Unbelonging is a verb

Dr. Gayatri Sethi — my beloved partner — releases her book Unbelonging on August 17. Available at Mango and Marigold Press, it is a profoundly beautiful work, at once a prayer, a poem, an invitation, a living workbook for liberation and justice. In the words of Anjali Enjeti, author of Southbound and The Parted Earth

In this sweeping ode to her ancestors and the homelands intimately tied to her identity, Gayatri infuses a blended stylistic narrative with symphonious self-reflection and an incisive call to action. Unbelonging is a mesmerizing debut about truth and naming, colonization and kinship, and a poetic meditation on what it means to be human.

Anjali Enjeti

In Gayatri’s words:

What is it like to be multiply othered in today’s world, rife with xenophobia? I exhale in the form of open-ended reflections. Many of these pages read like laments. The emotional landscapes of unbelonging are laid open.

I submit this post as a witness, to testify to what it has meant to hear the reflections and passion that became this work. Or rather, to illustrate some of the ways that its birth has and continues to transform my life.

One of most important things I’ve over the course of our 25+ year relationship is the primacy of belong, of community, to the very concept of humanity

We were taught from an early age that

motho ke motho ka batho.

A person is a person among people

Gayatri Sethi, Unbelonging

motho ke motho ka batho — wisdom in Setswana, one of the primary languages spoken in my partner’s country Botswana. Versions of this same truth are ubiquitous across the African continent. The activist Mariame Kaba, cites a Guinean version. Given humanity’s origin on the continent, it expresses a fundamental core of human-ness

But what does it mean to then to un-belong, when belonging is so central to existence?

“Dismantling systemic oppression is a commitment to unbelonging”, Gayatri Sethi, Unbelonging

If this unbelonging then is a praxis of liberation, then how is it informed, and from where does it stem? It is ancestral. The ancestors and kin in Unbelonging span continents and centuries, they include the generations of Punjabi nanis my partner never knew, the Tanzanian care-givers of her infancy, they include my mother and her ancestors brought to america in chains.

True belonging is grounded in the love needed to create spaces of safety, to create and sustain families, to build a new communities and ultimately a new world where all life is precious.

I will share one more excerpt

Does america love Black people?

I ask my beloved after he reflects on his father’s passing from

lung cancer all too soon. He was a veteran twice over who loved

his country enough to go to two wars for it. I ask if america loved

him when he worked at post office or sought treatment fo

his cancer. My beloved and I muse that america loves Black

culture and Black icons. america loves the Obamas and Oprah.

america loves the exception & the exceptional. america loves to

consume Blackness, but does this mean that america loves

Black people?

Gayatri Sethi, Unbelonging

And I’ll tell you that “father” here is so expansive: not only my father, but an ancestor that fought in america’s civil war to liberate his kin, only to be sent to the mexican border to “pacify” Indigenous people only to see kin lynched; my grandfather sent to mexico by america to attack Brown peasants, only be abandoned by the same country in an apartheid Atlanta; it refers to the dear ones we collectively mourned who perished from agent orange and addictions. Unbelonging as a prayer that we not participate in our own demise, as a prayer for strength to address the grief yet unprocessed.

There are so many threads that are weaved together so beautifully in this book. I’ve just tried to keep to one of those in this post. For all of our kin with multi-racial Black families, for all folk still twisting themselves into soul-wounding knots to “belong” in places where they truly can’t, for all educators that seek to liberate our youth, I encourage you to explore this book.

This book is designed to be a multifaceted reading experience-equal parts poetry collection, workbook, and journal. If these words, verses, and inquiries provoke new understandings or creativity, feel free to create your own art in these pages and outside them. Start a conversation. Share the book’s ideas with your circle of fiends and community. Start a book club. Create new possibilities.

Gayatri Sethi, Unbelonging

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