S2 – Episode 6 – Friends For Life
Imara, whose work has won Emmy and Peabody Awards, is the creator of TransLash Media, a cross-platform journalism, personal storytelling and narrative project, which produces content to shift the current culture of hostility towards transgender people in the US. As part of her work at TransLash, Imara hosts the WEBBY-nominated, TransLash Podcast with Imara Jones as well as the investigative, limited series, The Anti-Trans Hate Machine: A Plot Against Equality. In 2020 Imara was featured on the cover of Time Magazine as part of its New American Revolution special edition. In 2019 she chaired the first-ever UN High Level Meeting on Gender Diversity with over 600 participants. Imara’s work as a host, on-air news analyst, and writer focuses on the full-range of social justice and equity issues. Imara was also the first Journalist-in-Residence at WNYC’s The Greene Space where she hosted the monthly program Lives At Stake. Imara has been featured regularly in The Guardian, The Nation, MSNBC, CNBC, NPR, Mic, and Colorlines. Imara has held economic policy posts in the Clinton White House and communications positions at Viacom. Imara holds degrees from the London School of Economics and Columbia. Imara is a 2021 Nathan Cummings Foundation Fellow and a 2019 Soros Equality Fellow. She was appointed by Mayor Bill de Blasio to serve on the New York City Commission on Gender Equity. She also serves on the boards of the Transgender Law Center, Anti-violence Project, GLSEN, the LGBTQ+ Museum, and the New Pride Agenda. Imara is also part of the Move to End Violence. She goes by the pronouns she/her. Click here for press images.
LISA ANDERSON: This episode of Friends for Life is dedicated to the memory of Mama Nasrah Smith. Mama Nasrah Smith was a midwife and an elder in her community in the Atlanta, Georgia area. She was a member of the fourth cohort of the Soujourner Truth Leadership Circle, our reproductive justice cohort which is ongoing. She had delivered — oh, God — babies upon babies upon babies. Her career spanned 50 years. She left us unexpectedly and has left a hole in our community, and in the world that will not be filled, cannot be easily filled, but we will honor her as our ancestor and feel her presence on this side even as she has gone on to be on the other side. We love you, Mama Nasrah. We feel you. And [00:01:00] hear this episode, this final episode of Friends for Life, on showing up from the spirit world where you are because you showed up for us. Welcome to the Friends for Life podcast. My name is Lisa Anderson.
MACKY ALSTON: And I’m Macky Alston.
LA: And we are beloved friends and co-conspirators interviewing other friends and co-conspirators.
MA: Thanks for being with us as we explore the ways in which friendship helps us create a world of love and justice.
LA: So, welcome, (inaudible).
IMARA JONES: Thank you.
LA: Welcome to episode six which is the final episode of the season of Friends for Life. Today I am so happy, we are so happy, to welcome Imara Jones to be with us.
LA: And, Imara, I’m going to brag about you via your bio just a little bit before we launch in, [00:02:00] and let people know, for those who don’t, that Imara is Emmy and Peabody award winning which impresses the hell out of me, I have to say. She is the creator of Translash Media which a cross-platform journalism, personal story-telling and narrative project that produces content to shift the current culture of hostility towards transgender people in the U.S. As part of her work at Translash, Imara hosts the Webby-nominated Translash podcast, as well as the investigative limited series The Anti-Trans Hate Machine, a plot against equality. In 2020, Imara was featured on the cover of Time Magazine as part of the New America Revolution Special Edition, and in 1919 she chaired the very first ever U.N. High Level [00:03:00] Meeting on Gender Diversity. Some of you, I’m sure, have seen Imara on the airwaves. She’s been on MSNBC, the Nation, CNBC, NPR, Colorlines, and more. She was the first journalist in residence at the WNYC’s The Greene Space where she hosted the monthly program Lives at Stake. There is many, many, many, many numerous things I could say about Imara. What an extensive biography, so accomplished. We had the opportunity at Auburn of honoring her at our Lives of Commitment breakfast a couple of years ago, and I have the pleasure of calling her a friend and a beloved. So, welcome, welcome, welcome to Friends for Life, Imara.
IJ: Thank you. Thank you so much. And I may have misheard, but you may have said 1919 [00:04:00] (laughs) when —
LA: (laughs) Did I say 19– oh, 2019.
MA: I’m not that old.
IJ: Now listen. I mean, people have told me that I have an old soul, but I didn’t know that it’s stretched beyond this current century well into the last.
LA: Well into the last (laughs). Okay.
LA: (laughs) I like it.
IJ: She’s been with us since World War I.
LA: I love it. Oh, I’m sorry if I misspoke, but have you had —
IJ: It doesn’t bother me. It’s funny, it doesn’t bother me. I would leave it in. I think it’s totally fine.
LA: I think it’s pretty funny considering that I’ve had some youngins say, “You all were born in the 1900s?” now when they talk (laughs).
IJ: (laughs) Yes.
LA: Yes. The 19th century. Things like that, yeah. Okay, so —
IJ: I’ll be like, “Yeah, 1919.” That would make 103, wow.
