Very often you’re at work, there are certain groups of people or certain kinds of people that tend to be centered. And what would it look like for us to go to work on a daily basis and just even in leadership roles consider, even though I’m in this position, I don’t know everything about everything? And it hurts no one and it helps and supports and benefits everyone for me to consider other ways of thinking about this. - Episode 9
EbonyJanice Moore is a womanist scholar, author, and activist doing community-organizing work, most specifically around Black women’s body ownership as a justice issue, Black women's access to ease, joy, and play, and Hip Hop as a tool for sociopolitical and spiritual/religious movement making.
She has created curriculum for leadership development for high school-aged girls in Kenya and South Africa, developed programming for teenagers in housing projects in Decatur, Georgia giving them exposure to culture, STEM programs, and the arts, and she supports the tuition of several girl students at PACE High School in Nyahururu, Kenya - towards her passion to ensure gender parity in spaces considered "the least of these."
EbonyJanice has presented papers on Hip Hop as Liberation Theology, Hip Hop As The Language Of The AfroFuture, Black Girl Hand Games As Spiritual and Religious Ritual, Beyonce & African Spirit Justice, and Hip Hop And Womanist Theology at Princeton University, Columbia University, the University of Chicago, the Institute of Buddhist Studies, the Graduate Theological Union, University of Southern California, and UC Berkeley.
Her research interests include issues pertaining to Blackness, woman-ness, and spirituality - most specifically Black women's use of spirit, conjure, and/or the supernatural as a tool to impact social justice, and the pluralism of Black Christianity and the interconnectedness of the Southern Black Christian experience with Indigenous African religions and African Spirituality. She is a Hip Hop Scholar and hosts a podcast focused on hip hop and womanism called Rap Theology. She recently performed an original creative piece about The Rebellion at Igbo Landing at The Public Theater in New York City and is currently working on an expansion of that play focused on the women that often get lost in the story.
EbonyJanice has a B.A. in Cultural Anthropology and Political Science, and a Master of Arts in Social Change with a concentration in Spiritual Leadership, Womanist Theology, and Racial Justice. She is the founder of Black Girl Mixtape, a multi-platform safe think-space, centering the intellectual authority of Black women in the form of a lecture series, a podcast, and an online learning institute lead by black women scholars.
Connect with EbonyJanice
- Kashema Hutchinson
- Meek Mill
- W.E.B. Du Bois
- Abraham Maslow
- Jade T. Perry
- Dr. Su’ad Abdul Khabeer
- Thea Monyeé
- Dream Yourself Free
- When They Call You A Terrorist - Patrisse Cullors
Liz Wiltsie: Welcome to What's Leadership? I'm Liz Wiltsie. The more I learn about leadership, the more I'm convinced there's not a one size fits all solution. So I am on my own learning journey and I invite you to join me. EbonyJanice reminds me that being open about my journey is important. Each episode features someone I admire with actionable insight to share. So please join me as I ask what's leadership?
All right today, I'm welcoming EbonyJanice, and she is a Hip-Hop Womanist, a professor, and also does a lot of work around decolonizing authority. Which is what I asked her here to talk about, because I think it's really important in the workplace. So EbonyJanice, thank you so much for being here.
EbonyJanice: Thank you for having me.
Liz Wiltsie: So talk to me about what decolonizing authority means, particularly in a work context, what it could mean.
EbonyJanice: I'm thinking about decolonizing authority, several years ago when I was in grad school. I was just asking them the question about authorization.
Just a very simple question who authorized you for that, and I was asking it inside of some personal questions for myself. Just dealing with imposter syndrome, just feeling like, am I credible? What makes me credible to be doing this work? What makes me credible to be having these conversations?
And I realized that a lot of my friends and a lot of my colleagues, particularly Black women were having a lot of the same internal questions and dialogue. Simultaneously, I was experiencing the reality that so many Black women were being excluded from conversations that were about womanhood. And even conversations specifically about Black womanhood. How there could be whole panels that people would be discussing this Black girl or Black woman experience, and there would maybe be one Black woman there. So that really started to expand my question of like, who authorized you know, what makes you credible to be having this conversation?
