Against Purity with Dr. Alexis Shotwell

You’re listening to Medicine for the Resistance

Patty:  I just wanted to start actually with reading a bit of it because it struck me. I mean the whole book … It’s called Against Purity and I highly recommend it. You can see that mine is in a mess, all highlighted, marked up.  But there’s a bit in here at the beginning …

“Being against purity means that there’s no primordial state we might wish to get back to. No Eden, we’ve desecrated no pre toxic body we might uncover through enough chia seeds and kombucha. There’s not a pre racial state we can access erasing histories of labor of slavery, forced labor on railroads, colonialism, genocide and their concomitant responsibilities and requirements. No food we can eat ,clothing we can buy, or energy we can use without deepening our ties to complex webs of suffering.”

So what happens when we start from there? And that’s exactly the question, right? Because I grew up in the Evangelical Church, embedded in ideas about purity. And really, our social movements are no different. In terms of being too Marxist, not Marxist enough, you’re vegan, you’re not vegan, like there’s so many ways that we are seeking purity in our movements and in the ways that we think and make friends and have relationships. I just found that paragraph and the following question so challenging and liberating at the same time. You don’t have to chase purity.

Kerry:  I am an intimacy and relationship coach. And this, that very pinnacle idea that you just mentioned is really the basis of fundamentally being able to step fully into who you are.  Especially this part of your sexuality. I have not read the book yet. But I guarantee you at this moment, I am on Amazon, seeing if I can find.

Patty:  Talking about purity, shopping on Amazon.


Kerry:  And isn’t it interesting how that is even brought up into this kaleidoscope of words and understandings of this. So with that being said, Alexis, what brought you here that this is Whoo, I get Wow, this is something.

Alexis:  Yeah, I mean, I think just all of that, and I love this entry into thinking about intimacy and what it means for us to actually be able to be kind of real, right?

I was born in a Buddhist community where there isn’t a commitment to purity in a particular way. And so that question of “what happens if we start from inside the problem instead of trying to pretend that we can be outside of it?” It’s not a question that I’ve solved it’s just that I had this incredible space to spend some time thinking about it in that book. I’m totally not done thinking about it.

I still feel like it’s just beginning. There’s so much … Like all of the people who I feel this quality of spark where we can think together. It’s not just like that we’re starting from, we all are complicit. It’s also we’re starting from and we can continue, right?

That’s what feels really interesting. It’s not just everyone it’s also something can continue and we have a stake.

Patty:  Wow, I really liked the way you talked about relationship. Because as an Indigenous person, that’s what I think about a lot, right? I’m always thinking about being a good relative.  What does it mean to live in good relationship? I liked the way you talked about our impurities, you know, in these things being relationship. I would love it if you could unpack that a little bit more, because I really like that. I like that a lot.

Alexis:  So maybe another way to say how I come into this is that I’ve been a white person working with other white people in multiracial, political organizing for 20 years now. One of the things I continue to see over and over again, is this wish in white people to be in relationship through stealing the modes of relationality. That are basically what whiteness has aimed to steal.

So one of the things that I think is really wild and central is to say is “we’re all situated”.  And that means that the modes of relationality that we can take up are going to be different, depending on our history, and our present, and what’s happening. And so there’s two levels for me – for white people who want to respect other people’s modes of relationality and undo the theft of relationality that whiteness has consistently…

That is, for me, one of the ways we could define whiteness. It is that it’s a force that tries to destroy relationality. It steals people from their parents, it steals people from their land.  It tries to right, that’s it’s one of the things that it does, it steals.

Patty:  Well, it feels like history.  You talked about that the whiteness kind of has the privilege of forgetting. And then the idea of I’m forgetting as a countermeasure.

Alexis:  Yeah, yeah. So it’s like on one level of what would it be for white people to not get in the middle of other people’s modes of relationality.  Like specific Indigenous modes of relationality.  Specific ways of undoing legacies of chattel slavery. Specific ways of refusing to a seat to border militarism?

And what would it mean? Because what people want, what we always want to do is be actually Indigenous.  My ancestors were abolitionists “I’m really good, right?”  

Patty:  “I’m one of the good guys. I’m one of the good ones.”

Alexis:  So also, I really, I really have this feeling like it is possible for white people or people who benefit from systems of oppression more generally, to be in good relationship.

I think that’s true.

Patty:  Hmmmm

Alexis:  And that good relation is going to be something that’s different for everyone, right? So for me the way the question of relation is “Can we can we have some quality of seeing and respecting one another’s dignity and being committed to the possibility of really thick flourishing?”