LA: You carry it [00:05:00] well.
IJ: Thank you. Thank you so much (laughs). 104. Something like that.
LA: So, our format is simple. We start with a question, that Macky’s going to lead on, that gets into our body and senses. And then we’re going to dive into the question about friendship as showing up, and what showing up means in this moment. So, take it away, Mack.
MA: Well, you know, your podcast, which is so beautiful, there’s the intention right up top to bring joy in for all kinds of soul and political reasons, I’m sure, but we’ve been doing that, too. And this is a strange soundwave as it travels from person to person to person, but everybody who’s listening, we have bodies, and our pleasure matters, and so to start in that place of embodiment, [00:06:00] and to honor the pleasure and joy of each and everybody, we start by asking: what’s delighting your senses these days, Imara? What’s delighting —
IJ: Chocolate. Chocolate is wonderful. Oh, so wonderful. And don’t even get me started about the wonderful chocolate tours you can take in Paris. It is exquisite, they are exquisite. Chocolate, chocolate, chocolate, chocolate delights my senses.
LA: I want to know a little bit about these chocolate tours in Paris. Have you been there recently? Is that why you know?
IJ: I was there in December, yes. That’s how I know. So, everything about Paris is [00:07:00] about richness. And I don’t mean richness in money, it’s about richness of everything that hits the senses. So, the buildings are meant to hit the senses, the gardens are meant to hit the senses, of course the food is. And they take the respect for your senses, for your body, extremely seriously, extremely rigorously, one might say. And that applies to chocolate where every year there are awards for the best chocolatier in France, and you have to meet very strict standards. But, as a part of that, there are chocolate innovators, [00:08:00] and young people, and people who are doing different things with it alongside of that, and they’re all recognized. And they all have their own shops, they all have their own individual chocolate shops. And, so, you can go taste the chocolate of families that have been in business literally from the last century, and all the way up to 30-year-old upstarts who have been deemed to be worthy and up-and-coming. And you can taste chocolate from the around the world. French people in the shops will have chocolate from the Pacific, from Africa, from Haiti, from so many places around the world, places I didn’t even know produced chocolate, and presented in ways that are extremely beautiful. Presented [00:09:00] in ways that have innovative flavors and flavor rings such as chocolate infused with tea. So, everything then about the experience isn’t only about chocolate like going down and getting a Hershey’s, it’s about the place where it came from, the hands that went into picking it, how it is processed. There’s one place, for example, in France that will only take milk from a very specific farm in the north of the country because they found that the combination of the sea air ,and the grass that the cows eat, and the temperature, and the climate produces milk and, therefore, cream that produces chocolate at a really, really high level. And all of this may sound like it would be extremely expensive, but you can get a wonderful box of chocolates [00:10:00] — let’s say eight or nine in this exquisitely crafted way that I’m discussing for like $16.00. And, so, it’s a way that we can experience richness, as I mentioned, in all of its ways. And one of the ways that I do that is through chocolate. So, yeah, you can go on these chocolate tours, and they’re very easy to find, and they’ll take you from shop to shop, and you’ll walk around, and your job literally is to just taste chocolate, and to have the history of that chocolate you’re eating as well the people and the families and the businesses told to you. And it’s exquisite.
LA: Oh my God. My mind went in so many extraordinary places when you were describing it. One, I loved when you started out and you talked about luxury and richness and you said, “It’s not about [00:11:00] money, but it’s about care.” It’s about this sensuous intentionality, the fact that you don’t have to be rich to enjoy it, that for this loot for a relatively small amount of money, there is — you can have access.
IJ: That’s right.
LA: And, so, there’s so many values that are latent inside of that that actually, like for me, are a challenge to a — you know, this kind of consumptive idea that to have beauty and to have what is rich and luxurious that it’s like only for purchase.
IJ: Yeah. You know, I was actually having this conversation with a friend of mine last night. [00:12:00] And she was talking about how for increasing numbers of people, sadly — and in this context we were talking about black people, because people (inaudible) across the world. That the idea of liberation and freedom is somehow embedded in wealth. That wealth equates freedom. And one of the things that I said to her — and this is not to — I mean, I’m not poo-pooing money. I’m not one of these people who say money is bad and to have — and to be comfortable in all the (inaudible) is a bad thing. Coming from that, I don’t think that you’re better if you suffer, or you are an aesthetic, or any of those. I don’t believe any of that because I believe that a part of our experience here is a desire, and a challenge, and the ability for all of us to live well. It’s just we can’t all live well if certain people hoard. That’s impossible (laughs). And, so, without hoarding we would actually all live well because [00:13:00] there’s actually enough for us to all have lives of richness. But I said in response to this idea of — in this context, of Black liberation being tied to Black wealth, I said, “If you honestly think that Black people mimicking the creation of wealth of white people leads to liberation then you haven’t learned anything from the experience of your ancestors from the time they were captured in Africa, from the time they arrived in America.” That’s not it. So, I think the idea of wealth being larger than the amount of money that you have, a bigger concept is essential.