So from two different perspectives, am I credible? And why am I questioning my credibility? Also, who then is more credible or more authorized to have a conversation about XYZ subject, than XYZ individuals. This is where I began to understand authority as a very colonized reality. Colonized in the sense of what colonization means: it means to enter into a space and decide this belongs to me.
And now not only does it belong to me, I will create the systems, the rules, the structures, everything that makes this worthy or not. I get to have a say so in it. So then I just started to think about very basic spaces of authority being colonized, because we don't even need to go all the way to academia or to professional spaces to think about that.
I thought about the audacity of colonizing, or colonized authority around certification or licensure for doing hair. So, when it comes to braiding Black hair, in most states, it is against the law and can be fined and jailed. Fined up to like $7,500.
And some states, I've seen it up to like $30,000. But also in those same states, particularly as it pertains to New Jersey, there was a case several years ago where these African women were fined for braiding hair. I feel like I don't even need to go further than that, but these African women were fined for braiding hair.
Their attorney basically did this study of how many institutions, cosmetology schools, in the state of New Jersey actually had hair braiding in their curriculum. And it was like some like less than 4% of the schools in the state of New Jersey. So what you're saying to me is that you want me to take the thing that I created and go to a school that doesn't even have the authority or the credibility or the capacity, the very basic capacity, to certify me to do the thing I made up. And that just was, that was even, that felt like the most easy way to understand how authority is colonized. How somebody can show up in the industry or in a space that has absolutely nothing to do with them and say, you have to pay me money to tell you that you can do that.
What does that mean? From both ends of the spectrum, where I have been troubling for myself, what makes me credible? What I came to was my ancestors, my lived experience and my education, a combination of those things make me credible and authorize me. And from the other end of the spectrum where other people are intending to come in with their rules and regulations and systems.
The intention is to trouble that, to start asking, just to start asking brands or to start asking organizations, or to start asking businesses. To begin to think through how they have colonized authority, even as it pertains to various levels of, professionalism within their workplace. What does that look like to understand that the way you understand this as credible may not even necessarily be your place to say, this is credible. Or not.
Liz Wiltsie: And it feels like it gets us in terms of the research that we look at, where we're constantly going. Okay. But what book said that before, and it's like, why?
EbonyJanice: Absolutely. When I was teaching, when I was first teaching grad school. I created a syllabus of completely Black women across the diaspora to have this conversation.
And I did so, this is in theology. This is in seminary school, you know, so this is a theology, a class that's censoring theology. And most seminaries would have white men as the dominant text on anything pertaining to religion and spirituality and that's just period. And when I say most seminaries, I almost want to say like, this is an arbitrary, I'm making this statistic up, but it doesn't feel arbitrary honestly, to suggest that about 99% of seminaries would actually be like the white men are in charge of this language. That as it pertains to Christianity, which is an Eastern religion. That is as it pertains to Islam.
Which is an Eastern religion. That's as it pertains to Buddhism, which is an Eastern religion. Right. So how are white men in charge of dictating what is credible or what the experience is? And as an anthropologist, particularly from a cultural anthropological perspective, I'm also understanding how, even as people go in to other cultures or other cultural experiences and study them and research them, there is still a level of inaccessibility that you will have as someone from outside that culture. Even if you are doing participant observation, there is still something that you are not privy to because this is not your lived experience. Right. And so. Let's say you are a white man that has studied, you know, Eastern religions for the past 50 years of your life.
If this is not your practice, if you have never experienced trans possession, you can only regurgitate information based on the way that you understand it, but you still don't have a full understanding of trans possession. Therefore you are not the most credible person to be talking about trans possession.
And so what happens then when we start to bring in, credible. It becomes the politics of citation. We bring in credible sources. They may not be, even, published in a peer reviewed journal, but I asked the question or give a better example. I have a girlfriend. Her name is Kashema Hutchinson.
Kashema is a Hip Hop historian. I've just never seen anybody experienced anybody's mind as profound as hers, as it pertains to hip hop specifically and sociology. So Kashema is recently asking the question is Meek Mill a critical race theorist? The rapper, Meek Mill. Then Kashema took Meek Mill's interviews, lyrics, and this is something that she's continuing to break down, and she compared him to Du Bois.
