The Slinger Of Facts. Secretary Of State Of Blackness. Dacia Mitchell is the new co-host of This Week In Blackness Radio, a Brooklyn, New York-based podcast focusing on issues of race, class, politics, and culture. As a doctoral student participating in NYU’s American Studies program, Dacia is currently working on her dissertation, “Is A Laugh Treason?: Caricature, Slavery, and Citizenship in the Age of Revolution”, a study of 17th- and 18th-century political caricature and its impact on the formation of white identity during the early stages of post-colonial America and the French Revolution. Dacia currently resides in Oakland, CA with her husband and three-year-old daughter, and between managing the TWiB blog, preparing their daily docket, working exhaustively on her dissertation, and being a functional component of her family, she was able to devote some time to sit down with me and answer a few questions about her life and work.
In this first part of the interview, we talk about Dacia’s history with the TWiB network, the pros and cons of Occupy Wall Street, white privilege, defining “blackness”, and what makes This Week In Blackness different from other shows. A fascinating and dynamic individual, Dacia’s story is a powerful one, and I’m pleased to share it with you here.
RA: So I want to start with what brought me to you in the first place: the TwiB (This Week In Blackness) network. Tell me a little bit about your experience and your background with TWiB, and how you got involved.
DM: I got involved as a listener back in 2009, when the show first got started. It wasn’t always called TWiB, it wasn’t always This Week In Blackness. It actually started out as “Blacking It Up”; that was the original title of the show.
RA: The name change happened not very long ago, right?
DM: Not too long ago, yeah. A few months ago, I want to say?
RA: I know it’s been less than a year…
DM: Yeah, and the reason for the initial name of the show was a sense of irony. You had people who, according to a media established definition of what blackness is, were completely the opposite of and antithetical to that definition. So to have a show called “Blacking It Up” with three of the least “socially black” people was the humor of it. I first found Elon – Elon James White, the host and now the managing Master Of The Universe *laughs* – when someone linked me one of his original “This Week In Blackness” videos that he used to do. The name of the show comes from these first videos that he started right around Obama’s first election campaign, and they were amazing. They were exactly what we needed to hear at that particular moment. Everybody was fawning over Barack Obama, but there was this kind of bubbling racism that was happening everywhere, and it was hard to put your finger on it. Elon has a really good talent for pointing out the things that everyone’s sort of dancing around, and making it funny. Not just to critique people for it, but to make it funny. So I started watching those videos, and of course he’s on Twitter. I was just talking to him the other day and I told him we actually spoke on Twitter in like 2009; that was when we first met. When he started the show, I was still living in New York, and I was four years into my graduate program. “Blacking It Up” was perfect for listening to on the train, so that was my thing: I’d listen to it before I went to class, every single Monday through Thursday.
Then one day in 2010, he put out a call for help. “If there’s anyone out there who can contribute some time, if you don’t have any money, we’re looking for folks that can pick up the slack.” Y’know, dumb office things: kick some e-mails to me, nothing important, making a few phone calls if we need to get a guest, things like that. Very minor stuff, something that I could actually do from home. I had a nine-month old daughter at the time, and so it worked out well: I could help from home, and the show stays on the air, which is really my incentive. Here’s a show that really spoke to me, and if I can’t do everything that I can to keep it on the air, I feel like I will have failed. So we met, there was much mirth, and I started working for them. Then L. Joy (Williams, former co-host of This Week In Blackness and current host of AM TWiB, the network’s new morning show) couldn’t make a couple of shows, so I sat in for her a couple of times in New York, and we just all kind of became friends over time. What really sealed the deal for me being a full-fledged co-host of the show, despite moving to Oakland, was our trip to Puerto Rico for the American Studies Association conference.
RA: You guys have talked about this on the show several times, but never really given the full story, so I know something crazy went on down there. *chuckles*
DM: So it actually goes back a little bit before then. My program at NYU is American Studies, and while I was working for TWiB just sending e-mails, I got an e-mail from a woman at U.C. Davis that said “I’m proposing a panel called “Awkward Black Comedy” that I will present at the American Studies Association conference,” and I immediately knew exactly what that was. So I told Elon, “you have to do this”.
