This is the 100th episode of Imagine Otherwise! Host Cathy Hannabach reflects on the past 3 years of interviewing artists, filmmakers, chefs, dancers, authors, poets, teachers, scholars, and movement leaders about how they combine art, activism, and academia to build more just worlds.
The episode highlights some of our fans’ most talked about and popular episodes. If you’re new to the show and this is your first episode, welcome and this will hopefully also be a good overview to get you started. Whether you’ve been with us from the beginning, the middle, or just started listening, this episode is for you.
Guest: Cathy Hannabach
Cathy Hannabach is the founder and CEO of Ideas on Fire, where she helps progressive, interdisciplinary academics write and publish awesome texts, enliven public conversations, and create more just worlds.
She hosts the Imagine Otherwise podcast, which highlights the awesome people and projects bridging art, activism, and academia to build better worlds.
She is the author of Blood Cultures: Medicine, Media, and Militarisms (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015), which traces the cultural history of blood as it both enabled twentieth-century US imperialism and was creatively transformed by feminist, anticolonial, anticapitalist, and queer artists and activists, and Book Marketing for Academics (Ideas on Fire, 2016), which teaches you how to harness your resources, skills, and time to build your author platform and get the word out about your awesome new book.
- The growth of Imagine Otherwise since the beginning (0:22)
- Why combine art, activism, and academia? (2:14)
- The work of activist scholarship (7:05)
- Creativity’s role in social change (9:21)
- Redefining museum spaces and curation as political intervention (13:11)
- Imagining otherwise (23:22)
The art, activism, academia braid
As any fan of this show knows, Imagine Otherwise highlights the people and projects that braid together art, activism, and academia. I often get the question of why do this? What’s so special about this braid? So here’s my answer: Whether it’s called public scholarship, socially engaged art, or critical movement building, work that brings together these realms is just richer. Fundamentally interdisciplinary and vibrantly creative, work that sits at the intersections of art, activism, and academia draws strength from all of these traditions.
Identity alone is not enough
Although our identities and their intersections often bring us to this work, as we know, identity alone doesn’t guarantee progressive practices or that one would even be interested in a social justice approach to art or scholarship. Instead, that takes an explicit commitment to using one’s work to create change, and wrestling with the challenges that may bring.
The challenge of public scholarship
The myth of the ivory tower supposedly separate from the mundane world of neighborhoods, families, and communities has always been a myth but it can often haunt our approaches to research, sometimes in ways we don’t explicitly recognize. It takes conscious, repeated effort—and often failure and difficulty—to do truly engaged public scholarship.
Why collaboration matters
Collaboration is vital to social justice-oriented work, and true collaboration means allowing ourselves to be challenged and changed through encounters with others.
The role of art in social change
Art helps us see the world differently. It often shocks us out of our everyday thinking and so many of my guests’ work shows how powerful that can be when put in the service of justice. Oftentimes putting ourselves in spaces with art and artists—even if we are artists ourselves—can shed new light on our projects or transform how we approach our primary medium.
What do I want? I want all of these worlds and more. I want more of us. I want more progressive, social justice-oriented folks who combine the intellectual platform and methodologies of academia, the creativity and wonder of art, and the fire and rage of social justice activism to create the worlds we want. I want more brilliant books that ignite ideas, more art that sparks protests, more activism that historicizes and critiques, and more opportunities for communities to enact the change they need. I want more conversations like those I’ve been so grateful to have had with the phenomenal performers, chefs, educators, scholars, teachers, choreographers, filmmakers, and librarians over these past 100 episodes.
- Alyshia Gálvez on NAFTA and Transnational Food Justice
- Nikiko Masumoto on Queer, Feminist Japanese American Farming
- Dennis Norris II on QTPOC Literary Worlds
- Amy Sadao on Museums as the New Public Sphere
- Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha on Disability Justice
- Manuela Lavinas Picq on Indigenous Futures
- Eric Tang on the Cold War Origins of Refugee Policy
- Jessica Nydia Pabón-Colón on Women Graffiti Artists
- Shaka McGlotten on the Passion of Inquiry
- Lauren Rile Smith on Feminist Circus Art
- Jenny L. Davis on Indigenous Language Revitalization
- Kālewa Correa, Lawrence-Minh Bùi Davis, and Adriel Luis on Radical Curation
- Craig Santos Perez on a Decolonial and Demilitarized Pacific
- Sandra Ruiz on Resetting the Colonial Clock
- Francesca T. Royster on Writing Courageously
- Aishah Shahidah Simmons on Black Feminist Anti-Violence Activism
- Ronak Kapadia on Resisting Imperial Visuality
- Yaba Blay on Everyday Black Girl Magic
About Imagine Otherwise
Imagine Otherwise is a podcast about the people and projects bridging art, activism, and academia to build better worlds. Episodes offer in-depth interviews with creators who use culture for social justice, and explore the nitty-gritty work of imagining and creating more just worlds.