I think we can. I think that’s possible. I feel confident about that. A little bit, despite a lot of evidence to the contrary.

Kerry:  Well, what I am enjoying from listening to you speak and bring this thought, it’s almost revolutionary.  Truly. In how we have perceived this space.  It brings it back to the idea for me of our souls are our individual spirits having this relationship in our personage.

So we are in relation not only to each other, but it as we have come through and are being perceived by others, in what is me and my Black body and Patty and her Indigenous body.  We are having an experience that is almost a relationship.  There’s a separation, even to the soul.

I can see when you’re talking about the many layers that exist in this space and how it shows up.

What also was a thought that came to mind is how even in nature and in the natural interrelationships between things, there is an order to it.  I’m not sure if part of or some of my own thoughts has been “Are we here to disrupt what some of that perspective of natural order is supposed to be?” That flows into the experience and into the way that we have relationships with each other and into the perceived ideas of racialized people versus being white and the colonial system in which we live. Like so I’m yeah, like it’s, it’s, it’s a multi faceted place, if that makes any sense.

Alexis:  Absolutely.

Patty:  It made me think about my oldest is a tree nerd, I guess is probably the best way to describe him. He was talking to me earlier today about a conversation that he’d had with a city parks worker in Toronto. And they’re leaving one part of the park completely alone, let a little native plant garden, just kind of see what would happen and manage it and take care of it.

And then he goes on to say “But I think that ties into fallacies about purity.” And that just, you know …

Like Kerry, when you were talking about the natural world and kind of the way things are supposed to be. We have this idea of this pristine state of nature that we need to restore things to.  Then he says, “When really there isn’t and what there is, is there states of nature that provide maximum benefit to the most number of beings.”

He’s so he’s kind of going against these ideas of purity, as tempting as they are. You talk about that in the book too.  About these categories, they get these discrete categories, like even in terms of Black and Indigenous, there’s people who are Afro-Indigenous, and Euro-Indigenous and these discrete categories, even racially just don’t work. Yeah, they do in a certain cultural sense, but really, they don’t right?

Alexis:  So anything, like any moment where we see that move to be “This is the one right way that everything should be” … which usually is like this is natural, right?

As soon as we see that we can see that purity politics is coming up here — what’s the fear? What are you trying to head off? What are you trying to avoid? What are you trying to manage?

I think one of the things coming back to that quality of thinking about the world is the basis for relationality has to also be a basis that isn’t founded on scarcity and on a sense of “zero sum ness”.

Alexis:  Which is to say, when we actually look at the world it’s incredibly generous? And I don’t agree with everything that Robin Wall Kimmerer (Professor of Environmental and Forest Biology at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry) says in Braiding Sweet Grass but this point where she says –

If we were actually going to try to repay to the world, what it gives us we would have an infinite debt. But it’s not that kind of relationship. What we have is an infinite joyful responsibility to be “Oh, you literally allow me to breath, my body is co-constituted with this entire world and coextensive with it.” So if we are starting from this position of feeling much of that, I think in some twisty way purity moves are a fear of being cared for by the world. And having this quality of just recognizing the magnitude of that gift. And then the sort of the magnitude of what we would need to be and do to give back to it.

Kerry:  I’m struck by those words, Alexis, because what comes up for me when we speak – when you mention that the idea of the enormity of that of our relationship and the gift that the universe and that the earth gives to us in that it allows us to breathe – what comes up for me is the responsibility which that brings.  For me, there’s a sense that we are on this evolutionary path.

There’s this idea of the structure, whatever that programming has been, to create it we are challenged by it and are learning that they talk about how we have all of that dead DNA or DNA that’s not activated quite yet. I believe that’s almost what this process is where it’s this understanding and the conflictual relationships that we hold with each other. We also hold that in relation to the space that we are allowed to live in, the beautiful of mother Gaia, of Turtle Island, of our earth. And all of that interconnectedness is finding its way into controlled chaos or out of controlled chaos.

And maybe that’s what our innate struggle sits in.  It sits in that sense of finding order because we may be stuffed into something that is not large enough to grasp the full understanding of it.

You know, I process my mind a lot. The universe is such this amazing infinite space, right? And we’re stuffed into this little body. I truly believe that we are manifest the universe trying to figure out its expansiveness. So in our space and time as we live here it’s pushed into something that’s not nearly big enough to grasp what that is.  Even though this experience is so valuable and getting the information it needs it’s this this Catch 22.

