In less than two weeks, Becoming Kin is going to be officially released into the world. It’s already out there in bits and pieces. There’s excerpts in Midnight Sun, Sojourners, and Christian Century. People who have pre-ordered the book are finding it landing in their mailboxes ahead of schedule, and of course there are the early readers who got advance copies in exchange for their willingness to cheerlead and build momentum. I’ve been recording podcast interviews, planning launch and post-launch events.

As the prophet said, what a long strange trip it’s been.

So where have I been the last few weeks, I’ll get to the books you subscribe for don’t worry. I’ve been camping. We spent two weeks driving out to the Gaspe Peninsula in Quebec because although we’ve been to the east coast many times, as far north as Newfoundland and as far south as Florida we’ve not been here. We’ve driven up and down coastal highways and spent a lot of time in Halifax. But we’ve never been to the Gaspe. And it’s gorgeous. On the way there we stopped in Taddousac because we wanted to see the whales that migrate up the Saguenay River and then back down again. Didn’t see any in Taddousac, but we did see a few minke whales while waiting for the ferry to take us to Trois Pistoles.

Right after we got back from camping I jumped on a plane for the Socialism 2022 conference and this is the part where I talk about books because everybody there was talking about their books.

In her keynote and in several of the essays in Abolition Geography, Ruth Wilson Gilmore has said that:

Racism is the state sanctioned and/or legal production and exploitation of group differentiated vulnerabilities to premature death, in distinct yet densely interconnected political geographies.

She went on to note that premature death is death at any age that takes place because of preventable causes: inadequate medical care, lack of access to healthy food, placement of highways and waste facilities, imprisonment, migration, war, climate change, poorly maintained lighting in public housing stairwells. So I thought about that and I thought about Aurora Levins Morales who I quote in the book, and her description of history as “the story we well about the past to explain the present” and all the stories we get told to explain these group differentiated vulnerabilities to premature death. I thought about our conversation with Keolu Fox and his disruption of the idea of a so called “thrifty gene” to explain why Pasifika peoples are often overweight.  I thought about the stories I’d been told about native predisposition to alcoholism and that I shouldn’t drink because of that. I thought about all the research that goes into figuring out what is wrong with us that has caused diabetes and heart disease and low education rates and high incarceration rates and all the other reasons our life expectancy is over a decade behind white people.

Group vulnerabilities to premature death in distinct yet densely interconnected political geographies.

I went into Wilson Gilmore’s keynote thinking about Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò’s session. I know I have written about his book endlessly, but he talked about identity in a way that connected with these political geographies and who gets to to describe them. He deferred to the Combahee River Collective Statement and it’s definition of identity politics, that “the most profound and potentially most radical politics come directly out of our own identity” and that we do not have a singular identity but that these multiple ways we exist combine to create a whole. He contrasted that with the ideas coming out of the Nixon administration which was also talking about what it was to be Black in America and how different these visions and stories were. Elite capture is the sociological description of whose vision and whose story becomes dominant. My book confronts that capture of what it is to be Indigenous, to be human, to be kin. Maybe that’s why I’m so obsessed with this book.

Who teaches?

Who is taught?

To what end?

I return to Ruth Wilson Gilmore because of these questions that she poses in various ways throughout Abolition Geography. Who and what works, to what end? To what end. That question is so important. Goverments love to form diversity and inequity groups, inclusion committees but inclusion into what? Diverse to what end? Who controls the stories that are being told? Who is being served?

I also had the Palestinian poet Mohamed El Kurd in my mind while I listened to her. He was funny and charming while he described the group differentiated vulnerabilities to premature death in his home.  While he rejected the idea of reconciliation with his oppressors. While he taught and we listened.  He mentioned the land acknowlements so ubiquitous in the west by speculating on a poetry slam in Jerusalem 20 or 30 years from now beginning by acknowledging stolen Palestinian land. I snapped my fingers in appreciation.

His poetry is beautiful and gutting. In the poem Wednesday he writes

The nurse complained of the clouds.
If I were a stupid flower, I’d wither under the rain.
They asked her, What’s wrong with the flower?
not What’s wrong with the rain?

What’s wrong with the flower? not What’s wrong with the rain?

And I carried all this with me while I listened to Harsha Walia talk about the elasticity of borders, and how some movement is dangerous and other movement is instagrammed. Because not all mobility is the same. Who moves and under what circumstances matters deeply in terms of who is criminalized and who is followed. The deliberate precarity of temporary foreign workers, labour that is gets declared surplus and illegal even while the surplus they create lines the pockes of those for whom borders are legal fictions.

Group differentiated vulnerability to premature death in distinct but densely interconnected geographies.

All these stories that we tell about inequities, about identity. Who controls which stories get told and which get relegated to the fringes. Whose ends are being served even when we tell our own stories. What are the stories we tell about these group differentiated vulnerabilities to death in distinct yet densely interconnected geographies and why do we always look to the flower instead of the rain.

I left the Gaspe, a sparsley populated peninsula on the edge of the the gulf where the St. Lawrence Seaway shares space with the Atlantic Ocean, a liminal space where we could tip back our chairs and watch satellites move across the Milky Way. I went from there to Chicago, the city lights bright against the sky. The winking lights of skyscrapers forming their own constellations and pathways guilding people home and I thought about how even the sky has been colonized just like the land. I thought about Indigenous skies and Indigenous land and whose stories shape our actions and our goals.  And I concluded my remarks by paraphrasing Naomi Klein.

It is not enough to say that this is Indigenous land. We need to organize like it is.

What's wrong with the rain?

asking better questions gets you better answers