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Neurodivergent, Catch Me in a Future Near You

Updated: Nov 17

This blog was originally posted Oct of 2020. It was relaunched on November 17th, 2022 to include YouTube video and Soundcloud audio are available.

I was born in the Asante Region in Ghana, West Africa, surrounded by predominantly Black people. Other Africans/Asantefuo like me. Back then, in the 80s when I was born and for the first couple years of my life, we didn’t call ourselves Black, we identified based on our tribe or region. At least not before arriving to abrokyre.


Blackness as a concept was something I learned about when I moved to Toronto in the early to mid-90s. I claim Black and Blackness as an identity now. But I specifically remember being like, "oh, you're talking about me, I'm the Black one? Me ye Ghana-nie, but okay, I'll roll with it."

I wrote about this in an article I wrote for the The Ottawa Citizen.


Blackness is now a way of life, who I am, and how I’m learning to live more and more every day.

 

I also discovered (pun intended) the term feminism at University. I claim feminism as a way of life as well. But the more I learn about the differences between feminism and Black feminism, or even womanism, something Dr. Yaba Blay writes about in, All the ‘Africans’ are Men, all the “Sistas” are “American,” but Some of Us Resist, the more clear I get about my feminist politic and practice.

But because I first identified based on different identity markers contextualized by my lived experience and social location, I am hyper-aware that race was initially a concept and a figment of the white imagination. A concept now made real with physical and material consequences, because well, power and domination. Whiteness is not constructed as a “race” in the same way as is the case for Black and Brown people.


White people get offended when you call them white because they do not see themselves as a race per se. In the imagination of most white people in North America, race is coded as “coloured”. Unless appropriating everyone else, white people do not see themselves as "coloured" (did anyone see Trump at the last debate, tell me he didn't look more red than his usual orange, and not the Native pride red, the lobster and crab red, it doesn't look like it's going well for him either, praise, but that's for another blog). Most white people do not think of themselves as a colour other than when it comes to identifying with, white power. Most do not see themselves as a race unless under the context of the Aryan race, which speaks exactly to the racist, anti-Semitic, anti-Black, anti-Indigenous, Islamophobic, xenophobic white supremacists who identify with white power and white superiority.

White people constructed the idea of race but hate to be associated with it. They created race and projected it onto me. While I claim Blackness, I also take issue with the idea of race. I’m also just an Akan woman. A human. Maybe, try humanizing me. This is why I use the term racialized, to remind people that this "race thing", it was something projected onto me.

 

Anyways, I also speak of Black Indigenous and other women of colour living with some level of neurological variance. I personally do not like the binary of neurotypical and neurodiverse. Still, language limits the depth required to adequately capture who I am, how I think, and how that connects with my actions and behaviours. (See Thomas Anderson's work on neurodiversity).


The most accurate description of me I’ve ever heard comes from an Alanis Morissette lyric that goes, “you’ve never met anyone as everything as I am sometimes.” Neurodivergent is the closest to oversimplifying that lyric, and me. All to say that under the medical model, autism is the term that most accurately describes me. Under social and political models, queer fits me best.


[these next few sections are taken from my Ph.D. dissertation]


I tend to speak specifically of other Black neurodivergent’s like me. Who find themselves at the intersection of several marginalized identities including poverty, mental illness, or living with visible or non-visible disabilities. These are feminists like Lynn and Lauren from the Parables Series who feel and read subtle energy naturally or through some form of training and initiation. These individuals share some level of lived experience that cannot be easily understood by normatively wired "neurotypicals" who do not feel, perceive, or sense touch in the same way[i].

I speak specifically of neurodivergent feminists who purport to animism[ii] or Indigenous and shamanic cosmological systems[iii]. Through these worldviews, these feminists are able to subjectively access other worlds, alternative plains, realms, dimensions, parallel realities, dream states, or “cosmic portals: doorways that permit translocation of shamans, spirits, and deities between worlds or levels of the cosmos” (Stross, 2006: 5; see also, the works of different spiritual writers and practitioners like Maryam Hasnaa and Kenneth Grover).