Imagine Otherwise is hosted by Cathy Hannabach and produced by Ideas on Fire, an academic editing and consulting agency helping progressive, interdisciplinary scholars write and publish awesome texts, enliven public conversations, and create more just worlds.
Cathy Hannabach [00:03]: [upbeat music in background] Welcome to Imagine Otherwise, the podcast about the people and projects bridging art, activism, and academia to build better worlds. Episodes offer in-depth interviews with creators who use culture for social justice and explore the nitty-gritty work of imagining otherwise. I’m your host, Cathy Hannabach. [music fadeout]
[00:22] Hello folks, this is Cathy Hannabach coming to you with the 100th episode of Imagine Otherwise! Today’s show is going to be a bit different than our normal structure because I want to use this occasion to say a giant thank you to all our fans and to highlight the amazing artists, filmmakers, chefs, dancers, authors, poets, teachers, scholars, and movement leaders I’ve had the supreme privilege of interviewing over the past 100 episodes.
When I started Imagine Otherwise 3 years ago, I never imagined it would grow into what it has become. Nor could I have predicted that my little idea of interviewing Ideas on Fire community members would take me to an international artist convening in Hawai‘i, provide an opportunity to record live shows, have an episode included in a feminist art exhibit in Austria, or allow me to collaborate with organizations like the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center, the Cultural Studies Association, the Association for Asian American Studies, and Tangle Movement Arts. But Imagine Otherwise has done all of that and more.
[01:26] So in today’s show, I want to highlight some of your favorite episodes—the episodes you all keep talking about, sharing on social media, teaching in your classrooms, and emailing me about. If you’re new to the show and this is your first episode, welcome and this will hopefully also be a good overview to get you started. Whether you’ve been with us from the beginning, the middle, or just started listening, know that this episode is for you.
[02:14] As any fan of this show knows, Imagine Otherwise highlights the people and projects that braid together art, activism, and academia. I often get the question of why do this? What’s so special about this braid? So here’s my answer: Whether it’s called public scholarship, socially engaged art, or critical movement building, work that brings together these realms is just richer. Fundamentally interdisciplinary and vibrantly creative, work that sits at the intersections of art, activism, and academia draws strength from all of these traditions.
In my interview with cultural and medical anthropologist Alyshia Gálvez, who is the author of a fantastic book Eating NAFTA: Trade, Food Policies, and the Destruction of Mexico, we talked about the stakes of bringing these three realms together.
Alyshia Gálvez [03:00]: Coming back to the idea of a public facing academic or socially engaged or publicly engaged scholars, I think that all of us have to combine all of the spheres that are relevant to the research that we’re doing or the art we’re making or the activism we’re doing.
We also have to realize that that unless we show up as our full selves to projects, we’re never going to get past the superficial. We’re never going to actually connect with people and we’re never going to convince anybody. I think if we try to keep these separate silos—the separate spheres where academia is not supposed to be about passion or social justice or social justice is tainted by research or academia—I think these are really arbitrary and false divisions.
[03:39] I think that if we’re really going to push the needle on some of these issues, which are so crucial to thinking about the future, to thinking about living in a world that’s more equal, that’s more sustainable environmentally and socially, I think we have to combine all of these different things. We need art in order to have a vision for the future, to be able to visualize what it is that we’re fighting for and also as a way of remembering history and communicating.
Activism and academia depend on each other so strongly. I think academia without activism is really pointless. There’s no way to remain neutral. We have to come away with a strong idea of how things need to be addressed going into the future in order to offset inequalities. It all really boils down to social inequalities, social hierarchies, and so if we don’t have an interest in and addressing those, then I don’t know what we’re doing.