She compared his theory to his lyrics to Maslow. She's comparing to all of these well known, well accepted well-respected, critical race theorists and sociologists. And she's saying if Meek Mill is not more credible, to be talking about critical race theory based on his proximity and his experience inside of the criminal justice system, inside of growing up in Philadelphia during, inside of, the justice system relic, like all of these spaces where he enters in, and then you add on his education and then you add on his lived experience.
And then you add on, ancestral affirmation. And so what makes Maslow more credible, to talk about this hierarchy, than Meek Mill, who's actually lived this experience? That isn't to say that these other theorists, their theory is not credible. That's to suggest that Meek Mill then must be considered equally as credible.
And so my work as a Hip Hop Womanist, it's really just doing that decolonizing authority work as well, because it's asking us, around hip hop lyrics, as it pertains to spirituality and religion, what makes this more credible than this? When they're saying the same thing, but on top of it saying the same thing, this person has lived, the thing that they're saying.
Versus this person has studied it. I need us to be able to deal with the ethics of excluding certain people from being authority, being in charge, being credible. Right.
Liz Wiltsie: So what do you think, is a sort of small step in a workplace environment that someone could take? To be thinking about that, be working on it in a kind of tangible way?
EbonyJanice: Number one, it very easy. Write this down. If you're listening. Number one, I don't know everything. That's it. I mean, it feels very easy for me. It's like, I always use the example, particularly when I'm talking about race, but I feel like this is a good example here as well. I have a girlfriend who does work around disability and chronic illness, justice.
Her name is Jade Perry and there are a lot of things that I do understand and just inherently know about disability because I live in a world with disabled and chronically ill people. So I'm not ignorant, like, I never knew this! I'm here. But also, I don't know everything there is to know about what it is like to live with disability or chronic illness. So as a result of that, even with as much education as I enter that conversation with, I still enter that conversation saying, I don't know everything about everything. So therefore it serves me. And, Liz, I know you've heard me cite Dr. Su'ad Khabeer Abdul on a regular basis where she says you don't have to be a voice for the voiceless, just pass the mic.
It's like, what does it look like for us to walk in the room and honor the voices that we are least likely to hear from?
And so I feel like in the workplace that happens, I mean, the workplace is microcosmic of our realities outside of the workplace. Very often you're at work, there are certain groups of people or certain kinds of people that tend to be centered. And what would it look like for us to go to work on a daily basis and just even in leadership roles consider, even though I'm in this position, I don't know everything about everything? And it hurts no one and it helps and supports and benefits everyone for me to consider other ways of thinking about this.
And that's just, it, I may have a very brilliant way to go about doing a thing and it still may not be the best way. And how easeful does it make it for all of us, if I'm willing to say, I don't know everything. I think that in fact, makes me a better leader. To be willing to say, there are people on my team that could do this much better than me.
That could run circles around me doing this. I have someone well, I hate calling her, my assistant. I like to call her the CEO of EbonyJanice Enterprises, because I don't know how we survive without her. But, I can do digital creation. Do my own, you know, content creation. I can make flyers. I can make, I could do it.
I really can. And, and I could do pretty good job of it. I do a lot of my own stuff anyways. If she is working on something else for me, that's just more pressing, I just don't ask her to stop doing, major stuff to be like, girl, can you make this little thing for me? Cause me and Thea goin live later we need a, girl go make it yourself.
And I wouldn't mind if she told me that. But that's to say, even though I can do a great job of it, hers would be 27 and a half times better than mine. And so even though I'm the leader, I'm doing quote fingers for people that can't see, even though I'm the leader of this work that we're doing together, there are things inside of this work that I am not the best at, and it doesn't benefit.
It doesn't benefit anybody on my team. And it doesn't benefit the people who benefit from the work that it goes out for me to be sitting up here, like, no, I'm gonna do everything. I don't even understand why we hold on to that. You know? So. I can do things that doesn't mean that I'm the best person to do it, and I can know things, but that doesn't mean that I know everything there is to know about it.
And it benefits all of us for us, at the very least, to be willing to pass the microphone, to the people who we usually don't hear. Cause the gag is, and we can bring it to race very quick. And then I'm done with this sermon. When you think about living in a cis heterosexual patriarchal white supremacist society, Black trans women / femme, are existing having an experience that we know pretty much, as a dominant culture, know nothing, close to nothing about.
