On indigenous-black solidarity under settler colonialism: Allison M. Guess, Mistinguette Smith, Eve Tuck, ‘Reaching to Offer, Reaching to Accept: Collaboration and Cotheorizing’, American Quarterly, 68, 2, 2016 pp. 409-412


Excerpt: From our vantage points, land is a Black coconspiring eternal ancestor, supporting life and freedom. At the same time, in the Black or African Diaspora, Indigenous people make ancestral, sovereign relationships to that selfsame land. This complexity is at the heart of the collaboration funded by an ASA Community Partnership Grant described here. Land as a Black coconspiring eternal ancestor is evident in the struggles of historical Black women geographers such as Harriet Tubman, Queen Nanny, and Mamá Tingó and their respective abolition and maroon geographies.

Formed in 2011, the Black/Land Project (BLP) follows the examples of Black women geographers by attending to matters of Black life, histories, and futurities in particular places. As a researcher working decidedly outside the academy, BLP founder Mistinguette Smith was wary of academic researchers in BLP’s existing work in Black communities about relationships to land and place. BLP has caringly conducted more than thirty interviews, followed by workshops called “Black/Land conversations,” with Black residents of several communities across the United States. Smith’s sense was that many academic–community partnerships are interested in community-based research, but their goals and measures of success remain firmly embedded in the academy. Community-based researchers are expected to translate their work to accommodate academic audiences and to take on their preoccupations. As BLP grew and gained public recognition, academics who approached BLP with proposals of collaboration rarely understood the impact of dedicating energies to produce the emotional and intellectual labor of this translation, especially related to accommodating the gap between lived experience and the formal study of that experience. [End Page 409]

Smith met the Unangax scholar Eve Tuck in 2011 moments before Tuck and Monique Guishard cofacilitated a workshop on participatory action research ethics in New York City. Smith and Tuck discussed settler colonialism and the persistence of meaningful relationships to land among Indigenous peoples and Black peoples. In 2012–13 we received funding from the ASA’s Community Partnership Grant for Tuck to provide strategic support to BLP in analyzing the Black/Land conversations and interviews. For Smith, working with Tuck fulfilled several interconnected desires: to engage overlapping analyses of traditional knowledge, nonacademic ways of knowing, meanings of knowledge, and relationships to land, specifically connecting Black relationships to Indigenous relationships to land; to work with individuals who were not trying to help (themselves) to Black/Land’s work in an appropriative way; to increase skills in positioning Black/Land’s research as meaningful but also beyond academic research; to produce materially useful tools for community organizing. Our collaboration grew exponentially as we were joined by other cotheorists and co-researchers, including Allison Guess, Tavia Benjamin, Brian K. Jones, and Kondwani Jackson. Our collaboration was contingent—it did not ask for anything more than it could give. It was tentative, vulnerable, willing, yet with closed boundaries in many significant areas.

Though our funding from the Community Partnership Grant has concluded, our collaboration is ongoing and takes new shapes. There has been so much reaching across to each other so far, reaching across assumptions and contesting Black life as nowhere;1 reaching to offer, reaching to accept; reaching across moments of misunderstanding by building interpersonal relationships, incremental personal disclosures, which allowed us to continue to work together. The contingent qualities of our collaboration make room for BLP to not work in a dressed-up language that would put the project out of conversation with Black knowledge holders who participated in their interviews.

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