with other people in ways that could be used for presentations, literature, journals, books and poetry. We make sure that we are in the centre of that and how we get that place is an understanding that it is necessary to be fully self-expressed. Full self-expression comes about in many different ways. We’ve centered our voices through full self expression, the dignity offered through others and it’s putting the story in the center.

When we use to open up our office in the morning, we would come in and the first thing we did was sit around a table that was in the middle of the kitchen, in our office in Manhattan. Now our office in is Queens but that Manhattan office was so special to the needs that we had as women. There were times when would come in and we would sit around the table and debrief from the day before of our organizing efforts or whatever it was that we were working on. Often times we didn’t start working until after noon because we just had the need to be in conversation, to hear each others voices and opinions. To find out about what mattered, our children, our challenges and barriers. From one issue to the next, we committed ourselves to doing better and dedicate ourselves to the issue and what is of our passion. They were really great times.

S: So, you mentioned earlier that you own your experiences and that you get to shape and decide how they are used. How do you work to change the narrative of how people see prisons in our communities?

T: For myself, I think that the narrative of prisons had to change from a place where I felt like I was being rescued when I sought out resources after prison. The idea that I had was that prisons were a place of punishments and that notion stands today. It is within our society that we rely on this particular environment to punish people, rehabilitate people and a place where it is politically entangled within various things in our society. It is part of a system that takes the freedom away from people. [However], it is also part of a system that takes the freedom and life of those that are in our communities. It makes [people in our communities] bound to that particular system. If there is a person they love within, they cannot live their lives as if it does not exist. The prison narrative, for me, is looking at it from the context of what has been done to brown and black people throughout our history.This is an environment, a place and a space specifically for those same things to happen under the guise of punishing because someone has committed a crime. Often times the idea of crime is one where there has not been a crime committed at all. There has been more of an issue of criminalizing of people. So, when we think about the things people do and the reason why they were arrested for things that they do is because we have not held our systems of the way in which we are policed, the department of corrections and other systems that prohibit us from being full human beings – have not been held accountable. We have not asked them questions, taken lead or held our power. As long as we continue to not take our power we have a narrative where we feel it is necessary to have prisons within our community and within our lives. I believe in prison abolition. I think there is a way for us to end incarceration. I believe there are ways for us to heal and have difficult conversations. I believe that there are people who commit crimes and I think we should have equality around that. If the rules bend for one, we have to understand that they are stronger and more stringent than the other. So we have those two paradoxes to look at. The conversation around punishment is more important in our society, I think, then the narrative of prisons and what they stand for.

S: What are some challenges that you’ve faced in the work that you do and how did you overcome these challenges?

Tina: The challenge of the work is being at peace with women. Working with women, for me, was the biggest challenge. It was one that I did with joy and I still do with joy. It is that humility that needs to be full and in the center. It is checking ones’ self and your intention. It’s the debriefing and being able to listen to others. As well as, truly being inclusive. It is being able to apologize, rededicate and recommit yourself to being a stand for what it is that you are doing and for those that you are doing it with. Knowing that you need to be a good follower as well as a good leader.

S: My final questions is, do you have any advice for our generation when working on this movement? We’ve talked a lot about exchange of knowledge, how do we build this movement that is intergenerational?

Tina: When I first started college, I always thought about the intergenerational impact of mass incarceration. Now I know that there is an intergenerational impact of mass criminalization of a people, on black lives specifically. When I first heard of #blacklivesmatter, I thought about how it was that all lives mattered and I was excluding myself again. [This is because] Inside, around the trauma that I’ve experienced it’s always been about exclusion of self and inclusion of others and not looking at myself, specifically as a black woman, as my life mattering. I’ve had to take that on in many instances that I’ve had to do this activism work where I’ve had this internalized fear. So, the intergenerational aspect of moving this movement forward, because it’s not a new movement, is including all black and brown people. It is the inclusion of all black lives. It’s the inclusion of all women, trans and queer women. It’s the inclusion of all folks that have been oppressed and dehumanized. It’s the inclusion of trans folks, queer folks, youth and their voices. It’s the inclusion of having folks being able to create and imagine, what it might look like that’s different. It is not being ashamed of what it is you’ve done as a person [ but instead] having it propel you to be fearless of the shame and the guilt. And to understand, especially young folks, that these conversations are happening with all people. Showing up in different spaces is not something that is thought about or planned…it’s happening. The universe is answering and offering. It is creating a space for these conversations, meetings and connections to be made because it’s really important. A friend of mine has always said to me what is very integral to activism are the three C’s. They are to have clarity, remain capable, and maintain compassion. So, the three C’s, for me, are those things. To be really clear and to sit down and be still and to think about what it is that I need to do next and how it is that I’m transforming… as well as other things are transforming around me. Being patient, loving, kind, consistent, available, flexible, a person that is listening, a person that is hearing and involved. Just being.


