Equality Arizona
The Arizona Equals Conversation
Arizona Equals Samuel
0:00
-44:33

Arizona Equals Samuel

Gender is fake, sociology is for the people, criticism is a gift

With a busy start to the week for anti-LGBTQ+ bills in the legislature, this week’s episode, featuring Samuel Ndinjiakat Jr is coming out a little behind schedule, but it’s well worth the wait. Woven through his story of student organizing is a fascinating conversation about race and gender with a rare pairing of academic depth and personal, emotional relevance.

The Arizona Equals Conversation is an interview podcast collecting the stories of LGBTQ+ people living in Arizona. To listen to past episodes of the podcast, or to sign up to be a guest on a future episode of the show, visit equalityarizona.org/stories.

Full Episode Transcript

Jeanne Woodbury

From Equality Arizona, you're listening to the Arizona Equals Conversation. I'm Jeanne Woodbury. I'm the Interim Executive Director at Equality Arizona, and each week on the show I talk with a queer person living in Arizona about their story and their communities. Today's guest, Samuel, is a student at ASU and a relatively recent transplant to Arizona. And that means, like more than a few people I've spoken to on the podcast, he moved here during a challenging moment in the pandemic. It's something that can make it incredibly difficult to find community, but Samuel really hit the ground running when it came to some of the political organizing that they've been involved with at ASU, and I think that's really remarkable. They also share an experience I've talked about with a lot of college students of coming out during college, away from family, and navigating the tension there. But before I go on, let me take a minute to let Samuel introduce himself.

Samuel Ndinjiakat Jr

Hi, this is Samuel Ndinjiakat Jr. My pronouns are he/him and they/them.

Jeanne Woodbury

This was also just an incredibly fun conversation for me because we got to talk about gender in a in a way that I think is really rare, and I'm really excited to share that. I think that there's a chance it gets a little academic at points, but overall it really isn't. Before we start the interview, I should say that we've got some great guests lined up over the next few weeks, but we're always looking for new people to talk to, and you don't need to be in politics, and you don't need to be an academic. That's not what the podcast is about, actually. So if you'd like to share your story on a future episode of the show, just send us an email at hello@equalityarizona.org. Or you can sign up on our website at equalityarizona.org/stories. Alright, let's roll the tape.

[beep] [clicking]

[music]

[clicking]

[music]

Samuel Ndinjiakat Jr

The second she found out that I was like involved in like politics, she's just like, yeah, you should definitely be on the podcast. I was just like, okay, okay.

Jeanne Woodbury

Oh, that's great.

Samuel Ndinjiakat Jr

Like I don't have that much podcast experience, but I'll do my best.

Jeanne Woodbury

Yeah, no, most people I talked to have never been on a podcast before. The idea is just to get people's stories, figure out, you know, what's their experience been in Arizona as a queer person living here. And it's fun because sometimes I get to talk to people and they've lived here their whole lives, and so I get to talk about like, oh, how has this neighborhood changed over the past 20 years or whatever? And sometimes there's people who have moved here, you know, a lot of people moved here during the pandemic actually. And so then that's always really interesting to hear about how that went. You were saying you've lived here for two years, right?

Samuel Ndinjiakat Jr

It’ll be two years by this coming August.

Jeanne Woodbury

Oh, cool.

Samuel Ndinjiakat Jr

Yeah, still the new kid on the block.

Jeanne Woodbury

What did you move here for?

Samuel Ndinjiakat Jr

I moved here for school.

Jeanne Woodbury

Oh, okay, cool. Are you at ASU?

Samuel Ndinjiakat Jr

Mm-hmm.

Jeanne Woodbury

Okay, and you said you've done some political organizing. Is that student-led organizing?

Samuel Ndinjiakat Jr

Yeah, that's student-led organizing, although I've started, I personally started to branch out into more general community organizing off campus as well.

Jeanne Woodbury

Oh, cool. How did you find your way into that? I think, like, I would imagine moving to a new state, getting started at a school, it could be kind of hard to figure out where to plug in.

Samuel Ndinjiakat Jr

I think I'm actually part of this, not generation, but like cohort of people who, I'm aware that people have been organizing, especially around like Black Lives Matter for like the past almost decade at this point from like Ferguson and then some, but then 2020 really was like a reawakening of that for a lot of politics, like anti-racist politics, feminist politics; a lot of people around my age started to tap more into that, especially with the 2020 election also coinciding with a lot of that. And I personally, however, didn't get that involved in the uprisings, because my family, lots of them are immunocompromised, so I decided it would be best to stay home. But the second I arrived at college, it was then just like, okay, I wanna get involved in explicitly leftist work, so…

Jeanne Woodbury

Okay, that's really cool.

Samuel Ndinjiakat Jr

Yeah, I started joining like a couple orgs like Young Democratic Socialists of America, MECHA de ASU, Students for Justice in Palestine. So I guess I really did hit the ground running.

Jeanne Woodbury

Yeah, you really did. YDSA — it seems like they have a pretty big presence at ASU.