I wonder if that’s what spills out into the world and in the way that we in our humanness relate to each other?

Alexis:  Yeah.

Kerry:  Because when we take it back to children, little ones don’t have that need to divide in this way. They just are in awe of the greatness and the magnificence of everything around them. That being completely in the genius mind. I often wonder what happens between that time and our time.  (More “seasoned” is the word I like to use.) What happens to that expansiveness of the brain of our ability to just be in relation? It changes somewhere along the line?

Alexis:  Yeah, I mean, I’m… I think that’s such a rich and deep question.  One little part of, for me, it really is about being made to believe that we’re singular and cut off and cannot rely on others.  That we’re in the narrative, the story, and the practice that this is a dangerous world that we have to defend ourselves from. That that quality of – you just have to take care of yourself.

I mean, and not all kids have the experience of being able to trust their worlds and have that expansiveness. But I think like one of the beautiful things about relationality, when we practice it to whatever degree we can, is that we begin to have this sense, if we think about it, as the universe coming to know itself or humans asking what we can do to be in good relation with each other or with the world.  How we can have responsibility.

It’s partially that purity politics are always going to fail, because it’s only even conceptually achievable by an individual at the bounds of our skin. So when we get really worried about trying to get it right, like trying to never say the wrong thing or when we feel like we have to commit heroic acts of martyrdom, in order to solve the big problems and that if we make a single misstep the community we’re part of will cast us out.  All of that stuff is part of a purity narrative that’s based fundamentally on individualism and the idea that we’re separate.

So I think that there’s this sense in which we can’t contain the universe as just an individual in the bounds of our skin. But when we start looking at how people collectively dream worlds then suddenly we get much bigger and there’s much more capacity and strength and joy and that quality of connectivity. And also there can be much more of this quality of when we mess up that’s not an irreparable wound, right? Or that’s not a glass breaking. It’s something that can be mended, it can grow, it can come back. So I think that quality of not trying to do it all ourselves, is partly about receiving the generosity and then also offering.  You know?

Patty:  That’s what I found so liberating about your book. Because I grew up in an Evangelical Christian family and purity was everywhere and it wasn’t just sexual purity, it was the purity of your friendships and purity just kind of embodied everything.  Flaws, the faults, all the toxins that kind of permeated everything and made everything toxic and poisonous.

And this just really flips. That is yes. There has been damage. There have been things that have happened there’s illness and there’s breakage and there’s all kinds of stuff. But that’s all connected, interconnected among us and we can work together. We don’t have to reject that either.

Octavia Butler we listened to, well “read” audio books. The series with the Ooloi (Bloodchild and the Xenogenesis trilogy: 1984–1989), I don’t know if you’re familiar.

Alexis:  Yeah, from Xenogenesis.

Patty:  Yeah, yeah, those ones.  There’s a part in there where one character has cancer. Of course for that for humans it’s devastating but for the Ooloi it’s a remarkable gift. So often that was what I found with your book was that on the one hand, it was very challenging. He had to let go of those barriers. Because it’s safe to think of Indigenous and Black and class structures and those things are all very real. But they’re also very permeable.

Alexis:  Yeah.  And people and people are 100%. Right. So like my friend, Shonda, like one of her Twitter handles is all Black, all Jewish, right? Like, it’s not we’re not parts, we can be 100% of many, many things.

Patty:  Yeah, the whole blood quantum thing is … People will say “Oh, I’m part Indian.” And even as a kid that people would say “Oh, what part Indian are you?” 


Patty:  And my brain is “What does that even mean?” It’s not like I go to Walmart and I get less profiled there.

If you’re half Black, you get shot less. Yeah, shot 50%percent less, because you’re only half white.  It doesn’t work that way.

Alexis:  It doesn’t work that way.

Patty:  These don’t work that way and yet we talk about them as if they do. So anyway I just found that so terribly liberating.

I kind of want to move on to you your current work. On your website you talked about two things about relationship.  About holding wrongdoing relatives accountable. And then Ursula K. Le Guin and I’m, well, I’ve read at least a couple of her books, but it’s been a while. So I am super intrigued by the Le Guin connection. Yeah, I love when connection.

Alexis:  Totally. Shall we start there.

Patty:  Yeah.

Alexis:  So Ursula K. Le Guin, she’s one of these people who is just wrote a lot of science fiction books and I’m a nerd, a science fiction nerd. So if you read Octavia Butler’s Patternmaster series, there’s this — I could get very deep, very quick there.

