Melissa Harris-Perry: This is The Takeaway. I'm Melissa Harris-Perry.
Our series, Black.Queer.Rising continues today with editor-at-large of Scalawag Magazine, Da’Shaun Harrison. They're an organizer living in Atlanta, Georgia, a trans theorist and winner of the 2022 Lambda Literary Award in transgender non-fiction for their book, titled?
Da’Shaun Harrison: Belly of the Beast:The Politics of Anti-Fatness as Anti-Blackness.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Da’Shaun, welcome to The Takeaway.
Da’Shaun Harrison: Thank you for having me. Hello, hello, hello?
Melissa Harris-Perry: I want you to just go ahead and break it all the way down. Your book is titled Belly of the Beast: Anti-Fatness as Anti-Blackness. Just explain the subtitle, how is anti-fatness also anti-Blackness?
Da’Shaun Harrison: What is anti-fatness is anti-Blackness. In the book, as I refer to us as the Black fat or the slave, is held captive to or by the world. As I understand it, anti-Blackness creates the world and gives meaning to everything in it. What this means is that anti-Blackness functions as an outline of the illogical production of Black as pain, Black as trauma, Black as suffering.
In other words, anti-fatness is the framework by which the Black fat subject is forced to be inhuman or an object or the beast. It is the global structure that determines how we are engaged in life and in death, as well as who lives and who dies. In this way, fatness, just like blackness, is always and already criminalized, penalized, objectified, marginalized, defined by the libidinal economy, to borrow from Frank Wilderson, or by our larger society. That's what it means, or that's rather what anti-fatness as anti-blackness means.
Melissa Harris-Perry: If the fat body is a problem inherently in how we've constructed it socially, help me to understand then this language. Sometimes we hear fatphobia, but you are very purposeful in the use of anti-fatness.
Da’Shaun Harrison: Yes. I use anti-fatness as opposed to fatphobia because I hear fellow folks in the disabled community who have sounded some alarms around the use of phobia being used as loosely as it has been to describe a lot of different things when phobia is particularly related to different types of disabilities, actual real phobias. I think that fatphobia can oftentimes be used in a way that I think feels particularly trivial, that it individualizes an experience that is structural.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Give me an example. Where do we see this happening?
Da’Shaun Harrison: In particularly body-positive spaces, we'll hear things like fatphobia being relegated to who can get free drinks at a bar. While that absolutely plays a significant role in how folks are treated, what actually is, I think, more important is who even has access to be able to get to that bar, whether or not fat folks can be buckled into seat belts or whether or not fat folks can fit into the seats in the bar or whether or not fat folks are able to work in the bar. These are things that oftentimes are not thought about when folks talk about anti-fatness or fatphobia.
For me, that is why I choose to use anti-fatness because there is a big focus on a very individualized experience related to fatphobia. I think it's why I really deeply respect and love the work of Sabrina Strings because she uses fat phobia in the title of her book, which is Fearing the Black Body: The Racial Origins of Fat Phobia. Her work is so full of firsthand resources that invite us into a deeper understanding of how the fat body is engaged or how fat flesh is engaged. That to me feels like some of the most rigorous engagements of fatness with the use of fatphobia that I've ever seen.
Melissa Harris-Perry: More from Lambda Literary Award-winning trans theorist, Da’Shaun Harrison, in just a moment.
This is The Takeaway. I'm Melissa Harris-Perry. My conversation continues with the editor at large of Scalawag Magazine and Lambda Literary Award-winning author of Belly of the Beast: the Politics of Anti-Fatness as Anti-Blackness, Da’Shaun Harrison. They're still with us for our Black.Queer.Rising series. Now, Da’Shaun shared how they name and claim themselves in today's world.
Da’Shaun Harrison: We aren't born with the label of gay or born with the label of queer, born with the label of trans or any of these things. These are embodiments that we move into, in many ways, as a response to the heterosexist environment and society that we live in that we're socialized under. I choose to show up in the ways that I am as black, as trans, as fat, and that these things are immutable for me.
All of them, that they cannot be changed, cannot be shifted, cannot be removed from who I am. It's very important to offer a real sense of clarity around the significance in what it means to exist freely in one's flesh as who they are. It matters to change a world, a society that wants to force you to choose to not be who you are. That to me feels really important.
Melissa Harris-Perry: It does. It feels, not only important but central, crucial. In some ways, the work is not to change the self, but to change that gaze that is looking at you, defining you as a problem. Dubois doesn't tell us the experience of being Black is being a problem because we actually are, but rather, because that's that unuttered question that is circling us. Talk to me about what black freedom looks like for you at the intersection of these identities.
Da’Shaun Harrison: The reality is that for me, for as long as we have these identifiers, these identities that are in many ways social responses to anti-Blackness, responses to cis heteronormativity, responses to ableism and anti-fatness. For as long as we have these identities and these identifiers, that means that we are still existing in a world wherein our bodies are flesh, our experiences, our identities are subjugated, which means that there is no freedom. My desire is for us to experience what I write in the book is a beyond where we're not defined by these marginalized identities.
Where we're not defined by these experiences that create culture and culture as a response to subjugation culture as a response to enslavement. The answer to that question for me is that my investment is moving us to revolution. Moving us to the reality of toppling, destroying the violent nature of anti-Blackness, of cis sexism, of heterosexism, of anti-fatness that forces us into these cages that didn't define all of who we are based solely on how we're subjugated, how we're objectified. Rather, that define us as things that must be objectified, criminalized, penalized, subjugated. Until we get to that point, it is my understanding that we don't know freedom. I want us to know freedom. I want us to get to that point.
Melissa Harris-Perry: How is grief connected to that?
Melissa Harris-Perry: Grief for Black folks is intergenerational. It's passed down. It's trauma that is embedded into the framework, the soul of anti-Blackness and so that is to say that we are always grieving as a response to always being violated, harmed, abused. I think that we are always grieving because we are always loving. I think that grief is just another form of love, misplaced or love that has no place. I think that we are always grieving, to some extent, because we are always experiencing what it means to have Black life in a world predicated on anti-Blackness.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Even with the criminalization, the pain, the grief, tell me, what does black rising mean to you?
Da’Shaun Harrison: It means community. It means that we find, even if only for a second, a home, a sense of belonging in the midst of, in the arms of surrounded by the people who choose to love us as we are. When I hear the words Black.Queer.Rising, for me, the first things that I think about is, funny enough, revolt because of the rising. I think that's just the first thing that comes to mind for me. What I also think about is, a lifted community that for a Black queer to rise, whether it's in their career or in their relationships, or whatever it might be, there always has to be a community rising with them.
For me, I am nothing without the community that holds me, that grounds me, that keeps me, that centers me. For me, if I'm rising, it is because of them and it is with them. Even if it's an illusioned one, there's a sense of safety and care and love and gratitude and home that shows up for me when I hear that phrase, Black.Queer.Rising.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Da'Shaun Harrison, author of Belly Of The Beast:The Politics Of Anti-Fatness As Anti-Blackness and Editor at large at Scallywag Magazine. Da'Shaun, thanks so much for being here on The Takeaway.
Da’Shaun Harrison: Thank you so much for having me.
New York Public Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline, often by contractors. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of New York Public Radio’s programming is the audio record.