Tina Reynolds
Tina Reynolds is Co-Founder and Chair of Women on the Rise Telling HerStory (WORTH). WORTH is an association of formerly and currently incarcerated women who have been empowered by their own experiences while involved in the criminal justice system and beyond.  Reynolds has received a Master in Social Work from Hunter College and is currently an adjunct professor at York, CUNY in the Behavioral Sciences Department teaching “Impact of Incarceration on Families, Communities and Children” and Human Development.

On Language and Movement Inclusivity

By Maya Menezes

Above: Sonali Menezes

      Dear fellow organizers, survivors of academia, and peers, something is wrong with our movement. In our effort to make things accessible we have made movements inaccessible. If our effort to speak for we have spoken over. Proper grammar is oppressive, spell check is a fascist. Fuck punctuation

Listen y’all, when our movements do not center the non-academic voice, we do more than disservice the potential diversity of our movements, we take on the role of the oppressor. In policing diction, we silence and delegitimize non-institutional folks. When we silence those voices, we damn a lack of eloquent speakers to the silences sidelines. This has to stop.

One of the most beautiful privileges afforded to those who have the opportunity to attend post-secondary education, and one of the most beautiful things that those with class privilege can do, is to use their privilege to ‘share the mic.’ What does this mean? Gayartri Spivak addresses this in her awesome (and incredibly dense and inaccessible article) “Can The Subaltern Speak?” When the left speaks for those who are oppressed, and makes profit from creating discourses of anti-oppression, are we creating revolutionary accessible texts on behalf of those who are not heard? Or, are we instead speaking over, for, and on top of stories we know nothing of?

The hijacking of revolutionary discourse by privileged folks (racialized or not) in the safety of our ivory towers does not serve those who we would think we are helping. Instead, what it does is make palatable a struggle that is quite frankly, not ours to tell. Moreover, the rewriting of discourses and silencing of the less eloquent speaker devalues and delegitimizes the thoughts and feelings of those experiencing oppression and colonial violence on such a raw level that academic language cannot explain it, cannot boil the rawness out of it, and quite frankly- has no business trying.

2014 saw the birth of some of the most revolutionary movements of our generation. Idle No More and Black Lives Matter have shattered the collective consciousness of millions of people around the world, and offered hope to the oppressed, violated and silenced communities of the fringe majority. What have they done differently? Inclusivity. The blockade activist who swears like a sailor has just as much (if not much more) legitimacy to speak than the PhD student who spent a couple days taking photos for a chapter. The angry racialized activist who asks you what right you have to be there, to speak and profit off their struggle, has every right to demand an answer of you. Your social justice studies, your weekend activism, your soon-to-be law degree or radical learning class, does not give you the right to decide who is heard, what voices are legitimate, and what discourse is just palatable enough to be the face of the revolution.

‘Proper diction,’ an anthology of theory, and formal citations should not speak over the current lived experience of oppressed communities. It is important to remember that, while English and your presentation of your knowledge through this format may for you be liberating, it is also the tools of the oppressor, the silencing strong-arm of entrenched colonialism, and the boot of class mite, meant to squash those who cannot speak it, and to push forth the rampant social stratification whose only goal is to to shatter and splinter our movements. Proper diction is the invisible hand of horizontal violence that clouds our understanding of struggle and experience.

We’ve all had our ‘ah ha!’ moment for our entry point to resistance. For me, it was sitting in a classroom, completely new to any type of academia (let alone activism), listening to my professor lecture us on the revolutionary building of the Black Panthers. He lent us readings that were in run-on sentences ending in livid swear words and manic punctuation. It was listening to him yell, and rage, and pace and shake with sadness at the state of the world, and the suffering of others. It was him telling us, his students, that if we have privilege to expend, the best thing we could do was step back and shut the hell up. I’ve never been more uncomfortable in my whole academic career. I’ve also never been more humbled or motivated to learn outside of the classroom.