But I think one of the things that I’m finding and it’s totally connected to the Claiming Bad Kin project that I’m working on.

I’ll say one little thing about that and say how the Le Guin is helping me.

The Claiming Bad Kin stuff is basically just listening to and reading Kim TallBear and Audra Simpson and thinking a lot about the place where I live now.

I’m in Ottawa, Ontario, Algonquin territory and Mi’kma’ki is in Nova Scotia where my family lives now and there’s a ton of race shifting. So there’s a ton of white people claiming Indigenous ancestry. In my family, I’m from the US originally, there’s a ton of this narrative of how we weren’t bad white people, right? There’s the smell of these things. And so Kim and Audra both talk through this really powerful understanding. 

They say “It doesn’t matter who you claim as your people, it matters who claims you.” I really started thinking “Who claims me?  You know, who claims me?” And white supremacists claim me. They might not know me personally. But when they’re trying to advance the eugenics project for the white race and when they’re trying to create a world that benefits white people and kills Black people and kills Indigenous people and imprisons and kills undocumented migrants.  They’re claiming me as part of their project of whiteness.

That was a really intense realization for me to have. I’ve been trying to do anti racist work for my life and it made me really think about what it would mean to claim them back. Like what that …

Patty:  Wow. This is not where I thought you were going to talk about  your racist Uncle Bob.

Kerry:  No, but I love this.  This is such a brave space to go into.  I commend that, please continue. Sorry, I didn’t mean to interject, but I just needed to offer that to you I’m witnessing here.

Alexis:  Thank you.  One thread of that really was trying was looking and saying “Okay, so where are the roots of collective resistance that are not appropriating Black struggle, migrant struggle, Indigenous struggle?” I mean I take great inspiration from people like John Brown and from collective organizing like the John Brown Anti-Klan committee.  There’s legacies of people that I take inspiration from.

But I’m a nerd as a theory nerd (and a science fiction nerd) and I really started to look through the way that Ursula Quinn talks about an anarchist writer from the 19th century, Peter Kropotkin, who wrote a book called mutual aid. 

He was a biologist and he said “Look, people just got Darwin a little bit wrong.”  He was writing against social Darwinism, which was the idea that some races were better than others by nature. And Kropotkin, as a biologist, laid out a beautiful account of the ways that actually, when you look at places other than the Galapagos Islands what you find at every scale beings helping each other.  This is thorough going and he looks at animals and microbes and humans.

And Ursala Le Guin has this book called “The Dispossessed” where she imagines a society of anarchists that have been exiled to the moon. They’ve organized their society around the practice of mutual aid and she raises some really interesting questions there. She also, in that book and then in a lot of her other work, she’s looking at the question of what freedom means. And she has this series that a lot of people read “The Dispossessed”.  It’s one of the books that people have read of hers.

Patty:  I think that’s one of the ones we read.

Kerry:  Yeah, you might have actually heard of this one.

Alexis:  Yeah. So people haven’t heard of this trilogy of young adult books, gifts, powers, voices that are about slavery. They’re written at the end of her life. And in them, she has this one line, there’s an enslaved character who’s trying to reflect on what it means for him to have love for the family that has raised him as a slave. It’s a complicated moment and he realizes, he says “Love can exist anywhere. Honor can exist anywhere. Justice can only exist in a society where everyone’s relations are founded upon it.”

<general agreement>

And I just love that, right? Because, of course, you can have love anywhere and people can have honor. Right? But you can’t have justice in a society where you relations are not founded upon it. Maybe you can’t have a kind of relationality in a society where your relations are founded upon betraying relationality and the way that whiteness does. Sorry, I get really teary all the time.

Patty:  I’m really, that’s really neat. I read a ton of nonfiction. I have been embedded in history for the last probably two or three years, I’ve been mostly antebellum and Reconstruction Era. Yeah, a lot of time there. Yet, but we forget how powerful fiction and particularly speculative fiction is in terms of addressing the issues that I’m reading about.  I’ve got a big stack of books beside me and all of those books, the speculative fiction deals with all of that stuff.

Well, “what if”. What would that look like and it posits … one of the things that you say that I really liked in your book was being against purity.  Again because I’ve got so many friends who will say “Oh, I’m not against this and against that. I’m for something. I’m pro that.  Being against — that’s just negative and being a hater.”  That doesn’t sit right with me. I don’t know, maybe I’m just a really cranky person and I don’t know, positivity nonsense. I used to have motivator calendars that word motivators, I had those at work.