Cathy [04:42]: In addition to being a vital political, intellectual, and creative strategy, the braid between these realms is also a lived reality because we are intersectional beings. In my interview with short story author, podcaster, and fiction editor Dennis Norris II, they share how this works in their own life:
Cathy [in recorded interview][05:04]: So much of your work on the podcast, in your editorial work, and as an author brings together your interest in writing or creativity with an interest in art and social justice activism. So I’d like to turn to what that kind of combo does for you. What gets you excited about infusing your writing with social justice themes or approaching social justice activism through literature and and writing?
Dennis Norris II: I don’t see art or being an artist as separate from activism or politics. So I’ve never even thought about it as infusing it into my work. It’s just sort of there. In some ways I think it’s the purpose of it.
For me, I’m black, I’m queer, I’m non-binary. I’m all of these things. So there’s certainly base level. There’s this idea that if you’re an artist and you’re reflecting those things in your art and you are that person or a person with one of those identities, that your work is automatically sort of political just by existing, without necessarily intention. And I sort of accept that and think that that’s a great sort of baseline.
Cathy [06:07]: Although our identities and their intersections often bring us to this work, as we know, identity alone doesn’t guarantee progressive practices or that one would even be interested in an social justice approach to art or scholarship. Instead, that takes an explicit commitment to using one’s work to create change, and wrestling with the challenges that may bring. But Dennis also reminds us that when we do so we are not stepping out alone; we are building on a long tradition of artists, scholars, and cultural workers who have done so before us and do so alongside us.
Dennis [06:43]: Artists have always, through the ages, commented on and given their opinions—not just report it as though they’re journalists, but have commented on and talked about the issues of the day, the questions of the day, the societal ills and successes of the day. I’m just trying to carry on that tradition and so many of the artists around me are just trying to carry on that tradition. It’s just a part of it.
Cathy [07:05]: Several of the guests on the show also remind us that bringing art, activism, and academia together necessarily changes how we do all of these as they transform one another. The myth of the ivory tower supposedly separate from the mundane world of neighborhoods, families, and communities has always been a myth but journalist and Andean studies scholar Manuela Lavinas Picq reminds us that it can often haunt our approaches to research, sometimes in ways we don’t explicitly recognize. Manuela reminds us that it takes conscious, repeated effort—and often failure and difficulty—to do truly engaged public scholarship. In our interview, Manuela talks about this specifically in relation to both non-Indigenous and Indigenous academics working with Indigenous communities in the Global South.
Manuela Lavinas Picq [07:54]: It’s not something theoretical. We start to understand how Indigenous people live and their level of exclusion and marginalization when you start standing with them. The challenge of academics in general is to be with the communities. Our ideas alone are not enough to stand with the communities; our bodies and our ideas most come together with the communities and in the communities where we work
Cathy [08:22]: As Manuela emphasizes, truly engaged art or scholarship can be hard and takes a lot more time than traditional projects. Eric Tang and I discuss this in relation to his efforts as an activist-scholar working with Cambodian refugee communities in New York City. Eric shows how central collaboration is to social justice-oriented work, and true collaboration means allowing ourselves to be challenged and changed through encounters with others.
Eric Tang [08:52]: Again, I think the most important trait of activist scholarship is building a collaboration between the scholar-activist and those that he or she studies, analyzes, and interprets. And by collaboration I mean allowing the so-called “subject” to also shape the narrative, the argument, and to correct the original assumptions of the activist-scholar.
Cathy [09:21]: Eric emphasizes how embodying interdisciplinarity and the triple A braid (of art, activism, and academia) means collaborating with folks who often have very different visions than we do. As artists, scholars, and movement builders often come with different backgrounds and strategies, this necessarily involves some translation work, not to mention getting more comfortable with discomfort.
One of the strongest themes across all of the Imagine Otherwise interviews is the role art plays in this process. I think one big reason why this is is that new ideas often emerge from artistic work. Art helps us see the world differently. It often shocks us out of our everyday thinking and so many of my guests’ work shows how powerful that can be when put in the service of justice.
Oftentimes putting ourselves in spaces with art and artists—even if we are artists ourselves—can shed new light on our projects or transform how we approach our primary medium. For instance, queer performance studies scholar and anthropologist Shaka McGlotten describes their experience participating in a fellowship at the Akademie Schloss Solitude in Germany. The fellowship put scholars together with visual and performance artists and ultimately changed Shaka’s approach to writing.
