’m so grateful to be in conversation with scholars like Deondre Smiles (Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe), Michelle Daigle (Cree), Brittany Meché, MM Ramirez, and Caroline Faria who are sustaining existing and introducing new inquires in geography that bring Black, Indigenous and Latinx life into conversation.  With decolonizing geography, imagining alternative and life giving ecologies in mind, Smiles, Daigle, Meché, Ramirez and Faria engage some of the enduring questions, geographic/ecologic metaphors, methodological approaches, theoretical interventions and conundrums that surface in my book The Black Shoals: Offshore Formations of Black and Native Studies [1]. These particular scholars demonstrate a generosity, curiosity, and deep capacity for creative engagement that the fields of Black studies, Native and Indigenous studies, Latinx studies, African studies and geography will benefit from greatly.  I love that several of the reviewers mentioned that they read this book in community with others. It was my dream that people would be reading my book collectively and grappling with its questions, kindly holding some of my angst, and trying to meet me where I was.  I appreciate all of the conversations and constellations of people that the reviewers have brought into the conversation about the book with them. I have been moved to think along the paths that they have etched out for me in their responses to my work.

In the “Shoals of Unsettlement,” Deondre Smiles homes in on how I imagine and theorize Black and Indigenous “zones of contact.” Choosing the right or most generative “zones of contact” or gathering spaces was a very challenging task. Smiles moves with me over the uneven terrain and land-seascapes of “scenes where Black and Indigenous life, resistance, and critique” are visible but not always even or symmetrical.  Smiles’ feeling of being “unsettled” about the ways that Indigenous thought contributes to the shoal and pondering “the role of Indigenous thought and epistemologies in the book” as center or background speaks to the conceptual challenges that the project presented. This unevenness was a sources of disquiet for me.  Smiles’ review as well as the feedback I have received about the book have provided me with valuable opportunities to reflect on the writing process. 

Coming to this project from my intellectual home of Black Studies allowed for some kinds of emphases and attending to and prevented me from giving my attention to others. Because the field of white settler colonial studies largely omits Blackness and Black studies from its field of play/thought, I aimed to center or make visible Black studies. In centering Black studies as the point of departure that moved toward an encounter with the dynamic field of Native and Indigenous studies; Black studies’ epistemologies and preoccupations were centered. Where Black epistemologies met, aligned with or chaffed up against Indigenous epistemologies were admittedly in my spaces of comfort. Because of my awareness of my lack of sufficient training, study and at times unfamiliarity with various Indigenous languages and the nuances (and worlds) that they offer, I knew that I could not achieve a parity at level of engagement for the two fields that I and many readers desired. This is certainly a structural challenge (time, resources, academic clocks) that scholars working at the intersection of these two fields are currently navigating. I look forward to what is to come from scholars producing work now. Striking the balance that Deondre desires and gestures toward is certainly the task of my next book Red and Black Alchemies of Flesh [2]. The new book takes up the analytic of flesh in Black and Native feminist and queer studies. 

My own return to Native and Indigenous feminist and queer studies’ will be greatly enhanced by engaging Michelle Daigle’s (Cree) work. I am grateful for her engagement of my work for this forum. Daigle’s interests in decolonial geographies, embodiment and relational accountability produce a beautiful choral response to The Black Shoals. Like Deondre, Michelle read the book in community, specifically with her graduate students. Michelle shares her journey as a Cree (Mushkegowuk) woman, moving from Salish lands and waters to Tkaronto and being in community with Anishinaabe people.  Michelle’s sojourn reminded me of my own move to Tkaronto from Lenape lands in what is now known as Wilmington, Delaware in 2006. The landscape (literally the ground) of Tkaronto and some of the same BIPOC political formations that Michelle speaks of transformed me on a cellular level.  I tried to make the transformations that brought me to this project effable and legible in the book.  I really appreciate Michelle’s accounting of her own transformation in response to Anishinaabe and BIPOC communities.   Michelle’s focus on movement, encounter and relation is an important experience that many Black and Indigenous peoples share that needs to be tarried with and taken up. Diaspora and certainly migration (forced and coerced) is an experience that Black and Indigenous people could develop critical vocabularies for as Black and Native studies talk to one another. 