Alexis:  But none of us are as dumb as all of us together. Yeah.


Patty:  But you talk about you being against purity as being this kind of radical, opening the possibility, because we don’t know.  We’ve talked with Sandy Grande about what’s next? And she says “I don’t know.” And that’s okay.

Let’s just tear this stuff down. Because we don’t know what’s possible, we have no idea what’s possible. And when we kind of reject, we kind of go into our Marxist or Leninist story (All of my frames of reference are leftist.) We go into silos. We really hamstring ourselves in terms of what’s possible. 

You brought up Halifax and my youngest was involved with Solidarity Halifax for a while.  He sent me their bylaws and their bylaws address that right off the get go. We’re not all the same. We have different political ideologies and ideas and that’s okay.  “We have this common ground and we are going to work together towards these things.”  We don’t all have to all share the same beliefs, we can work together.  We can move together on these common things and, you know, turning page after page … then as you talking about Le Guin’s book!  It’s just so liberating and hopeful. Something that starts off negative where I’m against purity, it’s so hopeful.

Alexis:  Yeah. Yeah.

Kerry:  It’s absolutely innovative. I’m really just smiling.  My mind is just “if you watch it, you can see that.”  My mind is just churning with these thoughts and the whole perception of putting this forward in this way.  The idea that we can step away … because to me, when we talk about Marxist theory, when we talk about democracy, when we talk about the ideas of Black and white and all of that stuff — put us in the silos that we absolutely already know, don’t work.

Patty:  We know some people

Kerry:  Well touché!

Kerry:  Even if they work sort of, sort of because there’s always the dissonance in the background even for those who it supposedly works for (you know what I mean.) To me some of that exists very on the surface.  There is something that is deeply innate to this discussion, to the way that we are stepping into that new space of innovation of revelation by just even giving life to the thoughts.

Alexis, it’s trailblazing. I’m buying books left, right, and center as we’re talking. I’m very much … my life, my love is reading fiction. That’s where I haven’t been able to touch it very much. Either Patty.  I was feeling you there. I haven’t been able to touch it very much in the last couple of years, either. But you’re so right. When you talk about speculative fiction. It’s that space where you’re left to be able to build these ideas and worlds and universes and new tropes for who we, as a society, want to be. And I think that it’s an interesting idea how you’ve inter-related it to your own experience and the bravery that has shown in you, by the way. hen you think about that idea of being claimed I just want to bring it back here.

Patty:  Yeah, that’s I was gonna go to.

Kerry:  Right. Great minds. We’re thinking alike.

Alexis:  It’s like you’ve had a conversation before together.

Patty:  No, because I was so mind blowing. I hadn’t even thought about and I’m really here with Audra Simpson and Kim Tall Bear.  We love Kim.  Kim’s been on twice. We love her. But I had not… As soon as you said it, it was like “Yeah, of course, I’d not thought about that.” So how do you deal with that and how do you push that? What do you do with that?

Alexis:  Well, so.  Okay, so I’m really so this is like the thing that I’m supposed to be finishing really soon.  This little short book, so I’m really curious about sort of how it lands for you.

I think I think that there are these three ways that we can claim Bad Kin. One of them I think is like the racist uncle that no one is going to be having dinner with this month I hope because everyone is in lockdown.  This is the relationship of being a friend to someone where you’re either speaking up, because actually care in some way about that uncle, or you care about someone else at the table who’s listening?

Right. So that’s a way of being of claiming your kin that’s stepping up to the duty of friendship.  Where the duty of friendship is basically that we help each other be our best selves.  So if I am friends with someone, I want them, I expect them to tell me when I’m not being my best self, right? I expect them to know me that well and call me in to like “you’re better than that”.

So we can have those friends relations or relations where we’re like “I choose you as family.” And if you’re going to be in family with me then you need to be better than that.  I won’t agree to be in relation with you if you’re not. Christina Sharpe has written this beautiful piece that I’m really thinking with and working through called “Lose Your Kin” where she says — We have to be willing to rend the bounds, and the bonds of family. We have to be able to be cast out in order to say no.  And so that’s really — who really show up for and who are we going to be?

We’re going to say “I’m going to be here with you. And I’m going to tell you why that was a mistake or why that tweet was racist or why what you said was not okay.” And we do that in like, softer and harder ways with each other all the time. We also do it by just modeling with each other like “Here’s how I’m going to be in the world.” Right? Like we do that for kids.

