Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Intergenerational Learning with Barbara Smith & Alethia Jones

 Barbara Smith was a part of the Combahee River Collective and is  among some of the first to theorize black feminism. Alethia Jones, is the co-editor of their book, Ain’t Nobody Gonna Turn Me Around, where they highlight the beginnings of black feminist organizing in the sixties and seventies. Barbara Smith is currently working for the first woman mayor of Albany.
Activism can often be a rewarding, yet tiring process. Barbara Smith is no stranger to the  stress activism and organizing puts on one’s health. She suggests that through the process, one must remind one’s self why one got involved. Remembering the experiences, emotions and importance of cause often reinvigorates our commitment. Additionally, Smith challenged us on our framing of activism because she saw activism as a single issue cause whereas organizing is a more comprehensive way of seeing and seeking to eradicate oppression through a systemic lens. Next, she suggested that even when it seems like you're not making any tangible process to keep going because just like athletes, you can’t just train for the big event, rather you must practice and stay strong for multiple battles. For example, Black Lives Matter was able to come to forefront because they steadily asked  what is unjust and how can they continue to destabilize power as it exist.
Barbara Smith (back row, sixth from left) meets with students, faculty, and staff at Colgate on International Women's Day.
What also sustains movements is to do it with other people and not in isolation. Moreover, we must seek to not be afraid of anger because righteous anger often fuels our organizing. Instead, we must find ways engage our anger productively. Denying the presence of anger  may make it easy at first but also strains the body. One of my favorite quotes was from Alethia joins who posited that “Anger is an indication that boundaries have been crossed.” Likewise we must use these indications as opportunities for growth rather than wounding, ourselves or others.

There is an inherent healing in social justice that Jones is drawn to, but sometimes we let our health go to plan the next thing. Indeed, we must ask how do we cultivate ways to take care of ourselves as a political act. Health problems especially in marginalized communities are often political and structural issues. However, we must be careful and cognizant of the line between self-care as a political act and self-indulgence that perpetuates class violence. Self- care and consciousness of health, although a growing popular movement, is not new and has been a staple in organizing culture. Therefore, we have have a lot to learn from elders and intergenerational knowledge.

- Aidan Davis '16, Women's Health Intern