Shaka McGlotten [10:38]: Akademie Schloss Solitude is a cultural arts institution in Stuttgart and it’s been there for, I think, 35-odd years. When it began it was really a fellowship residency program for artists, but they’ve since expanded it. So you’ll find other kinds of scholars and artists and people who bridge the two (like me) there as well.
The people are from all over. All of them are enormously creative. Many of the artists that I spent time with this summer would work in any medium that would help them get their point across. And I was literally blown away. It was inspiring in a way that even produced certain kinds of crises as I thought about my own practice and wanting to both return to more of a visual arts practice, but also the sort of changes that I’m making in my writing style, moving even more away from traditional academic writing than I have in the past. To think about kinds of writing that could extend beyond the text on a page. So moving things into the real world in the form of material art artifacts or into the virtual world through web-based media.
Cathy [11:56]: Sometimes new perspectives help us tell different stories or uncover different narratives—those that would be otherwise unnoticed from more commonly viewed angles. For instance, in my interview with Lauren Rile Smith, director of Tangle Movement Arts, Lauren explains how the queer feminist circus troupe tell different stories about women’s relationships, communities, and bodies.
Lauren Rile Smith [12:18]: Tangle [Movement Arts] was founded in 2011 because I saw a radical potential in circus arts to question our usual assumptions about people’s bodies—from the literal sight of someone spinning upside down 20 feet in the air to more subtle questions like ideas about how strong women are, whether they can lift their own bodies, or lift other people’s bodies, to stories that we can tell when we bring that literal metaphor of physical support or lack of support onto the stage.
I think that there’s a way of telling stories that is made possible when you have a sense of magical unreality, when you see someone upside down, spinning in the air, doing something that doesn’t seem physically possible. That has given us a platform for metaphor, for literalized metaphor, that’s been really powerful in terms of telling stories.
Cathy [13:11]: In addition to audiences being transformed by their encounters with art—some they’ve made, some of which is made by others—several curator guests on the show emphasize that the architecture through which we encounter art shapes its radical potential or lackthereof.
Amy Sadao, the director of the Philadelphia Institute for Contemporary Art, puts it this way:
Amy Sadao [13:35]: Museums should be a place where we can be in shared contemplation, if not conversation, about political issues. The work can be that kind of agent. Artists themselves are political actors and are interested in responding to the present and helping us imagine a future that’s not here.
Of all of the public institutions, of which there are not that many in our culture and in our society, arts organizations really can be this public space where people from a lot of different backgrounds and a lot of different political stripes could actually engage with each other. That’s a huge project. It’s way easier to say that than to see events and projects and environments to invite these broad swaths of folks to come together. But it has a lot to do with a commitment to programming and to whose work we’re showing and why we’re showing it.
Cathy [14:36]: Creating new ways to encounter art means more than just adding different art or artists to exiting museums. As important as increased representation of marginalized communities and populations is, the curators I’ve had on this show also challenge us to rethink what a museum or a gallery itself is. Through Ideas on Fire and Imagine Otherwise, I was fortunate to collaborate with the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center on the innovative ‘Ae Kai Culture Lab in Honololu, Hawai‘i. ‘Ae Kai brought together Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists of color from across the Pacific to produce an interactive, pop-up art experience focused on issues of Native sovereignty, climate change, and racial and social justice. Curators Lawrence-Minh Bùi Davis, Kālewa Correa, and Adriel Luis are redefining what a museum experience can be with these amazing culture labs. Here’s Adriel explaining how:
Adriel Luis [15:30]: The concept of a culture lab, the third of which is ‘Ae Kai is all about thinking about how we can put together something that is reminiscent of a museum experience, but using community organizing practices all the way through. Things like leaving a footprint in a community, leaving a space better often than you left than it was when you first came, things like that might not necessarily be inherent when it comes to a traditional curatorial practice. But it’s definitely something that is very much embedded when it comes to community organizing.
So in, in curating the artists and also in the background of the curators, along with talent, for example, when we’re selecting artists, part of it is also openness and empathy and a sense of responsibility, which we feel manifests in the quality of a culture lab just as much as how good someone is with a paintbrush, for example.
