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In this episode of The Turn On, Erica and Kenrya talk to writer and geographer Teju Adisa-Farrar about environmental racism, why what we wear matters, breaking the habit of negotiating our worth, how our bodies impact the ways we move through the world, and how racism makes us unsafe—and how we can advocate for change.
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Kenrya: Come here. Get off.
Kenrya: Hey folks, today we are talking to Teju Adisa-Farrar, pronouns she and her. Teju is a Jamaican-American writer, geographer, facilitator, speaker, researcher, and poet from Oakland. For over a decade Teju has worked to connect the dots between environmental, social, cultural, and ecological issues. Her focus is on environmental and cultural equity, circular fiber and food systems, climate justice, Black geographies, urbanism, and decolonial futures. Having lived in several different countries, she uses a transnational lens that is informed by history, art, and activism.
Kenrya: She spends her time consulting with progressive organizations, facilitating intersectional conversations, supporting community initiatives, working on creative projects, and giving talks on urgent topics. Teju is based in Oakland, California, but often she's in other places because she goes where she's called when there's not a pandemic. Thank you so much for coming on.
Teju Adisa-Farrar: Thank you, I'm happy and excited to be here. When my assistant sent me this she was like, "I don't know if you do these kind of things, but just let me know if you want to do it." I was like, "I don't know if I do these kind of things either, so let's just do it and see what happens."
Kenrya: Well, we're glad you said yes.
Erica: Thank you for testing the waters with us. I find it's interesting, we introduce ourselves as a sex/erotica podcast, and then we go out and ask people for interviews and they're like, "What the hell? How is this sexy?" We get to it. So what did you want to be when you grew up?
Teju Adisa-Farrar: So many things. I remember looking at an old notebook and it was like, "Professional soccer player, Indian chief, fire chief, singer, dancer," so many things. Whenever I got that question when I was younger I was like, "But does it have to be one thing?" I always wanted to be many things. And so often when I think about little Teju I'm like, "She would be proud because I'm like seven different things." And they're all connected in some way to me. But I remember for a long time being an Indian chief was something I really wanted to do. Not only because I love Pocahontas, but also because my parents took us to the Thanksgiving, sunrise, on Thanksgiving sunrise ceremony on Alcatraz Island every year if we were in town for Thanksgiving, which is where Indigenous folks from that land come together to say, "This is not a Thanksgiving. This is about colonialism and violence and erasure of our people."
Teju Adisa-Farrar: And so I always remember being so moved by those spaces, even though we had to get up at 3:30 in the morning to drive to San Francisco to take the ferry to the island. And it was so cold, but it was so important. And I remember just seeing these Indigenous people dancing and having ritual and everything that they did, and I was just so enamored by that. And so I think part of my desire to be what I thought was an Indian chief was just remembering that experience growing up. And I still love dancing to this day. I definitely am not in the position to be a professional dancer, but that's still also a big part of what I used to really destress. So I wanted to be many things when I grew up, always, there was never a time where I could ever choose one.
Erica: Okay. So we asked you to come on the show because last week we read this book called “A Spy and a Struggle.” And it was interesting when we first started, because like I said, we read erotica and this is based, in an environmental justice space. So how did you get your start in that space? I think a lot of times we think about environmental justice being a white kid thing, or at least I did growing up in the Midwest.
Teju Adisa-Farrar: Right. And it's also the way that it's defined has been so narrow that sometimes we don't even know that that's what we're doing when we're doing it. So I grew up, the first place I ever lived was in West Oakland, California. And at the time it was the third most dangerous neighborhood in the country and also had the highest rate of pollution in Oakland. Kids in my neighborhood had asthma rates eight times higher than in other places in Oakland. My brother and I grew up with asthma and I also have a lot of environmental allergies. Luckily for us, my parents had PhDs, they worked at university, so we had good healthcare and inhalers and we could go to the doctor and get breathing treatments. And although there were no grocery stores in West Oakland at the time, my parents went to farmer's markets and went further to make sure we had healthy food.
Teju Adisa-Farrar: We had a very limited amount of times we could go to the corner store every week because they were like, "There's nothing there that is good for your body." And so our experience growing up in West Oakland, although similar in some ways to the kids around me, was very different because my parents had social capital and had the ability and time to create an environment for us in our home that was resisting the environment outside of us. And so soon my dad moved to East Oakland, and then eventually my mom moved to East Oakland where air quality was a little bit better. But when I was 17 I started working for an organization called Grind for the Green. And it was started by Zakiya Harris and [Ambesa Cantabe 00:06:01]. And the idea was to bring urban kids of color, Black kids from the Bay area, from the margins to the epicenter of the environmental movement, because we experience environmental pollution and toxins at a higher rate.
