Into the New World


Today, February 21st, marks the first day of Black Women’s Blueprint’s pilgrimage to Africa – a journey that will take us to South Africa, Kenya, Ghana, and Benin, during which we will be taking monumental steps towards establishing the Institute for Gender and Culture as a major force in calling forth global culture shift. In this moment we want to invite all of those who have supported us in the past, those who have shared their knowledge with us, those who have critiqued us and helped us grow, and all those who have become part of the BWB family over the years, to join us on this journey, witness our evolution and evolve along with us. And in extending this invitation to you, we also want to take some time to reintroduce ourselves as individuals and as a collective. Today’s post is an interview with BWB founders Farah Tanis and Sevonna Brown, in which they articulated their vision for a new world and a new paradigm. Conducting this interview was an immensely valuable experience and the insights contained therein were illuminating and extremely helpful for me as someone who wants to be an active contributor to the movement for black women’s liberation. We offer this look into the inner working of BWB to you, our readers, in the hopes that you too will find in it words of guidance and inspiration.

-Courtney Hunter

CH:

What was the initial inspiration for wanting to go to Ghana and build the IGC there?

Farah Tanis:

I feel like there’s two answers to that. There is a short term, more recent motivation and then there’s the macro level. Our decision was in response not only to infrastructure but also to a mandate. And outside of just building an organization in Ghana there is the question of how do we bring this organization and its mission to a global stage? We’ve started doing that already inside of Black Women’s Blueprint by using a human rights framework that has been articulated in large part by white folks, by the mainstream culture, and by Western society. What we haven’t done, is we haven’t articulated what “human rights” means for us as black women and what it originally meant for us as people of African descent, people in the Global South, and people who are historically marginalized along the axis of gender. For all of us who have now been relegated to the margins, what was our articulation around what we are now calling human rights before the breaking up of Africa and our subsequent displacement? What was our articulation around human dignity and the value in every single person, the value in every single tree, the value in every single animal, and in every living breathing thing? And the value even in the earth, sky, and sun, and how all of this is interconnected? So, when I think about this question of “why start the organization in Ghana” the answer for me is it’s not just going to be Ghana – this global movement we are seeking is going to happen over the world and it’s about unearthing a new way of being, a new way of relating and really bringing about a new world - view on a global level. I believe that black women have the power to do that. So that’s the broader, macro answer.

Sevonna Brown:

I love that Farah and I think that things do start from a macro place with BWB, and the current state of affairs has prompted in some ways what has already been the visionary aspect of the organization. In this particular moment in time there is political unrest and also political fatigue for black people. After getting the right to vote and becoming civically engaged and doing the work to bring about the first black president, there’s now a backward energy that is requiring people to say OK instead of being thrust backwards we’re actually going to return. And so the Year of Return is upon us not just in response to the fact that we are now 400 years beyond the landing the first slave ship sent “Jamestown to Jamestown” but because we’re also seeking a return around the African diaspora. We are seeking a return to the idea of cultivating and giving back power, and regenerating where our power lives and where black people in particular understand it to come from. And so all of that happened to overlap with the mandate that BWB put forth in the Black Women’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission during all of those shifts and political changes. And that is a mandate that calls forth a black led government to acknowledge black women, and women of all African descent. It calls forth an acknowledgement of our humanity, our economic power, our safety, our health, and in the midst of all of the political context and geographical context, BWB is charging forth a mandate that keeps the movement, our partners, and all of the people that have a stake in black women on their toes. So when the opportunity for us to go to Ghana arose through The Year of Return, we saw it as a chance to realize the fulfillment of the Last Mandate, and to strategize around this mandate, which is about repair, restoration, and return. And in Ghana we wanted to continue centering black women by saying, even though the world feels like it is exploding at all times we can always call forth to where black women are and where we fit into the conversation. And of course when we arrived in Ghana, we were not surprised to find out that women were marginalized and that they were in the middle of a conversation about their own power and the need to be celebrated, seen, and witnessed. We also saw that those conversations weren’t happening in the U.S., they weren’t being brought up within the context of the Year of Return, they weren’t being properly situated within the dialogue around this new wave of Black Americans going back to Africa and specifically Ghana. And so in sitting down with Laila (Laila Yahaya, BWB’S partner in Ghana who will be running the Institute for Gender and Culture on the ground) and other feminists, again, not just in Ghana but all over the world, we are continuing to call for centering women in these conversations. And we’ve done that in amazing and layered ways here in the U.S. - so now we are asking ourselves, what does it look like for BWB to shift into this gender and culture mandate that calls for centering women and our power throughout the world.

Farah Tanis:

And through restoration!

