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I am grateful for the analyses, theories, and musings offered here about the Captive Maternal. I have no critiques of the gifts offered. My thanks to Scalawag for sharing its maroon site. Marronage is an essential part of the evolutionary trek of the Captive Maternal towards transformations that alter the world as we know it through our fear, loathing, and love.

Colonial capitalism, enslavement, mass rape, mutilation, and denigration of the African/Black are all shaped by an antiblack world. Historically reduced to "raw resources," labor, and psychic consumption, we were branded through carnage. King Leopold of Belgium created a private colony and the severed hands that accumulated in the Congo remind us of what the Captive Maternal (CM) as the "Black," in the U.S. and abroad, faces, fears, and fights.

The Captive Maternal emerges within the "end of the world," which becomes the New World of conquest, chattel slavery, and genocide.

The CM is not a form of multiculturalism/multiracialism; it is a departure from those constructs. This trek focuses on imperialism and antiblackness, not on the accumulations of trinkets and accomplishments within the current regimes. Dishonor and terror are not equally distributed. Logically, neither is love. What we mutate into in searches of Revolutionary Love often looks like the trek towards the Captive Maternal seeking the latter stages of resistance. 

The petri-dish legacy of Spaniards and Portuguese defeating Arabs, Africans, and Islam in January 1492 was followed later that year by financing for Columbus to sail towards the Americas and incite an apocalypse. (Raoul Peck's Exterminate All the Brutes provides narrative and visuals of the disaster known as the "New World" that followed.) The Captive Maternal emerges within the "end of the world," which becomes the New World of conquest, chattel slavery, and genocide. Rebels though always precede and follow capture. 

Captive Maternals are not identified by individual or personal identities—not by gender, social status, class or formal education. They are a function, not an identity. They/we are identified by their/our function in service, caretaking, sacrifice, and resistance to dishonor and disposability. In the earlier stages one sees the conflicted or celebratory Captive Maternal; survival under captivity requires or dictates compromises: Stage 1. Continued protest against exploitation, denigration, impoverishment, and imprisonment impacts individual and communal registers shaped by the material, emotional, intellectual, spiritual, psychological, sexual. Protesters emerge from among the conventional and compliant caretakers and begin to engage in refusals; they raise the digitus impudicus, chant and yell in protests: Stage 2. When protests turn to organized movements, they foster the creation and discipline of communities in resistance to predatory structures: Stage 3. Movements can mutate into maroon camps: Stage 4. Those autonomous zones must be defended because radical Black autonomy for freedom from empire is prohibited on plantations, in slave camps, prisons, and informal arenas of capture; hence, war resisters emerge out of necessity: Stage 5. These stages are not political Legos building blocks. They are the expressions of quantum entanglement that enriches and eviscerates captives. Not everything can be spoken or sketched out; sometimes, you just have to act like a Captive Maternal in the middle of a play. Of course, pleasure and sanctuary exist in current forms: sex, poetry, dialectical dancing and bashing; teaching, dying, birthing. Also, there is always the strategic retreat.  

We move or fall, breathe or suffocate, while living and caretaking amid hostilities towards Black life.

Captive Maternals are flawed. They/we salvage, but they/we are not saviors. They/we are practitioners. Some practice the art of political alchemy to transpose exhaustion, exploitation, and resentments into protests and rebellions. Some live long lives (rest in peace, Harry Belafonte). Some die rapidly at the hands of others (rest in power, Breonna Taylor). What would and could we do over centuries of frustrations, savage trauma, and outrage through endurance against lynching, state violence, rape, and police murder? Create a womb to push out a mutation that would confront our antagonists and force said antagonists to stop feeding on our lives and deaths.

We move or fall, breathe or suffocate, while living and caretaking amid hostilities towards Black life. Black parents and communities labor to keep children, elders, and themselves stable and protected. That care can be fueled by fear or love, or loyalty, or a mixture of motivations. Our labor is often used to stabilize the very structures that prey upon us, particularly our rebels and resisters. In the first stage of the Captive Maternal, we are conflicted or celebratory caretakers in the "hold" or in the big house. Agape—love through political will—is our cradle and compass. Our generative powers are often stolen, siphoned, and repurposed by the state, corporation, and nonprofit. Steal them back. We fear but crave rebellions, walk like a toddler given the mixed messaging: (re)steal oneself from slavery. 

Often, as a people, cadre, collective, nomad, or disjointed member, our solid contributions seem ephemeral; we appear passive and confused. That might have more to do with popular memory overwhelming objective histories of struggle. (The sentimentalizing of Black revolutionaries is a market now.) Perhaps we are waiting for new signs and symbols; perhaps we have already begun drafting the architecture for our movement and cocoons. Given that time cannot be gauged by a conventional clock, it might be best to stop waiting for the meanings of symbols and signs and focus on the functions. We can stay at one level or stage for years and decades, only to rapidly progress towards struggles of liberation that the state, funders, and influencers have to shoot down. Yet, even when we scale back into a retreat, underneath compromises and disgruntled acquiescence there are ghosts who sit by the door. 

After attending President Biden's State of the Union Address, Samaria Rice reminds us in the 2023 Family, Freedom, & Security roundtable—with Amanda Wallace, Dawn Wooten, and Joyce McMillan—that she will comply but not obey state and police powers.