Teju Adisa-Farrar: And so I was like, "I need to work here," because that was my experience. And I was able to understand it and talk about it because I had a very political upbringing because I went to private school, because I had this environment that my parents created that was healthier than the actual environment that we grew up in. And during that same time I also did an internship with Greenpeace. And Greenpeace was in downtown Oakland, and they had me working on a campaign about the polar bears. And I was like, "Ten minutes from here there are kids who have asthma at higher rates because of the port of Oakland and because West Oakland is literally in the center of three major highways and they started adding onto those highways as the Black population increased. And you're talking about polar bears? What are you talking about?"
Teju Adisa-Farrar: And so I was having this dual experience of being in this very white organization that said it was an environmental organization and simultaneously was like, "Environmental justice is not the same as environmentalism." And I'm like, "Well, if the ice caps are melting because the globe is warming and the pollution we're experiencing is adding to the globe warming, then it doesn't matter if the polar bears are saved if kids in West Oakland are dying. It actually is the same thing, and separating it is part of white supremacy." And then simultaneously we're doing hip-hop events, peer education. We did a bike-powered concert with Dead Prez to get these kids of color in the Bay who were my age interested in the environmental movement in the early, mid-2000s. And that was something that really wasn't happening.
Teju Adisa-Farrar: And so that was my first official experience of being in an environmental justice organization. And then when I got to college at Wesleyan I took an environmental justice class, I started studying urban sociology because I had already been interested in what we called urban issues that mostly impacted Black folks and our environment in a variety of ways was unhealthy and violent for us. And so pollution was just one of many things that we were dealing with. So that was my official entry. And then over the past decade I've worked on all kinds of issues that ultimately I think have to deal with racism and our environment, and landed back in the environmental and sustainability space in the last few years after completing my masters.
Kenrya: Great. Wow. So you mentioned in your bio that you apply a transnational lens. Can we talk about how the places where you've lived inform your work?
Teju Adisa-Farrar: Mm-hmm. So my junior year in college I spent a year in Galway, Ireland. And everyone was like, "Why do you want to go to Ireland? You care about Black people and Black stuff. You don't even like the cold because you're Jamaican." But I just had this urge to go to Ireland. And there were several Irish, I think, in the 18th and 19th centuries who were brought to Jamaica as indentured servants, because they also were a colony of Great Britain. And I went to Ireland and had an amazing time. It was so beautiful and green. And while I was there I was doing research and working with their traveler population, which some people call gypsies, but they're really not gypsies. There are some theories that they are the descendants of people who were left houseless during the famine and just have created this life of living in trailers and being in endemic poverty.
Teju Adisa-Farrar: And the way that Irish people would talk about the travelers was sort of the way that white people talked about Black Americans. They would say, "They're inherently aggressive, they're lazy, they're not educated." And they were systemically discriminated against. The community center and where they lived was literally at the margins of Galway. It was at the edge of the city, and most people in Ireland at that time didn't want to live near them, so there were certain neighborhoods they could not live in. They did not go to secondary school at higher rates and all of this because of poverty that was not inherent but structural, but people talked about it as if it was inherent. So I was able to draw these connections between the ways that Irish people who were travelers were spoken about by Irish and Black people who were Americans were spoken about by white Americans, and this idea of inferiority.
Teju Adisa-Farrar: And that made me realize that this sort of colonial structure exists in multiple places and impacts us in multiple ways. And then for my masters I returned to Europe and I did a program where we lived in four cities over two years. So we started in Brussels, then we moved to Vienna, then Copenhagen, and Madrid. And the idea is that we would understand the different urban geographies of different capital cities in Europe. And so over that time I was focused on Black artists and activists in Europe and the way that the environments of European capital cities impacted their mobility, their sense of self, and essentially their livelihoods and how they were able to live in the world. And so in addition to spending time in Jamaica and Panama and Brazil and several countries in Africa, it occurs to me that there are so many human experiences of violence and exclusion and environmental racism that are happening to Black people and other people who are marginalized around the world.
Teju Adisa-Farrar: And so it's not just a West Oakland issue or a Brooklyn issue or a Brixton issue or a Cartagena issue. It's actually a global issue that we're dealing with. And I feel like in knowing that it can feel a little overwhelming, but also it shows us that there are so many opportunities for solidarity, because really people of color are the global majority. And so if we come together across the world, then there's no stopping us. So that transnational approach to me just feels necessary because we're dealing with human issues and there are humans across the globe who are experiencing similar things despite living completely different lives.
Erica: Okay, so just to go back a little bit, Kenrya said in your bio that you focus on a number of things, most of which I understood. However, circular fiber and food systems, what is that, and why is it important?