Alternative plains are important to multi/extra/hyper-sensory feminists in as much as the social and physical fields are[v]. Shames’ lines can take these Black and Brown neurodivergent feminists on lines of articulation with the potential to pivot into lines of flight at any given moment, extending beyond the socio-cultural and material into subjective psychic fields (see also, Chamberlain, 2017; Ahmed, 2003; 2015).

In this sense, shames’ lines stretch across multiple spatial temporal zones (see also, Chin, 2018; Ahmed, 2005). To use Black feminist scholar Katherine McKittrick, these feminists relocate feminism to the body and widen the scope of feminist geographies by expanding the definition of multi-scalar to include subjective sites not easily identifiable or even evidenced as real or objective, what McKittrick positions as Black feminist geographies.

I connect Afro-Caribbean lesbian writer, teacher, and activist Jacqui Alexander's Pedagogies of Crossing: Meditations on Feminism, Sexual Politics, Memory, and the Sacred with the Tzeltal people of Chiapas, Mexico. Both suggest that the mind-body holds memories in its blood, water, and bones, of particular interest here: the sacrum bone; Gershom’s second brain located in the gut; the solar plexus; and other fluids, channels and objects located in the body. Though the physicality and fleshiness of the body does not mean it is separate from affective economies or even of the body, messy topics that philosophers like Deleuze and Guattari and Rosi Braidotti try to tease out in their work.

Here, like water and blood, I am interested in shame as a sticky substance (what for Sara Ahmed are objects). Viewed this way, we can better make sense of shame as encoded with data and information that accumulates, pressing on muscles and bones, specifically the sacrum bone[xiii].

Just as water retains memory and information, so too, shame. This is not only, or even, an objective knowing, but a felt and embodied intuitive-knowing.

For extra, hyper, and multi-sensory feminists, it is logical that shame be programmed with data that communicates information about the environment, its people, events and places, the past and present, the future etc. Messages and stories that upon encounter provide intuitive information we do not necessarily know from where the information arrives from.


In this regard, critical race theorists at the intersection of Black liberation and queer theory like Jacqui Alexander, Christina Sharpe, Edwidge Danticat, and Rinaldo Walcott propose that it is possible to remember information communicated from past historical time periods such as The Middle Passage, slavery, and colonization as memories, images, and feeling sensations.

For Alexander (2005), we can feel, sense, and know in the Now something akin to what those in the past (such as our ancestors) felt in their present then, as if lived in the now. This knowledge is an embodied knowing and supernatural sensing that different schools of thought have contextualized differently, from intuition to consciousness and non-conscious affective states of becoming, non-conscious used here interchangeably with intuitive feeling-knowing to acknowledge information that is accessed and known prior to registering any conscious awareness of it (see Brian Massumi's work on the topic, 2015).

 

Alice Walker captures what this telepathic solidarity surging of ancestral energies across time and space means for her. In an interview with the Guardian’s Alex Clark (2013) Walker states, “It's as if I got all of this energy from ancestors who were not permitted to leave the plantations for 400 years and I got all of their desire to be part of the world” (n.p.).

Walker absorbs their pent-up energy traveling across time-space as if they were her own. To borrow from Toni Morrison, this embodied “re-memory” is intuitive and bodily knowing, a problematic real that is not easily identifiable nor even legible (Goh, 2009).

Irving Goh (2009) conceptualizes of this real as “a real that disrupts the real or dislocates the perception of real. It makes itself difficult, almost impossible, to be located in the real, but it is nevertheless real and not the stuff of dreams or fantasies” (44). Goh (2009) adds that this is “a problematic real. A real that is non-dietic, undefinable, unidentifiable. In other words, one cannot capture in visual terms that aspect of human life that is becoming” (44).

I raise Brown queer disability justice organizer Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha (2015) who in her memoir Dirty River: A Queer Femme of Color Dreaming Her Way Home, shares that since she was a child, she sometimes receives intuitive messages about other people’s trauma.