Complex social movements demand a diversity of tactics. A diversity of tactics does not only mean marches AND sit downs. It means a diversity of participation, a diversity of voices, a diversity of lived experiences, and a diversity of language. When we think of language and the politics of justice over equality, we must remember that justice means sharing space, and giving up space. Giving up space is not only determined by the physicality of carving out space, but of changing the words that we use so that all folks of the revolution can understand our speaking. It means carving out a space so that those who have not read what we have read can still listen and understand your writings and your workshops. It means that you change the way you speak with people and preferably, speak a little less, and listen a little more.

A diversity of tactics means instead of making the complex and angry voices of non-academic movement builders more palatable to the mainstream by allowing white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy institutionalized language to be pervasive, it’s allowing for the legitimacy of all forms of rage, eloquent of not, to be heard and to be legitimate.

As Audre Lorde said, the master’s tools cannot be used to dismantle the master’s house. So please, praise the Lorde, and remember that a movement voice in the image of the oppressor, is not a movement that encourages participation, but one that stratifies us, silences those who need voices the most, and discourages inclusion. Stand in the back, make room at the front, and listen instead of speaking.

So movement builders, as you organize, and write, as you speak and bring in speakers, as you build solidarity, finish your post-secondary certifications and join with others, remember, we are not here to re-make the system in a new image, we are here to fucking smash it.


Maya Menezes
Maya is a queer South Asian WOC, living, working, existing, organizing and writing in the6ix. She is a continuing survivor of post-secondary institutions, passionate food justice grrl at U of T and raging intersectional feminist. She is the Occasional online SJW, non-profit campaigner and lover of poems. Currently chillin’ in Toronto, patiently awaiting the revolution.

Intoxication Spaces

illustration of a person holding their heart and thought bubble showing a GPS pointed location

Mental Maps of Substance Use

by Clementine Morrigan

      Space is not natural or neutral. It is designed and mapped in particular ways. These dominant maps are colonial, racist, ableist, queerphobic, (trans)misogynist and capitalist. These dominant maps attempt to shape and control the way that space is used and who can use it. Superimposed onto these dominant maps are the mental maps of people who use space. These mental maps can reinforce the dominant maps by re-inscribing the intended use of space. They can also resist, subvert or undermine the dominant map by creating new meanings and uses of spaces. Intoxication culture is a dominant culutre which produces a particular standard of substance use, social drinking, as a norm which people are then expected to live up to. Intoxication culture has its dominant maps which shape space in order to encourage social drinking, and exclude or punish non-normative relationships to substances such as active addiction, specific forms of drug use and sobriety. The dominant maps of intoxication culture have especially harmful consequences for Black, Indigenous and people of colour substance users. Reflecting on my own history of active addiction and current sobriety, from the position of a white settler, I note how two very different mental maps are produced, and how these maps differ from the dominant map of intoxication culture. The mental maps of non-normative substance users are superimposed over the dominant map of intoxication culture, revealing that our relationships to substance use shape our relationships to space.

     In the introduction to Race, Space and The Law, entitled “When Place Becomes Race” Sherene Razack (2002) suggests that we can  “reject the view that spaces simply evolve, are filled up with things, and exist either prior to or separate from the subjects who imagine and use them” (p. 8). Rather than understanding space as natural and neutral, which is a colonial imagining intended to justify violence, Razack (2002) suggests that space be understood, in Lefebvre’s terms, as “perceived, conceived and lived” (p. 9). Thinking of space as perceived allows us to consider the everyday uses and practices which shape space. Understanding space as conceived allows us to think of space as intentionally designed by planners, architects and governments. Reflecting on space as lived allows us to consider the ways that users of space interpret the perceived and conceived uses of space in order to create meanings of space. Razack’s (2002) analysis of space helps us to understand that space is not simply ‘there’ but is created through intentional design, everyday practice, interpretation and representation. Space is conceived in the interests of colonialism, white supremacy, capitalism and ableism. Users of space interact with the conceived or intended uses of space, perceiving space in their own ways and living their own meanings of space into being. These meanings can reinforce, undermine, resist or confirm the intended use of space as it was conceived.