Teju Adisa-Farrar: Yes, fiber and food are things that we use on a daily basis and take for granted. Food we understand because we eat it. Fiber is literally fabric, textiles, washcloths, sponges, anything made out of fabric, anything made out of fiber. And unlike food, where we have this more immediate idea of what we're consuming and whether it's organic or not and if it's good for us or not, with our clothing we don't necessarily think about the fact that a lot of clothing is made from plastic. And in addition to the products that we use that are fiber based, in communities of color there tend to be less natural fibers, less organic fibers used. And so of course there's offgassing from our clothing. There's offgassing from anything that is petroleum based, that's plastic based, and a lot of clothing these days are made that way. Not because it is better, but because it is cheaper.
Teju Adisa-Farrar: And plastic pollution, petrochemical companies are polluting Black communities at higher rates. There's a place called Cancer Alley in Louisiana where it has the highest density of petrochemical plants, and people think of plastic as bottles, but actually spandex, polyester, all of those types of synthetic fiber fabrics are made from petroleum products. And so this thing about fiber systems is that not only are they destroying the environment because they're made out of plastic, but actually we have enough natural materials to only make clothes organically with sustainable natural fibers, but also in that process to pull some carbon down from the atmosphere and to not be putting toxic products on our bodies, on our skin if we don't have to just because they're cheaper. And so the idea of circular fiber systems is that from the seed, the cotton seed that is used to grow the cotton that becomes fabric and a textile in your t-shirt, to when you recycle that, that it can go back to the earth, into the soil without poisoning it and become new soil for more cotton seeds to make the fiber that makes the fabric that makes your shirt.
Teju Adisa-Farrar: And so the idea is that we're making things higher quality using natural fibers within bioregions that are simultaneously pulling down carbon from the atmosphere, and carbon emissions are what contribute to climate change. And simultaneously those of us who live in communities where we don't have all of the organic natural fibers are not further putting toxics and plastics on our body just because it's cheaper. So that is something that is seemingly very niche, but also very mundane because we all come into contact with fiber all the time and don't usually think about how it's affecting our health or the environment.
Kenrya: Yeah. That was an awesome explanation. So you've written, I was combing through your articles, your published articles and blogs and whatnot. And you've written about the experience of being embodied as a Black woman on this very colonized, very greenhouse gas covered land. How does your body impact the way that you move through the world?
Teju Adisa-Farrar: So much. You know, just the other day I was thinking of how much of what I choose to wear is determined by how far I have to walk because of the type of attention that I get largely from cis heterosexual men and how my getting dressed, although it's not about them, I feel like I have to think about them to keep myself safe and to keep certain energy out of my space when I'm walking for long distances. And so I have a very curvy body. I developed very young, had my period very young, when I was 10. And so from a very young age I started getting a lot of attention from men that made me feel very uncomfortable and made it very hard for me to simultaneously deal with the fact that I loved clothes and I love getting dressed and I love looking good.
Teju Adisa-Farrar: And we had to go to church every Sunday, so we always had to dress up for that. And I really liked my body, but I didn't like the types of attention that I received from men. And so I think in some respects there were only very specific spaces where I would embrace my sexuality and my curves because I just wanted to feel safe. And I didn't always feel safe walking through the world. And even now as an adult woman I still make some of those calculations. And there are some days where I'm like, "Look, I'm wearing what I'm wearing. People are going to respond to me and feel how they feel. And if I need to punch some people in the throat, then I'm prepared to do that."
Teju Adisa-Farrar: But I don't want to always have to feel on guard like that. And I think as I, especially in the last couple years, have been really just embracing my body and the way it changes and the way that it looks, I still feel a little bit of attention with my ability to just walk through the world unbothered by people who are on the streets, on these streets. And so I'm not sure if that's something that I will get over or break through, but it is something that still impacts my life a lot. Because I love walking and I walk almost everywhere that I can. And I do think every time I'm about to walk somewhere about how what I'm wearing is going to meet the patriarchy that is outside.
Kenrya: We're just out here trying to be free.
Teju Adisa-Farrar: I mean ... Always saying shit. And I'm like just, "Why can't you ... I don't care what you're thinking in your head, but the fact that you feel like you need to ..."
Kenrya: Keep it to yourself.
Teju Adisa-Farrar: Why do you have to bring it into my energy?
Kenrya: Why have you got to say it out loud?
Teju Adisa-Farrar: Like, I'm good.
Erica: Shutting the fuck up is free.
Teju Adisa-Farrar: I was living fine without your comments about who I am. So no, thank you.
Kenrya: Exactly. Yep.
Erica: What's your favorite thing about your work?
