Black Escapism in Arthur Jafa’s “Dreams are Colder than Death”

Dreams Are Colder Than Death

The escape artist flashed by on a metallic blue motorcycle, pursued by a blur of pulsing red and blue lights. Drawn together by a sentiment exceeding mutual compassion, the sidewalk spectators stood inert, breaths and bodies taut with anticipation. For a moment, parts of us took flight alongside the fugitive, our lives reaching beyond the limits of our bodies; the moment did not last long. Soon he was on foot, bobbing and weaving past the threat of capture, circling the block, boxed in but refusing to surrender. The choreography of escape was altered as his body crashed onto the concrete, sustaining the friction of tense blue cloth, the pressure of cold metal, the bitterness of heated blood and antagonized sweat. There might’ve been a collective exhale, as we all stood watching, witnesses to our own fall and capture.

That we had been standing on the corner of Adam Clayton Powell and 130th, and that everyone in sight, besides the police, was Black, stood out to me in that moment. Some of us had urged the fugitive to run–Run! Our hearts leapt toward the sidewalk with his fall; a reminder that we were fallible. That even here–Here! in informal communion, closest to the bosom of Black America–we were not safe. As a routine police chase, this mundane moment marked itself as an extraordinary one, in which I served witness to the assertion of a claim to freedom.

This notion of witnessing was re-articulated for me during the recent viewing of Arthur Jafa’s Dreams are Colder than Death and a follow-up discussion between Jafa and panelists Christina Sharpe, Reina Gossett, and Tavia Nyongo at the International Center of Photography. Though the film touches on a range of topics explored by Black theory in regard to futurity, survival, and resistance, the act of escape remained a primary point of exploration not only through the viewing of Black fugitivity through art, music, dance, but in mundane movements that indicated tension between studied, self-contained calm and external chaos and pressure.

Articulated per Fred Moten’s analysis of fugitivity, the line of escape mapped out by the Black fugitive is a mobilization of political consciousness. In fugitivity lies a futuristic impulse to claim the not-yet-forged possibilities of existence. It is a mobilization of Black vitality, in which biomechanic and metaphysical forces are deployed to activate effort; an effort that is integral to claiming survival. It is in enacting such effort that agency is articulated.

Arthur Jafa’s Dreams are Colder than Death, is made up of a collection scenes that replicate this first-hand interaction with escape and survival. Jafa’s digitized portrayals of Black movement contain a quality of nostalgia, marking the film as an archival space set up for the recollection and documentation of Blackness. This documentary impulse should not be misinterpreted as an intent to recollect the already-lost past, rather, it should be viewed as an intentional effort to archive the very-much alive present that predicates what we are becoming.  

From the opening scene, flesh and body are set up as points of interrogation. Hortense Spillers’ voice inquires about the possibilities for recuperating that which is in danger of being lost: Black culture. Visually, we encounter moving Black bodies arcing through the air, somersaulting in reverse through time and space. This retrograde action is tied into Spillers’ question, one that incites anxiety about the ephemerality of Blackness, the mark of its susceptibility.

Spillers’ insight into lost flesh and dismemberment, through an intimate recollection of personal loss, is analogous to a later question she poses around the “intramural problem of slavery”. Spillers locates the Transatlantic Slave Trade within a set of relations that posit the trafficking of Black bodies as a cannibalistic dilemma and identifies this trade in human flesh as the “original sin”. But first, we must examine the flesh itself, partly through Spillers’ own analysis in addition to the flesh exposed by Jafa’s lens.

In Spillers’ work, specifically in “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe”, flesh is a starting place for a theoretical examination of the making and un-making of the Black body within the drama of racialization. Spillers’ invocation of the Transatlantic Slave Trade is an important reminder of where the drama began. It is in the context of trade and exchange that Black flesh became marked and assigned differential subjecthood. The flesh, dismembered and reordered, preceded personhood, reduced to what Alexander Weheliye–in his own reading of Spillers–termed bare life.

