The Unequal Extraction of Intellectual Labor Must End for the Sake of this Movement

By Shameem Razack

“We have to talk about liberating minds as well as liberating society” 

–  Angela Davis

Our current movement for Black lives is experiencing a turning point in terms of the collective support behind the movement and the tactics to dismantle systemic oppression. Six years ago, there was not even such a mainstream discussion on defunding and disbanding police departments across the country. Furthermore, there are now conversations on redistributing this money towards social services, including mental health, education, housing, and other community-led programs. These demands are being echoed in other countries, which speaks to the global aspect of anti-blackness and the systems built across the globe. There is even a broad interest in how we collectively can work towards a society that can abolish these institutions. This is happening while we are also envisioning and implementing community-led accountability steps that are not reliant on policing our community members. 

That being said, this assumed progress does not mean the work is over. In fact, the work is needed even more now than ever with the decreased media attention. This work includes gradually increasing our political knowledge and understanding our current wave of uprisings in the United States and globally. The work of understanding the current uprisings cannot be reliant upon the intellectual and emotional labor of Black queer, disabled, and/or cis and trans women. From J. Cole’s purposeful lack of self-awareness and unwillingness to read to the current online and real-life conversations of people dismissing the connections of the very gendered, homophobic, ableist, and transphobic violence that Black people experience, my hope is that people seek knowledge not only for themselves but for the sake of marginalized Black folks.

For the sake of this movement and momentum, all of us must be doing the work to educate ourselves in various ways. In 2020 there cannot be the excuse of a lack of access to information if you have access to the internet and other means to increase your knowledge. Reading tweets or Instagram stories will not replace the knowledge from books, study groups, videos, podcasts, poetry, and articles. Unfortunately, many people believe that it is enough for them. Further, the intellectual labor that Black women, queer, and other marginalized folks have to do to educate people on their own experiences or even the connections of various struggles is a constant issue within our movements that needs to end. 

“No one is going to give you the education you need to overthrow them. Nobody is going to teach you your true history, teach you your true heroes, if they know that that knowledge will help set you free.”

― Assata Shakur

  Let’s take J. Cole for example. J. Cole discusses how he went to college, but that it doesn’t mean he is smart compared to Noname. In the same song, he also proclaims she is more intelligent than him, and that is misleading. The gag is many of us did not learn about these theories or expand our knowledge within academia. The knowledge I attained for myself personally came from learning and listening from communities and my own experiences as a Black Muslim woman. Yet even within organizing spaces, Black women are dismissed even with the credentials of experience and/or degree. Again even with the labor, we must continue to educate ourselves. While still being disrespected, Black cis and trans women are seen as vessels in which anyone, including J. Cole, believes they can access and extract labor. This extraction of labor reflects a capitalist society, which also puts value towards Black folks who offer them knowledge.

Furthermore, are we assuming that college classes are consistently teaching on anti-capitalism and Black feminism? What courses teach explicitly about Black anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist feminist scholarship, and scholars across the board in universities? Even for myself, as someone who majored in Gender and Women’s studies, a space that would be deemed as radically left as possible within the institution, has its own limitations on political education. So to assume that Black queer, cis and trans women somehow are capable of having discussions of capitalism, white supremacy, and other systemic issues because we have college degrees or grew up in ‘conscious’ households is entirely false and misleading. In fact, I would say many of our experiences of exclusion and dismissal, whether in theory or praxis, pushed us to go seek that knowledge.

More importantly, regardless if Noname has a college degree or not, she has shown she will do the work. If we recall, Noname was even critiqued for her previous statements on capitalism, which prompted her to do the readings and create her own book club. Seeking knowledge also takes a form of humility to recognize there are things we may not fully know or understand. We are currently seeing the ways Noname has publicly been critiqued for her comparison of Beyonce and Angela Davis. We need to be comfortable with learning and unlearning while also removing our egos to do the work. We never stop learning as people because there is always something to learn. The political education and dismantling of these institutions that are dependent on white supremacy do not end after the protest we attended. That organizing work goes beyond that and demands for collective efforts to expand our knowledge. If we are not actively seeking information while waiting for other people to feed us, I fear that this momentum may burn out quickly. Hopefully, that is not the case, and we all are collectively doing our part. By seeking that knowledge, we can then imagine and work towards a world where Black lives will be able to survive. Period. I can’t speak for everyone, but I’m eager to live in a world that does not rely on policing and caging Black folks. 

Here are some links to articles/ books/podcast I am currently reading and listening: 

Article: The Black Women Who Paved the Way for this Movement

Book: Hood Feminism by Mikki Kendall

Podcast: Intercept with Ruth Wilson Gilmore Makes the Case for Abolition (Part 1; Part 2)


Shameem Razack is a Contributing Writer for the Pedestal Project, LLC. Shameem recently earned a Bachelor’s degree in Gender and Women’s studies at the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana. Outside of being a student, Shameem is involved in various organizations that focus on social justice. You can also find Shameem on youtube, Sincerely Shameem, where she discusses all things pop culture, makeup and book reviews. Be sure to connect with Shameem on Instagram (@SincerelyShameem) and Twitter (@box_hijabi)!

Header Image Credit: Brea.Soul

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