fire dreams: making black feminist liberation in the south
under contract with Duke University Press, forthcoming fall 2023
Fire Dreams is a social movement ethnography of southern Black feminist histories of mutual aid and transformative justice, collectively-authored with New Orleans’ Women With A Vision (WWAV). Two events frame our reckoning: on March 29, 2012, WWAV won a major victory against the post-Katrina disassemblage of Black native New Orleanians’ worlds through predatory policing; two months later, on May 24th, our offices were firebombed and destroyed in a still-uninvestigated arson attack. In the wake of the fire, with nearly all material traces of our decades of work destroyed, research became a form of survival. Between the reality of our grassroots organizing and the labor exerted to suppress, invisibilize, and exterminate it, there was a vast terrain to map. Our work in Fire Dreams is to rip up by their roots the historically interlocking systems of racial capitalism that prefigured the arson attack. We also center the theory on the ground that we use to do so: theory developed in the midst of lived struggle, which carries forward the deeply enduring resistant visions of generations past, and grows them in and through the geographies of the present, toward new and more possible futures. Through a richly polyvocal and experimental text, we call our readers into the work of ensuring that these deeply enduring resistant visions for living and thriving otherwise –– these fire dreams –– can take place and have a space, that they can root and stay rooted. That means Fire Dreams is not simply a book to be read. It is a toolkit for making knowledge to serve the liberation of our communities. It is also a call to revolutionize that knowledge into praxis.
We have published portions of this research in partnership in the Journal of the American Academy of Religion (2020), Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society (2018), and Souls: A Critical Journal of Black Politics, Culture, and Society (2017). Interviews completed through this project are part of the “Born in Flames” oral history project.
create the world anew
How can we amplify work that can actualize a world otherwise? Where do we see glimmers of this world taking shape?
“Create the World Anew” is a collaborative project, which I have co-dreamed with Elayne Oliphant (New York University) and Daniel Vaca (Brown University). Through it, we aim to open a committed space of practice and study for exploring the role of religion in building worlds and economies beyond the violence of racial capitalism in our present. Amid new and ongoing crises, we know that mutual aid is always present. We seek to explore how religion can serve as a creative force against the violence and destruction we currently face. We take inspiration from the movements for mutual aid flourishing globally and the deep traditions in which they are rooted. We undertake this work in relationship with one another and with the understanding that the world we seek is one we must make together in real time.
Over the past three decades, women’s incarceration has exploded across the South, increasing more than eightfold and at twice the rate of men’s. My next book project will offer a history of the present that challenges both the stories we tell about gendered criminalization and the tools we use to tell them. To do so, it employs a rigorous, community-driven methodology, partnering with formerly incarcerated women as co-researchers in excavating the histories of gendered criminalization and abolition feminism in the South today. First, we will trace the persistence of centuries-old carceral logics around women’s immorality as a disease to be treated––what we call “moral medicine.” Second, we will examine how criminalized Black women have refused these logics to build worlds otherwise. Our central claim is that gendered criminalization had to be continually reasserted because of Black women’s challenges from within and beyond the prison walls. This project puts this claim into action through a research design that exposes the contingencies of these institutions as they are, opening new possibilities for what might become—indeed, for what must be.
Launched in memory of formerly incarcerated AIDS activist, John Horace Bell, the “Making Abolition” archive is a collaborative project to grow the Florida State University Libraries’ rare books collections at the intersections of freedom, confinement, and abolition. We are focusing on zines, posters, art books, campaign materials, workbooks, and other media produced by BIPOC women, queer people, transgender people, and gender nonconforming people in prison. This archive will guide a series of political education workshops with FSU students and the broader Tallahassee community for reflecting together on what abolitionists actually do and imagining new horizons of struggle here in North Florida. Our first donation was a collection of zines and toolkits from Mariame Kaba.
a wall is just a wall
My research on gendered criminalization also buttresses this work to build abolitionist archives of struggle. “A Wall Is Just A Wall” is a study of religious practice, forced migration, and social transformation, which moves with Chicago’s Rev. Doris Green throughout her more than three decades of work to hold together the relationships that mass incarceration would sever. Against academic portraits that rehearse the quotidian terror that our nation’s ballooning prison empire has wrought, this project asks: Why has mass criminalization not been able to destroy the communities it has been wielded against? Rev. Green’s spiritual labor to organize multigenerational Black liberation study groups with the incarcerated and their loved ones provides a migratory map of community connection, meticulously and deliberately stitched against the violence around them. Assembling these stories into a monograph and multimodal archive is work I undertake for scholars, students, and activists alike.
Portions of this research have been published in a CrossCurrents special issue on “Religion, Political Democracy, and the Specters of Race” (2019), edited by James Logan.
refusing to vanish
This project explores gender, faith, and justice in a time of AIDS through the witnesses of two HIV-positive Muslim women: Faghmeda Miller from Cape Town, South Africa and Waheedah Shabazz-El from Philadelphia, USA. Both women were diagnosed at dire moments in the AIDS epidemics in their countries, and both have gone on to transform their personal struggles for treatment, care, and support into public lives of meaning for thousands. As such, Waheedah’s and Faghmeda’s lives and work not only shed light on the complexities of resistance in the midst of extremis; their stories also illuminate the complex interplay between HIV vulnerability and forced removal, between Muslim women’s leadership and traditional religious authority, between public figures and private selves.
A preview, “Refusing to Vanish: Muslim Women’s AIDS Activism,” was published by The Revealer for World AIDS Day 2017. Foundational research for this monograph was included in Islam and AIDS: Beyond Scorn, Pity and Justice (Oneworld Press, 2009).
the war on drugs is a war on relationships
This project examined the community-level systemic dislocation caused by mass incarceration, its historic and contemporary intersections with the domestic AIDS epidemic, and the citizen movements to address these twin epidemics. As a grounded ethnography of borders, vulnerability and social death, this research took a community of HIV-positive formerly imprisoned activists in Philadelphia as its guides, moving with them as they worked to repair the tenuous threads of communities neighborhood by neighborhood. Its interdisciplinary conclusions engaged and spoke back to the fields of public health, critical prison studies, and gender studies.
A peer-reviewed article-length piece was published as part of Beyond Walls and Cages: Prisons, Borders, and Global Cages (University of Georgia Press, 2012).