Cathy [16:32]: Like the ‘Ae Kai curators, other curators that I’ve had on the show also talk about how central collaboration has been to creating alternatives to traditional museum spaces—partly because creating something new is hardly ever a solitary affair. Feminist graffiti studies scholar Jessica Nydia Pabón-Colón puts it this way when describing her curation and collaboration practices for her book Graffiti Grrlz: Performing Feminism in the Hip Hop Diaspora:
Jessica Nydia Pabón-Colón [17:00]: I consider myself a network builder, a community builder. That’s very important to me. I think the best work is done collectively and through collaboration. So that’s where the excitement comes in terms of curation because what is curating? Curating is bringing together in some kind of space or in some kind of conversation people, objects, ideas that strengthen and challenge the collective enterprise.
In relation to my work with Graffiti Grrlz, the interest was not necessarily the medium. The interest was how can I intervene in the absence of women in graffiti studies and in graffiti’s subculture? It was an activist, social justice-oriented impetus. The very first thing I did was bring girls down to Arizona from New York City to collectively paint on a wall to show people that not only were women painting graffiti, but they were doing it together. Look at their different styles and the fact that they’re still able to work together to figure out how to plot out the space on the wall, all the logistical and aesthetic differences between how they work and what they produce. That to me is the exciting part. What do we learn when we bring a bunch of different women together to do something that makes them visible?
Cathy [18:23] This emphasis on collaboration in critical or radical curation is also something that shows up in the work of publishers and poets like Craig Santos Perez who, together with Brandy Nālani McDougall founded Ala Press. Ala Press focuses on indigenous Pacific Islander literature,
Craig Santos Perez [18:39]: Literature, activism, and education are always a collaborative project. For me, I always want to tap into that spirit and think about other scholars or poets or activists and students that I can work with on various projects. I feel like I have so much to learn from other people so I want to be always in conversation, to continue to learn, and to listen to other writers and artists.
In my own position as a publisher, editor, and academic, I feel like I have access to spaces and to resources. So I want to always make sure I’m able to work with other folks and to bring in the spirit of collaboration, which I think is very much at the core of Pacific culture and also Pacific studies.
Cathy [19:25]: Much as publishers like Craig weave their activism into their approach to publishing, authors also use their writing process to embody social justice principles. For many of the authors I’ve interviewed on this show, especially those from marginalized communities, that often means valuing one’s voice and one’s thoughts in a world that seeks to erase both. Imani Perry, award-winning author of 6 books, explains it this way:
Imani Perry [19:50]: I also think we need to understand that the work of tending to one’s work is actually tending to oneself, when you have a creative impulse or an intellectual commitment. We talk about self care. We tend not to talk about caring for that aspect of ourselves and we tend not to recognize that it is not either simply being selfish or doing the stuff we have to do, but actually caring for who we are. For me, it’s an enormous privilege to live the life of the mind. And so I tend to it. That means sometimes I don’t do other things that I’m supposed to do. I don’t do everything as well as I would like to do, as my kitchen today might attest. But I think it’s important to care for who you are at the core. For me, a big part of that is being a writer and a thinker.
Cathy [20:46]: In addition to valuing what one has to say, several guests emphasize the importance of redefining authorship and the writing process itself. Many challenge the capitalist and ableist demand for relentless productivity—a demand found across academia, the art world, and many activist spaces, unfortunately. Disability justice activist, poet, and memoirist Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha champions writing on crip time, drawing on the vast skills that disability communities and movements have cultivated.
Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha [21:17]: Know that you don’t have to share what you’re writing until you’re ready. You don’t have to write a think piece in 48 hours. You can sit with it, you can put it in a drawer, you can let it develop like a sourdough starter.
You know, it was a disabled writing process and one of the many gifts of disabled cultures is the gift of slowness. That’s something that so many able-bodied people have a really hard time understanding. They’re like, “What do you mean disability is skill?” And that’s one thing I always go to. There’s stuff that you come up with when you move at the pace of slow that you don’t come up with when you move at the pace of we’ve got to get this out in 48 hours, we’ve got to be really fast, we’ve got to be sprinting.
[21:59] As a chronically ill, disabled person who moves really slowly and moves on crip time, there’s ways that that crip place of slowness. I didn’t just pop out a book in two years. It was on crip time. That allowed me to slowly be able to tell those stories. So I guess I would say to prospective writers know that you can move at your own pace of survivorhood and slowness. You don’t have to answer that call of the market or capitalism to produce this product in five minutes. There’s such richness that can come from that.