In 2019, when I and other Black scholars met at the American Studies Association in Hawaii, we met to discuss how Black studies and Black scholars could be in better conversation and relation with Native and Indigenous scholars and studies. I did not know that Michelle attended our ASA session “Other Intimacies: Black Studies Notes on Native/Indigenous Studies [3]. I, Shona Jackson, Chad Infante, and Sandra Harvey reflected on the overlooked histories that documented how our fields had been in conversation, the missed opportunities to connect, and the need to speak to one another outside of settler formations like the university. Shona Jackson’s reflections brought us to the topic of what really seeing and knowing each other means. Like Michelle, I am always moved by Shona Jackson’s work and ever evolving thinking about the modes of recognition that prevent us from seeing one another. Thinking about Michelle’s meditation on Shona Jackson’s questions: “What would it mean to recognize the theft of skin and land?”, “What has been stolen from you?”, and “what would real and recognition between Black and Indigenous peoples look like?” makes me think again about the shared grammar of flesh.  In my next book, Red and Black Alchemies of Flesh, I focus on relationality which is a key theme cutting across Michelle’s work. I ask ,what might Black and Indigenous feminist and queer shared grammars of the flesh give us? What would it mean to move from, with and between Hortense Spillers, Chrystos, Joy Harjo, Saidiya Hartman, Sharon Holland, C. Riley Snorton, Audra Simpson and Leo Brooklyn with an ear for multiple utterances of the flesh? What kinds of affinities and intimacies might exist? I look forward to thinking with Michelle Daigle in the future. 

Brittany Meché is a scholar whose work on Black ecologies, the African Anthropocene, and climate justice I am already familiar with.  We share some spaces as Black studies scholars interested in Black geographies and ecologies.  In “Ecology Otherwise,” Brittany picks up on my “appropriation of ecology” to enact a meeting between two fields (and people) that have been imaged as alienated from one another. The material and metaphoric capacity of ecologies like the shoal as spaces of Black and Indigenous encounter radically shaped my rendering of Black and Indigenous futurity and possibilities for an otherwise. The ecological as a way of “rendering” Black life takes one down unexpected paths through Black terror and joy.  Tracking life, human and more than human, through the discourse, syntax and affect/sensation of the ecological travels through the (at times terrifying) terrain of boundary making and unmaking that functions at scales and through processes of racialization that can be disorienting/horrifying. Looking for the place, whether happening at the molecular scale or the planetary required a keen eye for openings, transversals, trespasses and intimacies. This mode of looking/listening/feeling at the multiple scales of the ecological alongside Black feminist artists like Julie Dash took me to the “confounding” (to use Meché’s word) space of the pore.  

Meche brought me to a familiar feeling space and dialogic space that I often inhabit with Black feminist scholars. Something feels both “enlivened and off” or uncanny, with the fright it can engender, to discuss black embodiment and it’s porosity turned into vulnerability.  I have discussed the struggle of attending to Black life—or McKittrick’s Black livingness—at this dimension and register with many Black scholars committed to a Black feminist ethic of care [4]. My readings and attending to Julie Dash’s characters stained pores provokes anxiety. The pore accesses, opens up and in a way allows for burdens to enter into and load themselves on Black embodiment.  I appreciate Meché’s attention to my “walking of the conceptual tightrope” of Black terror and joy at multiple scales. I often find myself simultaneously vivified by and at times recoiling from the kinds of portals that give me access to what Meché calls the “intimate spheres of our fugitivity.” Pores as a possible dimension at which Black fugitivity is enacted are also sites and archives of violation. At times, the where of the joy is also the where of the escape from death or pain. I am so interested in what the emerging work in Black ecologies will bring methodologically to the burden of documenting ecocide with a focus on Black livingness. 

MM Ramirez who attends to Black, Indigenous and Latinx life and livingness attends to the hemisphere in a way the resonates with the geographic scope of The Black Shoals yet calls for a different kinds of emphasis. Ramirez’s own scholarly focus on the hemisphere takes a turn to geographies of Spanish and Portuguese colonialism. Ramirez contends with mestizaje/mestizx and it’s legacies within Latinx studies as racial and disciplinary formations birthed from conquest. What I value about Latinx studies is its ability to pull on the conceptual thread of conquest in a way that settler colonial studies and discourses of settlement cannot. I am grateful for the connective tissue that my work in The Black Shoals and Ramirez’s work shares. Latinx studies, particularly to the extent that it takes up mestizaje/mestizx, can tarry with the coexistence and simultaneous disavowal of Blackness and Indigeneity.  I think that mestizx has a particular kind of purchase that allows scholars to attend to embodiment, performance (sound, sense) that makes it an agile heuristic for tracking relations to Blackness and Indigeneity. 