Teju Adisa-Farrar: When people tell me that there was two things that I said that they knew, but that they didn't see how they were connected. I think that's the most rewarding, because I don't feel like I am ever sharing new information. Although especially when I have older white women that who are in the orgs that I'm consulting with or in my workshops, it seems like it's new information. But I'm just really connecting the dots between information that I've gathered and continue to gather over time. And so when I see people say, "Oh, that makes sense." And then the next question is, "Why didn't I learn that connection in college, high school, this job," blah, whatever the list of places they could have learned it at, that is really for me and that's why I call myself a connector.
Teju Adisa-Farrar: And that's why I say my work is about connecting the dots, because that is what I hope that people are able to do. Just hear some things that they know or have heard of, and then put them together and say, "Oh, right, this is a system." And I'm like, "Yes, that's why we've got to change it." And they're like, "Oh, okay. I get it." I'm like, "Great."
Erica: Hm. Okay. So on the other side, what is the most challenging part?
Teju Adisa-Farrar: Trying to figure out how people should pay me, because people don't want to pay you on time. And also as a younger looking Black woman there is always a discrepancy in what you know your value to be and what you should charge for that. And also as a independent self-employed person, there's not always manuals, especially for the type of work that I do, which is largely made up from all of my experiences, on how much you should charge for things. And because I feel like this work is necessary work, I have to remind myself that it is still work. So I should, I'm trying to navigate, I always find ways to be like, "Well, I should give them more for less, so then they know I'm really good at what I do." And I'm like, "That's not how they know I'm good. I'm good because I'm good. And that's why they are hiring me."
Teju Adisa-Farrar: So the hardest thing is the money part of it, because I know that what I'm doing is valuable, but there's not a specific industry that it fits neatly into, so I don't know, I have to make up what I think those compensation standards are for myself and feel good about it. And so much of the work, it's hard to put it into a timeframe. Because when I'm creating these workshops and designing strategies, it's from like 10 books that I've read over the past five years and three workshops I went to and two I facilitated, and all of that culminates into a two-hour workshop that they then listen to or whatever. But it's hard to sometimes quantify that. So the money part is the most difficult for me, actually.
Kenrya: So yeah.
Erica: That's real. That's super real, because I think, sorry, I apologize, Kenrya, for butting in, but yeah, that's super real. Because we have to, I'm independently employed now, and one of the things that I struggled with a lot was, how much do I charge? And I'm working with a business coach, and the first thing she said, she was like, "People don't trust cheap shit. You can be amazing, it could be a legit Chanel bag, but because it's cheap, we doubt it. So don't be some cheap shit that people don't trust or don't value because you don't value it." That's real stuff.
Kenrya: Yeah, that's also something that I struggle with. I've been working independently since 2008, but I did not do a rate card and stick to it until this year. And a lot of that is because so much of what I do is, it's consulting. And so everything is on a case by case basis, right? And I was in therapy earlier this year and I was talking to my therapist about how I was stressed about trying to set a rate for a project. And she was like, "You have to stop doing this." And I was like, "What are you talking about?" And she was like, "By you not having set rates and figuring it out every time somebody reaches out to you, you're not negotiating your rate, you're negotiating yourself. Every time you are figuring out what is your worth and you are going back and forth with yourself and lowballing yourself and everything else, and it feels terrible."
Kenrya: So my homework became that I needed to set up a rate card and I needed to stick to it. And so part of it also is that I give different rates depending on the industry. And she's like, "All right, well then, let that be your guide." So for every line item of work of the different types of consulting that I do, I have a base rate, I have a corporate rate, I have a nonprofit discount rate. That discount is a set percentage that works across every line item in terms of the different work that I do. And while I have still had some moments where I had to hit up Erica and be like, "Oh my God, I need to give them this rate and I'm worried that they're going to be like, 'No, thank you,'" it has made it so much easier.
Kenrya: And I did, only once have I had somebody come back and say, "We can't do it," but it was only because they wanted something last minute and I have a 50% markup for rush projects. And so whatever, it wasn't important enough for them or they didn't have the budget to be able to meet the rate. And it was fine, I didn't have time anyway. But what it has reminded me is that it's okay to ask for what we want. I also do hourly rates a lot of times unless a flat rate makes the most sense, because of all of the stuff that goes into consulting. Or I'll do a base rate, but if it goes over this certain amount of time or this date, then this rate kicks in, that kind of thing. And it has been incredibly helpful with taking out that anxiety of that rate setting.
Kenrya: So for you or for anybody else that needed to hear that, I hope that it's helpful. It's helped me a lot, a lot, a lot to be able to have my work set up in that way. And so far everybody has said yes. Or one group negotiated and they were still above the minimum that I would have taken to do the work. So hey, everybody wins. It just took getting out of my own way about being afraid that people will say no, or reminding myself that the worst thing is that they say no. Okay, I didn't have the money to begin with.