Cathy [22:35]: Leah shows how developing alternative writing practices can be a way of imagining different relationships to power, not to mention a remarkably powerful collective strategy of resistance. Finding political resistance in the writing process is a theme that comes up in a lot of my guests’ stories, for instance in how music studies scholar Francesca T. Royster approaches it.
Francesca T. Royster [22:58 ]: I would love to have a world where everyone can be their full selves, whoever they are in terms of sexuality, race, gender, in terms of ideas, creativity. Writing is for me a way of imagining that world because it’s what makes me happy: teaching and writing. I feel so lucky to have discovered them because I feel excited every day.
Cathy [23:22]: Francesca uses writing and teaching to imagine and create new worlds, as well as to inspire others to do so as well. And as fans of this show know, imagining and creating different worlds is the core purpose behind Imagine Otherwise.
My favorite part of hosting this show is the interview question I ask each guest, the one that gets at the heart of the podcast, Ideas on Fire, and really everything I’ve ever done: What kind of world are you working toward? What kind of world do you want?
I discovered the power of this question several years ago when teaching Amber Hollibaugh’s book My Dangerous Desires: A Queer Girl Dreaming Her Way Home in a women’s studies course. In the foreword, queer Southern novelist Dorothy Allison recalls the first conversation the two had in a coffee shop, the one that confirmed that this would be a power femme friendship for life.
[24:15] Allison writes, “revolutions begin when people look each other in the eyes, say ‘I want,’ and mean it. We meant it.” I asked my students what they wanted, what they really wanted. At first, I got nervous giggling and brush-offs. Some made jokes about wanting a good grade in the class. I waited. And the outpouring came—these students wanted to build different worlds and use their whole selves in doing it, they wanted to not cordon off pieces of themselves in the process. But most significantly, most of them told me they had never been asked before.
My Imagine Otherwise podcast interviewees, many of whom are senior scholars and world-renowned artists and leaders of entire transnational movements, often echo this—they tell me they’ve never been asked and how much they love the opportunity to answer on the show.
So here’s Nikiko Masumoto, who runs Masumoto Family Farm as well as is a playwright and rural arts activist who carries on the long tradition of queer feminist Japanese American farming in California’s Central Valley:
Nikiko Masumoto [25:30]: The world I want to see is one where we are able to express our ferocious questions and quests, and where we can find the nourishment from ourselves and each other to live holistic lives that include joy, happiness, and pleasure but also make space for the wisdom that comes from understanding what healing looks like, what struggling together looks like, and what imagining together can look like.
Cathy [26:15]: Similarly, Black feminist filmmaker and educator Aishah Shahidah Simmons emphasizes that imagining new worlds has material stakes. Far from pie-in-the-sky distraction, imagining otherwise allows us to challenge the systems that erase and oppress.
Aishah Shahidah Simmons [26:33]: I want to co-create and live in a world where we can really dismantle this stuff. Where we can dismantle racism, we can dismantle white supremacy, and homophobia and heterosexism. Where Indigenous peoples have access to their land. Where immigrants do not have to fear being deported or I don’t have to fear being raped, beaten, shot because of my race, because of my gender, because of my sexual orientation.
I want my work, my activism, and my scholarship to play a role in creating a world where all beings are safe and free, where love is a human right and not a privilege.
Cathy [27:21]: Ronak Kapadia, author of Insurgent Aesthetics: Security and the Queer Life of the Forever War, explains that it is not enough to do our own imagining, our own creating, but it’s also our job to inspire and nurture the imaginings of others.
Ronak Kapadia [27:36]: In that sense, I think I really do also take my cue from my late mentor, José Esteban Muñoz, who talked about cruising utopia.
Future oriented, utopian thinking is always tied to a materialist critique of the present. Part of our job as educators, as writers, as organizers, and as artists is to identify and animate already existing kernels of political possibility that exist in the here and now—to nourish them, to grow them, to expand them, to share them with others. I feel like I’m always on the hunt for identifying those kernels of political possibility as they exist in the world around me, in the communities that I care about. I want to foster them, nourish them so that we can get to that revolution.
Cathy [28:25]: Those kernels of possibility that Ronak talks about have some pretty significant outcomes. Here’s professor and cultural producer Yaba Blay, creator of Pretty Period and Professional Black Girl campaigns that showcase everyday Black Girl Magic on how building new worlds can mean thriving, not just surviving.