So that’s one way that’s I think the most obvious way of kind of claiming kin or collecting or people is the other way that I think about it. But then the second one is like being a comrade, right? So that’s like in the Solidarity Halifax Basis of Unity. It’s like we don’t actually even have to really like each other in order to do political work together. Right?

Then we have a shared future that we’re working on. The basis of our solidarity is not that we’re the same, it’s not that we’ve had the same oppression or even we’re in the same workplace. The basis of our solidarity is we want a different world than this and we’re going to work toward it.

And so if I’m gonna, if I’m like, “You’re not doing the work that you said you do.” You know? That’s a different way of claiming each other. Right? If you still want this world with me then you have to do what you said you’d do at the meeting. You have to be a good comrade so we can be comrades without being friends. We can be like that.

Patty:  I like that.  You know, comrades without being friends, right? We can be family without being friends.

Alexis:  Yeah, we  can be family without being friends and we can be friends without being family, yeah.

Okay. so this is the part that I sort of feel I’m still working through but I think it’s right. Here in Ottawa, two years ago, I was just looking at my Facebook memories. A bunch of us went out because there was a “proud boys” demonstration on Parliament Hill here. And so of course we went out for the counter demonstration.  (I have a policy that I pretty much don’t go to Parliament Hill for demonstrations. But I make an exception when there’s white supremacists organizing to have a collective demonstration there.) So I think that direct opposition is a form of relation is a form of claiming, right?  I go there to confront white supremacists because I’m white and they claim me and the way that I claim them back is by opposing them. Does that seem right?

Kerry:  Oh yeah, I’m just I’m drinking that in.

Patty:  That’s really neat. And actually that so Timothy had a question because what you just said made me think of Darryl Leroux and his work with the right because that’s a way of questioning relationality with people who are race shifting is. He’s basically a white guy calling out other white guys.

Alexis:  Oh, and so beautifully right? Because not only is he a white guy calling out other white guys but he’s saying “Let me show you how the lines of descent that you’re tracing to say that you have Métis identity. I have the same lines of descent and I am white.”  Just the right move that he does and he just does it.

Patty:  Yeah, no, I’ve got is I’ve got his book. I just love Dr. Darryl R. J. Leroux so much he did the work that he does is so great.

So Timothy is one of the people who’s watching (the podcast) on Facebook.  It said he spent because he was picking up you had made a comment earlier about race shifting happening over there. He said he’s got a niece, he’s concerned that she might be race shifting? She does have an Indigenous grandmother but if he’s concerned about race shifting, it sounds although he should go to the Indigenous grandmother.  There’s no relationship there. There’s no kind of cultural context for her to claim this identity. So he’s just wondering if you could maybe speak a little bit more about what race shifting is. And how that might kind of play into his particular circumstance?

Kerry:  Yeah. Great question.

Alexis:  Thank you for that question. One thing I want to say over and over again is continuity of place and continuity of family I don’t think are a necessary condition for being Indigenous or being racialized.

Because of white supremacism, like I think of Colleen Cardinal’s beautiful book ( Ohpikiihaakan-ohpihmeh (Raised somewhere else), not born here. She’s a comrade and friend here in Ottawa. So like, being stolen from your place in your family is a part of Indigenous identity, it’s a part of Black identity, being forced to leave places as a part of migrant identity.

So I’m always really careful about saying people who are re-finding relations that the state or state entities have tried to steal from them aren’t authentic, right?

I’m ..  is doing really gorgeous work about this too.  About what it means for race shifting. People who are stealing Indigenous identity in particular, what that does and means for people that are re-finding and reclaiming right, they’re relations. So a core thing for me is asking “What is the relation? And what is the claiming doing?”

So going back to the material question. So if the niece is making a relationship with her grandmother and her grandmother’s places and people, that’s a really different thing than saying “I should get the scholarship” or in the cases that Daryl is looking at saying “I should be allowed to hunt and fish out of season.”

Right?  Because the other piece that I think Daryl’s book, Distorted Descent White Claims to Indigenous Identity, does so beautifully, is to really help us think through, how did it come to be that these racist organizations reconstitute themselves as Indigenous?

Patty:  That’s fascinating.They did that.

Alexis:  Yeah. So I think it’s just like, we can look at like, what’s the effect? Like, what’s the claim for?

Patty:  What’s the claim for.  I really like that. 