RA: That’s Elon in a nutshell.
DM: In a nutshell! They were going to ask Baratunde Thurston to come, and Issa Ray of “Awkward Black Girl”, and it was going to be this amazing panel, basically of performers who you wouldn’t expect to exist. So I told Elon about it, and he was like, “so what is this thing, and what am I doing?”, and I told him it was an academic conference. He asked, “is it like NetRoots?”, and I was like, “no, no, no, it’s an academic conference, and it’s not that exciting. But there will be a lot of people there, a lot of people that like your show; lots of nerds.” He said, “Well, I’ll think about it…”, and I said, “Elon. It’s in Puerto Rico.” He was like, “Done!”
DM: So he agreed to go on this trip, and I was going on the trip because I had a paper accepted to conference. We all met up there on the first day, and he came to my panel. It was an interesting collision of worlds since I’m part of this highly academic program writing a dissertation, and he was there as someone who was being studied for the work that he did in an academic environment. The room where he presented was standing room only. It was packed with people; packed with people who I knew, and didn’t know listened to the show. We’ve never spoken about the show. Afterwards, in talking with people I realized that everyone has kept it close to their hearts. They kept it close and they didn’t really want to share it with anybody – at least not in that environment – because it was so personal, and didn’t feel like it demanded any sort of academic critique, which academics are really good at. But then you find out that we just all love it very much because he does perform these incredible critical interventions, which is our raison d’etre.
RA: Absolutely. Which brings me to my next question: what do you feel makes This Week In Blackness different from other shows? You’ve got an environment now, especially in liberal and progressive media, where the podcast movement has just exploded over the last several years. There are literally thousands of podcasts in progressive media, dealing with all manner of subjects. What do you feel makes you guys stand out?
DM: Honestly, it’s the blackness. It really is. I subscribe to numerous podcasts, and it has changed over time. There are now more and more podcasts that are about race, ones that are not about race but are posted by people of color, mainly progressives. But I think that we were one of the first – if not the first – to present a point of view that was on the one hand presented by people of color, but wasn’t, for lack of a better word, “colored” by our color. I think that that was made it refreshing, and that’s what makes it accessible for everybody. I mean, 30% of our listeners are white, and so we’re not alienating everybody. Our audience overwhelmingly consists of educated women – educated black women love the show – but I think that what really makes us stand apart is that we will focus on the larger topics, but we will also focus on the small, everyday weird topics. We also do throw in an element of self-critique and criticism; y’know, what we would describe as “ratchet”.
DM: *laughs* Y’know, what would be considered something in the black community as entirely “ratchet”. Something that is produced and to a certain extent cosigned by the larger culture, that at the same time is completely ridiculous and clearly does not represent all of us. We’re able to do that, but not point fingers in blame and make it funny and make it light, while also having our moments of something that is actually very serious. I think to answer the question simply, at least in terms of progressive media, is that progressive media is overwhelmingly white.
RA: I would definitely agree.
DM: While that doesn’t mean that issues of gender, sexuality, and race are not talked about in those ways, there is a certain difference where it’s a lot easier for folks to step into privilege when you’re listening to a show like that, and it can immediately turn you off. I appreciate a progressive stance, and I consider myself to be a progressive. At the same time, this does not immune folks from stepping in racial prejudice, or even just sort of using privilege in a way that’s alienating. I think that we really endeavor to not do that, and to be highly aware of moments where we even are expressing privilege. Elon talks about how he’s had moments where he’s basically expressed a kind of masculine privilege, and when made aware of it he’s like, “Oh, shit! There, I just did it!” We can all do it, but I think that one of the big goals of the show is to always be aware that we are all negotiating privilege at all times, and just because you’re progressive does not make you immune to those things. You can constantly explore ways to negotiate privilege, and how to and not to be wielding it in a way that is effective to other people.
RA: Absolutely. I’ve been listening to the show for about a year now, and in the last several months of listening to your show, the privilege conversation is something that I’ve personally become much more aware of. I think it’s really important for everybody to be talking about, because privilege is something that affects everybody in different ways, and like you said, it’s something that everybody maneuvers around and positions through in human relationships. It doesn’t necessarily have to do specifically with race or gender or poverty or wealth, it’s often times combinations of things-
DM: Yes. It’s almost always a combination of things.