Think about the revelation of ballroom culture, for so many of us in the last, maybe, you know, three, four years as a result of the show Pose. There's a whole underworld of living happening and I hate the language of underworld, but you know, for lack of better language.
Liz Wiltsie: Unknown world.
EbonyJanice: A whole unknown world, for so many people that's happening. Whole cultures and subcultures being created by people who are existing inside marginalized identities. And to show up and be like, I'm in charge. Meanwhile, there are people over here that know your language.
And have created whole other languages and experiences in order to be able to survive. It benefits us to center them. It benefits us to learn from them because they know something that we don't even know. We haven't even begun to scratch the surface of thinking about the things that people in marginalized identities have had to think about in order to survive and thrive in this reality.
So, yeah, just shut up and pass the mic.
Liz Wiltsie: Perfect. We could drop the mic there.
Liz Wiltsie: They're expensive, so we don't drop them, but, so I really want to talk about your Dreaming Yourself Free program. So talk to me about that and also why it's important for it to be free for Black women.
EbonyJanice: Yes. So basically Dream Yourself Free came from, I have been doing, really public scholarship, education work on racism, anti-racism work and, unintentionally, I mean, I'm a Black woman, so it just kind of is what you do, even if you don't call yourself that's what you're doing.
On a daily basis. And I was reading, I know I've told this story before, but I don't mind telling it again and again, cause I think it's important. I was reading Patrisse Khan-Cullors book, When They Call You a Terrorist, Patrisse Khan-Cullors is one of the founders of Black Lives Matter movement. And, I was having the revelation that she is an artist, like a celebrated artist.
I didn't know that. All I knew about her was Black Lives Matter. And that bothered me, that this whole beautiful existence. And I had only been able to conceive her in this container. So I said I was reading it. I was listening to it on audio book. The first time I consumed it. And so I was listening to an audio book, I'm walking down the street and it gets to this part where she starts talking about this program, this kind of official unofficial program that they created for her brother to be able to integrate.
Back into society, anytime he would come out of, her brother's bipolar schizophrenic, and anytime he would come back home, you know, from either being on a 72 hour hold or locked up in some kind of institution and/or possibly in jail. They had this community, kind of, program that helped them to reintegrate into society safely.
And I was thinking about my two middle nephews, at the time, were seven and nine, seven and nine. And I was thinking I should create something like that for them, because they were in this predominantly white school system at the time that was harming them. Wasn't serving them at all. It was harmful to them.
I should create something like this for my nephews. And I'm walking down the street listening to this book on audio book and I have this thought and I stopped in the middle of, like 5th and 130th, I think in Harlem. And I say I don't have time for this. Of all the things that I really want to get to and do in my life, the fact that resistance work has become such a central part of the way that I exist in a way that so many Black and people of color exist. It's like, it's exhausting. And this was really a revelation for me that I was about to create yet another program just to help my nephews survive. And that is.
That is, that feels violent to my soul because they're the nephews or the aunties of the little white kids at that school are not at home right now, thinking about how they can create a program to be able to support their nephews, their white nephews, in having easy access to, or equal access to everything.
And it's like, I shouldn't have to do this. And they shouldn't, and they shouldn't need this to exist. Right. So that's where Dream Yourself Free came from. I started thinking like, what if I could just really do what I want to do? What the F do I want to do? Is this what I want to do? I mean, I've been on this path for so long.
My mother will tell you. And it's funny because this variety, acknowledgement recently, like being an anti-racism account to follow it's it's like many ways that I look at that because I don't want to be known as an anti-racism platform. It's it is what I'm doing, but that's not what I want to be known for.
I want to be known for like being funny and, you know, and I want to be known for, supporting Black women of color to like access ease and dreaming and play and, you know, and joy. That feels more important to me than people thinking, oh, I'm going to go learn something from her. You, I can tell you this joke.
