When I started writing this, it was only 8 days into 2021. COVID-19 is stalking all lands. The vaccine distribution line is the abyssal line. The United States of America is being very disunited. The oppressed are still being oppressed and the obscenely rich are still amassing obscene amounts of wealth. Though we are all glad to escape 2020, 2021 has not brought the automatic refreshing we promised. I am saying this to remind us, that stepping into a new calendar year does not miraculously make all things new. We have to actively make change happen. Looking back matters. By looking back we ensure that we learn from the past. We take the lessons with us, from the good and bad. We look back so that we can do better in future and not drive further into perdition.
I have always loved stage plays. I love the way the dialogue captures the heart, slowly at first, but then it clutches your soul… and draws you in. Your line of sight is focused, in the scene, in how the players sit around a prop – a throne, a queen, a skull, a jug, a baby grand piano. The pacing is swift. It has to be, to keep you in your seat. The settings are few, but the stories are often deep, many-textured and still mundane. They follow the flow of life, yet faster. Going backward and forward, stage plays are simultaneously; a window into the everyday, into the possible, into the divine.
Decolonising the Law School: Presences, Absences, Silences and Hope
On the 13th of September 2019, I convened at the Law School, University of Bristol, a conference titled, ‘Decolonisation and the Law School.’ The purpose of the conference was to bring together some of the vast array of work legal academics across the UK were doing with reference to decolonial thought, in particular how they were bringing this work into their teaching and their research. I have written about the conference here and here. Decolonial thought in legal education, in my opinion, gives us an opportunity to look at our law schools and re-examine what is present, what is absent, what is silent and where our hope lies.
Parts of this essay were first published in the Critical Legal Thinking blog as part of the ‘Our Favourite CRT’ series curated by Kojo Koram and Yvette Russell. The aim of the series was to reflect on what different Critical Race Theorists teach us about the world we live in. In the initial post, I focus specifically on Baldwin’s 1979 address at Berkeley [See: James Baldwin at Berkeley, also below]. I have always found Baldwin’s insight into the nature of the world we live in quite unsettling. And I mean this in a good way. We think of many things as settled, despite the fact that the evidence of our senses tell us that they are definitely not settled. We think of land as property, as always having been property, as always being property… now and forever more. We think of the human as an individual body. When it is obvious the human thrives most in relationships – platonic or otherwise. Thus, both Birhane and Gordon, suggest that the human is relational. I think, however, that one of the most intractable ideas we have, one of the most difficult concepts to dislodge, is the presumed fragmentation and linearity of European time.
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.