Old Bonds ReMade

Friday May 19, 1-2.15 pm

Moderator: Sonya Donaldson

Christine W. Thorpe, “Free from Slavery, Bound by Historical Traumas: The Economic Bondage of Chronic Health Issues Among African American and Native American Women”
N. Nkosizana, “Yes, Master (yes, massa?): Liberation and Reconciliation of the Black Woman in BDSM”
Misty De Berry, “Affective Accumulation of Debt and Indebtedness: Performance and Temporality in the Lives of Black Women”

Christine W. Thorpe, “Free from Slavery, Bound by Historical Traumas: The Economic Bondage of Chronic Health Issues Among African American and Native American Women”

From the beginning of the colonial period in the America, the life altering effects of enslavement and oppression shaped the genealogical journeys of African American and Native American women. Historical reports going back to the 15th century indicate the codes and policies that were developed and enforced to create a stratified society in the newly formed colonies. Such stratification relegated enslaved Africans and Native Americans as invalidated subhumans worthy to only serve as the tools of their oppressors.

A critical and vital thread of this analysis is the role of African American and Native American women, not only as the bears of life, but as the carriers of traditions and values that are essential to the existence and longevity of a people. The various forms of genocide that were inflicted on African American and Native American people have left residues of cultural practices and identities. The holes in the tattered memories have forced these two groups to assimilate substitutions from their oppressor. Substitutions such as familial structures and roles, economic sustainability, the exchange of culture and knowledge were disseminated such that the new dominant group could enforce its ideologies on all. Hence, the women of both groups were forced with each generation to adjust causing the loss of indigenous practices of survival, health, and wellness.

Women of African and Native American descent have experienced a consistent decline in their personal health and their ability to impart care based on traditional cultural practices. The rise in chronic illnesses, infant mortality, mental illness, and substance abuse for both groups is tied to the parallel oppressions experienced for generations. This paper examines the span of over 500 years of specific and deliberate socioeconomic policies that have impact the health of African American and Native American women of the present. A historical cross analysis of African American and Native American women will be done to show the connections between the groups based on the different forms of oppression experienced.

Dr. Christine W. Thorpe is a certified health education specialist and Assistant Professor in the Health and Human Services Department at New York City College of Technology. Her research interests include women’s health, health disparities, and health literacy, and she has published articles in the The Journal of Multicultural S ociety (2016), Journal of Human Se rvices (2015), and the Journal of New Horizons in Education (2014) among others. In addition to research publications, she has published a book entitled, “The Family That Eats Together: A Nutritional Guide for Healthy Living.” Dr. Thorpe is the creator of Spring Pilot Wellness Challenge for a Cause, which is designed to inspire people to combine fitness and philanthropy.

N. Nkosizana, “Yes, Master (yes, massa?): Liberation and Reconciliation of the Black Woman in BDSM”

In this paper, I answer the question of whether or not Black women have found liberation in the BDSM/kink scene, and what that liberation looks like. I do so by analyzing the participation of Black women in the BDSM scene through a Black Feminist lens. Black women are a marginalized and oppressed group, and the kink community is a noticeably white-dominating space of sexual counter-culture and this paper will explore the intersection of both. I will cover historical white claims and ownership of Black bodies, paying particular attention to Black ciswomen. Examples will include: the Atlantic Slave Trade and enslavement of Africans; the exploitation of Saartijie ‘Sarah’ Baartman (the “Hottentot Venus”); rape committed by white slave masters (in particular, the “relationship” between Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson, and the subsequent debate of rape, autonomy, consent, and ownership); the southern “Mammy” trope, how Black women’s bodies were used to breastfeed slave master’s children; and the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment. I continue on to describe the conventional, at-first-glance similarities between the BDSM scene and historical Black enslavement—i.e. Master/slave, Ds (Dominant/submissive), DDlg (Daddy Dom/little girl), and sadomasochistic relationships. I then go on to note the crucial differences between BDSM and slavery, most notably, consent. This paper also explores liberation (freedom) and self-empowerment for marginalized bodies, Black femininity and sexuality, Black feminism, reconciling feminism with BDSM, the BDSM scene itself (what it is, why people enter it, the rules, common misconceptions, and why those misconceptions exist). I also include narratives of Black participatory members within the BDSM scene and discuss how they’ve reconciled in themselves the history of slavery—especially in particular roles, actions, and “scenes” (i.e. submitting to a white Dom; bondage; use of the flogger, collar, leash, rope, etc.).

