Cages do more harm than good, point blank: a Q+A w/ Anthony James Williams

Sinclair: What’s your three word bio?

Anthony: Black queer learner.

Sinclair: What about writing makes you feel alive?

Anthony: A mentor of mine, Alisa Sanchez, once told me that writing is thinking. And it sort of changed the way I thought about writing, the way I viewed my own work. I’ve been writing since I was young, but it wasn’t until undergrad that I began to realize that I process many of my thoughts by writing. The ideas swirl around my head, but the act of typing or writing them up makes them real in a way they had not been before.

Sinclair: Share a piece with us that you put a lot of work into and are kinda proud of.

Anthony: The painful & personal process of Black Consciousness is one of the first pieces where I felt the reception matched my intent in a really beautiful way. I had something I wanted to express, I did it, and people really understood it. And in many ways, it encapsulates so much of the huge shifts I’ve been going through over the last five years that really define a lot of who I’m becoming as I approach my thirties.

 

“We conflate sexuality and gender, making them into one thing when they are distinct, even though there is space for overlap.” – Anthony James Williams

 

Sinclair: In your 2015 Los Angeles Times interview feature you wrote, ‘“When you challenge masculinity, it hits a nerve,” Williams said in a phone interview with The Times. “It makes some men nervous. But violence against women is a result of the fragility of masculinity. A woman can say ‘no’ to a man on a date, and she could end up dead. That’s what women have to deal with. And we as men have to recognize that.” Based on what you’ve seen and heard throughout academia, social media, and in life, where are we with the conversation around fragile masculinity? Is this still hitting a nerve?

Anthony: The work is still hitting a nerve. Cis women, trans folks, and/or queer folks are still being brutalized daily, and microagressions are a minute-by-minute experience. I actually just got done facilitating two workshops about toxic masculinity and who patriarchy harms for some folks in the Bay. What I can say, though, is that it’s never not gonna hit a nerve. We live in a patriarchal society that affects folks of all genders. And in this way, even in times like now where men are finally more receptive to even hearing the words “fragile masculinity”, there is a lot of denial, a lot of hurt, and ultimately a lot of avoidance. To recognize that your conception of yourself and/or those you love is built on lies, violence against others, low self-worth, and a quest for power: how do you think you’re going to respond?

Sinclair: What’s something we often get wrong when talking about sexaulity?

Anthony: I find two big problems. First, we conflate sexuality and gender, making them into one thing when they are distinct, even though there is space for overlap. Second, we forget that it is a spectrum and do not allow individuals the room they need to explore how that spectrum will shift over time and with different experiences.

Sinclair: What’s the best part about going to work each day?

Anthony: I’ve had the privilege of being gainfully employed since I was 16 in different industries, doing lots of different things. The best thing about my current work is that the constant changes are built into my life as a graduate student. For example, if I strongly dislike some aspect of my worklife I only have to wait about ten weeks for new opportunities.

Sinclair: I’ve recently identified myself as a recovering self-hating black man who wasn’t exposed to a range of Blackness. What conversations have you recently had around self-hate in the Black community?

Anthony: I was once a self-hating Black person too, and I’m recovering from that myself. When these conversations come up, however, I think it is important to reframe them. As adults, it is important to know that only we are responsible for our own healing. However, it is also important to remember who taught us to hate ourselves. While there are definitely individuals in each of our lives, we cannot lose sight that systems of white supremacy and anti-Blackness are not just random, they’re created and maintained on purpose.

Sinclair: What’s one way you’ve been seeking to heal?

Anthony: Physically and spiritually. I focus so much on my mind that I neglect my body. This looks like dancing, yoga, acupuncture, reiki, and mindfulness meditation.

Sinclair: What is one project you’re currently working on that’s proving to be quite the challenge?

Anthony: My academic work! This is my first official summer as a graduate student and motivating myself to do work when I’ve been going through a lot personally has been quite difficult. It is not that I’m not interested or invested, it is just that life happens and I don’t always expect that, as odd as it sounds.

Sinclair: What’s something you’re working to unlearn?

Anthony: The idea that love and abuse can coexist. Shoutout to bell hooks’ all about love.

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“As adults, it is important to know that only we are responsible for our own healing.” – Anthony James Williams

Sinclair: What’s something you wish you knew when you first began your PhD journey?

Anthony: I guess that depends on how you and I define journey? But if I’m going with the first year of grad school, then I’d say I wish I knew the challenges would be more about departmental politics and choosing your battles than about the work itself. The first year was about learning how my specific department does sociology and I think had I realized that I would have invested more time in taking care of myself instead of putting that to the side

Sinclair: What’s one challenge you face in your work that you’re still working on navigating?

Anthony: The ethics. I work on prison abolition, and I have to ask myself every day how I do academic work in a way that centers those most harmed without speaking over or for them. As someone system-impacted, I am affected, but not in the same way someone currently or formerly incarcerated is impacted.

