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I want to begin by saying how delighted I am to be able to celebrate you Katherine, and to celebrate and be in conversation with Dear Science.
1. Farley Hill. The Atlantic. Rivers to Cross.
Ruins resonant reverbs.
Sound waves, under sea disturbances.
Dear Science, a tsunami of insurgent thought and praxis
2. Open my copy of Dear Science at any page
Lines where I have lingered, double lines of emphasis,
lines of communication, lines of engagement
what I want to remember
phrases I need to return to
ideas I must find again:
conversation and collaboration,
imagining and practicing liberation while weighed down by biometrically induced accumulation by dispossession
calculating resolutions we care about
Stories to think with, stories to think about,
stories to engage, stories to dwell on,
stories that make me hear Nina Simone,
stories that stopped me in the tracks of Bob Marley’s laugh,
stories I learn from, constantly
stories I read again and again
stories with which I disagree:
We have to talk about Drexciya
We have to talk about the imaginative possibilities and limits of black science fiction
We have to talk about Octavia Butler,
About N.K Jemisin
About Nnedi Okorafor, Tade Thompson, and Rebecca Roanhorse
When the borders open, we will talk
3. You ask yourself, you ask us “how black bodies rather than black people are informing how we [you] understand liberation and the production of knowledge and, as well, how scholarly work may unintentionally replicate a biocentric order by leaning heavily on corporeal representation” (McKittrick, 2021: 128).
(I have to interrupt you here for I do not think this scholarly replication is always unintentional
But to return to your argument)
“These questions and tensions are urgent because when the black body, the concept, is required to do limitless theoretical work it is analytically posited as a priori biologic (a harmed body that body-knowledge emanates from) and is therefore already marginal or excluded or outside to how we know (because this framework abandons and obfuscate our black agentive-intellectual labor and casts black humanity as unknowing!)” (McKittrick, 2021: 128).
4. Yes! Exactly! (double lines in the margins – signs of an animated, agitated reader recognizing, sharing urgency). I think writers (Jemisin, Butler, Amitav Ghosh); painters (Julie Mehretu, Wanghechi Mutu); photographers (Carrie Mae Weems); filmmakers (Steve McQueen) in their various forms share your sense of urgency, refuse present systems of knowledge-making, offer alternate ways of seeing, being and knowing, heretical aesthetics of freedom-making and world building, yes even in science fiction.
5. Katherine, I confess, I am mathematically challenged, correction, mathematically incompetent, but you insist I confront algorithms because of what is at stake. So, I did, you are right. The supposed “science” of criminology utilizes, depends upon, produces its object of knowledge “social problems” by surveying and marking black and impoverished geographies – its “calculations, equations and problem-solving operations” translate black people into “cartographically itemised racial codes” (McKittrick, 2021: 107).
This is the practice now, but was this also the practice then?
Isn’t this empire? Isn’t this colonialism, categorizing and disciplining through mapping?
Could we also add to the list how the (pseudo)science of psychology and much of the “new” science of DNA produce their objects of study??
6. You are my black feminist answer to Borges and his short story, “On Rigor in Science.” In the rigor and incisiveness of your stories you challenge and dismantle singular, unified, totalizing representations, narratives of classification and ways of knowing and being that discipline and punish, stifle, crush and suffocate. In their stead, you offer and practice relationality, generative collaborative praxis, black creative consciousness, method, and life.
Which leads me to a question – if we live with the afterlife of the plantation, in the shadow of its ruins singing, playing, enacting, creative counter narratives of living otherwise then how can we not only imagine but reinvent the future, a future which seems foreclosed.
7. The Lie/Historical Fictions. So, we live with the consequences of the lie that is Empire. If colonization managed bodies and borders, violently curtailing real and imagined threats to its regimes of power and knowledge, it did so by conscripting entire ecologies, as well as its human inhabitants, into imperial fantasies of preordained domination.
8. The violent dispossession and forced transportation of black and indigenous peoples was accompanied by projects of natural history, the classification and subjugation of the human and the environment, together, mutually constituting the enforcement of geographic reach and boundaries of empire and slavery served up to us as a new world pastoral order.
9. If this order was refused then, its walls breached, its military might confronted, its political and geographic boundaries transgressed, it surely has to be confronted again now, in the aftermath? For it remains the case that the racialization and gendering of subjects is inextricable from the exploitation of seized land, the extraction of energy from human labor and the environment in the interest of financial gain.
10. As you insist, “A black sense of place draws attention to geographic processes that emerged from plantation slavery and its attendant racial violences yet cannot be contained by the logics of white supremacy. A black sense of place is not a standpoint or a situated knowledge; it is a location of difficult encounter and relationality. A black sense of place is not individualized knowledge – it is collaborative praxis. It assumes that our collective assertions of life are always in tandem with other ways of being … A black sense of place always calls into question, struggles against, critiques, undoes, prevailing racist scripts. A black sense of place is a diasporic-plantocratic-black geography that reframes what we know by reorienting and honoring where we know it from” (McKittrick, 2021: 106-107).
11. I want to end with the question of solidarity and alliances, with the necessity for thinking a black sense of place in relation to an indigenous sense of place also living with and in the aftermath of colonial and environmental degradation, violence and violation. Indigenous senses of place which, in all their particularity, north and south, also call into question, struggle against, critique, undo prevailing racist scripts. If we are to survive, if we are to build an alternative future, a livable future in the face of environmental catastrophe is our place allied with and by the side of theirs?
Hazel Carby is the Charles C. And Dorothea S. Dilley Professor Emeritus of African American Studies and Professor Emeritus of American Studies at Yale University. Her books include Reconstructing Womanhood, Race Men, and Cultures in Babylon. Her recent book, Imperial Intimacies, A Tale of Two Islands was selected as one of the “Books of the Year for 2019,” in the Times Literary Supplement.