In 2018, Bryan Stevenson was awarded a honorary doctorate by the University of Bristol. The day before the award, my department, the Law School, hosted a small dinner in his honour. I was blessed to be invited, and to be in his presence. If you have read his book, Just Mercy: A story of justice and redemption or heard of his work at the Equal Justice Initiative, you would be amazed at the things he has achieved. Among other things, he has won cases for over 125 wrongly condemned prisoners on death row. Bryan Stevenson has made an uphill climb, his life’s work.
I started writing this post in the middle of the summer of 2020. I wanted to give myself sometime to reflect on what had actually happened across the world, especially the global reaction to the video of the killing of George Floyd. How that had led to an eruption of protests, black squares on social media, updating of institutional diversity statements, statues toppling and the removal of some frankly tasteless and unfunny ‘comedy’ episodes. Some people did ask me for an immediate reaction, which I declined either directly or obliquely. I have not watched and will not watch the video of the killing of George Floyd. Yet it was still overwhelmingly traumatic to think about, as I wrote in Time and Place. So I needed to take some time to give my thoughts some clarity. I think I still need some time. But then Jacob Blake was shot. And here we are. Again. Again again.
International media reporting on Africa has always been quite… ‘interesting’ [‘Interesting’ is not exactly the right word to use here, but it is difficult to find a word that perfectly encapsulates the mix of imputed expertise, death-trope-making, and naive joy that describes media coverage of Africa. If you have not yet read Binyavanga Wainaina’s article, How to Write About Africa, you really should. It often feels as if some media houses have taken the article to heart, but not in the way it was intended. Rather than use it as a guide of what not to do, it has become an instruction manual to be followed to the letter.
I don’t want to write this. I really don’t want to write this. I cannot remember weeping actual tears before over the death of a person I have never met. But the announcement of earthly departure of Chadwick Boseman led to such a depth of sadness and a long day of weeping. So, I really didn’t want to write this.
In the title, I call him Brother Chadwick, not only in solidarity, but also because in age and manner, he could easily be my older brother. But I call him brother in solidarity too. When you look at the words he spoke, the film choices he made, you know he put so much thought into the legacy he was leaving behind. Much thought to every step. Every line. Every look. Every film.
FACE 2020 held from the 22nd to the 26th of June 2020 as a series of online lunchtime talks. The theme was ‘Decolonisation, Intellectual Pan-Africanism and the Future of the Multiversity: Part I.’ It was well attended with a very engaged audience throughout.
Forever Africa Conference and Events (FACE) is a Pan-African initiative brought together by staff and students at the University of Bristol. You can read more about previous conferences and the aims of FACE here and here and here and here and here. More information about the speakers in the videos below can be found here.
Below is a video/photo summary of the 2020 event.
The central thrust of the message I hoped to convey in this 8-minute talk below, is that if universities are really concerned and committed to knowledge in the service of truth and justice, then that must lead them to an inevitable commitment to decolonisation that goes beyond numbers-diversity, surface-representation and perfomative inclusion. For the neoliberal university, this may feel like an impossible ask. But it should not be. Not if universities are to really mean something to the survival of all humanity.
The video is from a panel discussion I was involved in, which held on Thursday the 12th of December, 2019. The panel was titled, Preparing critical students for the post-truth era: Key Research Questions, and was part of the 2019 SRHE [The Society for Research into Higher Education] Annual Research Conference.
From the end of FACE 2019, we have been planning for FACE 2020 around the theme of ‘Decolonisation, Intellectual Pan-Africanism and the Future of the Multiversity.’ At the start of March 2020, everything was more or less in place, with only the UCU industrial action slowing things down slightly. We had speakers agreed, enough funding, a good venue, and all other logistics either agreed upon or nearly agreed upon. Then covid happened and we had to readjust. We had the option of postponing till 2021, but after some encouragement, we decided to make the best use possible of the online space afforded for FACE 2020.
8 minutes and 46 seconds: That’s how long Derek Chauvin held his knee on George Floyd’s neck, as alleged by the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office criminal complaint against the former Minneapolis police officer.
This is another one of my reading lists. Readers of this parish [sorry, blog] will have seen the one on Pan-Africanism and a crowd-sourced one for new or aspiring law students. [The next reading list will be solely on decolonisation, it is about 60% finished.Watch space – this one] This anti-racism list is partially crowd-sourced as well [Thank you to everyone who contributed – mainly on Twitter]. I like publishing reading lists as they make life easier for people who are often called upon to provide reading suggestions. I noticed however, that as my lists get longer and longer, they may not be as easy to use or navigate. Therefore, I have tried to make this list thematic. There will obviously be some overlapping themes here – reading material suited for more than one theme. Do let me know what themes are missing. There will also be something that you may have read and liked and it is not on the list. Please put additional suggestions in the comments. Noting of course, how impossible it would be to make any such list exhaustive. Thank you for reading. Looking forward to additional suggestions.
This is essentially a incovidient post [not directly related to covid-19], nevertheless, I think it is important to note here that decolonial concerns are not in competition with the global pandemic. Initial data suggests that people from non-white backgrounds are most affected by covid-19. So, while there is always a temptation in these situations to pit one problem against the other – actions to manage the outcome of the pandemic against decolonial imperatives – we must resist that temptation and resist it is strongly. Also we can walk and chew gum and the same time. The impact of the pandemic has been to deepen inequality and not level it, contrary to what is often suggested. Reiteration is not confirmation. Admittedly, the virus cannot discriminate [it is a virus – barely sentient], but people and structures do discriminate. And people and structures determine who may live and who must die. Therefore the effect of the pandemic does discriminate. As I mentioned in my earlier piece about our world and covid-19, we must let our dreams and visions and knowledge structures and epistemologies and universities and schools and institutions… do more than continually reproduce an uneven world. A world where the lots of those who must die so that others may live, have always been unfairly cast.