     In “Narratives of Place: Subjective and Collective” Gordon Brent Ingram, Anne-Marie Bouthillette and Yolanda Retter (1997) suggest that “there are maps that report the physical geography of a landscape and more subjective maps that exist ‘in our heads’” (p. 55). Following Razack, I argue that the maps which report the physical geography are no more objective than the maps which exist ‘in our heads’. Physical geography, as Razack (2002) explains, is conceived in particular ways. It is useful, however, to note the differences between these dominant maps and the mental maps which exist ‘in our heads’. Mental maps map what Razack (2002) refers to as lived space. They are maps which vary from person to person, though members of particular communities and social locations will experience similarities in their mental maps. These maps lay out the ways in which users of space navigate and negotiate with the dominant maps. Ingram, Bouthillette and Retter (1997) write “Each person’s ‘map’ is usually part autobiography, part mythology, and part the embodiment of tensions concerning forms of marginality, such as sexual politics, gender, race, ethnicity, or culture” (p. 56). Mental maps allow us to understand how the same space may be experienced entirely differently by different people. They reveal “‘differential cognition’ of the same places and different ‘affinities’” (Ingram et al, 1997, p. 59).

     Dominant maps set out the conceived and intended uses of space. Within intoxication culture, space is conceived in particular ways with relation to substance use. In Towards A Less Fucked Up World: Sobriety and Anarchist Struggles Nikita Riotfag (2010) defines intoxication culture as “a set of institutions, behaviours, and mindsets centered around consumption of drugs and alcohol” (p. 4).  Intoxication culture is a culture in which people are expected to partake in a particular type of substance use, social drinking, and are excluded or punished for other relationships to substances such as active addiction, certain types of drugs use or sobriety. The standard of normative consumption, and the construction of non-normative consumption, will shift and change depending on context and social location. For example, drinking to the point of drunkenness is acceptable on a Friday or Saturday night but not on a Tuesday morning. Also, white youth drinking in a park might receive a warning from police while Black, Indigenous or otherwise racialized youth may experience criminal charges, incarceration or police violence for the same activity. A joint may be acceptable to pass around at a party and still be considered normative consumption, a crack pipe would not. The shifting construction of ‘normative consumption’ produces different mental maps of spaces of intoxication. The dominant map of intoxication culture is a map which privileges white settlers and criminalizes the same behavior for Black, Indigenous and other racialized people.

     In “It Can’t Be Fixed Because It’s Not Broken: Racism and Disability in the Prison Industrial Complex” Syrus Ware, Joan Ruzsa and Giselle Dias (2015) discuss the 2011 passing of Bill C10 also known as the “Safe Streets and Community Act” in Canada. This bill is made up of nine separate bills including the “Penalties for Organized Drug Crimes Act.” Ware, Ruzsa and Dias (2015) write “[f]or the first time ever, changes to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act included new mandatory minimum sentences for trafficking, import/export, and production” (p. 23). These laws illustrate the ways in which non-normative substance users, specifically Black, Indigenous and other racialized addicts and drug users are punished and harmed under intoxication culture. As Ware, Ruzca and Dias (2015) point out “these laws predominantly target people most marginalized, including those who are poor, Indigenous or racialized drug users” (p. 23). For these non-normative substance users who fall outside of intoxication culture’s standard of normative consumption, mental maps of intoxication often include targeting by the police, surveillance and incarceration within the Prison Industrial Complex. While all non-normative substance users experience some form of consequence under intoxication culture, the consequences are not the same and produce very different mental maps.

     While walking in the Queen Street West neighborhood and thinking through the intersections of space, mental mapping and intoxication culture, I am struck by my awareness of two overlapping mental maps. Currently, it is day time and I am using the space as it is designed to be used. I am running errands, shopping, engaging in capitalist consumption. I engage with the space as it is mapped. I hurry past crowds of window shoppers, moving from store to store to spend money. Yet, out of the corner of my eye, I am aware of another map. Years ago, I used this same space for very different purposes. During my years of active alcoholism, this space carried different meanings and had a different mental map. Markers on my alcoholic mental map of Queen Street West included: coffee shops that let me use the washroom without buying anything, alleyways I could get away with pissing in, good and contested spots for panhandling, likely places to pick up weed, parks where the police frequented, parks where the police were less likely to come by, places to pass out where I was more or less likely to be sexually assaulted, the ‘sally van’ spot where we could access free food, bars I was banned from though I didn’t usually drink in bars, and of course, the Wine Rack, the Beer Store and the nearest LCBO.