N. Nkosizana is an undergraduate student and Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellow studying Sociology and Women and Gender Studies at Brooklyn College. Their academic interests lie at the intersection of race, gender, and sexuality studies, and her current research focuses on the intersection of Blackness, feminism, sexual intercourse, sexual pleasure, sexual orientation, and gender identity. In addition to being a passionate social activist, they are a treasure for the Brooklyn College Sociology Club, research assistant in the sociology department, and advocate for both safe sex practices and safe, inclusive spaces on campus.

Misty De Berry, “Affective Accumulation of Debt and Indebtedness: Performance and Temporality in the Lives of Black Women”

“Debt: /det/ Noun. 1. Something […] that is owed or due.”
“Indebtedness: /inˈdedədnəs/ Noun. 1.1 The feeling of owing gratitude for a service or favor.”

In this talk, I examine dominant ideologies of debt and indebtedness in the lives of Black women in the United States. I argue that such ideologies are affective and temporal performances that accrue on the body and psyche in ways that are entangled within state-based punitive structures that ultimately constrain expressions of Black freedom across social and material realms. Through a comparative reading of online public discourses following the Bill Cosby sexual misconduct scandal that sought to defend Cosby’s legacy, next to a close reading of are you you: Financial Literacy (2014), an online mural illustration by durational performance artist Shantell Martin, I analyze modes of indebtedness within interpersonal relationships. I contend, such relationships demonstrate the personal bonds formed between friends, lovers, colleagues, and social groups, while also illustrating ideas formed around being indebted to certain cultural icons and social institutions. To this end, I argue that modes of indebtedness work to bind subjects together in subconscious contractual agreements on particular ways of being in relation to one another.

Drawing from theories on affect, I analyze how indebtedness circulates through temporal processes of accumulation. I assert such temporal processes are akin to durational performances where, as performance studies scholar, Diana Taylor notes, “[d]urational performances […] evolve [while] contain[ing] all sorts of interruptions, repetitions, episodes, and other short-lived acts within a broad, ongoing structure” (Taylor, 2016: 23-24). This means notions of indebtedness are performed in ways that accumulate and circulate, as well as fracture and split within systemic and interpersonal structures of debt. Such performances are maintained by incongruous temporal societal norms which produce a white supremacist and capitalist-based subjectivity that must be adhered to along ethical modes of debt and indebtedness.

Black women, who are ultimately constructed as sub-persons, cannot fully align within such ethical modes and are thus routinely punished across systemic and interpersonal spheres. Weaving together conversations at the intersections of performance theory, critical race studies, and political philosophy, I assert that notions of performance and performativity lean into one another, reproducing indebtedness as an ideology at the level of the body, through embodied behavior and affective transmission. I assert that reproductions of indebtedness at the level of the body contribute to the massive institutionalization of punitive ideologies and structures that wreak great destruction in the lives of Black women. I ask what are the conditions that produce feelings of indebtedness within interpersonal relationships? How do the logics of indebtedness circulate and function in the everyday sphere with particular regards to Black women’s lives? How might regulatory performances of indebtedness be interrupted in ways that allow for practices of equity and shared accountability? I argue that in order to achieve alternative economic ideologies of debt and indebtedness, we should reconsider the embodiment of such notions in the socio-political and interpersonal sphere.

Misty De Berry is a Ph.D. candidate and performance artist in the Department of Performance Studies at Northwestern University where she works at the intersections of performance studies, critical theory, Black feminist theory, feminist phenomenology, Marxist theory, and art history. She trained as a classical actor at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts where she studied mask work, gesture, Shakespeare and contemporary theater. After receiving an M.F.A. in Interdisciplinary Arts and Media from Columbia College Chicago, she served as Visiting Assistant Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies at DePaul University where she taught classes on Black Feminisms, feminist theater, and performance and social activism. Currently Misty De Berry is at work on her dissertation, which examines notions of temporality and everyday performance in the lives of African American women at the intersections of anti-black and punitive state-based ideologies. De Berry is concerned with aesthetic and conscious uses of duration as a strategy for interrupting habituated modes of hostility directed toward Black women.