Dr. Kortney Ryan Ziegler was the first doctoral graduate from Northwestern’s African American Studies program. He began his site blac (k) academic while in graduate school and has continued writing there since leaving academia. Receiving much recognition for his work, blac (k) ademic has won a Black Weblog Award, was nominated for a 2012 Transguys Community Award for Best Blog, and a 2013 GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Blog.
Ziegler is also a filmmaker. He wrote and directed the first film to ever profile the black trans male community with, Still Black: A Portrait of Black Transmen. The experimental documentary profiles “six thoughtful, eloquent, and diverse transmen” in which each man discusses “the connections they have to their bodies, social status and the consequences of being black, transgender and men.” Still Black was the Audience Choice for Best Documentary at the Reelout Film Festival in 2009 and the Isaac Julien Experimental Award Winner from Queer Black Cinema in 2008. The film has gone on to show on screens worldwide including countries such as Switzerland, The Netherlands, Spain, South Africa and has an upcoming screening in Jamaica.
In addition, Ziegler is an entrepreneur who has his hand in multiple business ventures, including founding Who We Know, an organization that helps to economically empower trans people of color. From Who We Know’s site: “We work to build alliances between the trans of color community and progressive organizations in the [San Francisco] bay area through a 10-month living wage paid fellowship. We recruit talented transgender professionals of color with a demonstrated ability to launch and lead conceptually driven social justice projects. We then connect them with the resources and networks of progressive organizations to produce innovative products, campaigns, or business models that seek to dissolve barriers to economic access for all trans people of color.”
1. Why is title of your blog “blac (k) ademic”? What is the importance of those two words to you?
The title is a visual and sonic representation of how I see myself. Its an obvious play on being black and an intellectual figure but the parenthetical k represents my uniqueness and different scholarly approach. Because I am an independent scholar with no ties to an academic institution, I have much more freedom to express myself and be different. blac (k) ademic represents that.
2. You describe yourself as an artist. What role does art play in your activism?
My art is my activism; there is no separation. Whenever I approach new work, whether it is filmmaking, photography, or painting, I always do so with the idea in the back of my mind of how the work can make a social impact–what activist statement or message can I fuse into the art? So, this is how I create.
I also believe that the simple fact of me making art as a trans person of color, is a form of activism. Instead of being invisible, I use my art-making to be visible, to be loud and outspoken in ways that other forms of communication do not allow.
3. What has been your most effective tool for connecting to other black queer activists or people addressing the same issues that you do?
Social networking has been a gift to the black queer community far and wide. We have the ability to connect with so many people doing incredible work that we would not have been able to with such frequency before. Through YouTube, for example, I have met so many black trans people of all ages who have helped me in my journey of coming to terms with my identity. With the work that I am doing now, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting so many amazing people offline and that is what is so powerful about social media–the possibility of
making real life connections.
4. What are one or two pressing issues that you wish people were paying more attention to? Why?
There are quite a few issues I wish had more people’s attention, one of them being the staggering rates of unemployment amongst trans people of color–this is an issue that deserves so much discussion,
energy and work to begin to change the story.
Lately, however, I’ve also felt an urge to focus attention to the constant devaluing of non-masculine identities within the queer movement. It bothers me that many of us are so quick to replicate the very systems we seek to destroy by celebrating a packaged image of masculinity concerned with attractiveness and youth that dominates discussions of queerness and gender non-conformity. This is super disappointing to me.
5. What do you love about Oakland and/or California?
I am a Cali-boy born and raised in Compton, so California will always have a special place in my heart. I love living in Oakland because of its rich history of activism and black resilience. But I also love it because it has a great art scene that is really starting to take shape. There are so many young entrepreneurs of color that live in the city, too. That is great because as a small business owner and social entrepreneur, I am constantly inspired by all of the innovation happening right around me.
Also, I have to say, I am in love with my neighborhood and the incredible lake in its center that brings together so many types of people in the city.
I just love it so much.
I love Oakland–I am lucky!
6. Favorite under-the-radar writer and/or blog.
He is way above the radar but anything Ta-Nehisi Coates writes, I am always in awe, grateful and moved by. He is amazing and I hope we cross paths offline one day.
This is part of an on-going series of interviews with activists around the world who are putting their feminism into practice.
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