The political project we are invested in will require long term conviction and must be internationalist in its orientation.
“We’re seeing people being radicalized in real time.”
In this series, we ask acclaimed authors to answer five questions about their book. This week’s featured author is Lola Olufemi. Olufemiis a black feminist writer and organizer from London. She facilitates workshops on feminism and histories of political organizing in schools, universities and local communities. Her book is Feminism, Interrupted: Disrupting Power.
Roberto Sirvent: How can your book help BAR readers understand the current political and social climate?
Lola Olufemi: Worldwide, we’re seeing a resurgence of fascism, seemingly endless capitalist advancement and a number of culture wars being ignited that obscure how our material conditions continue to worsen. “The current political moment” is contextual and constantly shifting. I know that where I am, living under a regime of violent austerity and heightened policing, seeing the disproportionate effects of the public health crisis spurred on by COVID-19 makes a revolutionary analysis all the more crucial. We’re seeing people being radicalized in real time. I hope my book helps to clarify machineries of exploitation. I hope it helps readers craft demands that necessitate an end to world as we know it in favor of what could be, a world built for all.
What do you hope activists and community organizers will take away from reading your book?
I hope this book underscores that the political project we are invested in, one that at all times is engaged in a battle against capitalist exploitation and the host of other violences it facilitates, will require long term conviction and must be internationalist in its orientation. I think it’s strange to think about liberatory movements and racial demands solely in terms “wins” and “losses” – as Audre Lorde tells us, we must all find our work and do it. Part of that work is undoing our attachment to linear progress narratives and understanding that movements, and the demands they facilitate, are cyclical. Repetition of demands, of strategies, of political education is inherent to movements, formations and coalitions seeking transformation. It is important that we properly contend with the idea that we might not see the world we strive for but it is very important that we engage in resistance work anyway. Something (structures, relations, our capacity to imagine) is changed in the doing. If we do not see the worlds we strive for, someone else will.
We know readers will learn a lot from your book, but what do you hope readers will un-learn? In other words, is there a particular ideology you’re hoping to dismantle?
I hope this book helps people shed their attachment to sex essentialism and the myth of meritocracy and makes it possible to believe that we can ‘succeed,’ live well or morally within violently patriarchal, capitalist, racist structures. I want my readers to loosen their attachment to the supposed rewards that these systems pretend to offer (property, money, the nuclear family, etc.) and instead train their eyes on the way that some people’s successes are only made possible through the naturalized exploitation of whole swathes of the population. The arguments I put forward in the book are against the individual in favor of the collective; that requires us to be against policing, prisons, borders, any and everything that tries to contain, isolate or siphon off our struggles. This process of unlearning is a lifelong commitment and goes hand in hand with adopting and cultivating an abolitionist frame that might provide us with a new lens to examine the world around us. Unlearning is more than simple public admission of guilt or ignorance or complicity. It is about how you choose to proceed from that moment, what you choose to sacrifice when others’ suffering has been revealed to you and how the moment of recognition goes on to inform the way you move through the world.
Who are the intellectual heroes that inspire your work?
A lot of my thinking is indebted to black feminist scholarship, a canon that spans genres and borders and is quite endless. I think black women’s formations have always been rich and generative because of their sharp critique of capital. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized the importance of flexibility in thinking and the ability to take what is useful from thinkers from various intellectual histories. I don’t know if I think of them as heroes or more as individuals who, through their life and organizing work, have added to strategies for resistance that we can all draw on. I think of lives of black communist organizers like Claudia Jones and Olive Morris. Organizers like Gail Lewis, Leila Gonzalez, Stella Dadzie, Angela Davis, Stella Nyanzi, and Assata Shakur. The many women involved in the Brixton Black Women’s Group and OWAAD demonstrated to me that revolutionary work asks us to risk something.
I think of women like Berta Cáceres who moved against land dispossession and lost her life in the process. Poets like Wendy Trevino, Anne Boyer, Nikki Giovanni, Sean Bonney who help us articulate our frustrations. Sex workers like Juno Mac and Molly Smith who have helped articulate sex workers’ demands in the UK.
Groups like the Combahee River Collective, Sister Song, Sisters Uncut, INCITE!, Laboria Cuboniks, SWARM, and The Mwasi Collectif are all examples of how collective formations help feminist thinkers consolidate their demands collectively. I’ve also been influenced by thinkers like Sylvia Wynter, Hortense Spillers, Saidiya Hartman, Zoe Samudzi, Selma James, Christina Sharpe, Sara Ahmed, Oyeronke Oyewumni, Che Gossett, Audre Lorde, Mariame Kaba, Ruth Gilmore, but also by my friends and the people I have organized with – too many to name.
In what way does your book help us imagine new worlds?
I hope by making the case that the imagination provides the affective impetus that brings that which does not exist into being. That means when we critique and organize against oppressive social organizations, when we engage in all kinds of warfare against the state, against race, against the rigidity of a sex binary that traps us, we are gesturing towards a future that enters the realm of possibility only as a consequence of the work we are doing. I hope it compels people who are just beginning to think critically to join already existing organizing networks and to get involved at a local level in everything from mutual aid to anti-raid groups. For me, the ways I’ve seen people relate to one another in feminist organizing spaces absolutely affirms to me that we might be able to enact this future we move towards and all of its contingent demands, now.
Roberto Sirvent is Professor of Political and Social Ethics at Hope International University in Fullerton, CA, and an Affiliate Scholar at Yale University’s Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics, where he directs the Race, Bioethics, and Public Health Project. He is co-author, with fellow BAR contributor Danny Haiphong, of the book, American Exceptionalism and American Innocence: A People’s History of Fake News—From the Revolutionary War to the War on Terror.
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