IJ: I’m sorry. That was a whole tangent [00:14:00] (laughs).
LA: No, it wasn’t. No, it wasn’t. It was completely in line, completely in line. Not a tangent. And it makes me think of your work, how it demonstrates a commitment to that kind of richness that you were talking about, and how you show up and show out to the whole world about what it means to embrace and understand trans lives, Black trans lives, but all trans lives as kind of continuous with this story of us. And that we can’t know freedom, we can’t know liberation if we do not know the story of our trans-ness amongst and in and through us. So, I mean, I’d love for you to reflect a little bit inside of the theme of what it means for us to show up. Sometimes in our Black spaces we say, [00:15:00] “And show out for each other.” What is showing up mean for you? When you start TransLash, for example, every time — the podcast with, “We begin everything with trans joy”. I thought about last week when you were recording inside of — you know, right after the shooting and all of the — and I heard the sigh and then the, “And we’re still beginning with trans joy.” That was powerful. The acknowledgement through the sigh, and, yet, the insistence. So, inside of that, like what does it mean to show up and show out to you in this moment? And center in trans folk however you wish them and us to be centered.
IJ: I’ll answer it in two ways. [00:16:00] On the podcast, if I’m asking you to listen to me, if I’m inviting you to listen to me, and you have chosen to devote X amount of precious time that you have, you have a limited amount of time, both in your day and on this planet, and if I’m asking you to share some of that time with me, I have a duty and an obligation to show up as my full self. It is disrespectful of you, it is disrespectful of myself to phone it in. It is disrespectful of you, it is disrespectful of myself to be absent. And, so, I am required to do that. I think individually [00:17:00] and interpersonally, if I am not going to show up, there’s no reason for us to be in the same room. If we are going to be distracted, if we are going to be absent-minded, if we are going to try to pretend to be somebody else than who we are, if we’re going to try to check out, then I might as well have stayed home. Why am I going to spend time with you? You understand what I mean? Or spend time with you? Why am I going to do that? Why would you do that? You know, if we are not going to try to make our time together meaningful, then there is no reason for us to be together. There’s no reason for us to create space, there’s no reason for us to take a trip, [00:18:00] there’s no reason for me to text you; there’s no reason for that if it’s not going to be meaningful in some way, if it is not going to be enriching in some way. And I don’t mean that always enrichment as in terms of enlightenment, but I mean enrichment in terms of like if I’m going to take time out, for example, and send you a really funny meme, what hopefully that 30 seconds or 10 seconds that you’re going to engage in that, that you are going to laugh, you’re going to be provoked, you’re going to be enlivened, you’re going to be lightened up in a day that’s going to be heavy — that like even these minor exchanges should be meaningful to us. And it is about trying to live present [00:19:00] lives. And that is at the core of what any friendship is or should be about which is about the creation, the contextualization of meaning because that is part of what our experience here is about, finding meaning in ourselves. What am I about? What am I doing? Why am I doing it? What’s the impact? What are you doing? What are you about? How can I be a part of that? The creation of meaning. I think that that has to be at the core, and I think that that’s why I believe in showing up because there’s no other reason for me to be doing anything. I might as well be home (laughs). [00:20:00] I literally might as well be at home and be quiet because I’m not wasting energy, I’m not pretending, I’m not phoning it in. Why? You’re wasting time, you’re wasting energy and that’s precious. It’s not about creating meaning. So, I think that’s why it’s important to me, and I think the elevation of the lack of meaning in our exchanges that we have with each other, the way in which we are increasingly allowed to just phone it in in every way — I mean like the fact that people take trips with each other and fall out on the trip, but it’s okay because they’ll just spend the whole time Instagramming and it looked fabulous. And then they come back, and they’re still angry at each other, and have [00:21:00] fallen out, and the friendship ends. What was that? What was that all about? Why did you do that? That’s a waste. So, I think that we’re increasingly allowed to phone it in, and people get rich off of phoning it in. But I think that that is very much contrary to where we are because it is a contribution to the mindlessness, to the thoughtlessness. And, so, that all is one of the reasons why I think we find ourselves at the same time right now being so lost because of the absentmindedness around meaning. That’s why I think we ought to show up for [00:22:00] each other because showing up for each other is the only thing that makes it all worth it.
LA: Oh my gosh. I have so many places I want to jump in and I’m like wanting to also defer to you, Mackey, so I don’t just hog the whole conversation. You made me think, though, Imara, when you were speaking about what it means to show up is like getting beyond the distractions that allow us to not show up, and actually being in practice around not being distracted. Being in practice around the performance of showing up which you see a lot in [00:23:00] social media, in Instagram, and even in — I mean, you could talk about books where folks are — you can feel the showing up around — you know, I’ve read things where it’s like okay, so, now that book has slid into the moment, you know, the zeitgeist. And it’s just another thing that we throw on the pile of stuff that we accumulate that is distracting, but it may not actually point to what it means for us to practice showing up. There’s a justice ethic in that that has a personal and a communal aspect to it.