Jafa’s focus on the moving body can be read as an attempt to re-engage in a dialogue of bare life. His focus upon flesh in its active and dormant states, demands attention to breath, activity, movement. He is opening up the grammar, per Spillers’ analysis, that enables Black legibility. Bare faces and flesh become the starting point for examining Blackness. Subjects are directly positioned in view of the lens, their bodies lingering on screen, not inviting examination, impervious to any set of logics that de-legitimizes their right to move, breathe, be still. In the grammar set up by Jafa, Black livelihood flourishes per a set of logics that prioritize subjectivity. Through their movements and gestures, the Black people that appear on Jafa’s screen “enunciate quotidian claims to survival, resilience, and possibility” (Campt 29). These claims demarcate a critical space in which subaltern voices can engage in self-making.

Fred Moten makes a concluding interrogation of the possibilities of survival. Love, per Moten, is where healing takes place. And like fugitivity, it offers escape and the rerouting, or the re-mapping of the enclosed landscape Blackness must navigate. Unlike fugitivity however, love holds a limitless expanse of futuristic potential; it offers space to fall down and rise with redemption.

Caribbean Feminisms: From the Page to our Lives, Across Borders and Communities


Victoria Brown and Edwidge Danticat at Barnard College

In hosting a series of events that featured conversations between Caribbean woman writers, the Barnard Center for Research on Women sought to centralize the importance of developing a transnational feminist dialogue. This year, the debut event for the BCRW’s Caribbean Feminisms on the Page series featured a conversation between Edwidge Danticat and Victoria Brown.
wind is spirit (1) bird hill

The concluding salon in the sequence was a discussion about The Wind is Spirit: The Life, Love, and Legacy of Audre Lorde and The Star Side of Bird Hill between their respective authors, Gloria Joseph and Naomi Jackson.

The writings of Victoria Brown, Edwidge Danticat, Audre Lorde, and Naomi Jackson, are all formed within a framework of Caribbean feminism. As Black women with ties to the Caribbean, the authors’ literary projects have been informed by a transnational feminist effort that welds U.S.- based Black feminism, anti-imperial dialogues, and the liberation efforts of Caribbean women at home and in the diaspora. To suture the rifts and fragments of their narratives, Caribbean women make use of a feminist impulse that constantly questions state violence and structural domination. The works of these authors reveal the resistant forms of everyday knowledge-making and activism practiced by Caribben women.

In Edwidge Danticat’s work, specifically in her memoir, Brother I’m Dying, these dialogues are depicted as emerging from deeply personal interactions with state power and governance that threaten to rupture the familial structure. In depicting the instability and precarity experienced by a family caught in the links of migration, detention, and displacement, Danticat reveals a disruption of familial space by threats of forceful state governance. Naomi Jackson’s coming of age novel, The Star Side of Bird Hill, delves into an equally complex family narrative with similar concerns around transplantation, displacement, and the mobility of the fractured West Indian family and body. Offering deeply intimate accounts of Black girlhood and its complexities, the narratives fit within a contentious structural conflict between imperialist governance and Caribbean feminisms. This type of governance is rooted in efforts to gain control over Caribbean livelihoods to serve the needs of Euro-American economic and political expansion and is tied to state practices of border control. 

The works of Victoria Brown, Edwidge Danticat, Audre Lorde, and Naomi Jackson consider home as a mobile and precarious site. This precarity is informed by the shifting migratory patterns produced by border delineations that have segmented the Caribbean body, and arguably all migrant bodies, warping its sense of belonging and cultural allegiance.

Audre and Linda

In Zami, Audre Lorde describes her own sense of longing for a home she only knew through her West Indian mother. Lorde forges a link between her relationship to her mother and her relationship to Grenada, establishing a maternal kinship that exceeds time and place, extending the notion of communal networks among women beyond borders. Lorde posits not only gender identity and sexuality as unstable categories, but also the very notion of home.