You can learn stuff from this joke, but I don't necessarily. So, so thinking about that, but I was bringing it, bringing my mother into this because when I was a little girl, my mom, people would ask me, like, what are you going to be when you grow up? I want to be a Civil Rights Activist. So here I am, you know, self fulfilling prophecy, I done, apparently become a Civil Rights activist and it's the, it's been my life work, but is this really all like, all that my life will be is fighting for justice.
I want to take a nap. Honestly. I want to take a nap. I want to hula-hoop. I want to jump rope. I want to fall in love with a beautiful Black man. I want to go for walks. I want to play, I want to post twerk videos on my Instagram page, right? Like they're like the frivolous things that I want to be a frivolous things that I want to do.
I'm doing quote fingers, the frivolous things that I want to do. I don't want them to take away from the work that I am also doing. And when people get this understanding of you as one thing, then it feels like, wait, can you be a Civil Rights Activist and twerk? I think you won't survive if you don't.
Yeah. I think if you ain't twerked today and you're doing this justice work, you will not survive if you don't. And so, I'm essentially asking the question, of the participants of Dream Yourself Free, in your wildest imagination, would you be doing the work that you're currently doing? Pretty much most people, when I was just doing the workshop version of this, most people were saying absolutely, no. Some, many of them saying, hell no.
And then, now that we understand that this isn't really what we want to be doing. You know, in our highest imaginations of ourselves, let's start thinking about what it would really look like? And so we do some backtracking into childhood and I guess a lot of healing work and really considering what would feel good to me? How can I continue to honor the work of my ancestors and my elders on this freedom journey? While simultaneously living a life and being in, and emboding enjoy in a way that makes me feel good and alive. And it felt important for me to make this six month intensive that we're launching this month.
It felt important for us to make it free because. I speak in us's and we's, because I'm a Womanist. But it felt important for me to make it free because, what happened was, when I originally launched it, the first three people to register were three white women. Which was fine. I had opened it up to all women, but it just started to the register back to back, ease of just paying that money.
And it felt like, ooh, I'm not going to reach my target demographic, if we don't figure out a way to make sure that this is really accessible. And on top of that, a funny thing is some of my favorite accounts to follow. I don't particularly follow them, but I watch them. It's like white women influencers.
I love watching white women influencers' pages, because it just teaches me so much, very often, about what not having to worry about a god dang thing looks like. Like they just look so happy. They're just enjoying their lives. They had the best blueberry muffins in the morning. They wear the best leggings.
And I am just, like, amazed at the level of ease that white women influencers experience. And I mean that not even jokingly, even though it is funny, I'm so serious. I have a couple pages that I just go to every now and then it'd be like, let me see what she over here doing. Nothing. And I'm saying that in comparison, you know, contrasting to like, think about some of my closest friends.
Yeah. And some of my closest Black girlfriends and the conversations that we're having, you know, on social media, on a daily basis. And if you compare the two, right, like this person has 787,000 followers on social media and she's just posting about her, you know, new ankle bracelet. And then this person over here only has 6,000 followers and she's over here trying to figure out how to get every person on the planet free.
And it feels like, this extreme inequity and how do we balance, white women contributing and doing their part, to make sure that we get free? And Black women coming into the balance of being able to do this justice work and laugh and play and experience ease and joy and dreaming and, in lavish ways, you know. The way that this other end of the spectrum experiences it.
And so yeah, making it free for Black women and for women of color, particularly, felt like this is my reasonable service. I use this, you know, very Christian language around ministry and, you know, serving, but it feels like this is my reasonable at the very least I could do is figure out a way to make this free, because I conceived this as a gift to Black women, specifically and to women of color.
And so now I need to make sure that the gift doesn't become a burden to them. And it felt like that was what was about to happen.
Liz Wiltsie: Well, it was interesting cause I saw it when you launched it. And I saw it when you came out and said, yo, this is what we're going to do. And yeah. And it was really consistent with what I've seen from you.
And I know we've had that conversation before about who are endlessly consistent. Because, one of the things I've always seen from you is that whenever you do programs, there's always an option to fund a Black woman's ticket to whatever it is.
Right. So when I saw it, I was like, Oh yeah, well, that makes sense. That's what EbonyJanice does.