Yaba Blay [28:43]: Ideally [I’m working toward] a world where people understand the beauty of blackness, that blackness is not a bad thing. I’m speaking not just to folks who aren’t Black, but I’m speaking specifically to people who are. That we’re able to look in the mirror and completely be in love with who we are. I think that generationally many of us have taken on the fears and anxieties of our ancestors such that we’re not sure how to celebrate us because we’re so busy trying to survive. And I’m like, we’re bigger than just survival. We’ve been surviving. We’re thriving. We’re not going anywhere. So I do my work for Black people. I do my work particularly for Black women and Black girls. And by Black, I mean all of us all over the diaspora. A world where we recognize our value and our beauty and our magic would be a beautiful world to me.
Cathy [29:40]: Recognizing the beauty of communities is also something that Leah Lakshmi Piepzna Samarasinha is working towards when she collectively builds a world beyond ableism and colonialism, including how they shape people’s relationships to their own and other bodies.
Leah Lakshmi Piepzna Samarasinha: In my decolonized, disability justice future, I want a world where there is no one right or wrong way to have a body. We get to be born as all of the multiplicitous bodyminds that we are. I want a decolonized, revolutionary world where we are welcomed and we are thanked for being here.
I cannot wait for the sick and disabled, neurodivergent, and deaf folks who grow up in that world, where they have only been known as gifts and as treasures, and as being able to be complicated, imperfect people who have what we need to thrive. Yeah, that one. I want that future.
Cathy: Linguistic anthropologist and Indigenous studies scholar Jenny L. Davis explains how her work revitalizing Chickasaw language is a crucial way she imagines and create otherwise.
Jenny L. Davis [30:47]: Broadly speaking, across all of my different areas of activism, they’re usually centered around the goal of allowing Indigenous people to exist. So literally to live. Then also to be able to maintain and practice our cultures and our epistemologies, the things we’ve handed down from generation to generation and also the new innovations we make on our own terms.
In terms of language activism, that means allowing my community and others to celebrate and practice and learn or create new areas with our languages and culture, again, as a response to a long history of having those made the target for elimination.
Within the Two Spirit world, that usually centers around addressing all of the things that provide barriers to living to be an adult or even to old age. There are a number of barriers that make that very, very unlikely for most of us. So a world in which we all get to be elders.
Cathy [31:48]: And Puerto Rican performance studies scholar Sandra Ruiz reminds us that imagining and creating new worlds doesn’t mean having a pristine or unchanging vision. Instead, it means embracing plurality and complication.
Sandra Ruiz [32:05]: Oh, this is why I love your podcast. I want to be in any place and in any space and in any dimension where I’m allowed to dream. I mean, when do we get asked to dream? We’re never told, “All right, swing higher!” It’s always “Settle down, relax, let’s not, we can’t.” And I’m kind of frustrated by that world.
So I want to live in a world where the right to be human also means the right to be plural, complicated, filled with nuance and ambivalence along with relentless conviction and undying compassion. I also want to live in a world where collaboration and collectivity surpass the corporation and where we’re all fascinated by what we can’t even see.
I want to use curious methodologies and invent dirty theories, translate philosophy to fit my life world, and establish spaces for artists or the creatives to help us get out of the mess we’ve created of our present situation.
Cathy [33:01]: So what do I want? I want all of these worlds and more. I want more of us. I want more progressive, social justice-oriented folks who combine the intellectual platform and methodologies of academia, the creativity and wonder of art, and the fire and rage of social justice activism to create the worlds we want. I want more brilliant books that ignite ideas, more art that sparks protests, more activism that historicizes and critiques, and more opportunities for communities to enact the change they need. I want more conversations like those I’ve been so grateful to have with the phenomenal performers, chefs, educators, scholars, teachers, choreographers, filmmakers, and librarians over these past 100 episodes.
Thanks for listening and here’s to 100 more!
Cathy [33:54]: Thanks for listening to the 100th episode of Imagine Otherwise! Imagine Otherwise is produced by Ideas on Fire, and the past 100 episodes were created by Christopher Persaud, Sarah Grey, Priyanka Kaura, Michelle Velasquez-Potts, Alexandra Sastre, Rebecca Reynolds, Julie Lenard, and myself,Cathy Hannabach. You can check out the show notes for this episode on our website at ideasonfire.net, where you can also read about our fabulous guest as well as find links to the people and projects we discussed on the show.