RA: Yeah, it’s almost always a combination of things, and having an awareness of this is one of those things that really can help you gain a better understanding of all issues. Having a greater awareness of how good you have it – whatever that “good” is for you – and being appreciative of it; that’s how you check your privilege.
DM: Exactly. By understanding the innumerable ways that you have to negotiate around your privilege, you’re also negotiating around the ways that power is pushing down on you. I think that one of the reasons behind checking your privilege is not to basically call somebody out on their shit, like “you were wrong, and you should be shamed”. Really, what it’s about is trying to teach people honestly about the one thing that we all need, which is empathy. In order to do that, it takes more than just saying “you stepped in it, and you’re wrong”, even though we will make fun of people with power because they’re easy to make fun of.
DM: But I do think of understanding privilege more as a practice instead of as a thing you have or don’t have. So what are the ways that you are practicing your privilege? What are the ways that it is useful for you to practice your privilege, and what are the ways that it’s damaging to practice that privilege? What are the ways that you actually are feeling oppressed? Recognizing that the way you’re feeling may be different from someone else, but that it doesn’t create a hierarchy, that it doesn’t make your pain more valuable than someone else’s.
RA: I remember Aaron said on the show at one point that, when having conversations about things like privilege, it’s really important to not engage in the “Misery Olympics”. Saying things like, “I have it so much worse than you do,” or “you have it so much worse than I do”; that’s largely irrelevant. It’s important to acknowledge it, that yes: some people do have it a hell of a lot worse off than you, and there are people have it a hell of a lot better than you do. But that doesn’t necessarily need to have intrinsic value, as far as how as how you navigate through privilege on your own.
DM: To a certain extent, some of us have turned pain into a kind of capital, and I think that that’s when really run into trouble. I think that that was actually part of some of the implicit problems that were in Occupy (Wall Street). You would go to a general assembly meeting – Elon talked about this numerous times – where as soon as you bring up a moment where privilege is being expressed, that race is being ignored, that gender’s being ignored, that sexuality is being ignored, you’re considered to be divisive. You were basically creating a wedge within the movement. But no, the movement’s actually made up of fractures and measures, it’s not about it being a solid entity that you’re somehow poking a hole into. It should always be understood as a web, that we’re all trying to redistribute power in a way that’s actually going to support changing a system that we’re taught is a top-down hierarchy. Occupy really failed in that regard. You couldn’t say, “listen, it’s different for me as a black woman to sleep out in Zuccoti Park then it is for you as a white dude.”
RA: It’s just different. It’s not better, it’s not worse. Let’s not put those value judgments on it, it’s just different.
DM: It’s already different, so let’s explore how it’s different. Let’s talk about what it is that we can do to make sure that everybody’s equally protected, which would involve doing different things in order to keep people secure in that situation. People had invited me out to go go camp out at the park, and I was like “No! No, I’m not! I think what you guys are doin’ is awesome, but the moment that my black ass is out in the park, in Lower Manhattan…no.” I do not trust what will happen to my body if it were to be arrested and put into the NYPD penal system. I think it was issues like that that really undermined some of the moves that Occupy was trying to make. At the same time, y’know, when Zuccoti was raided, it was devastating. It was absolutely devastating. I felt safer having them there to a certain extent, a team of people who have made the stand and are not budging. To watch how it went down, the feeling in me was just awful. It was a moment of, like…”Damn it.”
RA: There were definitely some issues that I had with Occupy, as well. I feel like some of Occupy’s greatest strengths turned out to be some of their greatest weaknesses, when they refused to change and adapt as it became this national movement. I feel that one of the biggest failings was that the main organizers, the people chiefly responsible for Occupy, did not have a strategy on hand to commute their popular power into political power, and that ultimately caused the movement to crumble in upon itself. Let’s face it: getting a bunch of liberals to stand behind causes is like herding cats, it’s a nightmare.