Teju Adisa-Farrar: And that's that sense of scarcity that I think especially Black communities and Black women are forced into, where it's like there's never enough. There's never enough. So what if they can't give me ... And then it's like, okay, but then they weren't the right ones in the first place.
Teju Adisa-Farrar: You know, we shouldn't just take crumbs just because we think that's what's there. You know?
Teju Adisa-Farrar: And so thank God for therapy and business coaching. Because I have a therapist and I did business coaching, because I also was like, "I'm causing myself anxiety and stress that is not mine." There is money in the world.
Kenrya: Just trying to make some money, yeah.
Teju Adisa-Farrar: I mean, there's money in the world, and lots of it. And that doesn't necessarily mean that I want all of it, but it means that if I'm living from a place of scarcity, that is literally false because we know that there's so much abundance in the world.
Kenrya: That's right.
Teju Adisa-Farrar: So I also, part of that money challenge that I've been dealing with is getting out of that scarcity mindset and just being like, "Okay, this is something I'm outsourcing to my assistant because I don't want to be asking for money because it causes me anxiety. And so that's something that I was like, "I need to get help with this." Because if I'm focusing, it takes me an hour and a half to send an email just to say, "This is what you're supposed to pay me for something," that's not the work. That's not effective to what I'm trying to do. So I also like, if you can afford to get help and you can get help, get help. Because we don't have to do this, can't do this by ourselves.
Kenrya: That's real shit. Yay. Awesome. Oh, and I also remind myself that white man ask for exorbitant amounts of money to be fucking ...
Teju Adisa-Farrar: For nothing.
Kenrya: Mediocre or terrible. Yeah. So fuck it. I'm going to ask for it because I'm fantastic.
Erica: Yeah, look at their rate card one good time. If you're ever doubting yourself, because a lot of times people don't share their information, but if you're ever doubting yourself, go to a public agency's website and look at contracts. And you will see what these motherfuckers are charging. You're like, "Oh, shit, I could easily do ... I can do it at a cheaper rate and still be like them." Although you shouldn't. So yeah.
Kenrya: So in the book that we read, the activists, the environmental activists, they're labeled as Black identity extremists, which of course we know is not very far off of what happens in the real world. And they're specifically targeted by the FBI. And I'm not saying that you've been targeted by the FBI, but I am wondering, how does racism impact your ability to do your work?
Teju Adisa-Farrar: It is my work. I'm always saying, "Black, Black, Black, Blackety Black," because that is the world that I have been raised into no matter where I am in the world. And the fact that we just can't be human means that my life goal has to be to remind people that we are first and foremost humans before we are Black. And that's because racism is literally embedded into all the structures and all the environments of the world through all kinds of environmental racism, redlining, zoning in the US, residential segregation, immigration in Europe, colonialism through unequal trade policies on the continent of Africa and in the Caribbean. Literally racism impacts me in every way. And I think part of what happens with my work on the lowest superficial level is that people assume that I am going to teach them about microaggressions, or that I'm going to define what racism is, or that I'm automatically a diversity, equity, and inclusion consultant just because I talk about Blackness and our relationship to our environment.
Teju Adisa-Farrar: And on a higher level, if I'm going to a protest, if I want to go out into these streets, I have to always think about what happens when and if the police comes, and if my body is going to be safe and what I am prepared to do. And so during last summer's uprisings I was being very COVID isolated and safe, because some people in my life have cancer. And there was a moment where I decided I needed to go out into the streets, and I had to really make a lot of contingency plans to make sure that whatever went down that night, I was going to be as safe as I could be while still being in solidarity with the folks who were on the streets. And that night it was fine, the police didn't come. There were some snipers on the roof, but there was no police presence. The protest happened, it was good, it was energizing. I went home, didn't have to use any milk because there was no mace, but I was prepared for all of those things.
Teju Adisa-Farrar: And that's the same with just stepping outside every day. Similarly to thinking about how men are going to enter my space, I think about what happens if police enter my space. I also think about what happens when and if people find me online who are conservative, who are trolls, who are whatever, because the amount of threats, death threats, name calling that women of color activists get on the internet is very real. And so those are all sorts of things that I have to think about specifically because I'm Black and cannot pass for anything else. And also because I am a cis woman and have a very gendered looking body. So it definitely impacts my ability to not focus on safety.
Teju Adisa-Farrar: And so during the pandemic when white people would be like, "Safety, safe, we need to be safe," I'm like, "We're not safe every day." Every day we are not safe. A virus is not safe, the police are not safe. We are prematurely close to death at all times, so this virus is just a symptom of something that we have already experienced. So now white people were feeling like they weren't safe because of COVID-19, but that's an experience that I feel every day as a Black woman, and especially in doing work that is adjacent to, supportive of activism. There is a real threat of just the different ways that we could be made unsafe.