IJ: Absolutely. Absolutely. I mean, so much of it is about distraction, right? The [00:24:00] latest challenge, the latest — I mean, like, you know, social media challenge — the latest thing that you’re supposed to do or place to supposed to be. And I get it, I mean, things are rough right now in a psycho-emotional way collectively. We’re not in a great place right now, and I’m clearly saying that as an understatement. And I get the need for diversion, but there’s a problem when diversion becomes a way of life. There’s a problem when anesthetizing becomes a way of life. And I wonder whether or not that’s where we are, we’ve ended up [00:25:00] instead of really thinking about the richness of us as people, how we support each other, how we bring out the best in each other, how we can get better individually and together, how we can build a society that works for everybody, how we can honor the truth and the beauty in everybody. Constantly diverting ourselves, constantly anesthetizing ourselves, constantly distracting ourselves is a fundamental barrier to doing all of that. And I think that that’s why showing up is important to me. I get invited to stuff all the time, and, honestly, if I don’t feel like I can do what I’m saying, I don’t go. [00:26:00] I’ll literally be like, “No, I’m not going.” And people will be like, “Well, if this thing happened and you weren’t there, and that thing happened and you weren’t there” — and that was because like I would’ve been phoning it in. I would’ve been going to just to go. What is that? Yeah, and I think that it takes us away from ourselves and our own voices. So many people are in pain right now, and, so, listening to yourself is really hard, listening to other people is really hard. We are at a time where a million people have died and our response is to go on as if nothing happened. [00:27:00] It is the takeover of diversions.
MA: Both of you are committing your lives to showing up for folk with the hope — you know, on Translash, it’s about saving lives, but I can feel in the commitment, it’s about the flourishing of lives even when you’re talking about richness, and chocolate, and abundance, and the fact that there is enough for all to have what they need to be fully alive. I just want to honor both of you for the ways in which that’s your commitment, showing up for folks so that they can be fully alive. And I think about Mama Nasrah today, and I think about the moment where she’s bringing folks into life, and the hope we have in those moments [00:28:00] that people might be able and free to show up fully as whoever, whoever, whoever it is they have it in themselves to be. I have a question. Showing up is both the road to liberation, but it’s also hard. Sometimes it comes it comes at a real cost. And, so, I wonder, Imara, is there a story that you can share about showing up in friendship, in life, that comes to your mind? Specific story about the importance of showing up, but also — you know, to some degree as you’re speaking, I could hear [00:29:00] you thinking, “Well, she’s always had this down, and she’s a superhero in showing up. And I’m not like her.” And I wonder how a story might help folks see what your experience has been like.
IJ: I think that we can start with where we started today. I think we can start with the time before we went on air when I came into the room and learned that Lisa had lost someone very dear to her from a cohort. Now, all day my mind’s been spinning because there’s so much going on and we’re in a time of upheaval. So, there’s always something, and there’s always a cross-current. And, so, I was kind of in my own head about my own thing, and there was just — you know, I was getting annoyed at other stuff. And I was like, “I just want [00:30:00] to go lay down. I just want to go lay down.” And then I was like, “Oh, God. It’s four o’clock. It’s time to not — can’t go lay down.” So, I came in, and the last words I heard Lisa say — and I just heard she died. And I was like, “Woah.” And there was something about that that stopped me out of my own whatever was going in my own head and I was like, “Oh. This is a serious moment. Let me be open and let me be present to what is going on so that I can actually be here so that I can actually be here in this moment with Lisa and then there by you in this moment of grief because this is real.” Whatever else was going on in my head, that was stuff going on in my head. This is real. Like I’m in a real time right now. And, so, it brought me forward because I was like, “Oh, wait. This is a real thing, this a real place, this is a real emotion that’s happening.” It’s not a story that I’m telling myself [00:31:00] about. Something that got on my nerves, and how I just wish the day was going to be over, all the stuff that runs through your head that was running through my head, to be quite honest, earlier today. And I came in, I came into the room, and I showed up. And I think that getting outside of yourself is the essential part for showing up and being there for other people. Realizing fundamentally that we are connected to and in response to those around us. And that if you believe in God and all of His manifestations in so many different ways, as the Quran says, “God has 99 names.” So, in whatever way in which you view that — you know, I got some news for you, but God loves everybody else as much they love [00:32:00] you. So, you’re special and then you’re kind of not special (laughter). And, so, consequently that idea that we are connected to, and responsible to, and tied to other people, that our well-being and our sense of self is guided to other people. I think that’s something that operates for me. And, so, in that moment when I saw Lisa in this moment of grief, I was like, “Oh no, that is more important than whatever else I’ve got going on.” And I can leave that other stuff behind because in that moment we are fundamentally connected. And if you don’t believe in God, if you are an atheist or an agnostic, fundamentally you know that life created you just as much as it did everything else on this planet. It’s just a fact. So, if that’s the case, then we are the most important thing [00:33:00] in our lives and we’re not the most important thing in our lives at the same time.