Piepzna-Samarasinha (2015) writes: “when I was a kid, I could always tell who were the survivor girls. It was a special talent. Some kids played tennis or were really good at video games. I could look at kids in the hall between classes and could tell who was being molested” (Piepzna-Samarasinha, 2015:69).

Unless these other kids Piepzna-Samarasinha (2015) speaks of, testified for themselves that they were being molested, there is no real and actual way of knowing or proving that what Piepzna-Samarasinha (2015) calls, “special talents” are true. In this regard, it would be erroneous to suggest that we can derive any objective conclusion from intuition, or even telepathy.

Intuition will not hold in court. Of course, science and the legal system would argue that such subjective experiences are not actual or real but rather a function of "delusion" as a result of a malfunctioning brain and its scrambled neurology, philosophical constructs, or too far-gone imagination, perhaps even mental illness. (blah, blah, blah, and also).

There will also be those who will use intuition to make erroneous claims in the name of extra/multi/hyper-sensory abilities. Deciphering between those who actually embody intuition (and well) from those who simply claim to, is difficult.

In addition, we decode data based on what we already know so to speak (see Brene Brown, 2010 and Maryam Hasnaa's content). Even when receiving new information that has never been known before, the message pulls on familiar images, memories and feeling sensations in order for us to make connections (Brown, 2010). As Brené Brown (2010) explains, “psychologists believe that intuition is a rapid-fire, unconscious associating process-like a mental puzzle. [Where] the brain makes an observation, scans its files, and matches the observation with existing memories, knowledge, and experiences. Once it puts together a series of matches, we get a “gut on what we’ve observed” (87-8).

In this way, decoding and making sense of data carried in energy is culturally (if not, individually) specific.

Further to this, working with and decoding emotions and traumas is extremely difficult for the very reason that fear and intuition operate on different plains. It is nearly impossible to clearly utilize intuition when embodying or feeling fear for instance. The two do not match vibrationally (See Maryam Hasnaa and Teal Swan's work on the topic).

As the idiom goes, “F.E.A.R. is false evidence appearing real”. This is precisely what happens when we attempt to read fear when in fear or traumatic affective states. False evidence is decoded as real and explained away as intuition, something psychologist Laurie Santos speaks to in her online course The Science of Well-Being.

Reading into traumas tied to shame and fear (with little to no experience) is not only extremely painful and re-traumatizing, it will result in inaccurate and wrong readings, what is in the physical essentially, lies.

This has to do with what emotions do to us and the role of neurology and the brain in deciphering information. Scientists have argued that the brain will translate things not real into something real (See Hanifa Menen's writing on the topic and Marwa Azab's 2019 TedTalk). With this in mind, using Indigenous frameworks from communities across Turtle Islands, the Caribbean and Africa, and Buddhist communities, it is important to remember that neurological variance between and among Black and Brown people are framed much differently outside of Western white medical models which opt instead to pathologize their differences.

Neurodivergent feminists like those discussed in my project, Lauren, Lynn and Beatrice, these feminists are willing to embrace the idea that their bodies, consciousness (including un/sub/and non-consciousness), thoughts, actions, behaviours, lived experiences, and feminist work are all tangled up within an economy that includes emotions and traumas of different kind.

As shape-shifters, their feminism is constantly becoming; enduring transitions that give way to new lines of flight. They are as Spinoza would suggest, individuals who affect and are affected. They operate from/and in their most affected state; which is to say, when the capacities of their mind-body faculties get overwhelmed by intensities that push them beyond thresholds.

This is not always the case but occurs often enough to disrupt the norm. These feminists push the limits of solidarity, post-modernism, and post-humanism by simply centering, theorizing, practicing, and embodying their indigeneity, neurodiversity and most radical afrofuturist selves.

They undoubtedly face undue burdens for this, as disability activists advocating for attention to social and political models of disability have advocated for. How these feminists are constructed by those in positions of power matter to their lived experiences and social locations. More on this shortly.