DM: *laughs* Everybody’s got their own cause…
RA: Yeah, everyone’s got their own causes and their own opinions, and none of them are any more or less important than the other, but…you reach a point where you need to start playing by the rules to a certain extent if you want to go to that next level. Occupy never elected leaders, it never had a formal agenda. I know that “talking points” is such a loaded term, but Occupy did not have a concrete set of demands – a concrete set of talking points – to really get people to rally behind them. Instead, it was like, “Here’s the laundry list of the 150 million things we need to fix!”, but….can we prioritize that into a top five?
DM: Yeah, it was really difficult.
RA: I think people lost interest at that point because it seemed like, “Oh my God, it’s so huge…what do we do when there’s fifty million things wrong?” It’s a paradox of choice.
DM: It really was, but it’s hard, though. So Occupy was 2011, right?
DM: Two years before that, a number of students, including some of my own, took a building at NYU.
RA: Yeah, I wanted to talk to you about that actually, about the New York Times piece on the New School occupation.
DM: So, there was the New School occupation, but there was also the NYU occupation.
DM: NYU [students] took the Student Center, and holed up in there for two days, I wanna say. They suffered from a similar fate as Occupy did. They had this long list of demands, that included divesting from Israel, lowering our tuition, and all sorts of other things. On the one hand, that was the big critique: you guys have too many demands, and we can’t possibly do all of these things. Pick one.
RA: At least not at once.
DM: At least not at once, so just pick one. And I hear that, but I also saw the energy and the excitement of these students. I mean, these were kids who were putting their lives on the line, and there was no campus security at that. There were police, and they were cracking skulls. I was there. So the fact that you have a university that is much like LA, much like Oakland in a lot of ways, where the police force is given somewhat carte blanche in order to maintain the peace, regardless if you’re a student, or whoever. But I think that, for all of the multitude of causes, that is always the place to start. And while it seems so ridiculous, you do kind of need to have some PR skills. That was thing I felt that Occupy didn’t have.
RA: Occupy needed a PR department. It needed some spokespeople.
DM: Yeah, get someone out there.
RA: I went to several GA’s here in Oakland as well as a couple in San Jose, and every time I would bring this up, people would look at me like was sleeping with the enemy. I’d tell them, “you do understand that we live in a media-driven, publicity-driven society, right? You guys have generated this incredible amount of attention, so now we need to direct it and we need to channel it, and hit our audiences with target messengers and targeted messages in order to keep people interested and involved.” Every time I would ever bring anything like this up, they’d say it was the politics of the enemy, that we couldn’t do that otherwise we’ll be just like them. While that is a legitimate complaint, a legitimate gamble, if we don’t at least take a couple of faltering steps in that direction, this movement is going to fold. Then look what happened: we had the General Strike on May 1st, one of the largest organized protest movements in global history, but then flash forward a month later, and it was almost like it never happened. Things were still happening, but there once again was this huge PR push with no real follow through.
DM: Do you think though that you can measure the success of Occupy in the fact that it did shift the conversation? I mean that in the sense of things that we weren’t talking about before. There was the whole Wall Street and Main Street discussion that was happening, but we weren’t talking about people being kicked out of their homes. We weren’t talking about the fact that there was no security net for people. I wonder if it’s almost too much to expect there to be a sudden, instant change. At the same time, I wonder if it just, like any popular movement, bubbled up, but before it was able to be sort of co-opted, it had to kind of disseminate and reassemble everywhere else. I’m hopeful about that, even though I do have a sense of “you guys need to have some better spokespeople, you gotta get somebody up there that’s not gonna alienate my grandma,” y’know? But, grandmas get alienated, so I guess they were just like “That’s just what happens.” *laughs*
RA: Yeah, and it just makes me wonder, I was never really sure….I think the greatest thing Occupy did, like you said, it brought national attention to a bunch of issues that didn’t even seem to be on anybody’s radar before that, like you said about the housing crisis, there were various banking [issues]…
DM: Student debt –
RA: Yeah, student debt…
DM: Which is still happening, by the way. That’s the thing I find kind of interesting, is that as a result of occupying Zuccoti Park and occupying the sites here, is that now it isn’t about an occupation of a physical space. Now they’re doing something that is actually is a bit of a subversion, in terms of things like Strikedebt.
