Unsung Hero: Dr. Tiffany Lethabo King

Dr. Tiffany Lethabo King is an Assistant Professor of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies at Georgia State University. Her research focuses on Black gender formation and sexuality in the African diaspora, critical geographies, and the intersections of slavery and settler colonialism in the U.S. and Canada.

Dr. Tiffany Lethabo King’s research is largely centered around Black Studies, Indigenous Studies, Diaspora Studies, gender and sexuality. Her most recent book The Black Shoals provides a groundbreaking account of the relations between Blackness and Nativeness snd how they can be seen in tandem and in contrast, while occupying spaces of dereliction. In an interview she noted: “I was trying to theorize a relationship between slavery and white-settler colonialism that went beyond articulating that they were intersecting systems that met up every now and then. I wanted to show how slavery and white-settler colonialism fundamentally gave one another their structure, form, shape, and even momentum.” Later in the same interview, when asked about her work with the Black female body, she ties in works of many authors and adds “gender as a discourse when applied to Black bodies is about making these bodies ever malleable. It is not about imposing coherent humanizing gender upon Black bodies.” Her work is largely influenced by Afropessimists and Native feminists, and it adds a profound analysis to several genres of profound literature. She thinks “decolonization is not just about the ascetic project giving things up but fundamentally about creating new and pleasurable ways of living.”

When asked: “What would you like to tell racialized students working through questions of white-settler colonialism, connections, and complicity to remember as we continue to do this work?” King responded:

I think that we should always be struggling for analytic precision. It’s easy to rely on the terms and language that have currency and legitimacy in academia. For instance, it was important for me and other Black folks in Canada and the U.S. to push back against the discourse of “settler.” This resistance to the term is motivated by a number of different things. First, on a very gut and visceral level it is a resistance to a very sloppy conflation that discursively makes white settlers’ and Black people’s relationship to Native people an equivalent one. White settlers and Black people are not ontological/structural equivalents in this hemisphere. Secondly, my own need to find new and more precise vocabulary is motivated by a sincere desire to think about how Black life and political projects may bump up against and conflict with Native people’s work to end genocide and white-settler colonialism. As a Black person committed to Black liberation, I am also deeply invested in Native life and liberation. These dual commitments in my work can also be tracked in Black intellectual and political thought in this hemisphere. My commitment to both of these projects demands that I be very specific about how Black and Native life is entangled in this hemisphere. Being analytically precise honours both of these struggles and forces us to “do” our politics better. Black people can’t use political and analytical models developed by white settlers. I think that non-Black racialized students also need to attend to the historical specificity of the ways that their own relationship with Native peoples, the land, and white settlers has been and continues to be structured. “Settler” may not always be the best term to do this complicated and important intellectual and political work. I would encourage racialized students to begin to develop new language to describe and analyze their relationship to Native people, Black people, white settlers, and the land. Settler-colonial studies as a disciplinary formation has historically been preoccupied with theorizing whiteness and its relationship to Native people. This is an important project but I am not convinced that it is capricious and flexible enough to be extended to racialized people. We can always use new language. This is something that I am continually working out in my own process of writing my book manuscript. I need to struggle for even more precision and stretch my tongue to speak in new and relevant ways.

– Dr. King when asked what racialized students working through questions of white-settler colonialism, connections, and complicity should remember as they continue to do this work

Suggested readings: https://drive.google.com/open?id=1NLTLjutEv9mvbloMwOCnEg_pJtWLRBS3

The Black Shoals: Offshore Formations of Black and Native Studies (book) Interview With Dr. Tiffany Lethabo King (Dr. Tiffany Lethabo King in conversation with Feral Feminisms’ Guest Editors)

Interview With Dr. Tiffany Lethabo King (Dr. Tiffany Lethabo King in conversation with Feral Feminisms’ Guest Editors)

“Labor’s Aphasia: Toward Antiblackness as Constitutive to Settler Colonialism” (article)

“In The Clearing: Black Female Bodies, Space And Settler Colonial Landscapes” (doctoral dissertation)

Jayanne Forrest