LaTierra Piphus Oral History

Dublin Core

Title

LaTierra Piphus Oral History

Subject

Oral history with LaTierra Piphus on Friday, October 16, 2020 conducted in Decatur, GA.

Description

Oral history with LaTierra Piphus on Friday, October 16, 2020 conducted in Decatur, GA.

Creator

LaTierra Piphus and Ash Haywood

Date

16 October 2020

Oral History Item Type Metadata

Interviewer

Ash Haywood

Interviewee

LaTierra Piphus

Location

Decatur, GA

Transcription

Part 1:
Ash Haywood: My name is Ash Haywood. I am a Katie G. Cannon Archival Fellow for the Womanist Working Collective this fall of 2020 and I am here with LaTierra. Can you introduce yourself?



LaTierra Piphus: Yes, I am LaTierra. She/they pronouns. The founder of the Womanist Working Collective, co-organizer of community organizing, and admin related stuff, also development. Just all the things actually



AH: Thank you for that introduction. TO jump first into what is womanism and why this work is grounded in womanist theory and praxis. Can you describe your journey into womanism?



LP: Sure. I'm going to refer to my notes because I spent a lot of time on them. My exposure to womanist scholarship was limited even though I minored in Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies in undergrad but I was at a PWI, in a very white town with very white politics. So I will wasn't exposed to womanism as a concept by that time unless it was in passing. That wasn't built into our curriculum even the uplift of this work as it was happening so I had no idea still through undergrad until I started learning and building on my own and exploring outside the curriculum. Just doing a lot more on the ground organizing and student organizing around campus.

Let's see - yes, my introduction to womanism began with media literacy which was my first interest point all through undergrad for the most part and post undergrad for a little while. I switched gears to social work and organizing work. My venture into media literacy was entirely around womanist praxis which I didn't have language for at the time, but that was basically what happened. I guess my goal for at least two or three years through school was - my explanation for what I was going to do with my degrees and the work that I was doing in the community - I was planning to change the way Black women were portrayed in the media. It's just a lot of negative portrayals. Not very flushed out storylines or character types or just who we are as a whole. That was bothering me. It was bothering me that everyone was ok with our degradation and folks from our community were willing to be part of that degradation. I was just very fed up, so I started trying to figure out what does this mean. How do we change it? Does art reflect life or the other way around? Definitely that chicken and egg conundrum and I feel down the rabbit hole just trying to explore what it means to unpack how we are, how we're seen, how to change that and that lead me I guess to where I am today.

So there were some pivotal texts and mostly media, mostly documentaries, and art that shaped my understanding of womanism as I was developing it eight years ago now maybe. I want to list all the things that I could remember shaping my understanding of womanism.

Obviously Alice Walker.

Audre Lorde for sure.

Nayyirah Waheed and her poetry.

Ntozake Shange's For Colored Girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow wasn't enough - the stage play, not the Tyler Perry version. Watching that stage play on DVD at my library on campus was mind blowing. I was shook that it existed and that I had access to it. I probably watched it several times before I had to return it. It was just mind blowing.

Definitely Daughters of the Dust was very pivotal for me and now more than ever because of my spiritual practices these days.

Witnessing Sweet Honey in the Rock concert. They're fantastic.

Tiona McClendon's black.womyn documentary. Love that.

The Aggressives documentary.

The Souls of Black Girls documentary.

Dreamworlds documentary.

Beyond Beats & Rhymes by Byron Hurt documentary.

The Womanist Reader by Layli Phillips or Maparyan now.

Sister Citizen by Melissa Harris-Perry.

Wish to Live: The Hip-hop Feminism Pedagogy Reader.

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison.

The work of Alexis Pauline Gumbs.

Rashida Khan-Bey, both who were introduced to me by Marsha Philitas of the group that was formerly the Trifecta Tribe. That's where I got introduced to a lot more womanist praxis.

Learning about Sarajie Bartman.

Going to Kenya, Africa for study abroad.

Working as a student assistant at the LGBT center on campus, working at the Women's center on campus,

Working off campus at the Domestic Violence shelter during undergrad.