Samuel Ndinjiakat Jr

Yeah, we do have a fair size presence, especially amongst like general left-wing activism. And although there have been points where in the past especially it was like a little lower, at least during the, like the height of the pandemic, it was very hard to like facilitate anything. Since like, it was all online, but we're definitely more on that like upward trend of like people like coming to events, of course, like masks required, so that people are safe.

Jeanne Woodbury

Yeah. Did you feel like during that period where everything had to be online, that it got harder because… well, why do you think it got harder for people? Just like not wanting to be on Zoom or wanting something that they couldn't do.

Samuel Ndinjiakat Jr

Yeah, I think it was harder for a lot of people to be on Zoom because I'm aware that some people have in the past done a lot of organizing work like digitally or online for a variety of reasons. Most of us just generally aren't used to navigating those spaces. So it was a lot harder to… like general like social cues, for example, are a lot hard to read through like a screen versus seeing someone's full body, like, emote and whatever.

Jeanne Woodbury

Yeah, and I feel like it's harder to get to know people. Like, okay, you can have essentially the same meeting on Zoom, but you don't have the coffee chit chat beforehand and the walking out to the door conversations afterward. You miss out on all this like, bigger picture of it.

Samuel Ndinjiakat Jr

Yeah.

Jeanne Woodbury

I don't know, it was interesting. And I think what you were saying about like, being kind of clued into what was happening for a much longer period of time, going back to like, when was Ferguson, like 2014?

Samuel Ndinjiakat Jr

Ferguson was about 2014, yeah.

Jeanne Woodbury

Yeah, so that really is like a decade at this point.

Samuel Ndinjiakat Jr

Yeah, so lots of people, like I personally wasn't involved in politics at that point 'cause I was 11, but. (both laughing) But especially as I got older, I was like aware, like it was like a lot of like in-person group, like people out, not only in the streets, but in their neighborhoods and wherever, like coming together and then like the pandemic kind of like jostled people in, like lots of people indoors. Like obviously you had like essential workers that still had to like, had their lives on the line. But lots of us for some periods of time were generally isolated from the broader community's like physical presence, so.

Jeanne Woodbury

Yeah. Well, when you were 11, I mean, I figure you weren't involved in politics, but were you paying attention to politics and what was happening in that area?

Samuel Ndinjiakat Jr

Yeah, I was paying attention. Like obviously it didn't, I didn't have that same level of like explicitly Marxist analysis or whatever because it turns out 10-year-olds aren't exactly reading Kapital before bed.

Jeanne Woodbury

Not so often.

Samuel Ndinjiakat Jr

Not so often, especially not in my family. But I was generally, 'cause I remember seeing stuff about the Arab Spring.

Jeanne Woodbury

That was even a few years before that.

Samuel Ndinjiakat Jr

That was even a few years before, but I think that was the first major international thing that made me interested in politics in general, because I had never seen people looking at the leadership of their country and being like, no.

Jeanne Woodbury

Yeah, it was — the Arab Spring was also a really big moment for me in 2011, and I was already starting to get involved in politics at the time. And then I saw that and I was like, oh, there's some really interesting ways to organize that feel new and special. And one of the things I'm really curious about, 'cause you mentioned maybe using the word generation, maybe using the word cohort. Do you think that growing up in that milieu of like, seeing these big protest movements happen from the time you're eight or 11 to now and with the pandemic and everything and the uprisings, do you think that's shaped people of your generation in a unique way compared to other generations?

Samuel Ndinjiakat Jr

Yeah, I would definitely say so because the big overlying theme in seeing a lot of that is like the proliferation of the internet and all of that. Like obviously at this point like even Millennials kind of like grew into it but like, you weren't seeing like people live tweeting for example about like 9/11 as it was going down. It was still like happening mostly through like the television and radio, but like now like you're getting second by second updates on like various like events and like ideas going on. And there's definitely like good and bad to it, but it's definitely like shaped the way that our generation approaches like political organizing

Jeanne Woodbury

Yeah. I mean did you basically grow up on the internet? Like when you were hearing stuff about the Arab Spring is that because you were online?

Samuel Ndinjiakat Jr

Honestly part of it was online, but since like it — my household was still in that transitory phase of where like I still like watch like the news with my parents, so I would see a lot of that stuff on like CNN, but then I would see like an article about it on like the family computer and be like, oh, this is interesting. But it wasn't like, the internet wasn’t, at least my access to the internet wasn't to the point where I was operating in spaces where like I was having those sorts of conversations.

Jeanne Woodbury

I see. Yeah, it was still within the space of like there's the family computer in the computer room, and here’s the TV, and we're gonna watch the news together.

Samuel Ndinjiakat Jr

Just like, you only have an hour on this thing. So my goal was not political education in that one hour. It was playing Papa's Pizzeria within that one hour and that I did.

