Scholars and activists talk achieving justice at Black Indigeneity in Conversation event
Students, professors and scholars discussed the definition of justice and what it looks like within the black community at the “Black Indigeneity in Conversation: Reimagining Justice” panel Tuesday evening.
The event, sponsored by MICA and held in the Prince George’s room of the Stamp Student Union, was hosted by Clarissa Corey-Bey, a senior English major. The purpose of the panel was to have a conversation about the way justice currently lives within blackness and indigeneity.
“It’s being able to mediate interactions between people and sort of determine what is the truth or what is the right way of acting,” said Corey-Bey when describing their personal understanding of justice. “And historically in this country, on this campus, in this nation, that conversation has not included black people or indigenous people, so I wanted to have a conversation.”
Panelists included Dr. Kyle Mays, an African-American assistant professor at the university; T. Cleo Doley, a high school educator; and Chad Infante, a postdoctoral fellow at the university.
The conversation began with Corey-Bey asking the panelists and students how they define justice. One student shouted out healing while another added honesty.
Infante expressed his belief that honesty is essential before justice. “There are a variety of people that have easy access to a lot of resources and a variety of people who don’t,” he said. “And so if we are at least honest about that conversation as a beginning, then we can really delve into the real problems that face our communities.”
He added that honesty first starts with acknowledging the history of colonial bias. Infante asserted that it is the responsibility of blacks and indigenous people to constantly reflect on how to situate themselves in a stolen land.
“Black peoples’ attempt to own themselves in a land that does not belong to them, it’s really just difficult,” Infante said. “I’m not sure if we’re all there yet, even in the black community and just recognizing those problems as true.”
Doley stressed that community is what makes blacks indigenous despite the long length of time they have lived outside their native land.
“When we are forced into a place or land that’s not historically ours, our culture shifts around that,” Doley said. “Black people have made a home no matter where we are because of community. So yes, land is definitely a part of being indigenous and is obviously super valuable to being indigenous, but it’s that community and culture part that make home anywhere.”
Senior geology major Lauren Shepherd posed a question while in attendance: How do you define charity versus justice?
“I worry that a lot people do volunteering and give a lot of money and don’t really get to the root of the problem,” Doley responded. “They’re just sort of fixing it on the surface for a short amount of time so that was interesting to hear their answers about that.”
Panelists then stressed the importance of white allies and they role they play.
“We have to be able to have white allies doing good work and that good work is literally putting your life and your material resources if you have it, putting all of it on the line,” said Infante.
In response to the conversation, one student inquired how a white ally should handle backlash from black and indigenous people when they are trying to support the cause of justice.
“Keep trying and learn to live with it,” Infante answered. “That sense of discomfort is short-lived. That is the entire life of what it means to be black and native, to be constantly worried about what this person is going to say, think and do in response to you.”
In one instance, the panelists disagreed on whether it was required to be an anti-capitalist to be indigenous. Doley claimed that it does while Mays professed that he wasn’t sure.
“Someone is being enslaved right now for the production of that cell phone and yet we need cell phones,” Mays said. “It’s an essential part of our lives. It is very difficult to live out outside of capitalism.”
The panelists concluded the event by encouraging students to attend other MICA-sponsored events and urging them to create their own groups and initiatives for the cause.
“You need to be talking to everybody you see about every issue no matter how tedious it is,” said Infante. “No matter how many people say, ‘this is not political’ or ‘we don’t want to talk about politics.’”