And building, doing a lot of organizing on campus. I started my own organization during that time for queer and trans students of color. Because it was a PWI, we faced some resistance but mostly a lot of erasure and strategic overlooking and you know, under resourced. Just like most things that are happening today in our societies. And definitely my lived experience with surviving racism and misogynoir, sexism, heterosexism, classism, erasure, violence. I'm watching other folks in my life having that experience and there being no escape from it essentially. No one is willing to talk about those issues because of who was being impacted. It's pretty trash, but I think all of those things that happened over that course of time shaped my idea of womanism and what it actually means versus what we learn it means in literature. It's a more lived experience. It's meant to be a more lived experience rather primarily academic experience.


AH: I think as I've gone through a lot of the archive so far with the collective, it's helped me to realize new ways of how womanism is practiced. I think obviously, a lot of the authors and artists you mentioned also informed my work. So my curious if you can now tell us about how the collective formed. What were the partnerships that developed? How did you implement this in your own day-to-day life but also in community?



OD: Let me refer to my notes because I wrote down some good stuff. The collective was essentially, we started as a MeetUp group. I had only been in Philly for about six months but I was having a hard time finding friends, finding community spaces that spoke to me, my politics and my values. Not that those places didn't already exist in Philly. As a transplant, as someone with no real connections to the area at the time, I just needed some friends. I started the MeetUp group and it skyrocketed almost immediately. Membership shot up which told me that there was a need for it - for spaces that centered Black women, femmes, nonbinary folks and allow us to be together and to hold space together. To bear witness with each other, to have someone to talk to when this fucking shitshow of a society just becomes too much. Those are all things that I needed at the time. And other people apparently needed because they gravitated right to the collective. Let me see... what else was I supposed to mention.

After graduating college, I had relocated to the east coast. I actually had been living in Maryland for about a year doing AmeriCorps in DC. While I was there really the entire time, I spent most of my time in survival mode because I couldn't afford to live there. I couldn't afford to socialize. It's just a very class-based experience living there, or at least I started noticing it more living in poverty and then on my own and then as an adult, way across the country from my family. I was struggling but I knew that I didn't want to replicate that experience when I moved to Philly and I didn't want to essentially be isolated again. I felt like that's a lot of what happened when I was living in the DMV area. While I was making individual friends, I hadn't found community at that point and that is definitely what I need. Especially right after leaving undergrad and just noticing how different society was based on what I had learned what it was supposed to be or was. Then I got out there and it was like "ew, what is this? what is happening? All this happened for real, in real life?" Especially in pieces around oppression, a lot of my understanding was theoretical before graduating. And then I left college and I was like "oh wait. This shit actually happens?" I thought we was done with this. I thought everyone had understood it because they had read the same book so they weren't going to do that shit anymore. That's how I was expecting it to be but it was not that. It sent me into depression.

I guess that started percolating ideas around what type of environment I need to be in. What do I need to create to be able to thrive instead of survive? Actually enjoy my life and what could I create that allows other people to do that too?

It really didn't start as anything as big as what it is now. I was just looking for friends and I had found them through organization. I achieved my goal. I had somebody to go out with. Had somebody to thot around the streets with. We were going out, having fun, talking politics and it just grew from there. I had no idea what it would become.



AH: I have to say I feel really seen in that experience. I think it's one that a lot of young professionals who are starting off in early careers, still deciding what work/life balance. It seems like you're speaking to a residential college experience, which I also had. Understanding professional and personal life and that those things don't always mix.

Part 2:
AH: You did a good job of laying out lineage of womanist thinkers. I'm wondering in the Philadelphia particularly, which has its own radicalism, either through individuals or community organizations, who are those people? Not necessarily confined to Philadelphia either.



LP: Definitely community partnerships were instrumental to our growth and help support us in existing and growing through challenges. In terms of long term stable community partnerships that we have and continue to be in partnership with are the Black & Brown Workers Co-op, which I'm also a core member and trainer for that organization. We have really been with them and community partnership with since 2016. I'm pretty sure that's when I joined. I would give a lot of the developed of BBWC's politics and framework helped to shape WWC's politics and framework. I have didn't have a lot language around how the landscape Philadelphia impacted Black women and vice versa until I was engaged in BBWC and just other community orgs where I was learning waht I needed to learn and organizing alongside them.