Jeanne Woodbury

Yeah, well, it sounds like maybe your family was kind of like politically tuned in, if you were watching the news together

Samuel Ndinjiakat Jr

Yeah, my family was, well has always been politically in tune however, there is like obvious like ideological variance. Like my parents are definitely a bit more like establishment liberal minded and I'm just over here just like — I might be a little bit of a communist.

Jeanne Woodbury

Yeah, but that's not that's not too far afield. I think you know a lot of people I meet who are more in that communist field grew up with like really conservative parents

Samuel Ndinjiakat Jr

Yeah, so like I'm at least my, at least my parents are just like “oh, yeah racism's bad, feminism sounds pretty cool” versus like people… well, I guess my family's not exactly the most queer affirming, but —

Jeanne Woodbury

oh, yeah

Samuel Ndinjiakat Jr

It's not to the point of where they're like smashing beer cans because they had like a trans person in proximity to the brand or something.

Jeanne Woodbury

Oh yeah, that's such a ridiculous situation.

Samuel Ndinjiakat Jr

Yeah, honestly, I am quite scared about that whole thing cuz I'm just like, they're not gonna stop with just beer cans.

Jeanne Woodbury

Well, it doesn't seem like it, no. I mean, do you run into any of that kind of behavior in your day-to-day life?

Samuel Ndinjiakat Jr

In my day-to-day, it's not necessarily targeted at me since generally I identify somewhat as non-binary but I'm generally like cis-passing, it's whatever. So it's not really targeted at me but on ASU campus there is like a proliferation, especially recently of like preachers and evangelicals like shouting their typical nonsense, and it’s just like — they're just like, "You're going to hell." And I'm just like, "I'm going to an upper division sociology class. You want to come with?" Because I think that's pretty close.

Jeanne Woodbury

These are like the guys who have the big signs that have like a bunch of different things written on them.

Samuel Ndinjiakat Jr

Yeah, I think the latest one was just like, you can play like a little game which is just like, all right, how many of these labels? Like, you know, fornicator, liar, pothead. I'm just like, oh, damn, I'm checking off all of these. (Both laughing)

Jeanne Woodbury

Yeah, no, I've done that. I've looked at like a meme of it basically and seen how many I could check off. It's a weird environment at school sometimes.

Samuel Ndinjiakat Jr

Yeah, and I think that just ultimately speaks to like, and I guess I'm getting to a broader ideological conversation of the role of the university within broader capitalist structures, 'cause you'll see them claim all the time, like, you know, we're a supportive school, or we center minority students, but then they'll hide behind free speech laws, and it's just like, that person's a literal neo-Nazi, or like, they're shouting slurs at people wearing hijabs to class or something.

Jeanne Woodbury

Right, which is harassment at that point.

Samuel Ndinjiakat Jr

Yeah, but you can't do anything, otherwise the school will be punishing you versus the actual person that's spewing a lot of hateful rhetoric.

Jeanne Woodbury

Right, and I know there's also been a big controversy — and I don't know how much this controversy is like, manufactured —

Samuel Ndinjiakat Jr

It's the way I don't know which one you're referring to.

Jeanne Woodbury

Well, yeah, a lot of them are. But at colleges, there's this whole free speech thing with like visiting speakers, where there's one group on campus who wants to bring in some alt-right speaker potentially, and then another group on campus wants to protest that, and then the university gets mixed up in there trying to say, well, we need to protect these speakers or whatever. It seems like it plays out differently on different campuses, but I know it's happened at ASU a few times. And it's a weird situation because for me, I'm on the outside. I haven't been a student for a while. And so I just hear what people who are angry about one person's decision are saying. And I don't know what's really happening in the school. But with this free speech controversy stuff at colleges, it feels like — I don't know. It feels like it could be a big distraction at the least.

Samuel Ndinjiakat Jr

Yeah, it's definitely like… do you know about the paradox of tolerance thing?

Jeanne Woodbury

Yeah.

Samuel Ndinjiakat Jr

Yeah, so I mean, I guess for whoever listens to this —

Jeanne Woodbury

Yeah, can you explain it a little?

Samuel Ndinjiakat Jr

Yeah, it's basically this idea that like tolerating intolerant ideas just eventually leads to like, the people who are purveying those intolerant ideologies ensuring that there's no tolerance in society. So you can only be tolerant of certain ideas and concepts to an extent, however, but if you tolerate hateful ideas, then you end up not getting an overly tolerant society in the long run, so it's impossible to be like 100% across the board tolerant of like every idea in the so-called free marketplace of ideas. And this is really reflected with the, I believe the Jared Taylor situation is like one of the most notable incidents that happened at Arizona State where it was just like, hey, this is a white supremacist. And then every student left the center was just like, hey. (laughs)

Jeanne Woodbury

And what does that hey translate into? Is it like asking the school to not allow that person to speak or?

Samuel Ndinjiakat Jr

Yeah, it's a lot of asking the school not to speak, or less asking, but like trying to pressure the school. Because when it comes to like a lot of activism on campus, you eventually come to an understanding that you can't really ask nicely. It starts becoming like, we're gonna make it really inconvenient for you to do this. Like we'll like pick it up outside of meetings or whatever. We’ll basically drive the school's name through the mud if necessary, because at the end of the day, these officials care about their bottom line, not the well-being of students. So if you hit them where it hurts, then they'll suddenly start listening.