LA: Who taught you that, Imara? Where did those lessons come from?
IJ: Oh, my God. My mom — well, I think of them is my mom. My mom can be so like gloriously and beautifully shady. So, I remember it was like the middle of the financial crisis and like the world — 2008, the world was melting down. And I was in my mother’s living room, and something that I was working on totally got wiped away during that moment because the world melted down, and all of the money evaporated, and so I was just stuck. And I was sitting there, and I was talking, and I was like, “I can’t believe this happened. This is terrible. The whole world is falling apart. And this is really bad for me. Why did this happen to me?” And she was reading the paper at the time, and she just looked over [00:34:00] it, and she goes, “Why not you? Like what makes you think you’re immune to suffering? What makes you think you’re more immune to things than anybody else? What makes you think that you should be exempted from the trials, the tribulations, the challenges that other people face? I got bad news for you. You’re human, and that means that all of these things you get to experience, too.” And I think that that fundamental understanding of our humanity, I think, very much comes from my mother. I think that that’s really part of it. And I also think that because of my grandparents, but especially my grandfather was very much intent upon sharing the ways he suffered as a human being, like the bad things that happened to him. [00:35:00] And not only was about the whitewashing of history, making it all look good and it was all great, but like, “No. I lost people that I cared about. I experienced disappointment. I was targeted because of who I was. I faced violence.” Those types of stories, I think, were really important in just understanding that, my God, we’re all here together and we’re just literally trying to do the best we can and do it the best way that we can. And that kind of the only way that that happens is with each other. There’s no way that it’s just you. And you can create that story if you want, that’s fine, anyone can — you know, I can make a story that makes it sound like it’s all me and everything that I’ve just done, but there’s a lot of people that are supporting us, showing up for us, [00:36:00] pushing us, driving us, advocating for us, pulling us through, literally pulling us through in ways known and unknown, and seen and unseen. And understanding that all of that is happening, it just makes me conscious of the fact that, again, we’re the most important thing in our lives and we’re not the most important thing in our lives because it cannot be, it never has been, and it never will be just you because you didn’t get here on your own. You couldn’t even arrive on the planet by yourself. So, there’s no way you’re going to make it here by yourself. And if that’s your story, then that’s just a story you kind of made up.
LA: You make me happy, Imara. You always me happy [00:37:00] because you have this way that feels — you exude a couple of things. First of all, you exude the “she was raised right” (laughter) energy. And that goes to your whole thing about — it didn’t just come out of nowhere, this knowledge. It just didn’t just come — and, so, that always makes me happy because kindness makes me happy, meanness makes me very unhappy. And, so, you exude that energy that’s kind at the core, rigorous and kind. And, so, just listening to you holding forth [00:38:00] with this, it feels like what the folks know. You know what I mean? What the ancestors know, what the ones in the rocking chairs know, the stuff that brings us — that links us from the past, and puts us in the present, and helps us to imagine the future.
IJ: Thank you for that. I really appreciate that. My friend’s mother just turned 80, and she’s 80 or 81, and you’ll laugh at this, Lisa — she is the head of the usher board, but she’s the usher that tells the pastor what to do.
LA: Oh, yes (laughs).
IJ: Do you know what I mean?
LA: Yes. Exactly, I do.
IJ: She sends him the signal when it’s time to wrap it up. You know what I mean? (laughter) And it’s so funny, she’s not a church mother, she’s an usher. So, she still is in authority, [00:39:00] hasn’t let that go. So, she’s kind of funny. And she said to me really recently, we were on a Zoom because it was her birthday, and she’s in her eighties, and she lives in South Carolina. And she just said to me, she goes, “You know, I follow you on the Facebook, and one of the things I want to tell you is that you have mother wisdom.” And that really shook me because I was like, “Woah.” When someone who is an elder, and an elder who is in authority, and who has seen a lot says that about you, I was really kind of blown away by it. So, I think it’s just bringing up for me what she said which is why I’m sharing that.
LA: Yeah. Well, she’s right. She’s right. I mean, I feel that energy from you. I felt that when you were cooking in your kitchen over the pandemic for folks when we were all home at Christmastime. And you just opened up your [00:40:00] kitchen, and put the camera on, and you were making the dishes that you would have made if we could have all been together in your house, and sharing the recipes, and feeling with the folks that yeah, it’s really hard, and let’s cook some food together. This is what my mom would have cooked, this is what we would have cooked, this is the pie I would’ve bought; and I’m going to make that pie and I’m going to eat that pie. And I’m going to set this table and if you have nobody else to set the table with, here I am and you can set the table with me.
IJ: Because food done well and correctly is a rite, R-I-T-E. The act of [00:41:00] that is that. And, yeah, it’s important for us to recognize that, I think, and to literally honor our food.
LA: Well, you talk about rite and I think of what are the rituals of showing up?
IJ: Yes. Yes.
