How are Black feminists challenging tired savior narratives in favor of robust and fully human forms of admiration? How can scholars unlearn some of the academy’s lessons to produce truly great public scholarship? What does it actually look like on a daily basis to embody justice as love in public?

In episode 87 of the Imagine Otherwise podcast, host Cathy Hannabach chats with podcaster, Teen Vogue columnist, and political scientist Jenn. M. Jackson about what its like cohosting a podcast about Black millennial life with her partner, how Black feminists are challenging popular savior narratives, why scholars need to unlearn some of the academy’s lessons to write truly great public scholarship, and how doing the justice work of love in public is how Jenn imagines otherwise.

Guest: Jenn M. Jackson

Jenn M. Jackson wearing a blue and white shirt. Text reads: Jenn M. Jackson on episode 87 of the Imagine Otherwise podcastJenn M. Jackson is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Political Science at the University of Chicago, where she has also received a graduate certificate in gender and sexuality studies. Jenn’s research is in Black politics with a focus on group threat, gender and sexuality, public opinion, political psychology, and behavior. She will be joining the Syracuse University Department of Political Science as an assistant professor in August 2019.

Jenn is a columnist at Teen Vogue who focuses on Black, queer, radical feminist praxis and a commitment to connecting today’s social phenomena to the long arc of racial and gender history in the United States. She is also a burgeoning artist who enjoys painting and freehand drafting images of diasporic Black women in moments of thought, motion, and emotion.

Through her research and teaching in the academy, her advocacy as an instructor of Chicago-area high school and college-aged students, and her journalistic work through the written word, Jenn seeks to disrupt the status quo that demands silence from those who are most marginalized in society. She is a firm believer that it is the job of Black women academics to make space and hold that space for the fullness of Black experiences especially in the ivory tower, social justice, and publishing realms.

We chatted about

  • Jenn and Daren’s podcast That Black Couple (02:09)
  • Jenn’s research on Black politics and Black feminism (10:15)
  • The danger of savior narratives about Black women (14:20)
  • How to write great public scholarship (22:43)
  • How painting Black women helps Jenn build community (26:12)
  • Imagining otherwise (29:10)

Red and yellow gradient background. Text reads: "What are the ways we can use our skills and our talents and our thoughts and our contributions to actively pour into the lives of one another, into some of those spaces that have been stripped away by the world or that are actively worn down by the world?" Quote from Jenn M. Jackson on episode 87 of the Imagine Otherwise podcast

Takeaways

The That Black Couple podcast

Our podcast is focused on what it means to be a young Black millennial right now, in today’s social and political world. We don’t spend a lot of time talking about pop culture issues, so we’re not going to follow whatever the big news topic is. We’re talking more in general terms about things like the differences across races in terms of how much sleep we get and what does it mean when there are differences in sleeping. What are the differences, for instance, in pay across different groups of women of color? And what does that mean in terms of how it links to larger structures of racial desperateness and histories of colonialism?

We’re talking about larger issues and then will typically bring them down into today’s political issues. We then always wrap up with how he and I see ourselves situated in those situations, in those instances and issues, and then how we parent through them and how we partner through them.

Jenn’s scholarship on Black politics and Black feminism

My work is in Black politics. I focused a lot on gender and sexuality. I also do work on political psychology, social movements, and political behavior. I’m really concerned with thinking about concepts and issues that we typically confront in political science, but we don’t necessarily trouble them because there’s a longstanding theory behind them.

The danger of savior narratives about Black women

The political world and the social world are very difficult in some instances to understand or navigate. And because it is at times very disheartening and very lacking in hope, people typically will look somewhere for something. If it’s not Beyoncé or Oprah, then it’s Kamala [Harris] or Stacey Abrams….Black women have worked at multiple marginal positions in order to survive due to the structural disparities in this country, due to the long arm of racial slavery and racial history in this country. The likelihood that a Black woman, especially a working-class Black woman or disabled Black woman or queer Black woman, has experienced the undue burden of those systems is much higher than other social groups….But that experience and that socialization is a type of experiential training, not magic. Surviving is not magic. Surviving is knowledge creation. It’s knowledge production. Surviving is figuring out new and clever ways to supersede a system that would prefer that we not be here or that we not thrive or that we not breathe….We are humans who deserve the fullness of emotion. We shouldn’t have to don capes and fly or do magic tricks in order for folks to see our value.

