Weathering With You Is An Intense Sensual Joy

 

Queer history is incomplete without Black history. That’s why we’re chronicling the stories and lives of influential Black queer figures throughout the month of February. Below, we take a look at the impact of the queer writer, social justice facilitator, and doula adrienne maree brown.

adrienne maree brown wears many hats — she’s a practicing doula and healer, a poet, an Octavia Butler scholar, and a leading Black, queer feminist thinker — but above all, she’s an activist who wants us to rethink social justice movements and our relationship to them. She’s the author of two widely-cited non-fiction books (>Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds and >Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good, both published on AK Press) that use her interest in science fiction, Black feminism, self-help, and our natural world to propose groundbreaking ideas about how and why we organize. She wants us to see pleasure and joy as a radical act of resistance, and believes that organizing and science fiction are more closely interrelated than you might think, a way of “shaping the future we long for and have not yet experienced,” as she writes in Pleasure Activism. Judging by her work’s resonance and impact within social justice and activist communities, her writing might be making that future more tangible than ever.

Today, she’s based in Detroit — one of the illest cities on earth, and home to a deep tradition of radical Black liberation and organizing — but brown (who styles her name in lowercase) was born to a Black father and white mother in El Paso, Texas. Her father’s military service meant she spent much of her childhood travelling; her father’s family grew up extremely poor, and like many Black men of the time, he believed his only way out of poverty was through enlisting. As a young child, brown and her sister faced racial discrimination from their white peers; as a teenager, she was sexually assaulted, but did not process the impact of the event until much later.

At Columbia University, brown majored in African American studies, political science, and voice, and experienced a deep politicization as the city was polarized by the murder of Guinean immigrant Amadou Diallo by four plainsclothed cops. In an interview with Longreads, brown revealed how shortly after Diallo was murdered, she and a group of peers were accosted by plainclothes police as they were returning from a protest.

“I realized that the freedom I thought I experienced and the protection [I thought] might come to me because I was a college student were an illusion.” brown said, reflecting on having guns pulled on her. “The reality was that if your skin color was dark enough, the police could do anything they wanted to you.”

After graduation, brown went on to work with the Harm Reduction Coalition as a social justice facilitator. Founded in 1993, HRC aims to challenge stigma around drug use and reframe drug policy from punishment-oriented “solutions” to compassion-based care. “One of our working theories was that when people are faced with inequality and oppression, those people turn to those things that will give them some peace, some comfort, some pleasure,” she told Longreads. “And instead of responding to [our] need for these things with compassion, we punish each other.” Working with traumatized populations also spurred brown to process her own assault, and deeply examine her own coping mechanisms — experiences that would later inform the ideas in Pleasure Activism.

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“There’s so much trauma that we’re holding being Black in this country,” brown said in a 2018 interview with Yes! Magazine. “We are facing this trauma that is so vast and is so complex, and it’s been our only experience on this land.”

brown went on to facilitate the Social Forum, an annual meeting orchestrated by U.S. based social activists to promote social cohesion. She was the executive director of the Ruckus Society, a multi-racial network for environmental and social activists, from 2006 to 2010, and sat on the board through 2012.

brown’s work is deeply influenced by the writings of science fiction author Octavia Butler — “I believe that all organizing is science fiction; that we are shaping the future we long for and have not yet experienced,” she writes in >Pleasure Activism — and Detroit. After moving to the city in 2009, she’s become an integral part of local organizing movements, describing the city as a “modern Black Renaissance unfolding as an artist-led insurgence against gentrification,” and a key influence in her Black liberation-based justice training.

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