During Black History Month UK, I was asked to give a talk at an event held at the University of Bristol, called, ‘New Narratives Beyond MLK: Spotlight On the Marginalised Voice.’ The focus of the event was to spotlight people and histories beyond those that often form part of the sanitised narratives of Black History Month celebrations. My talk reflected on how absent hope of African futurity in the past and present makes such futurity itself a forgotten history. This reflection arises from my scepticism with observations of Black History Month in Higher Education where data on access, progression and content shows persistent trends of anti-Blackness. I suggest here, that the failure to end these trends signifies a particular lack of intellectual creativity as regards the personhood and possibilities of African and African-descended people. The text of the talk is reproduced below.
One of the most read articles on this blog is an essay on the origins of the Nigerian police. Its tagline is: ‘a thing can never do a thing that the thing was never designed to do.’ In it I reflect, relying on my own research and personal/professional experiences with the Nigerian Police, on how the violence of the police is a microcosmic manifestation of the violence of the state. When one considers the history from which policing and the nation sprung, it is not surprising that the people of Nigeria live in constant tension with the nation of Nigeria, as it seems that the state’s survival as it is, is dependent on the destruction of its people. Something else I have also written about.
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.