Response to Kehinde Andrews ‘Blackness, radicalism and activism’ (Fran Hajat)

Response to Kehinde Andrews, ‘Blackness, radicalism and activism

by Fran Hajat

4 January 2016

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Dr Kehinde Andrews joined the NTU Postcolonial Studies Centre to give a talk on Black Radicalism and how it fuels a movement towards a new global identity. This identity is linked through a global diaspora and is rooted in difference that is not based on western constructs of race. Racial difference has been a cornerstone of Western Imperialism and dominance and was an excuse for the slavery and genocide of indigenous tribes and peoples around the world. Racial science is one construct of difference but there are others. The first Europeans in Africa were regarded by the Africans as different, but this difference was not based on racial categorisation.  Similarly when Africans made contact with Arabs and others there was an understanding of dissimilitude between cultures. Black radicalism moves beyond the use of racial categorisation as a means of defining difference, instead choosing to acknowledge difference. In doing so Blackness becomes an identity that is embraced.

The idea of Blackness stems back to Malcolm X who defined himself as ‘a new type of negro – a black man’. This rejects the old school of thinking that accepts the subjugation of black people in a European history. It becomes a radical way of thinking which links the African diaspora on a global scale. Kehinde spoke of a common bond between those within the African Diaspora, a historical bond that is grounded not through physicality and blood but through a different connection –  Spiritual Ancestry. Sub-Saharan African religions all operate under the schema of Ancestral worship.  Ancestral spirits are considered to be alive and are very much a function of  daily life.  This is opposed to Western perception of ancestors who are seen as dead.  Kehinde admits this is an undertheorized concept, but I believe it has potential to provide a interrelationship between those caught within the African Diaspora and their connections still in Africa.

In order to work, Black Nationalism needs to move away from the Nation-state and claim a Global Nationalism. For this to happen black nationalists need to rethink their roles within the nation-state. National politics is important – the day to day role of an activist helps change the dynamics of power on a local level but becoming part of Global Nation requires a dramatic shift in the way politics is perceived. Kehinde believes that black nationalism cannot be narrow – entirely focused on the nation state, nor can it be based on Cultural Nationalism. Both are limiting and are not radical in any form. Eventually Radical Blackness aspires to the overthrow the capitalist state and culminates in an African revolution. I believe that in order for any revolution to arise from Africa, African nations and the people that inhabit these nations need to overcome their lack of collective unity. They need to free themselves from Western labels and take on a new identity, a new title: Who knows, perhaps it will be Black.

Response:‘Africa in Oceania: Thinking Besides the Subaltern’ (Sofia Aatkar)

Response to research seminar by Dr Robbie Shilliam, QMUL, ‘Africa in Oceania: Thinking Besides the Subaltern’

by Sofia Aatkar, MRes English Literary Research

8 December 2015

Shilliam

This fortnight’s postcolonial speaker was Dr. Robbie Shilliam from Queen Mary, University of London. He delivered a powerful seminar, which was described afterwards by a fellow student as ‘poetic’, regarding the reparation of colonial injustice through anti-colonial connectivity among colonised and formally colonised peoples in the context of the South Pacific and the African diaspora, and queried the usefulness of the subaltern figure in accomplishing this.

Dr. Shilliam suggested that retrieving networks between colonised and formally colonised peoples can be achieved by connecting to the places that were left untouched by Cook and Columbus; namely, the spiritual domain. Shilliam argues that, because colonisation did not (and never could) breech this spiritual domain, these hinterlands could be used as a ground for re-establishing connectivity, and subsequently can actively repair the wounds of colonialism, reconnect black individuals and decolonise lands, ancestors and agencies. Shilliam exemplified this phenomenon in his discussion of the Māori people in New Zealand. He stated that the conception of time in Māori culture differs from that of modern, linear time, in which a future-centric view is adopted and the past is forgotten. Instead, Māori people believe that the past is a source of knowledge which should be remembered and drawn upon, which is typified by the phrase ‘the ancestors are meeting because we have met’.[1] In this light, it makes sense that the Māori word ‘muri’ connotes ‘future’ (verb) and ‘behind’ (location).[2] And thus, one way in which Māori people could forge connections across the African diaspora and adopt a decolonising ethos is by looking to the future through their shared past.

The term ‘subaltern’ commonly refers to specific struggles in colonial India. However, it has been noted that:

subaltern is not just a category that affects given sectors of the population of one single nation-state, but a category of the imperial and modern/colonial world that affects people and regions in a global distribution of wealth and meaning.[3]
Accordingly, ‘subaltern’ can also be used as an intellectual category to describe individuals or groups who exist outside the hegemonic framework of colonial power. Consequently, Shilliam suggests that in order for colonial and formally colonised peoples, or the subalterns, to connect through the spiritual domain, they need to cast ‘sideways glances’[4] instead of reflecting Western epistemology and thought production. In other words, they need to look backwards at their pre-colonial pasts in order to establish a decolonised future.

Personally, I found Dr. Shilliam’s seminar refreshing as he did not simply promote a specific collective national identity in an attempt at decolonisation, but instead suggests that a transnational identity is forged between colonised and formally colonised individuals through profound metaphysical connections, irrespective of an individual’s nationality. This view, in my opinion, promotes a more productive and empowering lens through which to examine postcolonial identities as such a global infrastructure invests a deeper connection among colonised and formally colonised peoples because it transcends geographical and historical boundaries.

Shilliam - coffee

References:

Māori Dictionary, ‘Muri’, < http://maoridictionary.co.nz/word/4283  > [accessed             03.12.2015]

Mignolo, Walter D. ‘On Subalterns and Other Agencies’, Postcolonial Studies, 8.4 (2005),             381-407

Shilliam, Robbie, ‘Africa in Oceania: Thinking Besides the Subaltern’, <             http://theoryculturesociety.org/article-robbie-shilliam-on-africa-in-oceania-thinking            besides-the-subaltern/ > [accessed 03.12.2015]

Notes:

[1] Robbie Shilliam, ‘Africa in Oceania: Thinking Besides the Subaltern’, < http://theoryculturesociety.org/article-robbie-shilliam-on-africa-in-oceania-thinking-besides-the-subaltern/ > [accessed 03.12.2015] (para. 1 of 14).

[2] Māori Dictionary, ‘Muri’, < http://maoridictionary.co.nz/word/4283  > [accessed 03.12.2015].

[3] Walter D. Mignolo, ‘On Subalterns and Other Agencies’, Postcolonial Studies, 8.4 (2005), 381-407 (p.386).

[4] Robbie Shilliam, ‘Africa in Oceania’ (para. 9 of 14).