Unlearning academia to write great public scholarship

We have to unlearn the processes of the academy if we are to do good work that is publicly engaged….If there’s a genuine commitment to justice and a genuine commitment to liberation for all people, that is why we’re going to write the things. Not for status, not for acclaim, not for position or fame or a blue check on Twitter, but because we actually believe that this is a thing that needs to be out in the world. It needs to be accessible and it needs to not be behind a paywall or behind a subscription-only wall or whatever it may be. I think that’s square one.

Painting Black women as community building

I like to paint images of Black people, Black women in particular. I like to center the bodies and the characteristics and features of Black women, usually Black woman who I know in real life. I like to paint them and then I like to give them away. I like to give them away because I think that Black people deserve art, I think Black people deserve beauty, and I think Black people deserve love. I think that they deserve to see images of themselves reflected back as much as possible—specifically Black women.

Imagining otherwise

I always think about Cornell West saying that justice is just love in public. I want a just world. I’ve been writing a lot lately about love and intimacy and vulnerability and fullness. I want a full world. I want a world where people of all shapes, forms, sizes, embodiments, and manifestations have the ability to access what they need to be full, have the ability to embody themselves and love themselves in public and do justice to themselves without fear and retribution and harm. It’s a lofty goal, but I think that the more that we are committed to doing justice to ourselves and to others, we can actually start to lay the foundation to create that world. So for me, through my academic work, through my writing, through my painting, and also just the way that I tend to be in spaces with others, I try to do that work of justice, that work of love in public.

More from Jenn

Projects and people discussed

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. Check out full podcast episodes and show notes at ideasonfire.net/imagine-otherwise-podcast. Imagine Otherwise is 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.

Sign up for our newsletter

Podcast episodes, articles, and offers right to your inbox to help you rock your interdisciplinary career

Our Privacy Policy

Episode transcript

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] Jenn M. Jackson is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Political Science at the University of Chicago, where she has also received a graduate certificate in Gender and Sexuality Studies. Jenn’s research is in Black politics with a focus on group threat, gender and sexuality, public opinion, political psychology, and behavior. She will be joining the Syracuse University Department of Political Science as an assistant professor in August 2019.

Jenn is a columnist at Teen Vogue who focuses on Black, queer, radical feminist praxis and a commitment to connecting today’s social phenomena to the long arc of racial and gender history in the United States. She is also a burgeoning artist who enjoys painting and freehand drafting images of diasporic Black women in moments of thought, motion, and emotion.

Through her research and teaching in the academy, her advocacy as an instructor of Chicago-area high school and college-aged students, and her journalistic work through the written word, Jenn seeks to disrupt the status quo that demands silence from those who are most marginalized in society.

[01:27] In our interview, Jenn and chat about what its like cohosting a podcast about Black millennial life with her partner, how Black feminists are challenging popular savior narratives, why scholars need to unlearn some of the academy’s lessons to write truly great public scholarship, and how doing the justice work of love in public is how Jenn imagines otherwise.

[to Jenn] thanks so much for being with us today, Jenn.

Jenn M. Jackson: Thank you for having me.

Cathy: So you are also a podcaster and you co-host a show called That Black Couple with your partner Daren. I would love to hear about that process—both about what drew you to creating this show and also what drew you to creating a show together.

Jenn [02:09]: My partner and I have been together for quite some time. I’m 34, he’s 34, but we actually met on the very first day of undergrad. People are frequently we’re saying things like, “Oh my gosh, we need to understand how this all works and how are you doing it?” I think people originally thought that we would create a relationship podcast, which we are adamantly opposed to for several reasons.