LA: I’m thinking about so many things. This political moment when wow, we’re being asked to show up for each other when — I don’t know how else to say it, but just when evilness and wickedness, when wicked folks doing wicked things — I’m trying to be very careful and not refer to folks as wicked because I think fundamentally that’s against my theology, but folks doing wickedness are writing laws that would write us [00:42:00] — and I say us collectively because when I think of trans folk, black trans women, that’s an us to me. I’m not a trans person, I’m not claiming trans experience, but my siblings, my beloveds, you, like we’re each other’s people. I’m just thinking about when they’re coming for us, and we’re insisting on practicing these rituals of showing up. What does it look like when it’s really, really hard? I know how to be a human, but we have to remind each other how to be humans sometimes. [00:43:00] I know to turn to my people when folks are making jokes about or putting people’s lives in a box, I know how to show up for that, but I think everybody doesn’t. There are lessons that we have to teach each other about how to show up. I don’t know if this question is in any way clear or even if it’s formed as a question, but what are some of the things that — how do we teach each other? I see you doing it educationally through your journalism. I don’t know, maybe I don’t have this question formed right, but I’m just trying to figure out how do we teach each other the simple lessons? They’re simple, that doesn’t mean they’re easy, [00:44:00] but the lessons of how we show up for each other.
IJ: I think one of the answers to that is you have to one, think that it’s important to show up, and you have to want to show up, you have to have the capacity to show up. Kind of those things. But I think more than anything it’s literally feeling the importance of showing up, and I think that I’ve laid out what I think are some of the weaknesses of where we are now which is that there’s not a — the momentum is in actually not showing up. And I think we are in a tough time, and I think that the times are going to get even tougher. And I think what may very well happen, and we’ll see, I don’t know, it’s a roll of the dice — I think that we will see, as a result of [00:45:00] times getting tougher, that there will become more and more of an emphasis on the people who can, and there will become an emphasis on us showing up. I think we saw that in the first six or seven months of COVID where there was this massive connection, focus on mutual aid, on people who were helping, on forming community, on forming support, but there were a lot of people who were not benefitting from that and who were intimidated by that. And, so, over time kind of the old way of being reasserted itself, but we did have an opening of that. And I think that [00:46:00] we will be facing tougher and tougher times and that will become more of a value because I think that one of the things that we are being taught in this moment, or attempted to being taught — one of the things that we are being taught is the importance of each other. And we kind of got it at the beginning of COVID and then it quickly faded, and there’s a lot of momentum in it fading, but the challenges haven’t gone away, they’ve only stiffened since then. The challenges have become tougher since then and more frightening. We’ve had January 6th, we’ve had Buffalo, we’ve had Uvalde, we’ve had Ukraine, we’ve had a dramatic increase in suicides. There’s all this stuff — there’s a churn and a tumult. The planet is [00:47:00] not happy with us, and is showing that in ever increasing bolder and more strident ways that are becoming harder and harder for us to ignore. And I think that as these things continue to develop, that that is going to be the thing that pushes us into that showing up piece, I think. And I think that as then the way that people see that it is modeled, they will be able to replicate. For instance, the way that my community at [Sty?] created a whole new organization that was just about —
(break in audio)
IJ: And who wants to get money, and who can go to the grocery store, and who has a car, and then we’re all going to work together to move those resources. And the government had absolutely nothing to do about that. The government had absolutely nothing to do with that. That’s just people understanding that [00:48:00] other people are important.
LA: That’s right. That’s right. You make me think right there is like the crux. And I’m glad we meandered around it because I think that the opportunity is in creating space, first of all, for people to drop shame, like creating spaces where people can show up beyond the place of fear and shame. And, so, how do we make that opportunity available to folk? Like, you don’t have to show up in perfection, you don’t have to show up in “I got it all right,” you don’t have to show up in that politics of “I am the perfect progressive. I am the perfect abolitionist. I am the perfect — ” you know, whatever it is. I’m not going to get this wrong. How do we create enough space so that people can see [00:49:00] each other and be like a little bumbling, and a little not okay in their showing up, but that we create space for that? And I loved it, there was this not vain hopefulness, but like core hopefulness about what human beings, if we give each other the grace and the opportunity to, how we can show up. All of the things that you named about how hard it is, also create the space for people to say, “And I want to make sure you got food to eat. I want to make sure that there’s comfort for you, and yours, and mine because [00:50:00] that’s who we are.” And how do we create the opportunity for people to be that? I feel like that’s the work.