Once home was a far way off, a place I had never been to but knew well out of my mother’s mouth. She breathed exuded hummed the fruit smell of Noel’s Hill morning fresh and noon hot, and I spun visions of sapadilla and mango as a net over my Harlem tenement cot in the snoring darkness rank with nightmare sweat. Made bearable because it was not all. This now, here, was a space, some temporary abode, never to be considered forever nor totally binding nor defining, no matter how much it commanded in energy and attention. For if we lived correctly and with frugality, looked both ways before crossing the street, then someday we would arrive back in the sweet place, back home.

In examining practices of border delineation, Brown and Danticat consider Caribbean feminism a form of resistance to their resulting influence in producing displaced and stateless subjects. In order to critically consider notions of empire, spatial organization of bodies, and national allegiances, Caribbean feminisms demand attention to the gendered contours of statelessness and displacement. Understanding regional and transnational political dynamics as interactive allow insight into the practices by which Caribbean women’s subjectivities are formed.

During a “Caribbean Feminisms on the Page” conversation between Edwidge Danticat and Victoria Brown, a question arose about whether there is a feminist movement in the Caribbean that mobilizes scholarly, intellectual engagements. Demanding attention to visibility, class inequality, and various structural challenges that eclipse efforts of resistance to imperial governance mobilized by Caribbean women, Danticat offered insight into the gendered dimensions of the Dominican-Haitian border relations. In the context of border conflict, Haitian women’s bodies are caught in the juncture of dominance and subjugation enforced by paramilitary state practices and border policing. The livelihoods of Haitian women are undermined through displacement while their subjectivity and sovereignty are constrained within structural power relations. Any attempt at understanding contemporary struggles against xenophobic and anti-Black border policies must be grounded in a differential study of Haitian and Dominican histories as they connect with practices of U.S. imperialism, colonial relations, and insurgent movements and practices of resistance.

Caribbean feminisms are informed by historical narratives of struggle, resistance, and survival against imperial and colonial domination. They operate as part of a mobile and global dialogue and are rooted intimacy of the home setting. Audre Lorde centers her self-actualization and instinct for creating communal bonds with other women in the home-place she refers to as Carriacou, her mother’s place of origin. She describes these lessons in Zami in recounting the narratives of her kinfolk:

Women who survived the absence of their sea-faring men easily, because they came to love each other, past the men’s returning. Madivine. Friending. Zami. How Carriacou women love each other is legend in Grenada, and so is their strength and their beauty.

Created by the labor and collective engagements of Caribbean women, Caribbean feminisms are inextricably linked to traditions forged within the context of slavery. In her dialogue with Gloria Joseph as part of the “Caribbean Feminisms on the Page” series, Naomi Jackson emphasizes the imprint of slavery and its legacy in the context of Barbadian communities. Caribbean feminisms have been mobilized across time and space to give form to complex narratives and subjectivities, and have been integral to resistance efforts and radical engagements for change in the livelihoods of Caribbean women.

These efforts and narratives converge when we consider women’s labor activism in Haiti and in the Dominican Republic. Black women’s bodies in their racialized constitutions are inextricably linked to state power and expansion and Black womanhood is anchored to the concept of nation-building. Strategies of empire-expansion deploy women’s bodies within their racialized hierarchies to sustain complex capitalistic economic and political structures. This is revealed in the historical practice of using Black women’s bodies as tools of labor production and reproduction in the United States and in the Caribbean.

One StruggleOngoing issues concerning wage disparity, statelessness and displacement, state violence and carceral practices against Black bodies must be viewed through the critical lens of Caribbean feminism. The condition of Haitian workers in Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and the United States, where imperial forces operate to sustain capitalist economies, must be viewed as inextricably linked.

By generating feminist discourse concerning Caribbean womanhood, nationhood, and history, Danticat, Brown, and Jackson are effectively mobilizing resistance and forging transnational links of solidarity between feminist narratives. The Feminisms on the Page series has provided a forum in which we have grappled with the tools and narratives offered within Caribbean feminist frameworks

We must continue to go further; from the page to the streets, across borders and communities, we must devote creative efforts and generate activist engagements that centralize narratives of resistance and forge links of solidarity between our liberation strategies. 

We can draw from the narratives offered by our foremothers, Caribbean woman-storytellers, healers, and activists like Audre Lorde to carry out our investments in collective liberation.




