text NAJMA SHARIF
NONAME AND THE FIGHT
TO ABOLISH PRISONS
On the third night of protests after George Floyd was murdered, protesters burned down a police precinct. Suddenly, Minneapolis felt like a portal to a new universe. The idea that we could live in a world without police can feel impossible to achieve – but that night inspired similar uprisings across the globe and, soon after, the phrase “defund the police” went mainstream.
For a musician like Noname, who has been an eloquent voice amid the disruption, it feels like a step towards abolition. “I think the hardest part of abolition is really just being OK with the fact that you’re going to have to live in a world with people who have been deemed unfit for society, ‘criminals’. It’s hard for people to see that – to see the humanity of those who have been cast aside. Or to even rationalise that a lot of the reasons why people are incarcerated are completely linked to white supremacy and capitalism.”
The Chicago-born rapper and book club founder, whose second album Room 25 impacted culture the world over in 2018, has been thinking hard about the semantics of the term. “I think it is easier to appeal to the defunding of the police (than it is to abolishing prison), because people see police brutality more than they see how violent prisons are,” she says. “I think, also, it’s different when you see a kid get shot, (because) you can rationalise why that’s not right. You can’t rationalise a ‘criminal’, someone who you’ve decided is unfit to exist in society. It takes a lot of work.”
“I think the hardest part of abolition is being OK with the fact that you’re going to have to live in a world with people who have been deemed unfit for society, ‘criminals’. It’s hard for people to see the humanity of those who have been cast aside” – Noname
The work of prison abolition requires collective creativity – imagining a new world where harm is addressed in a holistic sense, and the conditions that enable and create that harm are eradicated. Dismantling systems of oppression will not be as simple as offering a quick alternative, or an alternative at all. Noname speaks to the elasticity of struggle, saying,
“The practice of liberating ourselves has to be continuously changing and expanding and reducing, (because we’re) figuring it out. It’s a breathing thing.”
Noname, born Fatimah Nyeema Warner, is grappling with feeling radicalised publicly and “learning and unlearning” what it is to be a Black feminist. Her book club gives invisiblised incarcerated people a space to discuss radical literature, and she’s strategic in how she uses her digital presence to boost “any sort of new information on learning around the prison-industrial complex, the abolition movement in the country and other organisers and abolitionists who have been pushing this language, theory and practice forward”.
“I think I have a responsibility to use my platform in a specific way,” says Noname. “And I know that drives me to become more radical. Because I want to see these politics more in the mainstream. Even the folks who are ‘political’, who have large
DAZED AUTUMN 2020