Definitely the Afrofuturist Affair by Rasheeda Phillips. I think that Rasheeda's work around Afrofuturism has been mind blowing for me and it feels like what it felt like when I was discovering Marxism for the first time. I'm finally reading frameworks that explain how I've been thinking about things but I didn't have language to describe it. How I just been working, developing and building because I wanted a different future but I had no idea that there was concepts around that Black-led, Black-theorized concepts that include futures. I didn't know that until I discovered Rasheeda's work and I've been in community with them since 2016. I think Rasheeda was the first person to literally give me space to do the work that I wanted to do in terms of opening up her space to me.

There was a community futures lab project that she had launched and they had a community space in North Philly. I wanted to hold an event but I didn't at the time had other spaces available to me. So I reached to her and she said "yes! please have this here." She was very excited about it and I believe that was one of our first community events that turned out like 40 people in that small ass community futures lab space. It was packed. The topic was fighting misogynoir. It was right around the time that - I couldn't remember exactly what was happening in society at the time. But something had happened around violence against black women. There was a lot going on in the social media realm and politically that made space for that workshop to happen. It was Krystal Leaphart and I can't remember the other facilitator's name [Adriyanna Andreus]. Oh yeah - the DNC (Democratic National Convention) was coming into town that summer or had been in town. Krystal Leaphart had did a workshop in DC around the same subject, but because she was coming to Philly for the DNC, I asked if she could hold it there for us. I found the space at the community futures lab and did the organizing and then she held the workshop and facilitated. It was very beautiful and it was packed. I loved it. I was mad late because I was preparing food on the last $20 on my food stamp card. I was trying to feed all of these people. So I can't say it was a beautiful spread but everyone got fed.

That was one of the more important community partnerships that we developed because it gave us more than material support. Theoretical support and a lot of excitement around the work.

I would say even some work with the Workers World Party helped to shape our analysis, our anti-capitalist analysis for this work.

Philadelphia Area Cooperative Alliance (PACA) - we've been in relationship with me also 2016 or 2017-ish. Because the conversation what does black cooperative economics look like for us. How do we not participate in capitalism? How do we develop systems outside of this system so we can be working towards building the futures that we need instead of maintaining the ones that are currently here? The ones that are crumbling now but not fast enough. Specifically the support of Jamila Medley when she became the executive director has been super important to the development of our work.

I have to shout out Shani Akilah from the BBWC who has been more than just a comrade. She's been a friend, mentor, the guiding light, a very important figure in my life still today. I've met some amazing people so far. But I will also say individual activists from Philly have also supported the work of the collective or supported me directly which supports the collective.

Individual Activists: Iresha Picot (GirlsTrek), Shakira King (BLM-Philly), Richiena Brown, Dominique London, Azalea Korryn (Philly Real Justice), Christian Axavier (Philly Trans March), India Fenner (Philly Black Women's March), New Voices Philly, Bread & Roses Community Fund, and Third Wave Fund. I would say over the last five year they have been the most recurring partnerships and sources of support for our collective.

Original Format

wav

Duration

1:08:16

Time Summary

00:40
Describe your journey into womanist theory and praxis.
My exposure to Womanist Scholarship was limited even though I minored in Women, Gender & Sexuality studies during undergrad, I was still at a PWI in a very White town with very White NeoLiberal Politics. So, I had little exposure to the concept of Womanist Scholarship I got majority of my engagement on the ground organizing and from media literacy. My venture into media literacy was an entirely Womanist Praxis.

03:00
When folx would ask what I plan to do with my degrees, majors and certificates, my response was: I plan to change the way Black women were portrayed in tbe media. And in the process, I had fallen down the rabbit hole of Chicken & Egg conundrum: "does art reflect life or does life reflect art? Are the negative portrayals I saw in the media of women who looked like me accurate? If not, how? Why? Who made this bullshit that I've been consuming about myself my whole life?"

04:30
Which womanist scholars and practitioners introduced you to this work?