RA: Yeah, Strikedebt is awesome.
DM: Yeah, it’s not like, “oh, I’m gonna eliminate your debt”, it’s that we’re just going to start paying people’s debts off, because it’s so bad.
RA: It never felt to me at any point like Occupy ever had a real goal other than making a lot of noise. If that was the goal in and of itself, then congratulations: they did a fantastic job in that. At the same time I always felt like they wanted to something more, but I’m not sure if that was ever really the intent. If the intent was just to make a bunch of noise and spread awareness then they did a phenomenal job, and they have changed civil discourse about politics in America for decades to come. They brought so much more of a general, everyday awareness to societal ills that got people of looking around in their own neighborhoods, like, “Oh shit, there’s a lot of problems here in my own town that I need to address!” I think that in itself is really important, because we tend to think of political change in the sense that it has to start on high. This is what we’re always taught, and it’s completely not true. It starts in your own backyard –
DM: It starts in a living room, it starts in a church, it starts in a grassy space, it starts, y’know, in a cafe…because we’re not, our students aren’t taught the truth of civil discourse and civil disobedience, and what it looks like. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had students reach the university level with no idea how the civil rights movement actually happened. They know that there some black people involved, and people were walking in the streets –
RA: Some guy had a dream –
DM: Yeah, someone had a dream, and someone sat on a bus, and, I don’t know…somebody died. *laughs*
DM: That’s the extent of it, and really, that is depressing as hell for me. Because if those students aren’t – and this is gonna sound really arrogant – but if those students aren’t lucky enough to be in my classroom, I don’t know what they’re learning in another classroom. It’s not always part of the curriculum, and if it’s not part of our universal public education curriculum, they may not get it at all. How are you supposed to know if you see injustice in your neighborhood, on your street, which is where it always starts? What is your recourse? What do you do if you’re not taught how to assemble with people? Some people are holing themselves up and arming themselves [instead].
RA: Which is way more terrifying.
DM: Right? And just to get back to your question about what Occupy hoped to accomplish, I see Occupy as accomplishing a reminder. A reminder that as much as we all have consented to authority, because that is nature of society. We have consented to authority, but we still have the ability to take it back if we’re pushed too far. Lower Manhattan is one of the most militarized places in the country. Within the contiguous United States, it’s arguably one of the most militarized areas, and they (Occupy) took a park, which was no small feat, to take it and hold it. To do it in the cold as well, that was [incredible].
RA: Yeah, to do it in the middle of the fall, into the winter –
DM: That was gnarly!
RA: I remember seeing it on the TV and feeling like, “Y’all are out of your minds!” I know I couldn’t do it. I’ll be the first to admit.
DM: The fact that people came from outside of the city to stand with the people that were in the city, and the fact that they created this micro-city where they were providing services for people, there was the library…
RA: It was an amazing feat.
DM: Yeah, I went down there a few times, and it felt like this small city within a city, surrounded by this long, huge wraparound of police officers, and to a certain extent they felt like it was sort of contained. But it really wasn’t, because the longer they stayed there, the more people were talking about it. There were actions that were like every weekend, and it was starting to get to the point where it was going to bleed out.
RA: Yeah, they were able to contain the people, but they weren’t able to contain the idea. As long as the people stayed contained –
DM: Yeah, it almost acted as this idea generating factory, and it wouldn’t die. That was what they managed to accomplish: to do something that seemed impossible, and to take the time and the space to produce a new potential for thinking against authority. A potential for being finally be able to push back and to know that you’re not alone in your feeling about that. But again, one of the failures was, for example, the didn’t include Occupy The Hood in a lot of their stuff. It was like, “Dude, we’ve got people who are actually hungry, why are you turning down places for people to stay?” And like what happened in Los Angeles, where the city offered up an office building that had been vacated along with some land, and they couldn’t come to a consensus, and ultimately turned it down. We were telling them, “just take it!”
RA: Just take it! The city is making a sizable concession to you to allow you to have your movement, so do it!
DM: *laughs* Yeah, get off of my street!