 

“Cis women, trans folks, and/or queer folks are still being brutalized daily, and microagressions are a minute-by-minute experience.” – Anthony James Williams

 

Sinclair: When was the last time you practiced self-care? What did you do?

Anthony: I had a “healing Tuesday” last week. Sort of unintentionally, but it worked out well. I had acupuncture, time with people I love, and reiki. It was a lot of energy for one day but I’m glad I did it.

Sinclair: What’s something that’s been bringing you joy lately?

Anthony: The damn sun. I love it. That’s a constant in my life. Not the presence of the sun, but the sun as a source of joy.

Sinclair: What’s something that’s been pissing you off lately?

Anthony: The world. The world is fucked, and I’m tired of men murdering folks like Nia Wilson in Oakland, CA.

 

“We cannot lose sight that systems of white supremacy and anti-Blackness are not just random, they’re created and maintained on purpose.” – Anthony James Williams

 

Sinclair: When was a time that self-doubt was at its worst for you while on your career and life journey?

Anthony: Whew, chile, the self-doubt…the self-doubt. My self-doubt turns into self-sabotage and this is a constant in my life. I’m not sure when it was at its worst, to tell you the truth, but I can tell you it never goes away, it’s just a little less bad at times.

Sinclair: What are your unshakable values and when did you become clear on them?

Anthony: Cages do more harm than good, point blank. What gets complicated is when we consider a restorative justice approach that centers the survivor or the victim’s family. How do we consider alternatives to incarceration when there is not true justice, when sometimes the survivor or the family want that person gone forever? Either way, within the last four years I have really solidified my belief that prisons, immigrant detention centers, zoos—which differ from sanctuaries—, etc are not the way toward healing, justice, protection, or safety.

Sinclair: Who are a few amazing people that we should follow and why?

Anthony: Mariame Kaba, who you can find on twitter @prisonculture and through her own website. I’ve seen her tweet, speak live, and read her work. She consistently checks all of us on our privilege(s), walks the talk of prison abolition, and reps her city. If you somehow are reading this but haven’t heard of Mariame, then you need to stop what you’re doing and go look up her.

Eve Ewing, who you can find on twitter @eveewing and through her own website. She’s just…everything? Another Chicago-based Black woman, Dr. Eve Ewing is a sociologist, a writer, a poet, a kind soul, and someone whose work I hope to emulate. She’s also just funny, so there’s that.

Sinclair: I see you have a Patreon. What’s one reason folks should support it?

Anthony: First, I’m on a little break from content creation so I won’t be active on Twitter or Patreon until October 2018 to focus on my mental health. I haven’t been well, and sometimes spending time mired in trolls and bad news can take a toll on me.

Second, I think that labor should be compensated or reciprocated, and that doesn’t always mean monetarily. At the end of the day, rent has got to get paid because we live in a white supremacist capitalist society.

Third, as an anti-capitalist, creating a Patreon came with a lot of weird feelings for me. Why would I charge for my labor? How do I ensure that paywalls aren’t keeping information from folks who could benefit from engaging? And ultimately what pushed me to do it is the recognition from those around me that my work changes people, affirms people, and is necessary. Readers and followers have shared stories with me that have both broken and mended me heart, reminding me that sometimes we just want to be seen, heard, and loved.

Sinclair: What is one piece of advice you’d give to a writer struggling with self-doubt and feeling like giving up on their dreams?

Anthony: If someone is having trouble affirming themselves, turn to those who you know beyond a shadow of a doubt love you. Then ask them: what has my work, my presence, and my life done for you? The last two are more important than the first. We deserve love, shelter, and human kindness regardless of our value or productivity. And? We live in a society that teaches us that what I just wrote is not true, so we first have to affirm ourselves outside of our work. The last thing is that writing and dreams take different forms. I love writing, I don’t write fulltime, and I’m happy with where I am. I write as a PhD student, I write curriculum as a facilitator, and I write for myself when I can. It’s not all about bylines, truly.

Sinclair: It’s years in the future. You’re on stage to accept an award for your life’s work. What’s your five word acceptance speech?

Anthony: “Thank you for being.” – Tito Quevedo

Sinclair: Imagine that all your life’s work disappeared and you only had 1 minute to tell the world what you truly believe to be true. What would you say?

Anthony: “I don’t read, y’all don’t read, we don’t read, and that’s why we’re fucked.”

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Anthony James Williams (they/them pronouns) is Black, queer, and nonbinary. They are a writer, facilitator, and sociology PhD student working broadly on marginalization, including incarceration, race, gender, sexuality, and disability.

Featured awesomeness: Anthony says, “Social Justice Wishlists helps boost requests from folks in need of funds. I support direct giving, as many large organizations take a cut of what folks need and are not always immediate.”