Erica: Right. Okay, a little bit more from the book. It's actually interesting when you talked about the organization that you first got started in in the book. They're based not in Oakland, but definitely Bay Area, California. And it's a youth organization that's run by some adults, and the protagonist, one of the protagonists gets kind of plopped in there by the FBI. So she finds love in the movement and it's all, you know, but anyway, she finds love in the movement. Have you, and I personally, definitely not as high stakes as what you have been doing, but I've worked on political campaigns, and I equate it to summer camp. We're all stuck together in this little space, and then the nigga that you don't really, well, the person that you might not normally think is fine on the regular street, because you're all stuck together all the time, you're like, "Mm." So now we're getting juicy. Have you ever fallen for someone you've been working beside that you can share? Because we don't want to reveal no secrets.
Teju Adisa-Farrar: Yeah, I don't know.
Teju Adisa-Farrar: Working beside, because I've been mostly freelancing since college. But definitely in doing research for some of my work with Black activists and artists, I am in spaces with really amazing, beautiful humans of color and Black people, men and women. And there have definitely been moments where what I call community, you get involved with some of the community. And that has definitely happened to me a few times. And especially in Europe, where it feels like there's even less people of color, you want to get underneath each other and be as close as possible because you feel like, "This is where I belong." And there is this sense that we're all we've got and there's not an understanding from people on the streets.
Teju Adisa-Farrar: So definitely in Europe, the overlap of political activism and being in community in political activists, artists, usually artivist spaces, definitely got involved with some people and had to really consider what that meant for me as not only a researcher, but also as someone who wants to continue to be in community in a healthy way. And as someone who knew that I was go going into communities for a period of time and coming out, that also has to deal with how I want to be perceived and if I want to go in and be messy and then leave or not. And so I did have to think a lot when I would be in these situationships with folks or would be in sexual intimate relationships with folks, had to consider what that meant for my bigger relationship to community. So that is definitely ... Oh, that is, it's like ...
Teju Adisa-Farrar: It feels like it should be possible not to do that, but we do do that. And that's why so many Black love stories are trauma bonding. People are just bonding through straight up trauma. And a lot of people's relationship to Blackness is trauma even as much as it's dancing and joy and music and food. It is also really centered in trauma. And so when you are in those spaces where you're constantly thinking through about trauma, even if it's not the word that we're using, I think those are the ripe opportunities where we're like, "Hm, is it tension or love? I don't know. Let's just do it anyways."
Kenrya: Real shit. I am in there. So what do you wish that more Black people knew about environmental equity?
Teju Adisa-Farrar: That is such a good question, what I wish more people knew. I think that we don't have to live in the environments that we live in. That we live in these environments by design and that they are kept unhealthy by design, and that our separation from nature and gardening and plants that is not even true to who we are is by design, because the more connected we are to nature and the more healthy environments we have, the more we're able to strive and be resilient. And so I really hope that Black people can know that. And there's a phrase that we use all the time, "It is what it is." And I'm like, "No, actually it's not." It is never is what it is. All this shit is by design, and it is structured so that we cannot thrive so that we don't love each other so that we don't love ourselves so that we're not healthy so that we can't think about why we're working for people who don't care about us.
Teju Adisa-Farrar: All of this is designed so that we feel less than, so that we don't ask for our value in the world. I think all racism is environmental because in order for it to be effective, it has to be in every aspect of our environment. In our home, in our neighborhoods, in the city, in the nation, on the streets, on the bus, there's no place where you could really be Black and safe fully. They will come into your house and shoot you. They will shoot you on the street. They'll shoot you in Grandma's yard. They'll shoot you in the store. They do not care. And so racism, I think, has to be environmental for it to be so effective. So what I hope that all Black people know is that it is not what it is in terms of where we live, how we live, what's around us, what we have access to, what we don't. It is by design.
Teju Adisa-Farrar: And so when we understand that fully, we can really change it and demand that it be changed and take up the space that we need to take up, because it will not be given to us.
Erica: So what is one thing you wish we would all start doing today?
Teju Adisa-Farrar: Going to therapy. I love therapy.
Teju Adisa-Farrar: And I wish that there was a program that would pay Black people to go to therapy. Because sometimes we cannot immediately change our environments, but we can change our minds and heal. And if we cannot heal, even if we live in the best neighborhood, we are going to keep producing environments in our households, with our friends and our communities that are not healthy. So I wish every Black person could not only go to therapy, but that the government as part of reparations would pay Black people to go to therapy, pay for therapy for Black people in addition to eliminating all of our debt, education, credit, medical, all debt for Black people. That would be my reparations plan, if anyone was asking.