“Next Steps in the Struggle for Citizenship in the Dominican Republic”

“Home is Where the Heart Cannot be: the oppression of Haitians in the Dominican Republic” 

“Digital Translations of Quisqueya” 

Art, Community, and Activism: Beyond our Lines of Vision at #SF41

Sustaining Harlem: Art, Community Activism and Black Women’s Leadership from BCRW Videos on Vimeo.

At this year’s Scholar and Feminist Conference, Sade Lythcott, Virginia Johnson, Pat Cruz, and Thelma Golden were invited to speak on the importance of art in considering the sustainability of Harlem as a community that centers Black cultural, political, and social innovation. As self-identified Black women, the speakers spoke to the centrality of their identities in imagining the futuristic impact of the cultural institutions they each represented. Pat Cruz, Executive Director of Harlem Stage, highlighted the reciprocal relationship between cultural institutions and the communities they serve and represent as crucial to the framework of sustainability.

Through mutual engagement and dynamic exchange, cultural institutions at their best are part of a dialogic set of engagements that extend beyond static locations and that challenge the bifurcation of art and everyday enactments of resistance. Cruz cited the Civil Rights Movement, to which three of the four represented institutions could trace their founding, as an example of social and political stimulus to the production of art. Virginia Johnson spoke of the ways in which the Harlem Renaissance fueled the creative energy that propelled art institutions like the Dance Theater of Harlem forward.

While they shift along with the ever-changing context of Harlem, these cultural centers exist on a historical continuum that acknowledges and honors the past while actively creating visions for futuristic advancement and present sustainability. In considering the meaning of community, Sade Lythcott draws a distinction between the physical spaces that neighborhoods occupy and the broader landscape of community, which is ever-expanding and untethered to a static location, reaching even the imaginary and metaphysical realms. For Lythcott, it is these unstable spaces that present sustainable potentials and possibilities for collectivization.

To look beyond the physical realm is to recognize the ways in which Black livelihoods are not entirely legible on the ideological parchment provided by a society that actively obliterates Black integrity. It is part of an effort to engage the shadow spaces where the Black imaginary thrives and lends itself to a subversive creative effort. All the women on the panel offered radical self-definitions of history, art, and community, centralizing the importance of creation as an articulation of sustainability.

Considering Community in Black Art: Sustaining Harlem

Sustaining Harlem: Art, Community Activism and Black Women’s Leadership will be a panel presented by Pat Cruz, Thelma Golden, Virginia Johnson, and Sade Lythcott during the 41st annual Scholar & Feminist Conference this Saturday, February 27. This panel is presented by the Harlem Semester, a new public humanities initiative of the Barnard Center for Research on Women and the Department of Africana Studies at Barnard College in partnership with Harlem’s historic cultural institutions, including the Studio Museum, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, the Harlem Stage, and others. 

Girl Pointing, 1983/2009

Girl Pointing, 1983/2009

The Harlem Semester grapples with and explores questions of Black art, politics, and culture by viewing Harlem “not as an inert site or abstract object, but instead as an intensively ‘peopled place’ of complex interaction”. With this layered and complex understanding of Harlem, I have approached sites such as the Studio Museum for deep engagements with art and knowledge that are mobilized within communal contexts of resistance and futuristic claims to survival.

Such art is produced within the precarious context of national politics and cultural representation, where it must endeavor to account for and recover undermined narratives, offering itself as an insurgent force against practices of erasure and domination.

For me, the Studio Museum in Harlem is evoked when thinking of art, activism and Black women’s leadership. As a cultural epicenter for the display of art driven by the concepts of activism and community, the Studio Museum is a crucial site for the sustenance and vitality of Harlem.

Lorraine O’Grady’s installation, Art Is…, on display at the Studio Museum in Harlem, is a collection of images captured during her performance at the 1983 African-American Day Parade. As part of O’Grady’s performance, attendees were invited to pose in gilded photo frames to complete their portraits, resulting in a series of joyful photographs depicting community and celebration. These portraits are part of ongoing image-making, storytelling, and archiving traditions as they pertain to the legibility of Black livelihood.

