Abolitionist Intimacies by El Jones (Fernwood, 2022)
Abolitionist Intimacies is an urgent intervention against the deportation of stateless Black bodies failed by every level of social services offered in Canada, dehumanization by the carceral state, and examples of the “polite” ways Canada kills Black people with paperwork stopgaps and bureaucratic stalemates.
On November 3, El Jones debuted her sophore book, Abolitionist Intimacies, another partnership with Fernwood Publishing following the 2014 release of Live From the Afrikan Resistance! Including reflections from experiences with criminalized populations across Nova Scotia, Abolitionist Intimacies does the archeological work of rendering bare the ongoing milieu of anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism that Canadians would rather refute, because these truths would make them recoil.
It was once explained to me that whiteness would rather shy away from its own disasters and smile as they hold firm to the belief that “it can’t be that bad” or “it’s getting better” as a form of behavioural sugar: a courteous recognition of what we experience without any substance, only a distraction of pleasantness. This “sweetness” has always been bitter, and the writing of El Jones explains how with time it continues to grow foul.
A collection of over 10 years of writing, meeting, organizing, strategizing, and sitting in community, Abolitionist Intimacies offers no sugar in response, and instead unfurls a pointed account of how we can participate in abolishing systems that have a plan for all of us. Jones offers intimacy as a crucial pressure point for us to continually press. In the titular chapter, Jones writes “To insist on loving, desiring, caring for, or being in relationship with someone in prison is to push back against not only state narratives but the very real mechanisms that stifle humanity, goodness, the possibility of transformation, or transcending the category of criminal”.
Robin D.G. Kelley would describe such acts of insurgence as “infrapolitical,” as imperceptible to the system they are aimed at, and so powerful beyond appropriation. With this guerilla care tactic explained with a focus on the living archive, Abolitionist Intimacies offers a point of entry for anyone seeking outlets for abolition.
Black feminist teachers
While the book situates itself alongside Christina Sharpe’s “wake work,” and Robyn Mayard’s “elusive emancipation,” it also continues Desmond Cole’s thinking through “women of exceptional merit.”
Infused throughout the text, Abolitionist Intimacies holds the reader’s attention with its poetry and pace. Jones continues to give voice and embodiment to the realities of doing, living, and feeling this work. Jones also amplifies the women who do this work, have done this work first, who make this work possible, with whom we stand and lift and push and hold.
All too often, Black women’s love is coded as too aggressive to be feminine, as self-hatred for loving “dangerous” men, as “choosing” our own oppression, as rage and not pain. El Jones deepens the network of women who provide community care, informal social services, support, and fuel. The writing throughout this book is dripping with unabashed love and pride, a call in a frequency that Black women will understand profoundly. “As if the police could ever divide us” Jones writes as she offers homage to the Black feminisms that sustain us, guide us, and propel us more into ourselves.
In an essay published on June 5th 2020 for BOMB magazine, Saidiya Hartman asked “How is love possible for those dispossessed of the future and living under the threat of death? Is love a synonym for abolition?” Artist, activists, and abolitionists have pondered that question seriously, notably in the work of Liz Ikiriko for Gallery 44. In El Jones’s book we get not only a “yes,” but a chorus of “here’s how.”
Abolition and Black/Indigenous solidarity
The joint struggles of Black and Indigeous people is also profiled as Jones continues the autoethnographic tradition of putting ourselves on the map. By acknowledging that settlers “write about nature, never about land,” Abolitionist Intimacies highlights that prison abolition is also an endeavour to return Indigenous land back, in anti-colonial condition.
Importantly, the invitation that we all find ways to experience the kinds of intimacy that sustains us, by being in relationship with our own traditions, our own customs, our own lands, touch from our own communities, are always abolitionist work; not only when performed in the context of prisons or toward the incarcerated. This effort toward self and communal actualization is ever-present, and a tactic toward our (all) survival.
In a sophisticated and creative balance of spitting facts and feeling the weight of our collective predicament, Abolitionist Intimacies expounds the ontological death that refugees, immigrants, and stolen people are expected to thrive despite. There is intervention for denizens of any history to participate in the ongoing struggle for abolition, freedom, community, any various stripes of love.
Did you like this article? Help us produce more like it by donating $1, $2, or $5. Donate