[03:00] I’m a queer Black woman. I’m pretty radical when it comes to politics. I’ve always been a very nonmonogamous person. He is a cisgender, heterosexual Black men. He is very monogamous. We have very similar politics in terms of liberation and social justice, but we’re very different in terms of how we navigate the world and in the way we embody our gender and sexual identities. So we didn’t feel comfortable creating a relationship podcast when our relationship is very particular to us. We have cultivated and curated a space for each of us exist in such a way, based on our experiences and how we’ve been socialized.

So instead, we said we’ll create a podcast where we’re going to talk about Blackness and adulting. We’ll talk about things that people can relate to. We have three children who are five, seven, and eleven. We actively rebuff the idea that we have to teach children to reify or reproduce gender roles. We encourage them to be themselves in whatever form that takes on. That creates its own set of challenges because of the world does not necessarily like people who move against the grain of the status quo.

[03:58] Our podcast is really focused on what it means to be a young Black millennial right now, in today’s social and political world. We don’t spend a lot of time talking about pop culture issues, so we’re not going to follow whatever the big news topic is. We’re talking more in general terms about things like the differences across races in terms of how much sleep we get and what does it mean when there are differences in sleeping. What are the differences, for instance, in pay across different groups of women of color? And what does that mean in terms of how it links to larger structures of racial desperateness and histories of colonialism?

We’re talking about larger issues and then will typically bring them down into today’s political issues. We then always wrap up with how he and I see ourselves situated in those situations, in those instances and issues, and then how we parent through them and how we partner through them.

[04:57] So it’s kind of a hybrid podcast. People have said, “But it’s called That Black Couple—you should be talking about couple stuff.” And sometimes we do. We had a relationship episode that just came out last week, which is our very first one where we actually talked about dating. We invited some of our friends to help us with that episode. But we’re not going to spend a lot of time just talking about dating or just talking about parenting or just talking about coupling. We want to talk about what it means to be young and Black right now, and that’s a very dynamic and nuanced experience that goes beyond the fact that he and I happened to be married to each other.

Cathy: What are some of your favorite episodes or topics that you’ve gotten to tackle on the show?

Jenn: Well, it’s funny because our episode last week, episode 22, is actually my favorite episode.

Cathy: Oh, really?

Jenn [05:48]: So it was a audience question. We have a Patreon subscription and for one of the tiers, you can present a question for the podcast. We have a long-time listener who had a question about interracial dating. He is a Vietnamese man who is dating a Black woman. They are now engaged and he wanted to talk about the issues around interracial dating and what it means. For instance, what if the races were changed in their relationship? Would people treat them any differently or look at them any differently? My partner and I, who are both Black Americans and who are phenotypically read as Black and heterosexual, we said that we definitely need to call in some help and get some of our friends in.

[06:40] So we got five of our friends to come and talk about their experiences in interracial relationships. They’ve all been in interracial relationships. Some of them are in interracial relationships right now. Some of them are queer, some of them are straight. It was really good to have the conversation because things come to light that you haven’t considered or there are new ways of thinking through issues that you believe sometimes are common across relationships or are common across different social groups. And then it takes you having that conversation and sometimes even during the conversation you begin to metabolize your experiences a little bit differently as you think about other people’s perspectives.

So I think that was probably my favorite conversation, partly because I also got Daren, my partner, to challenge himself a bit and actually let someone else talk on our podcast. He’s the person who’s like, “I don’t want to take this podcast live, I don’t want to go outside.” He’s very introverted. And I was like, “Let’s try it. Let’s do something different.” So we were all challenging ourselves in that episode and I think it actually turned out really, really well and we’ve gotten really great feedback on it.

Cathy [07:40] Are you going to do any more group episodes coming up? Do you know?

Jenn [07:44]: I mean, we don’t have any planned, but I absolutely want to since that one went so well. I think it’s actually a really good idea for us to do that. Plus, people get tired of hearing the same two people talking. We can say interesting stuff, but at some point, it’d be really interesting to hear us in conversation with others. So I definitely think that we’re going to go that direction, especially as we were moving out of Chicago to the Syracuse, New York area. With New York City being so close by and it being a major hub for a lot of young, Black podcasters, we’ll probably have a great opportunity to do that there. So I guess I see that in the future for us.