Ramirez’s invokes “bodily hauntings” and invests them with the capacity for/of “oozing” intimacies.  My own journey with this book project started with a bodily haunting (unease) that called me into relation with a deep, yet suppressed knowledge, of historical Black and Indigenous intimacies that had been severed. The haunting that produced a “not-feeling-well” and productive break made me pause, and in the process reconstituted my prose. Ramirez’s attention to haunting makes me return to the prose in my book.  As I have revisited them from time to time since the book’s publication, I am struck by the ways that they are both of me while unrecognizable at the same time. They are words that visited me, or fell upon me during the writing process. At times, they ring as unfamiliar and so far from my everyday speech and thought.  I acknowledge and am grateful for the ways that these words haunted me and imparted themselves upon me. I appreciate Ramirez’s attention to ceremony as the intimate spaces where decolonial “geographies meet and come into constellation.” The ceremony work that I did with Black and Indigenous women in Toronto from 2006-2008 prepared my body for the generative haunting of the words that came to me for The Black Shoals. The future is an intimate and ceremonial space that has been prepared and is currently in the making.  What our bodies do to produce it and unmake themselves as conquistador and settler subjects happens in the here and now of relation. 

Caroline Faria’s “Working Water and Land,” moves with her interests as a feminist geographer and scholar of labor, and the circuits of commodities like synthetic hair. As a feminist geographer, Faria studies “women traders in Uganda” and their gendered forms of “caring labor.” Like many of my colleagues who are serious Marxists theorists, Faria raises questions about my critique of labor—as humanist—in the third chapter of The Black Shoals. Her geographies that move across Uganda and to the home space of Guyana allow me to hover and land on the issue of labor and care. It offers me an opportunity (alibi) to think with the scholar Shona Jackson, of Guyanese descent, whose critique of the Marxian category of labor/er inspired some of my thinking in chapter three of the book. Jackson asks who is left out of and not able to be affirmed with the onto-epistemology of labor.  My question much like Jackson’s is a question of what and who labor hides in certain contexts [5]. While one escapes being conscripted into capitalism field of labor power, Marxian notions of labor (and even unalienated work) is also a story of human hierarchies and grids that produce ideal laboring agentive subjects (i.e. the proletariat) and slaves or things/commodities who outside of civil society (see Marx and Engels, 1848) [6]. Thinking with Jackson, I wanted to think about how labor produces the white working class as humans with which we must understand and empathize with, Black laborers as provisional, and perhaps Indigenous labor as unthinkable. This hierarchy haunts the socialist imagination into our present. 

Faria, concludes her review with an image of rushing water on a Jamaican sugar plantation. It prompts me think about some of the ecologies and commodities chains like sugar that connect racialized subjects. I had not thought about how the shoal connected indentured Portuguese laborers in the Caribbean to Indian, Chinese, Madeiran, and Creole subjects in the book. I was asked this question recently at a book talk and did not have an answer. I think that Lisa Lowe’s The Initimacies of Four Continents does a much better job than I do of tracking these intimate itineraries [7]. I think this relational (different from comparative) work is necessary and will happen at the scales of global circuits of commodities down to the molecular level where certain laboring bodies are transformed into or embedded within colonial ecologies. To a large extent, our specific geographies and the political moments during which we think and write about them determine who enters, exits and stays within our scholarly field of vision. I could not avoid the taut space of Black and Indigenous relations that strained and made so much possible in the political spaces of Tkaronto where this project began — and which Michelle Daigle is familiar — and shaped the contours of my book. Had I started the project from the Anglophone Caribbean or Eastern or Southern Africa, Indigeneity and it’s relations to race and other racialized subjects would have surfaced different questions and perhaps a different shoal. I wonder how the ecological  and relational possibilities of the shoal will travel? And I thank Caroline for asking the question and extending the invitation.  

[1] See Tiffany Lethabo King. The Black shoals: Offshore formations of Black and Native studies. Duke University Press, 2019.
[2] In my forthcoming work Red and Black Alchemies of Flesh: Conjuring an Abolitionist and Decolonial Now I take up Black and Indigenous feminist and queer studies as a sites where a unique grammar of flesh emerge.
[3] The 2019 panel “Other Intimacies: Black Studies Notes on Native/Indigenous Studies” featured the work of Black Studies scholars Sandra Harvey, Chad Infante, Shona Jackson and Tiffany Lethabo King at the Annual American Studies conference in Hawaii in November 2019. Panelists reflected on the resonances, tensions and possibilities for dialogue between the fields.
[4] I think with Meché and McKittrick’s notion of Black (Atlantic) livingness as conceptualized in McKittrick’s "Mathematics black life." The Black Scholar 44, no. 2 (2014): 16-28 and
[5] Katherine McKittrick "Diachronic loops/deadweight tonnage/bad made measure." cultural geographies 23, no. 1 (2016): 3-18.
[6] See Shona N Jackson. Creole indigeneity: Between myth and nation in the Caribbean. University of Minnesota Press, 2012.
[7] See Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. "TH E COMMUNIST MANIFESTO." Selected Works bu Karl Marx and Frederick Engels. Neu York: International Publishers 1363 (1848).
[8] See Lisa Lowe. The intimacies of four continents. Duke University Press, 2015.