They enact the impulse of capturing communal joy and beauty as mundane articulations of resistance and survival.


Girlfriends Times Two, 1983/2009

Art that is created or displayed within Harlem must contend with rich and complex histories of Black resistance, survival, and transformation. 

In considering the present role of Harlem in our academic imaginations and political investments, art is useful for contemplating material and cultural conditions, past and present, of Harlem as a community. Such considerations of community and survival, as they are undertaken in Lorraine O’Grady’s performance, will be crucial during Scholar & Feminist 41: Sustainabilities.

 © 2015 Lorraine O’Grady/Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York  


Honoring Resistance and Survival: The Miss Major-Jay Toole Building Giving Circle

The Miss Major Jay Toole Building for Social Justice (MMJT), located at 147 W. 24th Street, is the birthplace of resistance and home to survival. MMJT  houses organizations for and by people of color, centering on the experiences of queer, trans, and gender nonconforming folks, especially those who are low or no-income and homeless. Entering the lobby of the building, you face an elevator with buttons for seven floors lit up. On these floors, in order, exist The Audre Lorde Project (ALP), Streetwise and Safe (SAS), the Sylvia Rivera Law Project (SRLP), and FIERCE!. The 4th floor of MMJT was formerly the home of Queers for Economic Justice (QEJ). With public spaces in NYC for low/no-income queer, trans, and gender nonconforming people of color being eradicated rapidly, the Miss Major Jay Toole building provides a home, an organizing space, and a location for programs, services, opportunity, and resilience.

This space would not be possible without the efforts of Miss Major and Jay Toole.

Miss Major, a Black trans woman activist and community leader for trans women’s rights, was a leader in the 1969 Stonewall Rebellion in New York City, along with Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson. She is also a survivor of Attica State Prison and a former sex worker. She is the Executive Director of the Transgender, Gender Variant, Intersex Justice Project (TGIJP), an organization working “against imprisonment, police violence, racism, poverty, and societal pressures” for transgender women of color and their families. In the past, she has also done healthcare and organizational work for people with HIV/AIDS, and continues to work against the prison-industrial complex.

Jay Toole, aka Super Butch, has been organizing around queer and economic justice issues for decades. She became homeless at the age of thirteen, exiled from her home by her father because of her queer identity. For eight years, she was homeless, after which she spent five years in the shelter system. During her time on the streets, she suffered from police violence and was abused by the NYPD, and she became addicted to drugs and alcohol. After recovery and support from her queer family, she became the Co-Founder and the Shelter Director at Queers for Economic Justice (QEJ), a radical non-profit organization committed to promoting economic justice in a context of sexual and gender liberation. Today, she is working on opening Jay’s House, the first shelter for homeless queer adults.

Without the efforts, dedication, and resilience of these two individuals, many queer youth today would not have the access to community, shelter, food, leadership opportunities, resources, computers, education, and workshops that they do today. Let us give back to Miss Major, Jay Toole, and the organizations that have brought us family and are bringing us liberation.

The Miss Major Jay Toole Giving Circle was created by ALP, SAS, SRLP, and FIERCE! as a grassroots giving operation to honor the organizations and the legacies of Miss Major and Jay Toole. Without the Giving Circle, the MMJT organizations are forced to compete with each other for funding, destroying the community and partnership they are so dedicating to building. A gift to the MMJT Building for Social Justice will go to the programming and administrative priorities of these organizations. ALP, SAS, SRLP, and FIERCE! are committed to social justice by and for lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, two spirit, trans, and gender nonconforming people of color, low or no-income people, people involved the sex trades, and youth. A gift to them will go toward resourcing these communities. The Giving Circle’s goal is to raise $67,000 and $10,000 each will go to the Retirement Funds of Miss Major and Jay Toole to honor their living legacies. The remaining funds will be divided amongst the four organizations.

Give to the Miss Major Jay Toole Giving Circle!

MMJT Giving Circle

Digital Translations of Quisqueya

This semester, BCRW will host a plethora of events on transnational feminisms and activism in the Caribbean. 