Cathy [08:24]: You mentioned moving to Syracuse and I know you just got this fantastic new job. Congratulations, first of all!

Jenn: Thank you.

Cathy: Can you tell the listeners, first of all, a little bit about what that new position entails and what are you excited to do when you get to Syracuse and start teaching?

Jenn [08:42]: I’ll be an assistant professor of political science at Syracuse University. I’m really excited about it obviously because when you’re in grad school, this is what you’re looking forward to, this is the finish line for a lot of people and what they aspire to.

But I also have like a really soft spot in my heart for Syracuse. When I was just a wee high school student trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life, I was very much into engineering and architecture. I was in a program called Summer Search in high school and they sent me to Syracuse for six weeks when I was about 16/17 years old.

[09:24] I studied architecture there for the middle, hottest part of the summer. That’s where I discovered that New York is incredibly hot in the summer. I had no idea, coming from the Bay Area of California, how hot it could get in New York. So I wasn’t prepared for that!

I spent the summer drawing on campus, just drafting buildings and getting to know the campus. There was this beautiful statue of Abraham Lincoln where we would sit and draw for hours. When I went to Syracuse to interview for my job, that was the same building where I was actually interviewing.

Cathy: Talk about full circle, right?

Jenn [10:15]: Yeah. As I’m walking up, I’m like, “Oh my gosh, don’t cry, I don’t want to mess up my eyeliner!” It hit me right in the, in the gut.

So I’ll be teaching political science. My work is in Black politics. I focused a lot on gender and sexuality. I also do work on political psychology, social movements, and political behavior. I’m really concerned with thinking about concepts and issues that we typically confront in political science, but we don’t necessarily trouble them because there’s a longstanding theory behind them.

So for instance, my dissertation is about threat. In a lot of respects, when we think about threat in terms of the social sciences, we have this idea that only one group can feel threatened—and that’s white Americans—and only one group can be the threateners—and that’s Black Americans or maybe immigrants or Muslims or some “other” group is the threatener. But white Americans are imagined as threatened. In a lot of respects, the social sciences have reified and reproduced this kind of unidirectional relationship with threat and race to the detriment of the work.

[11:11] So my project is really focused on thinking about how we can complicate this idea of threat by making it more general. What happens when we say that other people can feel threatened? That not only can they feel threatened but they can act on those threats? What happens when we think about how Black Americans feel threatened by police officers or how Black Americans feel threatened by white supremacists or how Latinx Americans feel threatened by the prospect of ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] coming into their community? What does that mean for politics and what does it mean for this concept [of threat] that we use?

In terms of the classes I’m teaching, I teach a lot about gender and politics. I teach about Black feminism. And I’m really excited about doing this work at Syracuse because in my conversations with folks there, in my visits there, there’s a lot of work on campus happening right now to be thinking about these types of issues, talking about how to tether the work to the communities, the surrounding communities, and thinking about the implications and the stakes of this kind of work and centering those folks who are the most marginalized.

[12:11] So it feels like it’s a good place for me specifically at this point in my career, while I’m still early on and doing the research that I really want to do. I’ll be able to work with a lot of really fantastic students who are committed to the same kind of ethos and also be embedded in activist and organizing opportunities. So I’m elated. I mean, I’m still a little terrified because I have to get to graduation on June 15th. But after that, I think it will be a little bit more smooth sailing both in terms of my mental state and in terms of like the empirical world around me. But it’s going to be really fun.

Cathy [12:54]: That’s awesome.

So in addition to being a scholar and a podcaster, you’re also a journalist and I know you have a regular column with Teen Vogue where you talk about a lot of these kinds of issues: Black politics, gender and sexual politics, contemporary political and social issues. What are some of your favorite stories or issues that you’ve gotten to address through your work at Teen Vogue and other kinds of journalistic outlets?

