This event was the first of the two events hosted by Watershed as part of the Festival of the Future City 2017, as well as the first in a serious of our October events contributing to celebrating Black History Month.
Historically and currently from the civil rights movement in the US to the contemporary global movements around Black Lives Matter women of colour have often been at the forefront of campaigns to create more humane and integrated policies and places. During this discussion, speakers Dr. Madhu Krishnan, Dr.Sumita Mukherjee, Aisha Rana-Deshmukh, and Nicole Truesdell focused on race in the context women of colour, their part in campaigning and revolution, the power of the younger generations in affecting change both in the British and American context.
The audio recording of this event can be found here.
Please see below a blog from Dr. Nicole Truesdell with her thoughts on the topics discussed and the event:
Intersectionality and Black in the Union Jack
I was honored by an invitation from Sado Jirde, Director of Black Southwest Network (BSWN), to sit on a panel for the Festival of Ideas- Future Cities in Bristol this past week. I have worked with Sado since 2009 when I was a PhD candidate in Anthropology at Michigan State University who had recently come over from the US to examine race and racism in a UK context. At the time I was interested in what it meant to be mixed-race (dual heritage) and British, but once I arrived and settled into Bristol I soon realized that was not the question I was seeking. Instead, working within BSWN as an intern showed me another side of the country and how race and racism played a key role in the ways BME communities and organizations were (mis)understood by mainstream groups and how that impacted access to resources for BME communities. While I was told by both Americans and British alike that race was not a problem in the UK, my experiences on the ground with BSWN showed me how wrong and dangerous that line of thinking was for BME folks. Seeing a lack of information about BME organizations and communities in the Southwest of England, I worked with BSWN to secure a Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) grant in 2010 to conduct our “Back to the Future” project that collected the oral histories and stories of BME community leaders in the Southwest. Eight years and four HLF grants later I sat on stage with 3 other British BME women to discuss our latest HLF project, #ThereISBlackInTheUnionJack and the place of gender and race within this project and the larger festival’s theme.
The panel focused on why using a single issue lens will not address power relations and the ways intersecting systems of oppression operate and how people whose identities sit at those intersections are then impacted in society - or what Kimberlé Crenshaw calls “intersectionality”. This intersectional lens allows us to think more critically, creatively and openly about what it means to imagine future cities and Britain/England. Key questions arise when we use this framework to not just think about future cities (the theme of the conference overall), but also about the place of blackness and black people inside the Union Jack: Who is imagined in the construction of future cities/the Union Jack? Who is left behind? Who is being displaced in order to make space for the shiny and new? Who is at the decision making table and is that table representative of the people already in that city? Are their voices actually listened to and their experiences acknowledged and believed? Now these are key questions that for me are fundamental in any discussions about future cities, especially in cities with diverse populations and in a country that built it sense of self around imperialism and empire.
Panelists spoke about history and how it is use and weaponized to maintain the status quo - and that status quo is raced (white), gendered (male), and classed (upper). Yet, the population is not only those identities and locations, so what again does it mean to be black in the Union Jack and how does that tie into future cities? This question allowed the panelists to explore the relationship between issues of whiteness and white supremacy, colonization and post-colonial resistance, gender and sexuality, class, and anti-black racism. Aisha, an undergraduate student at the University of Bristol on the panel, really connected these concepts when she spoke about her experiences as a BME student at a primarily white university that has the name of a slaveholder on its buildings. Using her experiences of working on a diversity committee, Aisha was able to connect in Bristol the ways race and racism are enacted to maintain the status quo - and if we want to imagine future cities the experiences, voices, and bodies of BME and others at the margin must be centered. Her youth and experience were a breath of fresh air for the panel and brought a much needed younger generational lens to the conversation of future cities - a conversation that overall has been dominated by older voices and perspectives.
For me, the panel was an appropriate and perfect way to unveil the #ThereIsBlackInTheUnionJack project to the public, and set up participants for the showing of the documentary with panel discussion that took place later that night. While we did not definitely answer if there is black in the Union Jack, the intersectional lens introduced at the panel by BME women presented a much needed perspective and voice to the larger national conversation. And as an American who works both in the US and UK around issues of race and racism, gender, class, the nation-state and citizenship I think that one can make an argument that there always has been black in the Union Jack, but it has only been recently that BME people have forced that conversation to the forefront.
Dr. Nicole Truesdell is the Senior Director of Academic Diversity and Inclusiveness and Adjunct Assistant Professor of Critical Identity Studies at Beloit College in the US. Her general interests are in radical pedagogy, academic hustling, and social justice. Her research focuses on the intersections of race, racism, gender, class, citizenship and the modern nation-state, higher education, and radical black thought in the US and UK. Her latest article, “The Role of Combahee in Anti-Diversity Work” is forthcoming in Souls.