Tate Walker talks about, You know, where she had said “Okay, so you say that you’re part of this community? What are you doing for this community? Are you helping to build this community? Or are you situating your identity as an individual and trying to assert rights that benefit you at the expense of your community or at the expense of other communities?”

So I really, really liked the way you framed that too. Because it’s hard, right? It’s hard.  Our relationships and our identities aren’t that concrete and tangible.  Particularly for a lot of Indigenous people who may look European because of the way our families have come together.  I’ve known Black friends over the years, who’ve got kids in every shade, because of just the way genetics play out. And so the way you look doesn’t necessarily reflect your racial positioning and these political silos we create are far more permeable than power wants it to be.  They had to make laws, people actually had to go to court to prove that they were white, like white was a legal category that kind of blew my mind.

Kerry:  What this brings to mind as we talk about this is even within my own family dynamic I sit down and I think about my children who are now third generation West Indian background.  Because it is a very different experience for them in how they’ve been culturalized.  They really have much more, if we were going to take a look at it, a Canadian culture whatever that means. My kids don’t understand pop with our half Jamaican.  Especially my younger two, they’re half Jamaican and my parents come from Barbados, in Antigua.

So there’s a definite dynamic.  They don’t understand Jamaican patois in the same way that I do or love the music in the same way, because their influences are different. What it has always brought to mind, for me is the idea of that idea of it being a construct.  That it really, that there has to be a bigger space and way of being in relation because they still show up in the world. The police are going to take that double look at my son just simply because he’s got dark skin and an afro. That is still relevant but what we have perceived as being a cultural dynamic in that space is very different for them than it is even from how I relate in the idea of my culture.

So it becomes once again this multifaceted and layered understanding even against that political backdrop and those ideas that we’ve put into play.

Alexis:  Yeah.

Kerry:  Right. Sorry, go on?

Alexis:  No, no, I just … because I think we could carve out a space or figure out a way to say this is a completely authentic way to be Barbadian or Jamacian. Right, this third generation experience is, it’s different. And it carries history, right? And it maybe carries sadness, right? So what happens if you can’t talk to your grandparent the way that they want to talk to you?

That’s, that’s major. I don’t know but it might be a sadness and it’s rooted in history. It’s rooted in like “Where’s movement coming from? Why do people go? How did they stay?” But that’s also like a completely real, authentic experience. And we don’t have to be like “This is the only way you’re allowed to do this.”

I come back over and over again — one of my teachers in grad school is Angela Davis. And I was coming up in grad school at a moment where people were having pitched battles about identity politics. She said all the time and in many different ways that I still I’m trying to figure out how to do justice to and honor in my own work.  She said we absolutely need identity politics. We just need people to take their identities from their politics not their politics from their identities.

And one of the ways that I think about that is you can’t take your identity from your politics, if you’re going to have a simplistic politics, right? Like, that doesn’t mean and people get to race shift, because they have Black politics, or they have Indigenous politics.

If they have politics they’re situated in history. Right? And they’re trying to be I mean, so this is, like, for me, white people trying to take our identities from an anti racist politics is fruitful and possibility, right?

Because whiteness is built on betrayal of relationality. I’m always so interested in those impossible identities that we can still act from.  We can still base identity on the impossibility, it’s just that we want an impossible world that doesn’t exist yet. But we can really want it and we can really work on it.

Patty:  And we can do that in our relationships. That’s kind of what I keep coming back to.  We’ve got friends of our podcast, friends of ours. They’re Sean (@seanvanderklis) and Karl (@karldockstader) and they’re really good at that local thing. Like really, really good. And they’re connected locally there. The podcast is One Dish, One Mic (@OneDishOneMic, @610CKTB Sunday mornings from 10am – 12 pm)

Now they’re on the radio, I didn’t even know I’m plugging them, they’ve got a much bigger audience. But they’re great. What I love about them is that they’re really good at that local thing.

And I’m not mostly because I don’t like people all that much. Getting involved locally means having those relationships.  That means going out to things that means building those connections and building caring relationships that are going to get you through whatever comes next. Because as we’re pushing against, as more and more of us are pushing against patriarchy, pushing against purity, pushing against racism, pushing against all of these things, there’s going to be rubble.

Alexis:  Yeah.

Patty:  Somehow, we’re going to have to get through that together. We do that by forming these relationships. 

We have a drum circle. It’s not a very active drum circle right now, not a lot to get together and sing because singing just kind of sends those viruses all the way across the room. But we are able to gather in different and creative ways and to me that little circle that that’s kind of my circle in terms of relationships and building.  That’s what’s gonna get us through to the other side, right?