Sevonna Brown:

Right, through restoration. And we’re not just thinking through this very flat notion that “if women ruled the world the world would be a better place” but actually thinking about the possibilities of a world where women are seen, witnessed and understood, and recognized for the power that we already have. Not power that needs to be given back to us but power that we already have. If that was acknowledged, recognized and honored then we would see major shifts in the way the world interacts with women and how women interact with the world. And I think that that becomes a great potential for how we actually liberate gender, not just women, but the notions and concepts of gender. That to me is a true feminism, because black feminism has always been about this concept of our liberation being inextricably linked to the liberation of the world, and as Farah said, the liberation of people, animals, nature and everything else – all of that is linked to black women’s liberation. And so that is the pilgrimage that we’re on. Right now we are in a very proactive space where we’re saying let’s go everywhere we can go and seek knowledge and wisdom but also seed knowledge and seed wisdom, and be open to all the possibilities that we can generate through that. That’s where we’re at and that is why the trip is anchored in questions rather than answers.

Farah Tanis:

Yes and I think that there are questions about building an infrastructure that need to be raised as well. And for lack of better language we can say we need to build a community too. Community is infrastructure, or, it is what infrastructure means to us.

Sevonna Brown:

And also I think if we’re going to come from a place of critique in identifying the “why” behind this journey – that is also about identifying that the forces in the movement right now are not sufficient. The Women’s March and other interventions currently being used to respond to governmental powers and the political moment we are in – it’s not enough. It’s not enough to just have a Year of Return, it’s not enough to just have a Women’s March every January, it’s not enough to impeach Trump. It’s not enough. And I think the “why” is really about asking ourselves what does freedom and liberation require of us? What does it require around gender? What does it require around culture? What conversations does it require and what action does it require? I think that’s the big “why” – it’s in search of what is required of us to fulfill these mandates around truth, justice, healing, and reconciliation. And we’re uniquely positioned to answer those questions after ten years as an organization and after seeing through the mandates in the TRC.

Farah Tanis:

The Last Mandate is the one that I feel could really shift the world. We’ve spoken our truths, and justice and healing is occurring community by community as well as on an individual level. But while reparation, restoration, and reconciliation can happen between two people, it is even more meaningful if in this reconciliation between two groups, we are also talking about a reconciliation around the world. And in order to do that, we need the tools to start a new movement. We need the tools and community, or infrastructure, in order to do that. And by that we mean a community of elders, of ancestors, young people...all generations can speak to the future. So in order for us to shift the direction that our culture and world are going, we have to be able to speak and demonstrate that what we’re voicing is viable, that is has the power to change ideas, hearts, and minds, and that it does exist. We don’t need to recreate it because it already exists and we believe it exists within black women’s villages, within black women’s thought processes, their productions, their ideas, their analysis, their dreams…

Sevonna Brown:

Their technologies –

Farah Tanis:

Their technologies. Because we’ve seen it. But it has been devalued. For example, if you sit with a priestess you know that there is something there. It’s there but the world has completely either buried it or has so drained it of its value on a cultural level that people don’t realize that this is what can heal us. That this way of being, walking through the world, and relating, and the tenets that these women live by – are bigger, broader, more compassionate, and more powerful than any human rights tenet that the West can give us. And so we start with Africa and we start with women of the Global South as a whole because they possess that. And if they have it and we are their descendants, cousins, sisters and so on that means we have it too – it is ancestral knowledge that we also carry. How we bring that forth is by going back. By being in mutuality, by learning, by unearthing, by documenting. Just like with Sankofa (a word from the Twi language spoken in Ghana) – you go back and bring it forward. And so that’s what we see ourselves doing which is apparent in BWB’s transformation and the establishment of the IGC. And so now the question is how do we put what we have to share together with what other people have to share. So if I’m seeking peace and you’re seeking peace, If I’m seeking non-violence and you’re seeking non-violence, how do we put both of these things, whatever they are, into conversation, so that we together can become even more powerful across our differences, in order to bring about this peace that we keep talking about. So it’s not really about starting an organization in Ghana, but about bringing Ghana into the organization.

Sevonna Brown:

And the idea is also that we’re fostering space for those in the country to continue doing the work that they’ve already been doing. We’re fostering collaborative space. And I think it’s really important that when we’re articulating what we’re doing we emphasize that we’re not coming in to be a savior but that we’re actually coming in to build on the assets of that community and to grow with them.

Farah Tanis:

We’re not going in to bring BWB into Ghana but to bring Ghana into BWB. Ghana is enriching us and there is a value in Ghana as home for us. And so the question becomes how to bring all these pieces of home together so that we are one and there is a wholeness. That’s the thing with black communities is that we’re constantly seeking wholeness.

Sevonna Brown:

It’s very interesting and it makes me think of a dissertation I read on the meaning of diaspora and how the