Kenrya: Dig it, love it.
Erica: I'm here for it.
Kenrya: What's your superpower?
Teju Adisa-Farrar: What is my superpower? I think connection. I was going to be like, "Connecting the dots between all these," blah, blah, but I think it's just connection, period. Connecting with people, connecting with information, connecting with nature, connecting with different cultures. Connection is really important to me. And I think while I am smart and articulate and read a lot of books and all this stuff, that people who I work with over long periods of time, it's because there's some connection, whether it's with a whole organization or a collective of people or individuals that I'm supporting or interviewing. I think I don't connect with everyone, but the folks that I do connect with, it is really special.
Kenrya: Hm. Right. What are you reading right now?
Teju Adisa-Farrar: I am reading Cicely Tyson's biography. And it's called “Just As I Am: A Memoir.” And every night I'm like, "Okay, Teju, you need to not stay up reading this freaking book." And I am just hooked every night. And I'm like, "Okay, it's 10:30. I'm going to be in bed by 12:00." I look at the clock, it's 1:07. I'm like, "Really? Cicely Tyson, I'm up until 1:00 in the morning." People were like, "What'd you do last night?" I was like, "I read Cicely Tyson's biography." I'm just so ... And not so much of the story, but the way that she writes her story, Miles Davis is a recurring character. And the way that their relationship is understood is like, he was terrible and beat her ass and she left him. But what she talks about is that she didn't realize she had trauma around her father until Miles kept coming back into her life.
Teju Adisa-Farrar: And she was like, "Okay, I know you have issues, but this is my project." And so part of feeling like, even though our lives are different and I'm not trying to be an actress and it's just a different time period, there's so many things that she says that I relate to just as a person who has loved people and who loves people and who also was constantly trying to understand the traumas that I got from my parents, no matter how good they were and how amazing they were. We still get these traumas. And so I am reading that book. And then also a book called “Black Bodies, White Gold” by Anna Kesson. And it is about basically the visual culture of cotton in the 19th century and how that was juxtaposed with Black bodies and predicated on exploitation of Black bodies. And so she talks about the way that cotton and enslaved Africans in the Americas were shown in all this imagery to basically create this romantic idea of slavery for America.
Teju Adisa-Farrar: And it's very ... There are moments where there's a lot of jargon and I have to read sentences a couple of times, but her perspective and the dots she connects, I'm like, "Oh, I didn't even think about it like that." And even just little things like, slave masters would ask for the harshest cotton for the enslaved Africans to wear. So they would wear the refined cotton and they would literally call up factories and be like, "We need whatever the bad cotton is, the harsh cotton is, because that's what our enslaved folks are going to wear." And so even just the idea of fiber to skin, "You don't even want us to be comfortable as we're being uncomfortable in being enslaved." That is so deep.
Erica: And it's not even that they want us to be uncomfortable. They go out of their way.
Teju Adisa-Farrar: Right, exactly. That's what it is.
Erica: To make sure we're uncomfortable. It's not just like, it's like, "No, give me what's the worst so that I can make sure I give it to them."
Kenrya: It's fucking evil.
Teju Adisa-Farrar: It's evil, and it's also like, and these are the people who create your wealth and that's how you treat them. So it shows you what people actually value. So yeah, those are the two, those are the two books that I'm reading right now. And it's, yeah, it's good.
Erica: What's turning you on today?
Teju Adisa-Farrar: That's a great question. I just feel like in the last few weeks these Black women artists have just been putting out these hot, steamy, sexy videos. Ari Lennox with “Pressure,” Chloe Bailey with “Have Mercy,” even though I don't think they're really taking advantage of her voice, the song's about her ass, so that's the whole point. But these videos, I'm just mesmerized. I'm like, "Get it, do all the sex stuff." I would not have my ass out there, my dad would be like, "I'm sorry, what?" But I just love that sort of freedom and that claiming of body. I really, I'm not that much older than the people, I'm like, "These young people," but I would never be in a video in a leotard, even though I love my body, because I have some kind of respectability barrier that I try to break through. And so when I see it I'm just like, "Get it." I just love it so much. So those videos are turning me on because they're hot.
Erica: I love it. Okay. We're going to do a really quick rapid fire word association. I'm going to shout a word, shout back or just say first thing that comes to mind. Okay?
Teju Adisa-Farrar: Joy.
Teju Adisa-Farrar: Sex.
Teju Adisa-Farrar: The first word that came to me was sacrifice, but I don't know if I believe that, but let's go with sacrifice.
Erica: Okay. Future.
Teju Adisa-Farrar: Black
Teju Adisa-Farrar: Gold.