IJ: And, also, that we’re that not only because that’s who we are, but we do that because you matter and because I matter. I’m not going to be okay if you’re not okay. This whole idea of us, the way that we think about safety. The idea that safety is something that the police create. This idea that like safety is created by police. Just as an example, one of the things that became apparent to me during COVID is that safety is a collective enterprise. When I am on the subway, subconsciously [00:51:00] — and I’ve never thought about this. If I’m on the subway, if I am at a concert, if I am at a convening, I am reliant upon the other people in the space to be safe and they are reliant upon me. We are engaging in a collective act of security. Do you know what I mean? Like, at a concert of 50,000 people and there are 100 security guards, they’re not creating safety. The safety is created by the 50,000. And, so, we are taking responsibility for each other. And that’s the only way that we are able to safe is that we take responsibility for each other. And, so, in this conversation about “Oh, our society’s not safe”, why is it unsafe? Who are we not taking care of? Who are we not looking after? Who are we not pledging to look after [00:52:00] so that they’re looking after us? You understand what I mean? Like, the conversation is wrong. The conversations is wrong. Who’s not being looked after? How are they not being looked after? It’s a different conversation because most of the days we don’t walk around looking at authority figures to create safety. It’s the idea that they can enforce physical punishment for a violation of safety, but they’re not responsible fundamentally for the creation of safety. My neighbors keep me safe, the people on my block keep me safe, when I go to a restaurant the waiter’s responsible for helping to keep me safe. The people around me because safety is a collective enterprise, and one of the most devasting — and that’s the essence of showing up right there. That [00:53:00] is showing up. This abstraction — we know how to do it, we do it all the time. Sometimes I’ll be on the street and there will be a mom or a parent with a couple of kids, and let’s say one of the kids breaks away, and then they’re running towards me. And I’ll literally grab the kid and stop them from running. I kept that kid safe. That was my act of public safety. Do you understand what I mean? So, I think that it is really embedding that idea and us watching — and one of the most harmful things about the way in which we have legitimated the recent response to COVID, is that we have abandoned the idea that collectively we have a responsibility to keep each other safe. And, therefore, we’re not safe. Therefore, the disease continues. Therefore, the society continues to come under pressure because we’re not able to [00:54:00] return and engage in activities which will begin to make people feel whole again. We wonder why we can’t exit certain things, and we can’t exit certain things because we’ve abandoned the idea that we owe each other each other. We’ve abandoned that. And, so, for me, showing up is about when I come into your presence, I owe you you and you owe me me. That’s what we’re supposed to be doing.
MA: Here on earth.
IJ: And until we are able to fundamentally return and advance that as a value, advance that in modern society, we’re going to be in tough spaces. [00:55:00] And I think that we have to understand that. And it’s happening in ways large and small. The idea, for example, in Uvalde — the people who would’ve done the best job at keeping those kids safe are the parents and the teachers. And it is fundamentally grappling with how we show up for each other, and how we’re not showing up for each other, and the relationship between that and the health of the society that we’re living in, our own health, the health of people around us. These are some very big questions for our time that are beyond the transactional.
MA: I’m so knocked out by really being a listener today. The hope in this show [00:56:00] was that we would learn up inside friendship and, particularly, Lisa, when we thought about why we wanted to go in on friendship, it was queer friendship, as we understood it, between one another, and some of the values and experiences of lives in that regard, and our experience. When you said, “It’s the last show. It’s got to be Imara Jones. I want you to know better this friend.” And then just to feel your admiration. It’s been a beautiful thing to listen to. So, Lisa, what do you say as we close?
LA: So, thank you, Imara. We always like to end in a similar space to where we began, we asked about delight. [00:57:00] And we’ve been curating this playlist, also, as we’ve been going through this series. And, so, we ask at the end about a song that’s getting you through right now if there is one. It could be an artist, it could be a song. I’m not trying to gild the lily in any way, although I have noticed that people have said, “You know, it’s Prince’s birthday this week.” Another gemini in the constellation, me being a gemini myself. But is there a song that is getting you through?
IJ: It’s so weird. The Price song that came to me is “Baby, I’m a Star,” (laughter) which is a great song. Not among his most well-known, but is a great, great song. Yeah, and it’s very optimistic [00:58:00] – dun-dun-dun-dun-dun-dun-dun-dun-dun. So, yeah, so, that’s that. But I would say I’ve been obsessed with Janet Jackson again in the wake of the Janet Jackson documentary. It’s just delicious, and just so much fun to watch. And it’s so revelatory of her even though she didn’t mean it to be. You know, there’s just all these things. So, I love that. And I loved getting re-introduced to her music again. I mean, of course I know her music because it’s part of my everything, but like really steeping myself again in that music. And the song I love is “Control”. It’s a great song. It’s a great, great, great song about someone who’s deciding to [00:59:00] take their life back. Someone’s who’s deciding to just take their life back and how empowering and embodying that is. And centering themselves kind of not in a narcissistic way or in the detached way as we’ve been describing about, but literally in an embodied and centric way. I’ve been told what to do, and I thought I had to do what other people told me was important, but you know what? I am actually taking control of my life and I’m going to let it unfold in the way that it’s supposed to be for myself. It’s a great song.
LA: It is a great song. Oh my gosh. That was one of the growing up songs (laughter).
IJ: “I’ve got my own mind, I’m going to make my own decisions”.
LA: And she’s so sexy (laughs), I just have to say.