Jeanne Woodbury

Oh yeah. That can be a really effective strategy. I mean it’s, if you're just going to them and saying, oh, could you please not do this? They've already decided, and your voice isn't gonna be the persuading thing. But I don't actually know a lot about that specific situation; was that pretty recent?

Samuel Ndinjiakat Jr

That happened last semester… or early this semester? The timeline’s all jumbled up in my head but, I do, I do remember like it was a whole thing like a couple organizations like YDSA and MECHA put out statements. Another group of people, I believe like a group of anarchists, like held a demonstration right outside the event to basically show how disproving they were, but you know, of course, they didn't listen. So. But it definitely is like a game of like, how much pressure can we put on these people that way they actually do what we need them to do. And it's like, ultimately there are some things that won't work because it's just like the university is just like an extension of like hegemony and capitalism. So like, they're ultimately gonna serve those interests first and foremost, but you can definitely like push them a bit to be less overly harmful.

Jeanne Woodbury

What are some of the conversations that happen inside these groups? Is everyone pretty much on the same page saying, "Hey, this isn't okay." Or are there questions about, what's the right way to respond to this?

Samuel Ndinjiakat Jr

There have been questions about the right way to respond to this. Like some in the past have argued for simply like not engaging, which in my head makes some amount of sense because a lot of us are like minority students. Like lots of us are trans, non-binary, people of color, disabled, like the exact kind of people that like a neo-Nazi bastard would go for. So like we're just…

Jeanne Woodbury

That's a good point. So not engaging just from a standpoint of not overexposing yourself.

Samuel Ndinjiakat Jr

Yeah, not overexposing yourself, not like exposing like the most vulnerable in your groups to like potential danger, because lots of people have faced some amount of danger and pushback before for activism in a variety of circles. It's just like obviously like if you're in these spaces, there is some amount of risk, but you still have to be pretty calculated about it.

Jeanne Woodbury

That makes sense. Part of the reason I wanted to ask is 'cause I figure these moments of having an actual thing to mobilize about can be really great in terms of building the strength of your organizing group. And I figured, you know, if everyone's pretty much on the same page versus if there's more disagreement about how to do it, it might change the way that that growth happens. Are you seeing that more and more students are getting involved in that kind of organizing work?

Samuel Ndinjiakat Jr

I'm definitely seeing an uptick in the number of students getting involved. Like sometimes it might not even necessarily be like any of the groups I'm involved, but I know there's been a group of high schoolers, I think they're called like Support Equality in Arizona Schools. Like they're a group of high schoolers that have been really on the front lines of fighting in their high schools against like a lot of transphobia and general queerphobia in their schools. And I'm just like, damn, if I was even half that conscious in high school.

Jeanne Woodbury

Yeah, they just did that big walkout like last week, I think.

Samuel Ndinjiakat Jr

Yeah, I saw it. And I think like lots… it's so, for me, I'm quite happy to see like all this energy in like our age group for like a lot of these issues. Like, I mean, dualistically, I'm also just like, damn, it really sucks that like, we can't like just be kids. like your biggest concern is just like, oh, I have a math assignment due tomorrow, and not like, oh, there's a fascist uprising — general uptick in fascism in this country. We need to do something about it.

Jeanne Woodbury

Right, I mean, I think about that a lot with those kids especially, but even people at ASU, like you. There's a lot to do as a student outside of being politically engaged. And I think the kind of engagement that's about your school is fantastic. But like, yeah, it'd be great if you could just be able to focus on school, right? Do you hear a lot of that from other people in that cohort of organizers?

Samuel Ndinjiakat Jr

They’re… within that cohort, and I guess this is specifically like a student issue because not everyone that's an organizer is necessarily trying to be college educated for a variety of reasons. Specifically for students, that is like a whole thing of like us juggling like that, like obligation, like, oh, I, like, sometimes there'll be like events that we can't do or like we have a limited capacity 'cause it's just like this is happening around business hours. So lots of us are in class or lots of us like have work to do. And like part of that is like on purpose 'cause the system relies on us being too exhausted or too occupied to like resist against it.

Jeanne Woodbury

Yeah, I run into that a lot trying to invite younger people who are mostly students to the State Capitol because the education committee, like all committees, meets during business hours, which means actually most people involved in education, whether they're students or teachers, can't be there to weigh in on bills unless they take time off of work or miss class, which, I mean, obviously isn't totally fair or accessible to people. I wanna roll back in time a little bit because we were talking about being a kid, growing up, and you said your family is sort of somewhere on like the middle of the spectrum of queer acceptance.

Samuel Ndinjiakat Jr

Not necessarily the middle, but more so they aren't actively making my life more difficult right now because I'm openly queer.

Jeanne Woodbury

Oh okay. Okay.