Teju Adisa-Farrar: Trees.
Erica: That works. That's all I got. See?
Kenrya: So as we wrap up, what's next for you? What are you working on?
Teju Adisa-Farrar: So I am in Brooklyn, New York, and I will be here for few months. And a project that I'm excited about, not sure when it's coming out, but I'm going to be doing a podcast on the relationship between Black culture and materials in our environment. Textiles, Black identity, farming, supply chains, Black culture, textiles, all of the various things that I think about. So that is going to be happening. That's something I'm working on this fall. And I'm also, I'm trying to figure out what's next. I was in a scarcity mindset for a long time, and finally this year I was like, "Okay, you can afford your life. You're creating unnecessary stress. What type of work do you want to take on?"
Teju Adisa-Farrar: Because up to this point I'm just like, "Whatever I get." Not whatever I get, but if contracts want to be extended, even if I don't want to extend the contract, I'm like, "It's guaranteed money. Just extend that contract." And now I'm like, "I think I can end some of these contracts and think about what kind of contracts I want next."
Erica: Fuck your contract.
Teju Adisa-Farrar: So I'm exploring right now what's next. So I think the podcast will fill up some time and space, and then hopefully I could do some reflecting and visioning on what type of work I want to take on. Especially as the pandemic continues to surge on, even though people were like, "It's going to be over," at every point. So we'll see.
Teju Adisa-Farrar: Right. So we'll see.
Erica: We in this for a minute.
Kenrya: Right. So where can people find you to be able to know when your podcast launches, to be able to keep up with your work?
Teju Adisa-Farrar: Yes, my website, which is just my full name, www.TejuAdisaFarrar.com, and really the only social media-
Kenrya: Can you spell that?
Teju Adisa-Farrar: Yes. T-E-J-U-A-D-I-S-A-F-A-R-R-A-R.com. And really the only social media platform that I pay attention to is Instagram, @MissTej, M-I-S-S-T-E-J. And so those are the best places, on my website or through my Instagram. You could sign up for my newsletter, which doesn't come out often, but it'll let you know what I've done over like the last four months, sometimes five months, depending on how often I get it out.
Teju Adisa-Farrar: Right, life.
Erica: It's not that it doesn't come out often.
Teju Adisa-Farrar: Exactly, exactly.
Erica: It's just that you do not want to bother your subscribers too much ...
Teju Adisa-Farrar: I like to just be like, "These are all things I've done and I'm doing. Okay, see you in another six months."
Erica: It's a low ... Yes.
Teju Adisa-Farrar: Yeah, so Instagram and my website are the best places to find me.
Kenrya: Dope. Well, you all go follow, subscribe to that newsletter that you'll get a couple times here when it may happen. And I just want to say thank you for coming on. This was dope.
Teju Adisa-Farrar: Thank you for inviting me.
Kenrya: Thank you, this was.
Teju Adisa-Farrar: It was less nerve-wracking than I thought.
Kenrya: No nerve-wracking.
Teju Adisa-Farrar: I listened to a couple episodes, I was like, "Oh, they're getting into it. Okay."
Kenrya: See, we try not to push the guests too far. Just because we are comfortable talking about all of the things doesn't mean that everybody else is.
Teju Adisa-Farrar: But the episodes I listened to, I was like, "This is great. This is so helpful." There were things that were resonating, and I really appreciated how explicit people were about the situation. Because we don't talk about this enough.
Teju Adisa-Farrar: So yeah, I'm happy to have learned about this podcast and have been on it.
Kenrya: Yay. Thank you. And thank all of you for listening.
Erica: Thank you, thank you.
Kenrya: We'll get back next week. Take care.
Kenrya: This episode was produced by us, Kenrya and Erica, and edited by B'Lystic. The theme music is from Brazy. Hit subscribe right now in your favorite podcast app and at YouTube.com/TheTurnOnPodcast, so you'll never miss an episode.
Erica: Then follow us on Twitter @TheTurnOnPod and Instagram @TheTurnOnPodcast. And you can find links to books, transcripts, guest info, what's turning us on, and other fun stuff at TheTurnOnPodcast.com.
Kenrya: And don't forget to email us at TheTurnOnPodcast@gmail.com with your book recommendations and your pressing sex-and related questions.
Erica: And you can support the show by leaving us a five-star review, buying some merch or becoming a patron of the show. Just head to TheTurnOnPodcast.com to make that happen.
Kenrya: Thanks for listening and we'll see you soon. Holla.
The Turn On
The Turn On is a podcast for Black people who want to get off. To open their minds. To learn. To be part of a community. To show that we love and fuck too, and it doesn't have to be political or scandalous or dirty. Unless we want it to be.