IJ: Oh, yeah. I mean, listen, [01:00:00] I saw Janet in Vegas in her biggest residency in 2019. It was among the last shows. And I literally couldn’t tell — besides the fact that she wears a lot more clothes now, which I think is about being more modest for child because I think she’s very conscious that my kid’s going to see this stuff. But that laid to the side, I honestly couldn’t tell — I was struggling to see the difference between the 30-year-old Janet and the 55-year-old Janet. And I couldn’t really see what the difference was. And she is hot, and she pulled a guy up on stage, and they tied him on the chair, and she straddled him, and he died (laughter). But, no, Janet is hot. Like all the way sexy.
LA: Yeah, she is.
IJ: She’s got the sly sexy. It’s not the [01:01:00] Beyonce, it lands on your head like a ton of bricks. Like the Janet sexy is that you’re standing at the bus stop and it slides up right next to you (laughter). That’s her sexy.
LA: Oh my God. I love it. That is absolutely right. That is absolutely right. Macky, do you have —
MA: Okay. My song this time — when I was in college, I had a cassette tape, I don’t know where I got it, of The Shangri-Las. Do you remember the Shangri-Las? So, they have all these old 50s and 60s (inaudible) songs that are about like falling in love with the wrong guy, or going to the party that changes their lives and suddenly they become worldly wise. And, I mean, I was just a baby, but these songs — I just felt like one of those women with the big hair and the little dresses and I would wiggle around in my dorm room. And I exhausted them, [01:02:00] like I knew all the songs, and I knew them by heart. And a song just popped up on my discover weekly Spotify, you know, this is the kind of music you like, that I had never heard which is just the gayest song I’ve ever heard named “Sophisticated Boom-Boom”. And I now am cranking it all week and you just should see me wiggle around my room. And sometimes I’m wearing something and sometimes I’m not. And it’s like a gift. It’s as if the song didn’t exist, but then suddenly it was plopped on earth because it would bring some joy.
LA: Aw. I love it. I love it.
MA: How about you?
LA: Okay. I’m often not ready for this moment, I have to tell you, Imara.
IJ: Even though it happens all the time?
LA: (laughter) Yes, it happens all the time and I’m often not ready for it, but I have a playlist of dancing around my apartment music, and I have been listening [01:03:00] to “100% Pure Love” by Crystal Waters because it’s the 90s, and that was the height of my just kind of feeling myself in the world-ness.
IJ: The height of your looseness (laughs).
LA: Yes, it was. It was the height of all the things. And I just want to share just this one line: “You’ll never have to run away. You’ll always have a friend to play. You’ll never go out on your own. In me, you will find a home. Oh-oh-oh-oh.” It’s just that, and I hadn’t listened to the lyrics in forever, but I kind of like that in view of the work of this podcast. “You’ll never have to run away. You’ll always have a friend to play. You’ll never go out on your own. In me, you will find a home.” How about it?
IJ: [01:04:00] That is all about showing up.
LA: Yep. Absolutely. So, I guess with that, we got a podcast. We got season 2.
MA: Thank you, Imara. It’s so, so nice to get to know you better.
IJ: Thank you so much for having me and for a really profound conversation today. I really appreciate it.
LA: Oh, we appreciate you. And I’ll be listening, everybody needs to listen to Translash. If it’s not in your life, you need to get it in your life right now. Oh, oh, oh, the last thing. You read at the end of your podcast one of the reviews from somebody named, [Most Def?] that was me.
IJ: (laughs) You had your review read.
LA: I had my review read. Yep.
IJ: That’s so funny. So funny that it’s also Most Def. No, thank you so much for that. See, and it is proof positive that we’re [01:05:00] reading real reviews, not ones that we made up.
LA: That’s absolutely the case. That is the absolutely the case. So, yeah.
IJ: Perfect. Thank you for that.
MA: And, Lisa, we are with you. And we will be with you in this time of grief from Mama Nasrah.
LA: And for all of the women in the reproductive cohort in the Sojourner Truth Leadership Circle. All of them, for our beloved Gina Breedlove, Adaku, [Kenyetta?], you know, I could name them all, but for all of them. We love them. We love Mama Nasrah. For her family — a beautiful human.
IJ: Well, hopefully we’ll be seeing more about her on the Auburn social media.
LA: We sure will. We sure will be.
IJ: That’d be great.
LA: Okay. Thank you, beloveds.
IJ: Thank you so much.
MA: [01:06:00] That’s a good song.
LA: It’s a good song.
IJ: It’s a great song.
LA: Thanks for being with us today. We’ll see you next month as we continue to explore the ways in which friendship helps us to create a world of love and justice.
MA: We want to send you out with the words of Winnie the Pooh.
LA: “If ever there is tomorrow when we’re not together,”
MA: “There’s something you must always remember,”
LA: “You are braver than you believe,”
MA: “Stronger than you seem,”
LA: “And smarter than you think.”
MA: “But the most important thing is even if we’re apart,”
LA: “I’ll always be with you.”
MA: “I’ll always be with you.”
LA: “We’ll always be with you (laughs).”
MA: “We’ll always be together.”
LA: “Something like that (laughter).”
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