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TikToker Ayandastood is creating joy outside the white imagination.
Ayanda's work feels like she is speaking directly about what the world will and must become.
In episode four of her seven-episode TikTok playlist, "On Reality," TikToker Ayandastood invites her viewers to imagine and create a world built outside the racial capitalism of the white man's imagination. "Colonialism is so dangerous because we are living within the imagination of white, colonial men who decided what it means to be beautiful, what it means to be worthy, what it means to be productive. Why is productivity even a value that we have? Who does that benefit," she asks.
The video, released on March 17, 2022, has over four million views. In it, the writer stands in what appears to be a bedroom, staring unblinkingly and excitedly into the camera as she invites her followers to question everything. "When I started to realize that all this shit is made up, it literally"—she pauses and spins around in a circle—"shifted my perspective on everything, money, time, gender, race—everything."
I discovered Ayanda's work when she appeared on my for you page, thanks to the exactness of the hosting service's algorithm. I love her energy, how she talks about abolition and empire, and what it means to understand ourselves and be comfortable with ugliness and embarrassment. The way she challenges her almost 300,000 TikTok followers to imagine an existence outside of whiteness. She uses the hosting service as a sociological tool while reminding us that even when connecting online, we must still be mindful of the dangers of big tech and surveillance capitalism.
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In the first episode of "On Reality," she quotes, "It can be said that the first wisdom of sociology is this: things are not what they seem." She discusses the sociological imagination and the belief that we can understand our realities in different ways. She discusses criminality, language, cancel culture, and the billion-dollar overdraft fee industry in other episodes. The series offers a wonderful starting point for first-time viewers into her abolitionist thinking.
Her work connects the violence of white supremacy/colonialism/imperialism to the world/society/culture around us, from how we discuss love, reality tv, the pageantry of celebrity idolization, dating, disposability culture, anxiety, and burnout. She invites her viewers to think critically and historically when engaging in internal and external work, to exist and imagine and create outside of the standards and demands of white supremacy.
Ayanda also emphasizes the power of liberation movements centered around empowering, supporting, and developing the radical imagination and ability of marginalized voices. Last April, she released reimagining, where she wrote about platonic breakups, therapy and boundaries, and the concept of beauty versus ugliness. In October, she launched her podcast "Reimagining with Ayandastood." She has interviewed Mia Mingus, a writer and trainer for transformative justice and disability justice; Kalpana Mohanty, a Ph.D. student at Harvard studying the intersections of colonialism, disability, and gender in South Asia; journalist and author of Against White Feminism: Notes on Disruption Rafia Zakaria; and investigative journalist, Zanele Mji.
I shared Ayanda's work during a book talk in California last week.
In October, Jane Bleasdale, the director of the Catholic Educational Leadership Program in the School of Education, invited me to speak at the University of San Francisco. I was grateful to talk about writing during the pandemic, Birth of A Movement, self-actualization, and the historical work of Black women. I met brilliant students who are part of USF's Black Achievement Success and Engagement initiative, studying political science, African American studies, English, and theater; one is also a TikToker who uses her platform of over 100,000 followers to discuss communism and anarchism. I talked with CEL students Yetunde Rubinstein and Irene Castillion. I discussed my experiences at Fordham University and higher education during a roundtable moderated by Ursula S. Aldana and Michael Duffy, both CEL faculty.
Ayanda is an abolitionist, and her words often feel like she is speaking directly about what the world will and must become.
During my work in California, I grounded my current writing, including this newsletter, in my decolonial thinking, and I shared how Ayanda's work has been pivotal since I first saw her videos.
Our entire world centers around the wants, needs, and desires of white, cis-gender, heteronormative, Christian men. As colonized people, the ways we worship, write, learn, think, and relate to ourselves and the world and people around us—including our internalized fatphobia and ableism—have been shaped by institutions and thinkers born out of the violence/white supremacy/ideology behind empire.
She invites me to wonder what it means to live outside this world.
Ayanda is an abolitionist, and her words often feel like she is speaking directly about what the world will and must become. Her work revolves around joy and love; she refers to both as revolutionary and necessary to survive life under and after oppressive systems. She discusses the pursuit of situations and people that bring us joy and happiness as worthy, life-giving endeavors.
She has helped me slow down while surviving under capitalism, and this informs my community-building and decolonial work.
In a video posted last month, she says:
I think that the way to access more pleasure in your day-to-day life is to slow down. If I have a child, I will tell them constantly to slow down. Breathe. We are so overstimulated and because they want us to be profitable at every waking minute of the day, so many of us are so addicted, including myself, to these technologies. We can't even function if we're not listening to a podcast or music or an audiobook. We don't know how not to be stimulated. But as a result, we are understimulated. The bar for pleasure increases as things get more and more addictive. But true pleasure, like a pleasurable experience, requires, in my mind, a sense of being in the moment, which requires a sense of deep presence. Any moment actually can be erotic if you breathe with it.