Jenn [13:18]: It’s always hard to pick a favorite, but one of my favorites is a Teen Vogue article that I wrote last year called “Black Women Are Not Your Superheroes.” It’s one of my favorites because it’s an issue that we continue to grapple with in our daily lives. I literally was just tweeting about this today and yesterday.

I’ve been talking to several people about this process where there’s a certain burden that comes along with being deified and being isolated as some type of unicorn, magical, cool creature. That both dehumanizes and reduces Black women (or anyone—celebrities as well). You know, those types of kind of mythological, you’re somehow different from us narratives. It becomes very dangerous.

[14:20] I think in the case of Black women, what I’ve noticed over the past year or two is there’s this desire since the political world and the social world are very difficult in some instances to understand or navigate. And because it is at times very disheartening and very lacking in hope, people typically will look somewhere for something. If it’s not Beyoncé or Oprah, then it’s Kamala [Harris] or Stacey Abrams.

Part of the issue that I have with this, as I put in the article, is that in a lot of cases, Black women have worked at multiple marginal positions in order to survive due to the structural disparities in this country, due to the long arm of racial slavery and racial history in this country. The likelihood that a Black woman, especially a working-class Black woman or disabled Black woman or queer Black woman, has experienced the undue burden of those systems is much higher than other social groups.

[15:19] But that experience and that socialization is a type of experiential training, not magic. Surviving is not magic. Surviving is knowledge creation. It’s knowledge production. Surviving is figuring out new and clever ways to supersede a system that would prefer that we not be here or that we not thrive or that we not breathe.

So I like that article because it’s pushing back against this whole narrative of “any Black woman on the ticket for president and I’ll vote for her.” “Inside my body is a sassy Black woman who’s going to tell someone off and do the right thing.” Or all these narratives around how it’s, it’s the Black woman who’s going to take over the political system and figure it out for all of us. That narrative that it’s the Black woman inside me that will get me to do the right thing or it’s Black women who are the moral compasses of our community. That’s just a very dangerous way for us to function.

[16:18] It’s harmful to Black women. It is harmful to us because we are human. We are humans who deserve the fullness of emotion. We shouldn’t have to don capes and fly or do magic tricks in order for folks to see our value.

But beyond that, it also takes the heat off of other people who are complicit in and actively participating in these various systems that make it hard for us to survive. So that’s my favorite, favorite piece.

I’ve written for Bitch magazine for quite some time as well. My favorite piece there is called “The Fragility of Silence.” It’s a long-form piece that I spent a lot of time thinking about. It was just me ruminating on how silence organizes and facilitates so much violence in our lives when we are children and we learned not to speak up about things that just don’t seem right.

[17:09] It wasn’t just talking about sexual violence, but it was also talking about violence against women in the form of indentured servitude. It was talking about these violences that happen against young people who end up being incarcerated because they are forced to endure other forms of abuse and harm that they’re not allowed to speak up about and then have adverse effects in other ways.

[18:06] It’s one of my favorite pieces because we don’t often talk about the silences that many of us actively engage in and the ways that we say things like, “I don’t like confrontation” or “I don’t want to get involved,” or “that’s not my problem.” When we say those things about larger systemic issues like violence, trauma, and harm to communities, what we’re also saying is that it’s okay if that happens to that person. We’re saying that it’s okay if it happens to that group because I don’t need to use my power, my voice. We’re saying, I don’t need to use my agency to actively struggle against that systems; that happens to them and I’ll speak up when it happens to me. For me, that’s just a deal breaker when it comes to a liberatory politics.

When it comes to justice for all, I think that the least we can do is speak. The least that we can do is say a thing. Even if it’s about a basketball player whose team we deeply love or a football player who for some reason we are invested in the color of their jersey or something. If it’s about that neighbor who was always nice and bought us cookies, but he’s also very violent toward his own children. The least we can do is speak. I appreciate that I had a space to write that piece and trouble something I think that people don’t typically want to talk about.

