Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Series with Dr. Tyeshia Redden
By Kaley Michael, Staff Writer
For this week’s lecture in the Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Series, Dr. Tyeshia Redden, a Derrick Gondwe Visiting Scholar and Assistant Professor of Africana Studies, gave a presentation entitled “Thirsty for Lemonade: Intersectional Spirituality and Persecution.” Known as Tye, the activist, scholar, and urban planner is particularly adept in the areas of design, instruction, and planning. Specifically, Redden studies forced development due to mega sporting events and has spent a large amount of her time studying such issues in Brazil.
Dr. Redden commenced her lecture by telling the audience, “My students call this ‘Why Professor Redden Always Tells Us our Faves are Problematic.’” Witty and engaging, Redden decided to involve students in her presentation, asking questions and even joking about pop culture.
Professor Tye then proceeded to discuss the African Diaspora, explaining the forced migration of African people as a result of the trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. Shocking statistics showed that while five hundred thousand Africans were brought to the United States, five million Africans were taken to both Brazil and the Caribbean. Therefore, Black Americans are one of the smallest populations of the diaspora – making up only thirteen percent of the American population – and only appear to be a larger number because of their hypervisibility. “Is this new information to you?” she asked. The entire room said yes.
Though the Africans were stripped of their rights and freedoms when they arrived in the United States, they brought with them multifarious Western traditions that influenced how they spoke, what they ate, and how they worshipped. Such traditions included the practice of Santeria in the Dominicana, Puerto Rico, and Cuba; Candomblé in Brazil; and Voodoo. These idiosyncratic practices became stigmatized and treated as witchcraft, sorcery, and forces against Christianity. However, a little-known fact is that Brazil has one of the highest populations of Africans, with fifty-two percent of Brazilians identifying as black, and Brazil being second to Nigeria in regards to the number of black inhabitants.
Brazil has had a rough history with Black people, and it is completely the government’s doing. Through a series of policy measures during the twentieth century by the Brazilian government, they tried to create a womanly figure of Brazil, with a mixed-ambiguous race, black, curly hair, tan skin, and an hourglass figure. Later, the dictator of Brazil wanted to neutralize the idea of race. Everything that was African and formerly stigmatized/criminalized became “Brazilian.” This meant that items like Capoeira, a martial arts form of self-defense disguised by former slaves to appear as a dance, and feijoada, the food that Africans made in order to make the meat they received taste better, were all claimed by the government. The only thing not claimed was Candomblé.
A duly noted topic was Queen B herself. Joking that she had nothing better to do than make conspiracy theories about Beyoncé, Professor Redden spoke about the celebrity’s spotting in Latin America, where she was seen carrying her laptop around and meeting with musicians associated with Santeria and Candomblé. She met with religious leaders, too. When Beyoncé released her 2016 album Lemonade, her music video “Love Drought” proved to show signs of initiations into those religions. For one, “Love Drought” includes Diasporic allusions to the Igbo Landing on St. Simons Island in Georgia. This is also close to where Professor Tye grew up. She referenced the story and the Black Panther quote, “My ancestors knew death was better than bondage” when discussing the mass suicide.
Other music videos were diasporic, with locations near water, Spanish mosques, huge oak trees, and more. Beyoncé’s video “Hold Up” includes an introductory dialogue wherein she describes fasting, wearing white, no mirrors, abstinence, not cutting her hair, confessing her sins, and more. These all point to the religions, especially because she replicated the goddess Oshun.
The lecture shifted its focus onto a much more serious topic following the Beyoncé discussion: Forcible Eviction Initiated in Rio de Janeiro. There are about six hundred favelas in Brazil, and before the 2016 Olympics, the government destroyed nearly one hundred of them. These favelas were housing units built by their inhabitants themselves, and they were in very low-income areas. Brazil included shock troops to hasten the eviction of those still living in the favelas that the country needed to destroy. Tear gas grenades were launched at families, there was physical violence against the elderly, and Brazilian soldiers would stand over the beds of the women. The government even destroyed favelas wherein families were still living.
Dr. Redden claims that Barbara Smith, Kimberlé Crenshaw, and Moya Bailey are three of her favorite black women. She loves Barbara Smith because when going to women’s empowerment meetings, she had to leave her race at the door. When going to Black power movements, she had to leave her gender at the door. When she went to both movements, she had to temporarily abandon her queer identity. It was Kimberlé who defined the term intersectionality, and Moya Bailey who coined the word “Misogynoir.” Thus, they have left a lasting impression on how we as people view race, gender, identity, and sexuality cohesively.
Despite it being the International Decade for people of African Descent (2015-2024), hate crimes are on the rise in Rio de Janeiro. There is increasing hostility to syncretic religion, and Brazil has elected officials of terrible caliber. A member of the Brazilian Republican Party and Mayor Marcelo Crivella has cut Carnival funding and de-funded Samba schools. Bolsonaro, the president, is racist, misogynistic, and homophobic, and once said to a woman, “I would not rape you because you do not deserve it. You are not my type, you are just fat and ugly.”
Amidst this political tragedy, Dr. Redden hopes that students, professionals, and citizens, in general, recognize that there is no point to empowerment if there is no cause. There is no point in getting information if people do not know why they are getting that information. She hopes that her students are able to change the world.