RA: So do it and set up camp, because if you’ve got this designated space, think of how much more you’d be able to do once you’ve got them off your back, at least enough for you to be able to keep moving forward.
DM: Yeah! But it’s hard, because once you’ve moved into a building, you’re no longer media interesting, and then it’s time to shift the discussion. Which they’ve done, but done it in a different way now. They didn’t take that, but they have certainly shifted their attentions towards things like Strikedebt, and I think they’re still so small that they can actually still help people with [things like] foreclosed homes. That was the great thing about Zuccoti: I felt like if I had owned a home in New York, and someone was trying to kick me out of house if it was foreclosed upon, I could just put out a tweet, and I would have twenty-five people just squat on my front lawn. Just like that.
RA: I think it was Occupy: Homelessness that was going around through a bunch of areas of the country, where you have people in places like Little Rock, Arkansas who were like, “Holy crap, my home’s getting foreclosed on!”, they’d put a post up on their Facebook wall, and then thirty protesters would show up with signs and just sit on their front lawn, like, “We’re not leaving!”
DM: And that’s amazing!
RA: That was an amazing thing.
DM: That was a moment where I was like –
RA: “This what social media is for.”
DM: Yeah, “this is what social media is for.” That was a magical time, it was. It’s not to say that it can’t happen again, and the thing that I think that we’re trying to do on the show is to maintain a mindfulness of change, that change isn’t always what you think it’s going to look like, and it’s not something that’s fixed in time. It’s something that changes itself, and that it’s something you practice on a daily basis instead of just being someone who is changed.
RA: Yeah, change is proactive.
DM: Exactly, it’s proactive. It’s also communal, and it doesn’t happen all at one, right? You just have to take it day by day, minute by minute, hour by hour. And that’s how we operate the show, too. *laughs*
RA: *laughs* Right? Given what’s been happening in the last couple of weeks, it’s certainly seemed like it.
DM: The docket assembly this week was madness, it was just madness. Elon completely moved the website, because we couldn’t handle the traffic. Which is awesome, but the site crashed.
RA: It’s fantastic. What a problem to have!
DM: What a problem to have, right? We’re too popular, there were too many people, and the site crashed. So he took this opportunity, and now that we’ve moved to the cloud, we can actually do way more things, so of course he’s like, “what are all the things we can do with the site?” But I think that that’s also part of what makes the show work, that it is constantly adapting to our listeners, and it’s adapting to what we think people want to hear and want from us.
RA: I was going to mention earlier that I think that the biggest thing that makes you guys stand out in terms of accessibility is, well…accessibility. Compared to a lot of other shows I’ve listened to, especially shows that are not just one person or two people, there’s a familial aspect with you guys that is undeniable, and that has an incredible amount of appeal. You guys feel like a family.
DM: Yeah, because we are a family!
RA: Exactly! The way you guys interact with each other, it very much feels to me like the conversations I have with my roommates in my living room when we’re hanging out, having a few beers, and talking about what’s going on in the world. I think that is one of the biggest things that makes you guys different from other shows that I listen to. On top of that, is the accessibility to you guys as individuals. I’ve reached out to guys on Twitter a bunch of times, and through Facebook and so on, and you guys actually respond.
DM: We try to, yeah.
RA: That’s how you and I are sitting here right now. I went out on a limb on Twitter and was like, “Hey, you’re really cool and I love the show. Can I interview you for my magazine?” and you were like, “Sure!” That’s beautiful to me. You guys also crowd source information for the docket, and there’s been things that I’ve sent you, like the thing about the grade fixing the other night, and next thing I know, you’re talking about it on the show. Every time that happens for me – and I listen to your show almost every day, at work, on the train, and I’m sure I’m not the only one that feels this – but when something I send you guys ends up being talked about on the show, I feel like I’m on the show, as well. I feel like I’m a part of it. That keeps me listening, keeps me sending more stuff, and keeps me wanting to be involved in this movement, in progressive media in general. That’s not something I really see with a lot of other shows.