Here you will find student-generated content on topics ranging from feminism to political economy on the island of Quisqueya, more commonly known as Hispaniola. I hope that they can serve as resources for research or just getting to know more about such topics after attending talks such Caribbean Feminisms on the Page with Edwidge Danticat ‘90 and Victoria Brown, or “Easy Money and Respectable Girls: Neoliberalism and Expectation in the US Virgin Islands” with Tami Navarro.

Digital Translations of Quisqueya

Last semester, I was in Professor Maja Horn and Professor Kaiama Glover’s team-taught course “Translating Hispaniola.” In this course, we explored the ways in which the transnational  histories of Haiti and the Dominican Republic have influenced present times. The course culminated in the creation of a digital humanities project.

Map of Quisqueya

Protesters taking a stand against the Dominican Republic’s mass deportation of Haitian people

For this class, we used a variety of resources from films such as “Des hommes et des dieux” (Of Men and Gods), fictional works by Edwidge Danticat ‘90 and Junot Diaz, legal documents, and news articles, and we were able to delve into an interdisciplinary study of the island of Hispaniola. In addition to the texts and films we worked with, we also attended weekly lectures with scholars such as Ginetta Candelario and Carlos U. Decena, who were also kind enough to direct us in our research.

Some of the topics we explored included the Haitian-Dominican border crises 1937 and 2013, colonial Hispaniola, US imperial interventions and their gendered implications, and literary engagements with dictatorship.

Working in teams of four, we carefully curated and developed timelines on topics such as  sex tourism on Hispaniola, queerness in Hispaniola, dictatorship and economy, and women’s political engagement.

Along the way of completing such research, there were many challenges ranging from language barriers to researching topics that there is very little to no academic scholarship on. Nonetheless, we were able to complete our research and create our timelines, which you can see below:

Queering Hispaniola

Zachary Etheart
Karina Jougla
Salma Nakhlawi
Nichelle Watkins

Sex Tourism on Hispaniola

Erasmia Gorla
Sarah Freedman
Katherina Barguil
Maria Paley

The Economy Under Dictators

Olukemi Adeniji
Danique McGowan
Katherine Castro
Yarimar Gonzalez

Women of Hispaniola: Female Political Engagement

Cinneah El-Amin
Wilda Escarfuller
Nina Anacaona Mency Reign
Elina Rodriguez

-Salma Nakhlawi ‘17

Salma Nakhlawi is an Africana Studies major at Barnard College and a Research Assistant at the BCRW.

Getting Real About Allyship

Drawing labeled "Be A Better Ally in 3 Easy Steps" from SJWiki

Image from SJWiki, copyrighted but used with Fair Use rationale, see here for details.

Each spring, ROOTEd (Respecting Ourselves and Others Through Education) holds a series of events about allyship in social justice, otherwise known as Allies Series. The programming usually consists of an allyship 101 teach-in, a discussion, and a panel featuring activists and community organizers. Having been a ROOTEd Peer Facilitator for the past three years, I think this is some of the most meaningful work the group does.

Most fundamentally, allyship means aligning yourself with a person, cause, or movement with whom/which you don’t identify. This might look like a non-black person supporting Black Lives Matter. On a more interpersonal level, it might be naming an oppressive comment a friend makes for what it is when neither of you experience that particular oppression. ROOTEd emphasizes ‘ally’ as a verb over ‘ally’ as a stable identity. Allyship is proven through continuous and active engagement, not through mere identification, which can lead to appropriation of struggle. Self-proclaimed allies who latch on to the identity but don’t actively challenge oppression, whether by redistributing resources or educating themselves and their communities, are a disservice to what allyship could and should look like.

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NYC to Ferguson: A Reflection

Last Tuesday night, thousands of protestors filled Union Square and marched throughout New York City, shouting “Hands up! Don’t shoot!” and “No justice, no peace!” in response to the Michael Brown verdict. The day before, history was repeated as the grand jury in St. Louis County, Missouri failed to indict Darren Wilson, and yet another white officer was set free after killing an innocent black teenager.

