You feel watched, you pull over to avert and the eyes pull over with you.
You know that this happens. You know how this happens and why.
Scholar and author Bettina Judd, Ph.D., shared these lines from her video poem, “On or About July 10, 2015 for Sandra Bland,” during the second event of the Fordham series Black Feminist Worldmaking.
The black and white video, also shot by Judd, shows the view from the back of a car driving through a neighborhood. Over a woman’s vocalizing, Judd recites the poem about the day Sandra Bland was arrested and her death a few days later in a Texas jail cell. The poem accompanies her essay Sapphire as Praxis: Toward a Methodology of Anger.
“I share that poem to start our discussion today [to show how] interdisciplinary creative production is an important Black feminist practice for me,” said Judd, assistant professor of gender, women, and sexuality studies at the University of Washington, and interdisciplinary writer, artist, and performer.
Throughout her presentation, Judd shared works by influential Black women activists and artists with accompanying images of notes from her archives.
“I was ushered into being by a Black woman writer, by other Black women writers, including Audre Lorde, Toni Morrison in my teenage years—and I have been changed ever since,” she said.
She also shared another poem of hers written in an experimental format called a Sapphire Paradox, which she attributes to the poet Tyehimba Jess from his book Olio.
“You can read it from any point in the poem that has punctuation and move on to the next line,” she said, and proceeded to recite the poem four different ways.
Among the poem’s lines are “When I said that I was angry, I meant I was angry” and “I name the peace in my heart girl, she that is lost.”
“That Lorde essay, Eye to Eye: Black Women Hatred and Anger, that helped me think through the ideas of hatred and anger in that poem,” said Judd.
Understanding the World Through Black Feminism
Scholars like Judd, who “think about Black feminism in relation to artistic practices and creative practices like poetry,” are the type of speakers Sasha Panaram, Ph.D., said she sought out when she created the Black Feminist Worldmaking series, which began last fall.
An assistant professor of English, Panaram wanted to introduce her students to Black women authors for her course Texts & Contexts: Treasure(d) Maps, Black Women, and Southern Literature.
“I don’t want students to think of the theory that we read as divorced from the world we live in,” she said. “How can I bring people that we’re reading together in class so that they can meet with the students, so that the students can actually ask them questions directly?”
The series, sponsored by the Arts and Sciences Deans’ Faculty Challenge Grant, the English Department, and the Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies program, was designed to bring scholars and activists who work on Black feminism to Fordham.
Panaram’s hope for the series is for students to be inspired to seek out new and unexpected job prospects for the future.
“I think so much of what we do as professors and people who work with young people in the university is training them not only for the jobs that exist, but the jobs that they’re going to create for themselves,” she said.
She also hopes that students use the framework of Black feminism and the works of Black feminists to make sense of our world.
“Black feminism is a mode of thought, but also a way of living that can help us understand the world we live in today, and in fact, make it better,” said Panaram.
During the Q&A after Judd’s presentation, Michele Prettyman, Ph.D., assistant professor in the department of communication and media studies at Fordham, asked Judd whether she found it necessary to manage anger.
“Anger has the possibility to burn things down—that’s what makes it useful as well as very dangerous,” said Judd, who is also the author of Patient, which addresses the history of medical experimentation on Black women. “I think for me that is, of course, an ongoing process.”
She relayed a story about how her mother would purposely read a book about religious and scientific racism because it made her angry, and how she herself was no longer angry at the same book because her mother had digested the anger for her.
Judd noted that her mother read the book at the library and never brought it home, which meant that she could process her anger in a controlled, safe space.
“I can’t say that I have the answers for all the ways that one must engage with anger for one’s own self-care,” she said. “But I think I like this idea of using it as a practice and practice space … If you can practice it in a safe space, it can perhaps be less harmful.”
The next and final event of the Black Feminist Worldmaking Series will take place on March 8, with Salamishah Tillet, Ph.D., of Rutgers University.