Things pivotal to shaping my understanding of Womanist Praxis were: Alice Walker, Audre Lorde, Nayyirah Waheed, Ntozake Shange's For Colored Girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow wasn't enough, witnessing Sweet Honey in the Rock concert, Tiona McClendon's black.womyn documentary, Aggressives documentary, The Souls of Black Girls documentary, Dreamworlds documentary, Beyond Beats & Rhymes by Byron Hurt documentary, the books The Womanist Reader by Layli Phillips-Maparyan, Sister Citizen my Melissa Harris-Perry & Wish to Live: The Hip-hop Feminism Pedagogy Reader, The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, the work of Alexis Pauline Gumbs, Rashida Khan-Bey both who were introduced to me by Marsha Philitas of what was formerly Trifecta Tribe, learning about Sarajie Bartman, going to Kenya, Africa for study abroad, working as a student assistant at the LGBT center on campus, working at the Women's center on campus, volunteering off campus at the DV shelter, advocating for myself & fellow Black womxn/Femme in a very cisheteropatriarchal space and QTBIPOC in a very White Queer-centered while Student Organizing on-campus.

08:29
Also, most importantly, my lived experience surviving racism, misogynoir, sexism, heterosexism, classism, erasure, violence.. and watching other folx with similar experiences be further exploited, REtraumatized, harmed, drained, blamed.

10:38
How was Womanist Working Collective formed?
It started from my creating the circumstances I need to thrive by doing what I do best: build, educate and support. That eventually turned into the 3 principle tenets of WWC.
I was going through it after graduating and relocating to the east coast, I couldn't find what I was looking for so I created it. I needed support. Other Black women & femmes also needed support so why can't we come together to support each other.

We started off as a Meetup group.

12:31
Moved to D.C. with AmeriCorps. Living in D.C. after college was a class-based experience.

17:18
Who are your community partners in Philadelphia and within the wider womanist community? How has collaboration and community informed your womanist praxis?
I was fortunate enough to be doing the work that attracts more of the right people than wrong.
In terms of long-term, stable community partnerships: Black & Brown Workers Co-op, Afrofuturist Affair, Workers World Party, Philadelphia Area Cooperative Alliance (PACA)…
New Economies Coalition, Movement Generation, Adrienne Maree Brown's Emergent Strategy & Pleasure Activism
I think the wealth of resources, knowledge & experience that we've gained from these community partnerships greatly shaped how our Womanist Praxis developed, expanded, shifted, re-aligned, etc. Thru the process of growing our edges and being in community with healers experiencing daily compounding trauma, interpersonal issues and resource scarcity in well-resourced but even better gate-kept environments all while resisting and grassroots organizing.


20:32
Rasheedah Phillips gave space at Black Futures Lab for Fighting Misogynoir.

25:32
Individual Activists: Iresha Picot (GirlsTrek), Shakira King (BLM-Philly), Richiena Brown, Dominique London, Azalea Korryn (Philly Real Justice), Christian Axavier (Philly Trans March), India Fenner (Philly Black Women's March), New Voices Philly, Bread & Roses Community Partners, Third Wave Fund


What were the most impactful experiences you had in the first year of WWC’s establishment?

Sankofa-ing: Being introduced to the Combahee River Collective Statement for the first time ever.

Pursuing my MSW in Community Organizing and gaining the language, frameworks and deeper understanding to describe the oppression we're experiencing in digestible way for the masses. Strengthening our political analysis for our work and community education workshops.

The Time Bank project is an innovative way to reimagine economies and exchange of labor and resources. Can you talk more about economic development in WWC’s work?
Black cooperative economics have always been central to our praxis because Capitalism (along with all the other systems of oppression) is antithetical to the survival of the people and the planet. Since Capitalism is rooted in Racism and Exploitation, we must seek to divest from and dismantle it as soon as possible.
Its hard tho cus Black Capitalism and the culture that supports it is very popular and convenient and even many of our people want peace on the plantation not necessarily to escape the plantation so we have to do a lot of convincing folx that moving towards post-Capitalism is in their best interest and to our collective benefit.

What are the priorities for WWC’s growth and sustainability?

Redesigning our organizational structure to center healing justice, transformative justice, community care and cooperation rather than trying to incorporating them later on down the line after the fact. Prepare to build a sovereign commune ideally outside of America for Black women & femmes & their families to thrive or seek refuge for replenishment. We can't heal in the same place we got sick.

I am currently manifesting that dream space, researching, savings up and preparing.

Citation

LaTierra Piphus and Ash Haywood, “LaTierra Piphus Oral History,” Womanist Working Collective Archive, accessed October 20, 2021, https://wwcarchive.omeka.net/items/show/373.

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