How do we arrive at what we describe as “truths” we know about Black women? For whom are we speaking and whom is listening when we speak? How does this shape the knowledge we produce, the theorizing in which we engage, and the coalitions we organize?
I came to research on Black women through these questions that signal complex, yet hopeful “arrivals”. These arrivals were shaped by my own lived experiences as a Black woman immigrant from the Caribbean, my early kitchen table dialogues with my Jamaican mother, aunts, sisters, and other-mothers in Brooklyn, as well as the instruction and mentorship of many Black women throughout the academy. This community nourished my arrivals, forming a tapestry of lived experiences, memories,herstories, and labor (emotional, sexual, cultural, and spiritual) that remains intergenerational and that requires the tools of interdisciplinarity and intersectionality. It forms the core of when, how, and where I arrive: my name is Jallicia Jolly – I am a PhD candidate in American Culture at the University of Michigan studying race, gender, sexuality, and health in the lives of Black women in the Caribbean and the United States.
My research interests include black sexual politics, transnational feminist organizing, women of color and Black feminisms, and cultural analyses of HIV/AIDS. My dissertation, “Ill Erotics: The Cultural Geography of Sexuality, Illness, and Self-Making Among Young HIV-Positive Women in Jamaica” foregrounds the embodied experiences of young women living with HIV/AIDS to explore how their sexual lives and grassroots politics inform feminist activism, public health discourse, and HIV/AIDS responses in Jamaica and the broader Americas. HIV-positive Black women’s lived experiences have offered useful insights on how HIV, prevention and inequality among HIV-positive women in the African diaspora and throughout the Americas. More specifically, this intervention is three-fold: 1) to enhance the cultural knowledge on HIV/AIDS and Black women; 2) to inspire new forms of theorization and models of subjectivity that generate new ways of living and organizing that extend beyond U.S. borders; and 3) to understand howillness matters to our efforts to develop expansive visions of black sexual politics and feminist agendas in the Americas and beyond.
My arrival exists at the crossroads of multiple contradictions and possibilities. It is a space of layered erasures where my Black (Caribbean) womanness thrives at the crossroads of global anti-blackness, the deportation regime, and the torch-passing of empires between British and American imperialists; where the Caribbean sexual subjects I know occupy a tense space in the U.S.’s backyard, or better yet, it’s bedroom, where their bodies and sexualities become staples of national economies; where I explode the boundaries that often invisibilize Afro-diasporic female sexualities from the disciplines of Women’s Studies, Black Studies, and American Studies; where I collaborate with colleagues to transform the idea of the “Americanist” in ways that captures the experiences of Black women living beyond and engaging with U.S.’s porous borders.
In this space of possibility, fragmentation, and contestation, I shift between “American” and “non-American”, the historical past and ethnographic present, “native” and ethnographer, local and transnational. As I attempt to capture the complex makings of black female subjectivities, I situate my work within the cracks in the foundation and on the margins –a position that uncompromisingly assaults disciplinary conventions as it troubles the boundaries of academia, creating new ways to foster understandings of Afro-diasporic women through local public cultural, historical, and ethnographic work.
I am here because of the women of color womancesters before me. I thrive here because of present the labor and lives of Black women. I remain encouraged because of the calls made by scholars Dr. Nneka Dennie and Dr. Jacinta Saffold to cultivate and institutionalize “a space for black women in academia - as knowledge producers, as cultural creators, and more.” As I heed this call, I remember the lessons that teach me how to grab my voice. That create a space for me to reimagine political possibilities and alternative sexual futures. That remind me to write my herstories with fierce purpose. That encourage me to not only survive, but thrive in community and with curiosity.
I am here for it.