Samuel Ndinjiakat Jr

Which at least for now is I think the best of what I'm gonna get.

Jeanne Woodbury

I see. That can be a challenge for college students I've talked to, is going away from home but still having some kind of dependencies and ties to your family and trying to navigate being out. Is that — it sounds like it's not really totally a problem for you, but maybe a source of tension?

Samuel Ndinjiakat Jr

It's not a problem now, like when I first came out it was like the sky was falling, honestly

Jeanne Woodbury

When was that?

Samuel Ndinjiakat Jr

That was last February; I came out as bisexual.

Jeanne Woodbury

So that's still pretty fresh.

Samuel Ndinjiakat Jr

Yeah I guess it is, even though I'm just like oh that was forever ago and it's like — I don't know, it was only like a year ago.

Jeanne Woodbury

Yeah, but yeah, the sky is falling moments I think happened for a lot of people. And then it's great when your family calms down a little bit. Have they? Or have they just kind of stopped engaging?

Samuel Ndinjiakat Jr

They've lessened their engagement at least, because I can be quite argumentative about the whole thing. Like I'm just like. (laughing) Like even though I'm learning to start drawing boundaries around that, it's just like I'm not putting my energy into, like, you're not gonna have that come-to-Jesus moment where it's just like, “oh no, it's fine, if you would come home with a guy versus a girl,” or whatever. I don't think I'm gonna get that from this one conversation, so I'm not…

Jeanne Woodbury

Yeah, sometimes it never happens, I think. And sometimes it's — I mean I don't know any family where it's really happened just through talking about it. Right?

Samuel Ndinjiakat Jr

No, I've yet to meet people like that either. People either just like have very similar stories to me or they're just like, yeah, it was like a two minute conversation and my mom was just like, okay, cool, I love you. And I'm just like, wow.

(both laughing)

Jeanne Woodbury

Lucky for them.

Samuel Ndinjiakat Jr

Like honestly, lucky for them. I wish it was like that for more queer and trans kids.

Jeanne Woodbury

Yeah. I feel like a lot of us, when we come out, are not met with that kind of reception from our parents. And then for people like you — and I also came out during college — I think the hope for a lot of us is that we can find other people at school that we can create community with. Is that something that you've found within those organizing spaces?

Samuel Ndinjiakat Jr

Yeah, that is definitely something I've found and I can like talk forever about how that's honestly the most critical part like trying to formulate any sort of like revolutionary like liberatory politic is just like having like a group of people that you can be in community with.

Jeanne Woodbury

Can you expound on that a little bit?

Samuel Ndinjiakat Jr

Like because the way society operates, you know with like capitalism running amok, it's like very easy to like isolate people especially if they're like on the margins of margins like that don't like share in a lot of those same struggles. But being able to like, at least since I have the privilege of being a college student where like there is a lot of people that are openly queer and people that are also explicitly political about the fact that they understand how political queerness is: that has made like the whole deal with me coming out thing and just like general political activism so much easier because it's just like, these are people that will like not only like be with you to like comfort you and whatever, like these are people that like hold you to account when you mess up or …

Jeanne Woodbury

Oh right, yeah.

Samuel Ndinjiakat Jr

Cuz like that's also like a big part of it, cuz like people think it's like all like love light and laughter but it’s just like, nah. It is, but there's also like definite moments where you kind of like need to be called in for like a variety of reasons

Jeanne Woodbury

Have you experienced that?

Samuel Ndinjiakat Jr

Um in like smaller ways, but I've also been on like more of the like I guess like giving side of that interaction where like, I'm just like, we need to collect ourselves.

Jeanne Woodbury

Has that gone pretty well? I mean that's hard to do right, to call someone in and really not end up with a much bigger conflict.

Samuel Ndinjiakat Jr

I think it's gone well for the most part. I think — like obviously there'll be like moments where it's just like petty squabbling. But it's also just like lots of us are like 18 19 20 years old, grappling with like the general traumas of existing under capitalism. So it's not easy work. I think that's part of like, building that new framework for like justice and whatnot within like your friendship groups and not just imagining on like the macro scale

Jeanne Woodbury

When it goes well, what do you think helps it to go well? Is it that shared sense of struggle?

Samuel Ndinjiakat Jr

It's partly that shared sense of struggle, but like especially if you're dealing with people that might be like a little bit more privileged than you in a couple ways it helps if like everyone — like there isn't like an immediate defensiveness when it's just like hey, there's like a race thing at play here, or like hey there's like a misogyny thing that we need to like address like not only like interpersonally but like as an organization.

Jeanne Woodbury

Yeah I mean most of the time when I've seen that come up people react really defensively and I mean, honestly if I get criticism, I can also react a little defensively. Like I think most people do, but then the way I've tried to like reframe any kind of criticism is someone is like doing me a favor by giving me like access to something I missed out on. And I don't know if that's something that I was really in tune with when I was in college necessarily, that kind of way to receive criticism. I'm still working on it. And it sounds like a lot of the people that are in the group you're in do have kind of that that attitude of — when I'm giving someone criticism, it's a gift; when I'm receiving criticism, it’s a gift.

