Against the Current: Collective works on State Violence, identity and Resistance

Introduction

"If I didn't define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people's fantasies for me and eaten alive."
- Audre Lorde


 

The title of our anthology, Against The Current, has multiple meanings. It is about movement toward freedom and pushing in new directions. The title embodies our collective desire to move against the naturalized flow of society-the powerful flow of a social order that creates the conditions for the existing systems of racial, sexual and economic oppression. We are going against the flow of 'business as usual' and the normalizing of these ways of knowing and engaging with society. Against the Current seeks to trouble the waters. We want to disrupt the seemingly natural flow of how we understand history since it is not a stagnant force but something long and continual. We will think across time and about how history and memory are fluid, such that the violence of past eras is reconstituted and continued in our present moment. This anthology is about the rethinking of history since our course, "Radical Black Feminisms," began with studying black feminism and the Black Power Era and lead us to think about the present day.

Since we can remember, the bodies of Black and brown people have been degraded, belittled, and rejected by all facets of the world. Over the years, Black people and the organizations they were forced to create, have tirelessly fought for freedom. But, what does this mean? What does it mean to have to fight for your freedom? What does it mean to be free? In this anthology, we explore how state violence has impacted Black people collectively, Black women in particular and people of color overall, and how it shapes acts of resistance. We are also exploring how systemic violences creates and shapes identity and memory. We look back to the silenced memories of Black people who have come before us and the ones who are still in this fight. We attempt to help reinterpret narratives we read and rewrite the traditional histories we learn from white-owned sources in order to redefine Black identities and experiences.

This anthology was created by the members of Tajah Ebram’s Junior Research Seminar, "Radical Black Feminisms: Writing the Carceral State", at the University of Pennsylvania. The experience of this course was largely defined by the autobiographies of Angela Davis and Assata Shakur as well as anthologies like the New York Panther 21’s Look For Me in the Whirlwind (1971) and Revolutionary Mothering: Love On The Front Lines (2016). Within these writings, the intersecting issues of mass incarceration, poverty, education, sexual violence, and gender are laid bare. As a class, we studied these anthologies in depth to understand the power of the anthologizing form. Most importantly, these writers - majority identifying as radicalized black women, gave us blueprints for converting our lived experience and critical interpretations into an inclusive praxis, one that acknowledges the experiences and oppression of different intersecting identities. The works we studied in class were valuable frameworks as we took to producing our own critical and creative research works as actionable modes of reflection, response and extensions of these readings. Our class anthology collects the voices of our peers in the contemporary movement towards social progress in today's climate of mass incarceration, anti-black violence and violence against women and gender nonconforming people.

While we, the writers, are concerned with different subject matters, we are all united in our desire to resist systems of oppression. Whether through our creative projects or critical work, we all carve out modes of resistance as a group of students and powerful young advocates. Carlos Cabrera's film project, "Charting A Territory Uncharted," explores how Afro-Latinxs, or Latinxs with significant African ancestry, face oppression similar to that expressed by black feminists in the Combahee River Collective in that it is multidimensional- it is racialized, gendered, and ethnic. The film is intended to highlight the experiences of Afro-Latinas and the way that they navigate blackness outside of the common conception of what it means to be black in America and in their respective Latin American nations. Sylvia Guan’s project entitled “A Place for Themselves: A Material and Print Culture Analysis of Radical Anthologies by Women of Color” investigates, through material and print culture analysis,  how the cover presentation, content and creation of various anthologies created by women of color create community for each other while combating negative mainstream narratives and images. Regina Salmons’ collection of  poetry titled, "Poetry of Memory and Resistance: Images of Strong Black Women," uses both traditional and experimental forms to explore how women of color in both her academic work and personal spheres traverse difficult life situations at the intersection of race, sex and class. Her poetry hopes to give voice to women who have otherwise been silenced and explore issues as domestic abuse, sexual assault and gun violence, amongst many others. Brianna Vizcaino’s project entitled, “The Layers of Our Existence: A Mini Exhibition on the Voices of Women of Color at Penn”, explores the prevalent issues of sexual violence, class inequality and racial identity among women at Penn, through interviews, photography and other cultural mediums. Charlie Sosnick’s research paper entitled “On a MOVE: Media Narratives Surrounding the 1978 MOVE Shootout” explores the public response to state violence against the MOVE organization through visual analysis of photojournalism. Morgan Taylor's project titled, What is an Education?, examines the place of education in the coming of age stories in black women's autobiographies.  

We hope that this digital anthology can achieve several ambitions. We hope that the people whose voices it captures can find strength and inspiration in our collections and feel their experiences validated and recognized. We dream that it will reach people from many walks of life from those who may not know anything at all about these topics to people who feel their voices shining through our words. We aim to expose the complicated realities of racism, sexism, and class issues and where they intersect with each other. We intend for this anthology and site to also act as an archival space, where people may come back to see what issues were relevant in 2017 and how the students of our generation processed the complicated histories and narratives that came before us. In this sense, we hope our site can act as a point of reference for future academic pursuits, much in the same way we utilized anthologies from many of the preceding generations to create our pages.  

 Following our research projects, we include an Appendix with a list of local resources and activist networks. We encourage those in need of support to utilize these resources. Our anthology and site is also a call to action and we hope that it will inspire you individually to challenge the mainstream ideology or to become involved with groups in your community that aim to combat the realities of racist, sexist and socioeconomic barriers. 

By,

the Editors & Creators
: Carlos Cabrera, Sylvia Guan, Regina Salmons, Charlie Sosnick, Morgan Taylor, Brianna Vizcaino

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