Claiming Bad Kin, those really are relationships.

Alexis:  Yeah, those are relationships.

Patty:  Yeah, it’s not about that you’ve given me a lot to think about.

Kerry:  And that that is 100%. So am I my brain just feels like I’ve just absorbed a sponge here, like just sucked in all of this information and real new ways of thinking. And you know, what, what I’m hearing you say, Patty, is about that grounding.  That in unpacking this whole idea of being in our relationships and in relation with each other.  It comes back down to “I see you. You see me?”

Alexis:  Mm hmm. Yeah.

Kerry:  And for all that it is for the perfections and imperfections, because what are those anyway? I just really appreciate this conversation. Alexis, we there’s so many levels to this and layers to this 100% we’ve got to have you back on again!


Kerry:  It is just wow, for me, I really, truly say thank you. I’m so grateful for you opening up this conversation for us and being willing to kind of lead us into an innovative thought of life and love and  just being in relation with each other. I truly appreciate it. We got to do this again.

Alexis:  You like being in relation?

Patty:  Kerry really does <laughter>

Alexis:  All this has been such a such a gift for me to talk with you really just really wonderful. Thank you so much.

Patty:  So do you have another book coming out? Or is there anything that people should know that you’re working on? Or is this project thinking this through right now?

Alexis:  I mean, the next the Claiming Bad Kin book is the next little book. I’m, I was, supposed to be done with it already. I’m just still working on it.

Patty:  That’s okay. Oh, yeah. Because I have a due date. And I mean, it’s long ways off. Yeah. Right.

Alexis:  Yeah. You just have to talk to them and be like, that’s not done.

Patty:  Nice.

And I don’t know, probably edit this part out. But there’s always so much I didn’t know. And then I wind up having to do all this research. And so I keep buying all these books. And Amazon is just that my house all the time now. Because there’s things I don’t know, right? And then I would be putting this stuff into a book. And by the time it gets to the publisher, I’m already like, but no, that was wrong, because my name is on it.

Alexis:  Oh, I think that I really resonate with that. And like I say this with love even though we don’t know each other really well, but that kind of “complete ism” is a purity impulse to right.

Patty:  You’re right.  Chelsea talked about that, too, in her book is that she would Indigenous Writes is there’s things that she would do differently now. And yeah, about Facebook.  My Facebook memories all the time, come up and embarrass me.

Alexis:  Totally. But if you re-frame it, and you think I am, this is my contribution to an ongoing conversation, right?  It’s an opening.  Every time we write something it’s like “Oh, there’s all these things that I didn’t get to say.” And that means that it’s an opening for what happens next. The things that you mess up. It’s such a gift when people tell you like, you really messed that up, right? Like going against the framing.

Patty:  It’s really like, Oh, you’re right.

Kerry:  Yeah. And it’s in the room. I really needed to hear that as well. Because you know, what? When we write, when we are in our moment, it is just that. And it’s okay. As we are still evolving and it’s okay to be imperfect or not in all of it in this in this moment.

Alexis:  Yeah, sure. My friend Rebecca calls it.  She says “It’s a still portrait of a moving object.”

Patty:  “A still portrait of a moving object.”  I love it.

Alexis: So yeah, that’s all anything ever is. But think about all the still portraits that have been so helpful for us, right?

Patty:  How many shelves.  Still gonna have to get some Le Guin though I’m gonna have to put some fiction in my rotation to see if some fiction works.

Alexis:  Yeah, see if some fiction works but if it doesn’t it doesn’t you know?

Kerry:  I’ve added some in because you’ve got to break it up man.

Patty:  For me, I always complain that I didn’t know Twitter was gonna be so expensive because people recommend books and then I have and for Kerry I don’t think she knew this was gonna be because she keeps ordering books while we talk. So go to patreon hit the coffee!

Patty:  Thank you so much, Alexis, I love it. We just got Scout commenting in our scope that that kind of “complete ism” is a purity impulse too so I think that resonated with somebody who’s listening on Facebook.

Thanks so much, we will do this again. Maybe we’ll have you and Kim together.

Alexis:  Oh, that would be great.  We were in grad school together.

Patty:  Oh, wow. And if you haven’t in with Angela.

Alexis:  Okay, right. Okay.

<lots of infectious laughter>

**Alexis Shotwell’s information**


Twitter:  @alexisshotwell

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Our theme is Fearless and this podcast was transcribed by Liz Barclaye

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