BORN IN FLAMES
My current book project, Born In Flames, is a collaborative ethnography of race, religion, and the spatiality of opposition in the Gulf South, which I have conceptualized, researched, and written alongside the leaders of Women With A Vision, Inc. (WWAV), a black feminist health and social justice organization founded in 1989. This book revises and extends my dissertation supervised by Courtney Bender, with John Lester Jackson, Jr., Josef Sorett, Mary Frances Berry, and Elizabeth Castelli. Grounded in three years of fieldwork and a decade of engaged partnership, this project interrogates how two easily overlooked events have shaped the lives and organizing potentialities of WWAV’s membership: (1) On March 29, 2012, WWAV litigation successfully overturned a statute for prosecuting sex work as a “crime against nature;” and (2) On May 24, still unknown arsonists fire-bombed and destroyed WWAV’s Mid-City headquarters. By centering the continuities of struggle amid modalities of violence, this research documents WWAV’s decades work for mutual aid and social transformation, retracing their genealogies to forgotten southern black women organizers.
Interviews completed through this project are part of the “Born in Flames” oral history project, which is rebuilding the archive destroyed in the 2012 arson attack on WWAV’s offices as a resource for scholars and activists.
My second project is a historical ethnography of the emerging women’s carceral sphere in nineteenth century Massachusetts, New York, and Indiana that connects that period’s carceral imaginaries to our current era of mass incarceration. Building on my research on race, religion, and geography, this project investigates the implications of the public health and drug policy slogan of “Treatment, not Punishment” as agents of the state and nongovernmental organizations began to apply it to sex workers in court-mandated programs. While this turn was framed as a strategy for mitigating a dramatic increase in women’s incarceration, I situate it within the rise of a more insidious moral health discourse. For scholars and practitioners alike, this research promises to illuminate why women’s prisons became such critical sites for working out ideas about the relationship between religion and science (most often, on the bodies of black and immigrant women), and how this gendered “common sense” about transgression and punishment continues to inform present policies and imaginaries in unexpected ways.
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 peer-reviewed monograph is forthcoming. 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 examines 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 takes a community of HIV-positive formerly incarcerated 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 engage and speak 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).