Samuel Ndinjiakat Jr

Yeah, we're all ultimately trying to be better, so it's not like coming from a place of like, I'm antagonizing you I don't like you. (Laughs)

Jeanne Woodbury

Yeah. That is not easy. Like that's a skill, like resolving conflict, giving criticism in like a peace-oriented way. Where do you feel like you all learned that?

Samuel Ndinjiakat Jr

Honestly, I didn't know that much about it first because from personal experience I when it comes like the whole sphere of like constructive criticism, whatever. I think I'm just like you I take things very personally. But I instead of like immediately going to like defend my honor, it just becomes a game of just like oh, well, damn I don't think I'm hot shit. Like let me just let me just retreat real quick because clearly I'm not. But like in terms of learning honestly for me, I don't know about like the general group, but it's come through basically like being exposed to like people, like seeing other people that are engaged in that sort of dynamic and then watching how like, hey this person didn't like immediately just be like well, yeah the clothes you wear suck, so

Jeanne Woodbury

Oh Right. It's just like a personal attack.

Samuel Ndinjiakat Jr

Yeah, it didn't immediately devolve into like personal attacks. So it's just like, here are some actions that you committed that were harmful or that I didn't really appreciate; can we talk about this? Or like here's like a general trend I might have noticed like as like a broad organization which — and honestly, that's probably the most, that probably helps because like, for better or worse most of the times where I have been in that call-in situation, it’s like I'm being called in like with a group of people. Like I've had people like sit and basically call in the men of an org and be like, hey, like people who aren't men don't really have much of a space to like speak during certain points. Or like voices aren't being heard that much, so.

Jeanne Woodbury

Yeah. And that can be hard criticism to receive. I think also anything that's sort of about like gendered privilege when — I mean you were mentioning you identified to some extent as not binary — getting criticism about gendered privilege when you also are in this space that isn't exactly just —

Samuel Ndinjiakat Jr

Cis men.

Jeanne Woodbury

— Privileged. That can be hard, that can be hard to receive I think. How does that play out for you?

Samuel Ndinjiakat Jr

Um for me personally it's kind of with the understanding that I might have a complicated relationship with gender, that definitely also intersects with race because I'm a Black man. So that's a fun spot to be in, but —

Jeanne Woodbury

Can you — I’m cutting you off from the other question.

Samuel Ndinjiakat Jr

(Laughs) That’s fine.

Jeanne Woodbury

But can you explain what you mean in terms of that complicating it? Race complicating gender?

Samuel Ndinjiakat Jr

Um in general like since race and gender are like social constructs that like largely inform each other and you can kind of see that in individuals like… (laughs) I’m trying to answer this in such a way where I'm just like, this better not be a whole other podcast episode, cuz I can talk a lot about gender. But understanding like the way that I embody myself like in a sense that like, because gender ultimately the way it works it's like, it is built for by and for like white people. Like Black people aren't allowed to like really explore the way they might relate to gender the same way that like white people can, so it creates an interesting dynamic when you realize you've been socialized a certain way especially when you like learn about concepts like manhood and masculinity a certain way, in the context of how maybe your white peers or non-Black peers learned about those concepts. So it definitely —

Jeanne Woodbury

That's fascinating.

Samuel Ndinjiakat Jr

Yeah, it's definitely something that, even though I'm not really cis, the concept of being a Black man, at least for me, is just something that'll stay with me because that's the way I just generally move through the world with that intersecting experience.

Jeanne Woodbury

Yeah, and it's the position you're put into to some degree, right?

Samuel Ndinjiakat Jr

Mm-hmm.

Jeanne Woodbury

Yeah, no, that's fascinating. And I cut you off, but we were talking about the idea of like responding to criticism about gendered privilege when you're in kind of a different space of relating to gender.

Samuel Ndinjiakat Jr

Mm-hmm. Yeah, I think it's understanding that the way you embody yourself is valid, it's whole, it's you, and that is okay, like, gender's fake.

(both laughing)

Jeanne Woodbury

Gender's fake.

Samuel Ndinjiakat Jr

Gender's fake. Put that on something, like a shirt.

Jeanne Woodbury

I’ll put that as a tagline on the podcast.

Samuel Ndinjiakat Jr

(laughing) But it's also understanding that there are different ways that you might embody yourself that aren't completely detached from a lot of those structures that you still have to unlearn. That is not to say that, oh, because I'm — also where the pitfall, people are just like, oh, well, “trans women have like, male socialization, so like.” It's just like, shut the fuck up.

Samuel Ndinjiakat Jr

(laughing) Wait, can I swear?

Jeanne Woodbury

You can swear, yeah, it's fine.

