African American Studies Professor Aaronette M. White of UC Santa Cruz passed last Tuesday at the age of 51, possibly of an aneurysm. In a facebook thread, Angie Chabram writes “let’s memorialize her by putting her picture and the write up in a public place other than the net. I am going to put this lovely person I didn’t know outside my door!” I did the same.
Here is an excerpt from Aishah Shahidah Simmons’ essay (at Feministwire 8/18/12) celebrating Aaronette’s life:
It is with deep sadness and profound devastation that I share that radical Black/Pan-African feminist activist and social psychologist Aaronette M. White, Ph.D., recently made her physical transition. While there is presently uncertainty about the exact date and time of her sudden death, no foul play or harm was done to her in the last hours of her life. Her body was found in her apartment on Tuesday, August 14, 2012. The belief is that she suffered an aneurysm. She was 51-years old.
….Aaronette’s activism, scholarship, and writings were frequently ahead of the curve. She constantly championed unsung warrior feminist women who were predominantly of African descent. However, she celebrated the resiliency and (sometimes armed) resistance of all women she defined as freedom fighters.
At the time of her untimely death, Aaronette was working on at least two book projects. One co-edited project with her dear friend and pro-feminist scholar-activist Gary L. Lemons, Ph.D., which is tentatively titled Black Feminist and Womanist Pedagogies: When the Personal is Political and Academic. Based upon my understanding from Aaronette, this book project is an edited collection of previously published and original essays by Black feminist and womanist scholar-activists on their experiences and lessons learned from teaching radical pedagogies in what I personally call the Academic Industrial Complex. The other project, which I believe was presently untitled at the time of her death, was envisioned to be an in-depth comparative study, based upon her first-person interviews with African women war veterans who fought in Ethiopia’s 17-year civil war; in South Africa’s armed wing of the anti-Apartheid struggle; and in the Rwandan army to end the 1994 genocide. Aaronette was concerned that we very rarely, if ever, heard from the voices of African women freedom fighters. Often, while fighting in their countries, many (but definitely not all) of these women warriors were raped by their own male comrades with whom they were fighting. She was also interested in exploring what happened to these African women war veterans after the wars ended. She wanted to know how they were received and treated in their countries. In a Pan-African context, she wanted to lift up their testimonies to add her voice, research, and writings to the growing chorus of diasporic African feminists who challenge the sexist notion that revolution is something that only men wage.
Aaronette’s first book, Ain’t I A Feminist? African American Men Speak Out on Fatherhood, Friendship, Forgiveness, and Freedom (S.U.N.Y. Press, 2008) examined the experiences of African-American men who self identify as feminists. Aaronette’s process with identifying each of the (anonymously) featured men required a personal recommendation from a Black (woman) feminist. Her belief was that it was not enough for a man to believe he was a feminist, she needed to also hear from at least one, but preferably more than one Black feminist to confirm that this was the case. Her second book African Americans Doing Feminism: Putting Theory into Everyday Practice (S.U.N.Y. Press, 2010), is an edited collection of personal stories and testimonials about how feminism has influenced the lives of feminist African-American women and men.
Aaronette lived her life out loud and without apology for her bold, take no prisoners radical feminism. She didn’t suffer fools wisely. The few times we were able to present NO! The Rape Documentary together, she was adamant that the first three questions or comments, immediately post the screening of the film, were from survivors of child sexual abuse and/or sexual violence. She wanted to make sure the voices of survivors were centralized and heard first and foremost. If she thought a person (man or woman) was trying to condone rape especially in the name of playing “devil’s advocate,” she would shut the conversation down immediately. She always did everything that she could to ensure that survivors felt safe and supported, most especially at NO! events where she was present.