     This mental map of my alcoholic use of the space is not the intended or sanctioned map. At the same time, my alcoholic mental map is not the only mental map of non-normative substance use. My alcoholic mental map is shaped by my social locations: my whiteness and my position as a settler mean that my experience of policing was extremely minimal compared to Black, Indigenous and people of colour substance users, my experience of being read as a woman means that my alcoholic mental map includes consideration of sexual violence, my position as a street involved alcoholic with mental health issues produces a different alcoholic mental map than that of an alcoholic who drinks in the clubs or bars of the area. Now that I am three and a half years sober, I no longer use my alcoholic mental map, but it remains in my mind, superimposed over this sanctioned map of capitalist consumption.

    My sobriety does not mean, however, that I have come into alignment with the dominant maps of intoxication culture. As it gets later in the evening, Queen Street West ceases to be a space of shopping and transforms into a space of drinking. The bars which line the streets become the only sanctioned spaces to socialize. Social drinking, meaning controlled drinking under socially sanctioned circumstances, becomes the expected and demanded activity. As a sober alcoholic, the space becomes a mental map of exclusion. I cannot partake in the activities which the space is designed for. The coffee shops close early and if you aren’t drinking or comfortable being around large amounts of drinking, there are few places to go. My mental map of sobriety is entirely different from my alcoholic mental map. It includes: bars I don’t feel safe or welcome in, events consistently including drinking resulting in my leaving early or not going at all, finding the few coffee shops which are open later, an awareness of the 12 step meetings happening in the area and a recognition of other people in 12 step recovery programs who I see on the street, share knowing looks with and pass in respect for anonymity. Again, my mental map of sobriety is different from the mental maps of other sober people due to a number of factors including the reasons for our sobriety, whether or not we attend 12 step meetings, practice another form of recovery, or remain sober in other ways, and how comfortable we feel around drinking. My mental map of sobriety, while strikingly different from my alcoholic mental map, is simultaneously quite similar. Both maps are superimposed on the dominant map of intoxication culture. Both maps require navigating and negotiating with space that was mapped to exclude me.

     Space is not simply ‘there’, organically evolving into what it happens to be. Space is conceived of and produced in particular ways in service of colonialism, racism, ableism, queerphobia, (trans)misogyny and capitalism. As Razack (2002) explains, space is conceived with intended purpose, perceived through daily experience and lived as a negotiation with and interpretation of conceived and perceived uses of space. As Ingram, Bouthillette and Retter (1997) point out, mental maps map subjective experience of space based on social location and lived experience. These mental maps can affirm, resist, undermine or re-inscribe the dominant maps. Intoxication culture has its own dominant maps. Non-normative substance users who are excluded or punished by intoxication culture have mental maps which do not align with the dominant maps of intoxication spaces. For Black, Indigenous and other racialized non-normative substance users the consequences are most severe and the mental maps of intoxication spaces may include the Prison Industrial Complex. I have reflected on my own experience as a white settler non-normative substance user, first as an active alcoholic, then as a sober alcoholic. My experiences reveal two very different mental maps, neither of which aligns with the dominant map of intoxication culture. These maps are only two examples of the vast number of mental maps which are produced through normative and non-normative relationships to substances. Thinking through substance use in terms of mental mapping reveals that our relationships to substances shape our relationships to space.

 

References

 

  1. Ingram, G.B., Bouthillette, A., & Retter, Y. (1997). Narratives of place: Subjective and collective. Queers in space: Communities, public places, sites of resistance (55-61). Bay Press.
  2. Morrigan, C. & geoff (2015).  Deconstructing intoxication culture: Community, accessibility and sober spaces. Retrieved from http://clementinemorrigan.com/deconstructing-intoxication-culture-community-accessibility-and-sober-spaces/
  3. Razack, S. (2002). When place becomes race. Race, space and the law: Unmapping a white settler society (1-20). Toronto: Between the Lines.
  4. Riotfag, N. (2010). Towards A Less Fucked Up World: Sobriety and Anarchist Struggle. Self-published.
  5. Ware, S, Ruzsa, J. & Dias, G. It can’t be fixed because it’s not broken: Racism and disability in the prison industrial complex. Captive genders: Trans embodiment and the prison industrial complex (1-42). AK Press.

 

Clementine Morrigan
Clementine Morrigan is a queer femme sober-addict witch, writer and artist. They are a white settler living on colonized land known as Toronto, Turtle Island. Clementine’s work spans genres and mediums, including essays, poetry, creative non-fiction, zines, illustration, short film, self-portraiture and sculpture. All of their work aims to undermine hierarchies of knowledge production by blurring distinctions between art, academia and DIY culture making. More can be found at www.clementinemorrigan.com