Samuel Ndinjiakat Jr

I've probably done that three times already, but anyways. It's understanding that there are definitely different ways that you — being non-binary or being trans doesn't mean that you've completely immediately divested from patriarchal gender understandings or racist gender understandings. That's still a lot of work you have to do both internally and with your community. So it's just like, I am, of course, valid and understood in my labeling of like a non-binary Black man. But like, I'm also aware of like, due to the way that I navigate the world, I might not be fully aware of like the way that people of marginalized genders have to like confront…

Jeanne Woodbury

Yeah, no, I like how you keep saying that, that idea of like how you move through the world or how you navigate the world. Because I feel like a lot of the time we focus on, especially with gender, gender as like an internal thing, or gender as like how I relate to myself, but gender is also and maybe more so just about how we relate to each other. And that's where that kind of discrepancy comes in of, yes I'm valid but also there's so much more going on. So it's really, it's really cool to hear you explain that so so clearly. What are you studying?

Samuel Ndinjiakat Jr

Oh this will be a big shock. I'm doing a dual degree with sociology in justice studies and then a minor in gender studies.

Jeanne Woodbury

Okay. So do you get to talk about this kind of stuff in class all the time?

Samuel Ndinjiakat Jr

Yeah, we definitely do get to talk about it, but… I'm trying to pace myself in such a way where I'm just like, I could spend three hours talking about this. But like, there are definitely limits to what the academy has to offer in regards to like a lot of that work. Like, you can obviously take like a wonderful variety of classes that talk about like the social construction of like a lot of these different categories and how that affects how we navigate the world as individuals. And of course like the underlying structures below it. But one thing you have to be wary of is, and I think a lot of academics, both historically and currently, and I definitely see this trend with younger leftists in general, regardless of whether or not they're in college, is that lots of people are really good at reading and articulating very complex theory, but when it comes to practice, you're not gonna find that in the classroom.

Jeanne Woodbury

Oh yeah, okay. When I was thinking about some of the limits you might run up against, I was thinking about limits of theory that come up.

Samuel Ndinjiakat Jr

There are some, it definitely also just depends on your department or the individual instructor. Like I'm taking a class right now that explicitly outlines a lot of post-colonial theory from Fanon and Cabral and Patricia Hill Collins, that's very explicitly like these are people that have ardently struggled for liberation, but it's also not lost on me that whenever it becomes a discussion of just like, okay, what do we do with this knowledge, people kind of start to gaff a little bit and it's just like…

Jeanne Woodbury

Well, what do you think some of your fellow students are there for if they aren't necessarily interested in doing something with the knowledge?

Samuel Ndinjiakat Jr

I mean, I did a little bit of research and I figured out that apparently a sociology degree was one way of becoming a cop eventually. I don't know how one would think that's a good idea after even taking an intro class, but that's an option. So I think a lot of people are gaining like a lot of analytical tools and skills, but they don't realize that they're still being educated by an institution that largely relies on the perpetuation of those same systems that you're ironically enough critiquing.

Jeanne Woodbury

Oh yeah, okay. No, that makes sense to me. I mean, it can be interesting talking to people who have, people who have read a lot and people who are very good at analyzing and speaking to the texts that they've read and recalling things. It can be interesting to talk to people like that who then don't really connect it to real life necessarily. I mean, even people who actually have real life relevant experience, right? Like sometimes talking to other trans people who are very literate, very scholarly, it can feel kind of detached from, okay, but we're two people who are talking right now. Does this actually line up with how we're talking to each other right now, or is it just like a cool book that you read? Which isn't to like denigrate studying. I mean, I think it's incredible and super useful. And if someone else has already had a really great thought and written it down, you should try not to reinvent the wheel, I guess. But it can be weird. And I think that like straddling the line that you're straddling of like on the ground organizing and then being in these classrooms and being really up in the clouds with theory can be a challenging line to walk sometimes.

Samuel Ndinjiakat Jr

Yeah, it definitely is because I very recently had this experience where with YDSA we hosted like a Black grieving space where like a lot of like Black people, especially like we were like grieving like a lot of like loss from like state violence or like a lot of issues that arise from like interpersonal relationships with non-Black people and it was very I kind of like laughed at myself a little bit afterwards because like the actual day — because like it was basically my day of like trying to prepare for the event and then go to a seminar on like Black masculinities that was like very grueling and theory heavy and then immediately have to like deal with like organizing that event because it was just like I'm fresh off of this like high-flung like literary and theoretical exploration of like embodying Black manhood and I'm immediately going to a space where I'm just like hey, I have a lot of trauma related to my race: let's discuss. So like just like the jarring experiences just like left me like, I'm exhausted

Jeanne Woodbury

Yeah. Exhausted from like theorizing and making your own experience academic, and then also having to be really open about it in a personal way?

Samuel Ndinjiakat Jr

Yeah, so, which I guess also speaks to like how what lots of these institutions… (laughs) I’m, I'm really bashing on this, on this whole like academia thing because I'm just like I am in so much debt…

Jeanne Woodbury

I think I can tell that like you, you're criticizing it from a place of like, respect, I think.

Samuel Ndinjiakat Jr

Yeah it’s, it’s coming from a place of like, I know what it could be in an ideal world, detached from like legacies of imperialism, colonialism, capitalism, and this, that, and the third. But right now it's an extension of a lot of that.