Cathy [19:06]: All of those pieces are really fantastic examples of what it means to do critical, engaged, and creative public scholarship. As I think your teaching repertoire demonstrates and your academic research demonstrates, these certainly are conversations that are happening in different academic fields as well as in nonacademic spaces. But oftentimes, there aren’t a lot of people that traverse that boundary and you’re a great example of someone who does that work consistently in both of those realms.

A lot of the listeners for this podcast want to do more public scholarship or want to learn how they can adapt their work to diverse audiences. Do you have any advice for folks who want to do more journalism or blogging or video or whatever format it might take—public scholarship—that can speak to and really enliven these really fabulous public conversations?

Jenn [20:03] Yeah, so this is something I’ve been thinking about too. I always talk about how I kinda fell backward into this PhD thing. Growing up, I was always an artist. I always wrote poetry. I freehand drew a lot. I was a painter and I was very much into engineering and designing. I was very obsessed with structures and homes and building and things like that. So when I went to undergrad, I was really focused on engineering so I got an engineering degree from USC [the University of Southern California].

I began my writing career in 2008 to 2010, watching what was happening to Black Americans across the country. I was watching the extrajudicial violence against Black communities at the hands of police and white vigilantes in communities. I was watching, this new person, Barack Obama, starting to bubble up and emerge and become a viable candidate for president.

[21:03] All of the while, I could not particularly articulate what I was experiencing because I was working in a corporate job as an engineer at Disney. I didn’t have the space or even the language to fully work through what I was experiencing. So the writing actually came to me because of the ways that my ability to navigate the world had foreclosures. I had foreclosures in my political life. There was a lot of organizing happening where I was living at the time, and I didn’t have the ability to engage in that work. There were foreclosures in terms of the networks that I had in my personal and professional job. I didn’t have people who I could speak to at work about this, and I was the only Black person.

[21:53] I also had foreclosures because I hadn’t started reading bell hooks and Audrey Lorde and Cathy Cohen and Kimberlé Crenshaw and Patricia Hill Collins. I didn’t have the literature at my disposal to really help me to think through what I was experiencing. So I think my recommendation, because those first years were pretty hard, if I could give a recommendation to someone who’s starting off as an academic and wants make the transition into writing.

I did the opposite direction. I started off as a writer. I was writing for a very long time when I started grad school in 2014. I think that that actually helped me a lot with grad school and I think the other direction is actually harder.

[22:43] So I would say that when it comes to the academy, the academy teaches us to be an interlocutor. The academy teaches us to distill and to synthesize the works and words and ideas of a canonical other—people who have been being knighted as the speakers of the thing. We have them in every discipline.

The academy teaches us that our words and our thoughts are not valid and are not important because they are not as pinnacle as the canonical people. We have to unlearn the processes of the academy if we are to do good work that is publicly engaged. The academy teaches us hierarchy. The academy teaches us isolation. The academy teaches us exclusion. The academy teaches us about an original divide between the academy and the real world, and I wholeheartedly rebuke the idea that the academy is somehow operating in a vacuum separate from the real world. I think that’s why my writing for some people who read it and say, “Oh, it bridges these gaps for me.” But I’m just writing about my life.

[23:52] I’m just writing about my experiences and writing about what I’m thinking through. I’m using the tools necessary and the tools at hand to have those conversations. Sometimes they are more academic tools that I’ve acquired through my academic training. Sometimes they are more experiential tools that I have acquired through my socialization and my upbringing and my personal life. And sometimes they are some kind of hodge podge mixture of the two.

I would say for folks who really want to start working in journalism, first of all, that everyone has something to say, something valid, that is their part of the world. We have to not reproduce the things that harm others, reproduce the systems that harm others. So if there’s a genuine commitment to justice and a genuine commitment to liberation for all people, that is why we’re going to write the things. Not for status, not for acclaim, not for position or fame or a blue check on Twitter, but because we actually believe that this is a thing that needs to be out in the world. It needs to be accessible and it needs to not be behind a paywall or behind a subscription-only wall or whatever it may be. I think that’s square one.