DM: There is certainly a permeable wall that still exists, because once you’re on a podcast, once you’re in media, you do become, to a certain extent, an avatar for the folks that are listening to you. It’s just a product of media representation. So there is always a wall, in terms of no one actually knows me, per se. They hear me on the radio but they don’t know what I’m about to do right after the show, or what I had for breakfast unless I say so. I don’t want to deny that it isn’t permeable though, that it isn’t something that we thrive on, having a community of folks that feel like they are personally invested not just in the show, but what we’re trying to do.
The shows are amazing individually, but if you look at all of them together, they’re meant to, by their very existence, push back against the status quo of what black media looks like. So take “We Nerd Hard”, for example: black nerds, sitting in a room, talking about video games and raiding and all kinds of things. What’s funny is that to us, that’s not surprising. What’s surprising is that this is the first time that’s happened. If you talk Aaron, you talk to Elon, you talk to me, you talk to anyone that’s on the shows, you find out that we were always kind of the weird kid. But there are so many weird kids out there that you realize that all of us are weird kids, and I think that the fact that we embrace our strangeness is part of what makes us feel like siblings, like family. Also, while I hate using the term “safe space”, it kind of is. It’s a place where – and this is just a raw example – if you’re a listener, a black listener, and you have something that you’re interested that isn’t considered to be “black” – something that, if you’re a teenager, a kid could “black check” you for – this is the place where that is not going to happen, period. End of story. No one is going to, because the practice of doing it is what we’re actually critiquing. Black-checking is ridiculous, a form of social policing that we are definitely resistant to and are trying to support [removing] through the existence of the shows, from “We Nerd Hard” to “On Blackness”, where you’re talking with black academics. What’s so interesting about that show is that Elon always opens the show with, “What is your definition of blackness?” and the answers are all so different.
RA: Everybody has had a completely different explanation, and it’s fascinating.
DM: Totally different! These are the people who are the thinkers and the knowledge producers of our time, and no one can agree on what blackness is. So if you’ve got Melissa Harris-Perry and Jalani Cobb unable to agree on what blackness is, then who are we to judge what is and what is not blackness? I think we need to see blackness as something that is experiential and environmental, and whatever that cocktail ends up looking like for you is what that cocktail ends up looking like for you. Even if it’s not about blackness, even if it’s just about who you are as a body operating in the world. You can be whatever it is that you want to be, and no one’s going to check you for that, because there’s nothing to check. We’re not the police, we’re just three Negroes in a room, talking about [whatever]. What you’re hearing on the show a lot of times is what we would talk about when we were in Puerto Rico. We’d just be sitting around, having a cocktail, talking shit about, y’know, Chuck Hagel or whatever. *laughs*
RA: *laughs* It’s really inspiring. I have these conversations all the time with my friends, and we come up with all of these thought-provoking ideas, and I sit there and think to myself, “Man, I should have just had a tape recorder in the room!”
DM: Right? *laughs*
RA: So then the next question is, can I do that with intent, can I make a community happen out of it?
DM: Yeah, it’s a big commitment.
RA: It strikes me as being a lot of work, even just touching on to the edges of the issue. What it would take for to do this, even once a week…holy crap, that’s a lot of work. A lot of research, a lot of time, a lot of late nights.
DM: Elon is always talking about how there are some folks who are listening who think we can just pop on the show and like, there we are. But no, I’m up at five in the morning every day, because I’m also writing a dissertation, and I’m also a stay-at-home mom. As a result, I’m having to compartmentalize my day into these finite segments, so any time that I’m not wrangling a child, or hanging out with my husband in the scant few seconds that we get to be together, I’m putting together the docket. I’m researching for features, and now that I’m the managing editor of the blog, I’ve got to come up with a schedule of long-form essays that I want to do, and who’s going to be posting when…being a managing editor is a full-time job, in addition to co-host, in addition to graduate student, in addition to mom, in addition to, y’know, person. I wear a lot of britches.*laughs*
RA: *laughs* Absolutely.
You can listen to this This Week In Blackness – as well as all of the other TWiB network shows – on iTunes and Stitcher Radio, or by visiting www.thisweekinblackness.com. To know more about the inner workings of Dacia’s mind, be sure and visit her blog at www.daciatakesnote.com, or you can follow her on Twitter with the handle @daciatakesnote.