For me, that helps to explain my Captive Maternal and their diverse emotional registers and insights: comply to save a life, but never obey to kill one. My preference is for Captive Maternals who have a maroon camp with a security plan. What would your CM pine and fight for? In the past, fields, swamps, and mountains sheltered us and provided a respite from surveillance and servitude. Today, our collectives and cooperatives require and organize birth doulas, death doulas, housing, food, health, dignified and compensated labor, study groups and education. We stabilize our zones with art and architecture and intellectual archery. We have missions, sometimes theoretical or material or dialectical. There is a mandate to recoup our generative powers and labor back from those who enslave and imprison us. Freeing our future, present, and past is a priority. What and who owns the meanings of our rebellions against enslavement? The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is infamous for its roles in assassinating liberation movement leaders such as Patrice Lumumba and Amilcar Cabral. The daughters of el-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz (Malcolm X) are suing the CIA/FBI/NYPD for the murder of their father. The CIA has recently captured Harriet Tubman and cemented her in their quad; they claim that she belongs to and works for them. I wonder if contemporary Captive Maternals can free ancestors?

Of Tubman, Mumia Abu-Jamal writes in IPORL:

"I thought the most impressive exemplar of the Captive Maternal was the freedom fighter we remember as Harriet Tubman, whom captives in the slave South knew as 'Gen'ral Moses.'"

IPORL, 302

Despite the racist corruption in his 1982 trial, Mumia was recently denied an evidentiary hearing by a Black woman, Judge Clemons, in 2023. Clemons sings the narrative of caretaking and mourns a family lynching to white Catholics while betraying political prisoners through living death sentences. Clemons is not a Captive Maternal; she is a comprador. I gag at loving compradors who betray us. (I am still trying to comprehend and practice Agape.) Operatives for capital, empire, policing, and prison, compradors are not caretakers for oppressed communities. They function as and with predators against caretakers. The comprador stabilizes the colony not out of love but out of ego and greed; they willingly work on behalf of predatory corporations and state bureaucracies; they support militarism, cadaver capitalism, destruction of other life forms and the organic environment.

I appreciate Mumia's assertions that mentor and redirect towards Agape:

"Revolutionary love… is love without measure. It is love without reckoning. It is love that dares all things, beyond which others may find the spirit-force to survive; to live to fight another day. Such love is also fighting itself, for the sake of ensuring that others may live."

IPORL, 304

Amilcar Cabral asserts in Return to the Source that the "lack of clean water, adequate food and shelter" cannot be addressed through policy; if so, we would only need accommodation packages from our colonizers or former enslavers—and in the case of the United States, "imperialists." Accommodation packages can fuel a freedom movement or save your soul. As needed, comply with but do not obey compradors as "cops" who corral movements to bring them to heel at the boots of state power. We will figure out how to discern a comprador from a conflicted or opportunistic caretaker on the first level of capture. For centuries, caretakers have wielded capacity to align with Agape—love as political will, an emotional intelligence to mobilize, not just mourn, against disfigurement and dishonor. 

Recent news reports that Carolyn Bryant Donham died at age 88. She lived 68 years longer than Emmett Till. In 1955, Mamie Till-Mobley held an open casket funeral for her mutilated 14-year-old son in Chicago; then news photos circulated throughout the globe. Somebody's baby was tortured and murdered by white nationalists in Money, Mississippi. Amid captives, somebody's baby is always suffering and being disappeared. Some assert that while Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a segregated bus in 1955, she was thinking of the murdered child.

Captive Maternals create political and spiritual families that incorporate and expand beyond the personal or individual family.

At times, our objective histories and the material conditions for liberation struggles are mystified by rhetoric, videos, and publications. We have always been on the move, even when progressing towards "revolutionary suicide." Martin Luther King, Jr. transitioned from a liberal pastor seeking integration to an anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist war resister. He died in Memphis while struggling with sanitation workers. Earlier in Chicago, he and Coretta Scott King moved into tenement slums and met with gang leaders to discuss the possibilities of struggle through the stages of desire, devotion, and abandonment to entanglement. The conflicted caretaker King who, at the request of the government, betrayed Fannie Lou Hamer and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party in 1964, died before April 4, 1968. Agape is the wild card. 

Art reflects life. Life is art. The arts of war are considered to be redemptive; if not, they remain useful and, in many ways, adjacent to Agape that intuits and replenishes the Captive Maternal. Captive Maternals create political and spiritual families that incorporate and expand beyond the personal or individual family. Resistance is stabilized by actions that foster healthy radicalism and new bones' growth despite poisoned environments. Whether pacifist or militarist, war resisters as Captive Maternals are not completely broken by predatory policing and violence; they mutate across the stages of Captive Maternal agency and desire that cannot be measured.

Read the full Captive Maternal forum:

At the impasse of Revolution and Revolutionary Love

Moving intellectualism from the academic factory into communal struggle, a new roundtable seeks to examine, engage, and interrogate James's subversive attempt to reclaim revolutionary struggle from the academy—and deliver it back to communities.

Radical Care Work in the Project of Schooling

As Black educators struggle to balance their commitment to Revolutionary Love with their entrapment in the schooling-as-colonial-indoctrination, evading state appropriation and embracing abolitionist pedagogy requires a reimagination of love and care.

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Joy James

Joy James is Ebenezer Fitch Professor of Humanities at Williams College. She is the author of Resisting State Violence; Shadowboxing: Representations of Black Feminist Politics, Transcending the Talented Tenth and Seeking the Beloved Community. James has published numerous articles on: political theory, police, prison and slavery abolition; radicalizing feminisms; diasporic antiblack racism; and US politics; and writes on the Captive Maternal through the lens of "The Womb of Western Theory." Creator of the digital Harriet Tubman Literary Circle at UT Austin, James is editor of The New Abolitionists: (Neo)Slave Narratives and Contemporary Prison Writings; Imprisoned Intellectuals;Warfare in the American Homeland; The Angela Y. Davis Reader; and co-editor of the Black Feminist Reader. James's most recent book is In Pursuit of Revolutionary Love, and her forthcoming book is New Bones Abolition: Captive Maternal Agency and the Afterlife of Erica Garner.