If this resonates, please pass it along and share it with others. If it doesn't, that's okay too. Like others, I and my words are not meant for everyone. If it is for you, please consider making a donation to paypal.me/DeeArchives. I'm also on Buy Me a Coffee at DeeArchives. Thanks for stopping by.

Until then, in solidarity.

 

Footnotes [i] I mean those with the ability to reach into an affective assemblage that extends well beyond the scope of physical reality and normative definitions of the five senses. I also include feminists who identify as Two-Spirited, Elders, traditional shamans/ess’, medicine women, gatekeepers, knowledge holders/keepers, light workers, clairsentient; clairvoyant, clairaudient, claircognizant, psychic, mediums, animists, or telepathic. [ii] In, The Spirit of Water in the World of Shamanism José Luis Stevens (2004) defines animism as: “the belief that the world consists of overlapping energy fields and that underlying the visible world is the spirit world, the origin of all power, energy, and vitality” (186). Stevens adds, “Animists believe that invisible forces or spirits can affect physical elements including people” (186). [iii] Drawing from Stross (2006), “Shamanism will here be considered as pertaining to a worldview in which the cosmos and all within it is assumed to be animate, and animated by a spiritual essence and life force that is shared, and that underlies the potential for magical transformation, and further that individual body and soul are functionally separable entities under certain conditions, and capable of rejoining […] at the core of shamanism as considered here is the assumption that the spiritual essences (or souls) of individuals that we can call shamans are capable in certain circumstances of leaving their body and visiting an alternative reality that can be called the Otherworld in ways that would strike us in the western world as magical” (6) [v] According to Mauro (2015), “quantum scientists have discovered that a sea of interactive, interconnected energy underlies the physical world. They have also provided us with evidence that suggests that we, too, are part of this energetic field. What they haven’t-and can’t-tell us is exactly how this occurs” (9; emphasis in original). Mauro (2015) claims that “when scientists investigated matter at the subatomic level, they made a surprising discovery. They discovered that matter, at its most fundamental level, is not solid or separate; it is instead a web of interconnected particles capable of exchanging information across space and time” (21). They also discovered that energy exists in the space between particles-what they call the “Zero Point Field” (21). I imagine these alternate time-space realities as central to psychic fields that are included in Ahmed’s affective economy. [vi] The sort of real Irving Goh (2009) identifies as: “a real that disrupts the real or dislocates the perception of real. It makes itself difficult, almost impossible, to be located in the real, but it is nevertheless real and not the stuff of dreams or fantasies” (44). Goh (2009) adds that this is “a problematic real. A real that is non-dietic, undefinable, unidentifiable. In other words, one cannot capture in visual terms that aspect of human life that is becoming” (44). See also, Audre Lorde on The Uses of Anger, where she states that anger too carries data. [vii] In the future, I want to closer examine shames’ role in musculoskeletal conditions that primarily and disproportionately affect women, specifically, the sacrum region. According to Robert Gatchel et al (2007: 581) over 50 million Americans live with chronic pain, accounting for more than 80 percent of all physician visits and costs more than $70 million per annum in healthcare costs. Unlike acute pain, which is adaptive, short-lived, and easily treated biomedically, chronic pain persists for more than three months consistently and is more complex in nature (Menen, 2018; Guerin, Hassan, and Cooley, 2018; Gatchel et al, 2007). Through a biopsychosocial framework (see Engel, 1980; Gatchel et al, 2007), chronic pain is “multi-dimensional” in that it is “modulated by a complex interaction” between biological, psychological, sociological, physiological, neurological, emotional, spiritual, and holistic symptoms/variables/and factors. The Tzeltal people of Chiapas, Mexico in particular believe that the sacrum is a second skull (Stross, 1996:4). According to the Tzeltal people, humans have not one but two skulls, one located at