EbonyJanice: Yeah. Yeah, for sure. Sure. If it's, because what I understand is that there are a lot of non-Black women, white women specifically, that do want to, do their part in learning, but also not taking up too much space. And the very beautiful thing that happened was the first three women that enrolled with ease were like, take this $1,700 and there was no tension. There was no hesitation in those conversations. And then since then, amongst the ways to donate to the scholarship fund, three other women have come in just paid, you know, full through, for somebodies registration, which is with tax, you know, $1,700.
And that is so profound to me that people are willing to invest and the wellness of Black women, as a way to share privilege. And as a way to, it feels like an equalizer of sorts. It feels like the reason why Jenny with 782,000 followers on Instagram is able to post pictures of her ankle bracelet and her new dog, Scrumpit, is because she has resources. She has access to resources that makes her not have to, you know, work two jobs and still try to do this public education around racism at the same time. And so sharing those resources, doesn't actually take anything away from Jenny with the 782,000 followers.
I feel like I'm talking about a very specific person and I'm not, I really am not. I'm really making up this, you know.
Liz Wiltsie: We're all going to project onto a specific person.
EbonyJanice: I don't follow anyone with a dog named Scrumpit. Right. it's not, I'm come kind of combining a couple of combining a couple of people.
Liz Wiltsie: The avatar, basically.
EbonyJanice: Yeah, who is she? You know what? She looks like, you know exactly what I'm talking about, you know, her, because you have seen her page and possibly had to unfollow her because come on, Jenny, it's a lot going on in the world.
What else? But yes, so, so, so it doesn't take anything away from her actually to say, I can support this. And as a part of my ethic, as a part of someone, particularly for women, white women, considering themselves feminist, as a part of my ethic, and my lived praxis. Like the way that I show up is to make sure that we are all free as a result of Black women of color being free.
So yeah, making it free, and/or always having that option to support women of color, to make sure that the work that I'm doing isn't inaccessible to my target audience. Cause what would have happened if I left it as is and the 25 spots ended up being 25 white women. I would have canceled the whole thing and refunded everybody's money. Honestly, so I needed to stop it before it got too far, because it's like, it's not that I don't want white women to do dream work.
And I, and that feels important to me as well, but that is not my specific work. And I would never, ever be in a, doing work with a room full of white women as my central work ever, not even ever. And so I don't know what would happen to me for that to be a reality. Like my central work is talking to white women every day.
I can't imagine it, especially when there is all of this, you know, this other end of the spectrum where Black women and women of color are just trying to figure out like, We go eat for dinner today? You know, what are we doing? We're recording this podcast interview with me under a weighted blanket, because the time that we're recording this in it's in the midst of a pandemic, in the middle of a revolution.
Right. So, so what does it look like for me? And it feels this, the blanket is necessary because I've been walking around for the past really two weeks inside of, more than that because inside of the issues of a pandemic, right, I've been walking around for the past two weeks with this thing, just sitting on my chest since, you know, like, how do you just go back to businesses as usual?
How do you just be regular in this time? And, there's a, there's this YouTube account. It's a woman that had this YouTube account that I love so much her name's Evelyn from the internets. She's hilarious. I don't really say people are funnier than me, but she might be funnier than me, a little bit, maybe. But Evelyn from the internets actually has this video, which went viral several years ago. And it's so sad that it's the same thing, called Calling in Black. Where after a, you know, a police murder, particularly one that's caught on camera, we kind of all, Black people kind of are collectively like, are we really supposed to just be on the same zoom calls tomorrow?
Are we really just supposed to be, you know, sitting in our cubicles tomorrow? Are we really just supposed to be working at the grocery store tomorrow? Are we really just supposed to be being regular? And the privilege of being able to just still show up tomorrow and feel maybe sad, but not feel the grief in your body the way it feels to imagine.
Right? Like that could have been my cousin, my brother, my uncle, my dad, my sister. My mother. Yeah. So I can't make dreaming inaccessible to Black women when dreaming has already historically been inaccessible to Black women.
Liz Wiltsie: EbonyJanice we could talk forever. And I'm very grateful for you. And thank you for being here with me today.
EbonyJanice: Thank you for having me.
Liz Wiltsie: Full show notes from this episode, and every episode are available at 4needs.work/podcast. If you're intrigued by this episode, please subscribe.