Jeanne Woodbury

Yeah, well it's fair to criticize it. I don't think a good university would want its students not to criticize it.

Samuel Ndinjiakat Jr

That, that is true, so you know, Michael Crow, hit me up. (Laughs) Actually, please don't, you're a very awkward man.

Jeanne Woodbury

Well, so once you get your degree what are you planning to do after that?

Samuel Ndinjiakat Jr

That is the million dollar question, because as much as I'm lambasting it I have looked more at generally getting more involved with like research and whatnot and I guess like academia but then, then comes the dilemma of just like I want my research to be of benefit to like the people who are just like on the front lines of the struggle or dealing with like the worst impacts of colonialism and capitalism, but also these institutions make it so that you have to write in such a way that only the most like erudite of like scholars can read it and it's just like well this isn't really helping anyone, this is just like a circle jerk of like how many thesaurus words can we stuck, stuck, like just like…

Jeanne Woodbury

It does feel like that sometimes. I wonder if there's like a niche you could carve out, of getting to do that theory and and research and academic study but being much closer to the ground and to the people organizing.

Samuel Ndinjiakat Jr

There is actually some Marxist sociologist, his name's Michael Burawoy, I think. He's actually pioneered what he calls a subfield of sociology called public sociology, which… it's less of a school of thought, oh, this is like feminist sociology, or this is post-colonial sociology of race, but basically a methodology of bringing a lot of that research directly into engaging with social issues and like making it so that it's not just scholars that are involved in the conversation but like everyday people, like in tune with like a lot of these issues.

Jeanne Woodbury

That's really cool

Samuel Ndinjiakat Jr

So that's definitely something I want to read more upon and then like also like apply it to just like, alright I have to explain symbolic interactionism. Everybody sit down.

Jeanne Woodbury

I think a lot of people would actually really love that kind of thing. I mean, if you can connect those ideas to people in a language that they're going to get into, a lot of people are really curious and want to hear those kinds of ideas.

Samuel Ndinjiakat Jr

Yeah, and I can definitely understand why so many people are like hesitant. Like a lot of these ideas, like especially like Marxism, like once you start picking up on like a lot of basic principles it becomes like really intuitive, but so many people are just like so weird and complicated in the way they like convey these ideas and I'm just like and it's definitely something I've had to work on before because sometimes I'll be in like I'm gonna info dump about gender and then like even my friends who are also like students are just like, I'm not sure if you're speaking English right now.

Jeanne Woodbury

You know I also sometimes feel like being a little bit above the level of discussion that people are maybe coming in ready for can be great if you can pull people to that level, as long as it's not intentionally trying to be patronizing or whatever.

Samuel Ndinjiakat Jr

Yeah, it's fine to have different expertise levels. Like even without insert hegemonic systems here, people are just like, there are people who could fix a car. I only know how to turn a key. So they have that level of expertise and they can probably help me figure that out. But I ended up deciding to read about longstanding societal issues for a degree, so…

Jeanne Woodbury

Yeah no I think it's great. Would you stay in Arizona to do that kind of work?

Samuel Ndinjiakat Jr

Um I'm definitely… after I graduate I've decided to at least stay for like maybe a year, year and a half, not doing anything related explicitly to like school or like a grad program. That way I can just chill out from like classrooms for a bit.

Jeanne Woodbury

Yeah that can be nice. I didn't want to jump right into grad school after my undergraduate degree.

Samuel Ndinjiakat Jr

Like props to the people who do that, but I'm not. Like, Arizona State, like that institution has put me through a ringer with just everything. So I think taking a break from that and just doing some general community organizing work, like beyond like the halls of academia, I think would be real nice. So at least for a time, I could definitely try seeing how to integrate that public sociology framework.

Jeanne Woodbury

Yeah.

Samuel Ndinjiakat Jr

I'm not too sure about after, if I'll just go to grad school in another state or somewhere else, but yeah.

Jeanne Woodbury

No, that's really cool. Well, thanks for talking with me today. This was a lot of fun. I'm glad you agreed to do this with me.

Samuel Ndinjiakat Jr

Yeah, thanks for having me. It was a very random opportunity, but I was just like, you know what?

Jeanne Woodbury

I'll go on a podcast.

Samuel Ndinjiakat Jr

I'll go on a podcast. I've never done it before, but it sounds fun.

Jeanne Woodbury

Well, I hope you did have fun.

Samuel Ndinjiakat Jr

I did.

Jeanne Woodbury

Cool, thank you.

Samuel Ndinjiakat Jr

Of course.

Equality Arizona
The Arizona Equals Conversation
Arizona Equals is a conversational interview podcast chronicling the lives and experiences of LGBTQ+ Arizonans. Listen to new episodes weekly on Wednesdays, featuring conversations with queer people living in Arizona.
Listen on
Substack App
RSS Feed
Email mobile setup link
Recent Episodes
42:19
53:50
35:15
42:01
44:06
49:14
50:24