the top of the spine, and the other at the bottom (they suggest that the pelvic bone even looks like a skull) (Stross, 1996:4). The two skulls “contain the essence of the individual” and are connected by the spinal cord which they interpret as a serpent (Stross, 1996: 4). The sacrum bone acting as an interlocutor. Just as the upper skull in the brain shapes our sensory perceptions of pain, so too does the sacrum as a second brain, or rather, a third. [viii] According to Colleen Mauro (2015) German neurologist Leopold Auerbach was the first to document the “mind-gut connection” in the nineteenth century. Later, Dr. Michael Gershom, author of The Second Brain, presented the stomach as “a second brain made up of billions of nerve cells in the digestive tract” (quoted in Mauro, 2015:68). Mauro (2015) adds, “some medical researchers now believe that the belly brain may be the source of the unconscious gut reaction that are later communicated to the main brain” (68). In this regard, as Ahmed (2017) explains, the belly “has its own intelligence” [system] (27), what we can consider as intuition. [ix]The solar plexus is located between the navel and the sternum and is represented by the colour yellow. This chakra symbolizes our personal power and sense of self (Bello; 2015). [x] The Tzeltal people of Chiapas, Mexico in particular believe that the sacrum is a second skull (Stross, 1996:4). According to the Tzeltal people, humans have not one but two skulls, one located at the top of the spine, and the other at the bottom (they suggest that the pelvic bone even looks like a skull) (Stross, 1996:4). The two skulls “contain the essence of the individual” and are connected by the spinal cord which they interpret as a serpent (Stross, 1996: 4). In this way, bones hold meaning and carry memory [xi] Joanna Bourke (2005) echoes this, suggesting: “the emotion of fear is fundamentally about the body-its fleshiness and its precariousness” (8) adding, “fear is felt, and although the emotion of fear cannot be reduced to the sensation of fear, it is not present without sensation[xi]” (8). Like shame, according to Ahmed (2015), fear can be felt as a warm sensation, as heat that wraps the body. Ahmed (2015) writes: “Fear envelops the bodies that feel it, as well as constructs such bodies as enveloped, as contained by it, as if it comes from outside and moves inward” (63). [xiii] On the periodic table, water is understood as hydrogen and oxygen compounds. It comes in different states (liquid, solid, and gas), all of which are visible to the naked eye (with the exception of gas in some cases). For various Indigenous communities in North, Central, and South America, as well as globally, water is not only life, but a living entity. Those who read and work with subtle energy through shamanic and alternative worldviews outside of a Western context also know that water is much more than meets the eye. Across various religions and culture water plays a crucial role. Alan Walker (2004) outlines its role in Christianity, while Rivkah Slonim (2004) introduces the importance of mikvah pools in Judaism. Starhawk (2004) emphasis the sacred role of water in Paganism, as José Luis Stevens (2004) shares the central role water has in shamanic practices among the Shipibo of Peru, the Huichol tribe of Mexico, and the Tuvan people of Mongolia.; see also, Weissman, 2004; Alcott, 2004. Water carries memory and information (see Emoto, 2004). Japanese author Masaru Emoto (2004) suggests that water retains memory and carries information (see also, Lorde, 1984). According to Emoto (2004), French immunologist Jacques Benveniste was one of the first scientists to prove water had memory and could preserve information. Emoto conceptualizes of water subjectively. As elements lodged within multiple affective circuits that affects us, and us it, shaping and influencing our consciousness, as our consciousness also influences it (Emoto, 2004). The object of fear is read in this same way. [xvii] Stross, 1996:37; see also, Butler, 1980; Alexander, 2005; Tomlinson, 2012; Ruffo, 2014; Tedlock, 2005. They “record core concepts in societies” and provide the host mind-body with a wealth of information carried from across time (Stross, 1996:37; see also, Alexander, 2005; Tomlinson, 2012; Ruffo, 2014; Tedlock, 2005).


Photo Cred: Dorothy Attakora-Gyan


Image Description: A Black woman stares into the lens of the camera. She is wearing an orange top of Pam Grier, and glasses.

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