The protest began on the northwest corner of Union Square, as a crowd of people from all racial and ethnic backgrounds held up signs saying “Black Lives Matter” and “Indict Darren Wilson.” Even before the march began, I witnessed the first of our obstacles: conservative news network reporters. One journalist stood in the middle of the crowd shouting at two black protestors for refusing to answer his questions. One of the demonstrators responded, “This is not about you. You are not getting shot at. When you start getting shot at, call me. Now please leave. Get out of here.”

Photo by Priyanka Bhatt

Protestors gather in Union Square. Photo by Priyanka Bhatt.

The group of over 3,000 protestors marched around Union Square, on Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive, through Times Square, and across the Manhattan Bridge. One section of the group also walked through Lincoln Tunnel. A police barricade was set up at Williamsburg Bridge, where NYPD refused to let protestors cross. A group of white protestors responded by trying to break down the barriers and asked people to help them. Several people of color were arrested as the police officers at the barricade became aggressive, leading most of the demonstrators to turn around in the opposite direction. For most of the journey, NYPD officers played games on their phones as they walked by us, groaning and rolling their eyes as if we were children they were forced to baby sit. Many joked and pointed their fingers, attempting to reduce our movement against racial injustice and hate crimes to a laughing matter.

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Black Feminist Futures and the Practice of Fugitivity

On October 7, 2014, Professor Tina Campt gave the annual Helen Pond McIntyre ’48 Lecture. Professor Campt was introduced by BCRW Director Janet Jakobsen and publicly welcomed as the new BCRW Co-Director. Emma Schuster, a Barnard senior and BCRW Research Assistant, reflects on the lecture below.

“What does it mean for a Black feminist to think about, consider, or concede to the concept of futurity?” This was the question that framed Professor Campt’s talk, “Black Feminist Futures and the Practice of Fugitivity.” She urged the audience to consider the future not just in terms of hope, but in terms of tense, focusing on the grammar of the “future real conditional” tense, that is, “that that which will have had to happen.” What is central to this Black feminist grammar that she proposes is the idea of “living the future now,” or imagining what must be and embodying that idea in the present. Also central to the concept of futurity for Professor Campt is looking and listening for futurity not just in large, vocal political or revolutionary movements, but in less obvious places as well.

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Women’s History Month Lecture: Joan Wallach Scott

BCRW’s annual Women’s History Month Lecture this year featured renowned historian Joan Wallach Scott. However, as she herself admitted, Scott is often considered to be a political philosopher; more “traditional” historians (read: old university men), as she put it, categorize her as such with the intention of criticizing her and perhaps de-legitimizing her approach to history. As a feminist studies student and enamored attendee of her lecture, I’d grant her the label out of admiration for her work in women’s histories and her use of gender as a productive lens for historical analysis. Her lecture was as dense in information as any history lecture I’d ever attended–I don’t think I stopped taking notes at any point while she spoke, but Scott’s approach to history is one of self-conscious (hyper?)criticism. By this I mean she is not only critical of the more traditional historical narratives (in her 1986 article “Gender: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis” she established a methodological framework for using gender theories in historical analysis, opening up a space for alternative narratives) but also of feminist studies and feminist narratives, particularly when “feminism is produced as a kind of politics.”

Much of her lecture asked us to examine and critically interrogate feminist politics and assumptions. For example, the assumption that secularism and feminism are inevitably aligned due to their mutual “progressiveness.” She questions the notion that secularism is the necessary “common sense” prerequisite for a proliferation of feminist thought and feminist policies, when historically secular ideologies and policies have been working against moves made toward equality and inclusiveness. In the sections of her lecture that really had an impact on me, she urged us to question these increasingly “awkward alignments” between feminism and “narrow strands” of liberal secularists’ ideology; take, for example, the Democratic party’s re-branding as the “political party fighting the war on women.” This assumed solidarity between “secular” and “feminist,” Scott warned, stifles the radical activism or progressiveness of feminist groups as they struggle to maintain their coalitions with established “liberal” and “progressive” institutions.

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