[25:02] Then you just write what you want to write and don’t listen to anybody. You write what you want to write. Obviously you have to listen to editors! But I’ve had lots of people telling me, “Oh, you can’t write that. If you’re going to be a good academic, you can’t say these things. If you’re going to be successful, you can’t be a full person.” And I just disagree. I think that it’s up to us within the academy to set the standards and the baseline for what it means to be a good academic and an accountable academic. And for me that means being a full accessible human being

Cathy [25:39]: In addition to journalism, public writing, scholarship, podcasting, the nine zillion other things that you do, I know you also paint. A lot of guests on this show have talked about having a creative outlet—whether that’s cooking or music or sculpture or whatever it is that they do. They often talk about it either as a way to escape or take a break from their work or as a kind of creative engine for it. Which one (or maybe a combo of those) is painting for you?

Jenn [26:12]: I think it takes on different modalities at different times. It is something that both makes me feel incredibly good and is a release for me. It is something that I enjoy doing.

I like to paint images of Black people, Black women in particular. I like to center the bodies and the characteristics and features of Black women, usually Black woman who I know in real life. I like to paint them and then I like to give them away. I like to give them away because I think that Black people deserve art, I think Black people deserve beauty, and I think Black people deserve love. I think that they deserve to see images of themselves reflected back as much as possible—specifically Black women.

[27:05] A lot of the paintings that I’ve done recently, I’ve done about maybe 12 to 15 of them in the past six or eight months, most of them are Black women in some state of eyes-closed jubilation, Afro hair, looking very resolute. Part of that is I’ve been in Chicago for a long time now for grad school. I were up in Oakland, California. Black women have been so important to my life. I am a Black woman and Black woman have been so critical to my life and have saved me over and over again from myself and from the world. So this is my little bit of homage to them. This is my little bit of justice to Black women. If I can paint a Black woman and give her herself back how I see her, with the beauty and the flowers and the colors and the depth—people are usually like, “Oh my God, this is my face!” That brings me joy.

[27:59] But I also think that one way that we in community with one another can use a politics of love and a politics of radical community building and care so that we’re also practicing the things that we study and write about. What are the ways we can use our skills and our talents and our thoughts and our contributions to actively pour into the lives of one another, into some of those spaces that have been stripped away by the world or that are actively worn down by the world? And so my little painting corner is one of my little spots.

I also make pound cakes, so I guess that’s one of those spots too.

Cathy [28:48]: So this brings me to my absolute favorite question that I get to talk with folks about, and that’s the big why behind all of these varied creative and intellectual and journalistic projects that you do. That’s that world that you’re working towards. So I’ll ask you what is a big question but I think an important question: What kind of world do you want?

Jenn [29:10]: I always think about Cornell West saying that justice is just love in public. I want a just world.

I’ve been writing a lot lately about love and intimacy and vulnerability and fullness. I want a full world. I want a world where people of all shapes, forms, sizes, embodiments, and manifestations have the ability to access what they need to be full, have the ability to embody themselves and love themselves in public and do justice to themselves without fear and retribution and harm. It’s a lofty goal, but I think that the more that we are committed to doing justice to ourselves and to others, we can actually start to lay the foundation to create that world.

So for me, through my academic work, through my writing, through my painting, and also just the way that I tend to be in spaces with others, I try to do that work of justice, that work of love in public. Not the way that people say “Well love is the answer. Let’s just love everyone and not hold them accountable.” Because love is still accountable. Love requires that we call one another in and that we hold one another to a standard of doing justice to themselves and to others. So if we can get there, I think that’d be fantastic.

Cathy: I do too. Well, thank you so much for being with us today and sharing all of the ways that you imagine and create otherwise.

Jenn: No problem. This was fun!

Cathy [30:40] [upbeat music in background] Thanks for listening to another episode of Imagine Otherwise. Imagine Otherwise is produced by Ideas on Fire and this episode was created by Christopher Persaud, Rebecca Reynolds, Michelle Velasquez-Potts, 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 discuss on the show. [music fadeout]