Thursday, 25 October 2018

Leading Black Studies Scholar Says New Program Will Imagine Futures

By Neil Armstrong

Photo credit: York University   Professor Christina Sharpe, who teaches African Diaspora Studies at York University, presents the keynote lecture "Still Here" at the launch of new programs and research in Black Studies at the university on October 18, 2018.

Christina Sharpe, a leading scholar in Black Diaspora Thought and Cultures, says there are several people who have been doing work that inspires hers. Some are still here, others are not, but “their works continue to be read and felt and continue on in us.”

She thanked professors Andrea Davis and Leslie Sanders who worked hard to make Black Canadian Studies a reality, and also thanked the students who made it possible.

Sharpe, professor of African Diaspora Studies, Humanities at York University delivered the keynote lecture entitled “Still Here” at the launch of new programs and research in Black Studies at the university on October 18.

The Black Canadian Studies Certificate provides an integrated examination of the historical, cultural and various expressive productions of people of African descent in the America through the lens of Black Canada and four specific humanities and fine arts approaches: cultural studies, history literature, and music.

Sharpe started with three epigraphs from -- Saidiya Hartman “The Terrible Beauty of the Slum,” Tavia Nyong'o’s “Black Survivor in the Unchromatic Dark” and Dionne Brand’s “Ossuaries” -- hoping that they would help “orient us both to the logic of the title ‘Still Here’ and to the ongoing and necessary work of the imagination.”

This semester she is teaching an undergraduate and a graduate seminar “Imagining Slavery and Freedom” with the intent to make it clear that African chattel slavery, the abduction of Africans, Middle Passage and more involved the work of imagination – “involved the work, in fact, of many imaginations in the service of brutality.”

She noted that, “our freedom, but more precisely, our liberation needs all of our beautiful imagination to usher it into being.”

Sharpe quoted from or referred to the works of Dionne Brand, Rinaldo Walcott, Toni Morrison, Sylvia Hamilton, Camille Turner and other writers and artists noting that their work underscore the imaginings of Black people living in the diaspora.

“It is difficult work writing blackness, difficult work to bring together strands and histories and lives without collapsing them into each other. But that is part of the work that we do and that the new Certificate in Black Canadian Studies will do – the work of seeing these strands and holding these histories and presents. This is the work of thinking from Black, the work of imagining futures, the work of making Black life live on and off the page.

“These writers live and work in Canada and their work articulates our lives but not in the interest of nation building. I think blackness cuts nation, particularly in the Americas. The one thing that has remained consistent is the state’s response to the appearance of blackness. The state responds to Black people with a violent managing of blackness. Our job is to really look at and describe and apprehend the multiple ways that Black people make life.  How to describe that living in the face of the state’s malevolence, our work is to imagine and inhabit otherwises that are already being lived, otherwises that allow for and sustain black life,” she said.

In part three of her lecture -- the coda -- she thanked the following people: Sylvia Hamilton, M. NourbeSe Philip, Juliane Okot Bitek, Dionne Brand, Beverly Bain, David Chariandy, Ama Ata Aidoo, George Elliott Clarke, Wayde Compton, Toni Morrison, Warren Crichlow, Carl James, Afua Cooper, Rinaldo Walcott, Mariam Kaba, Ruth Gilmore, Makeda Silvera, Canisia Lubrin, Clifton Joseph, Lillian Allen, Claire Harris, Camille Turner, Angela Davis, Grace Channer, Carie Mae Weems, Abdi Osman, OmiSoore Dryden, Andrea Fatona, Sandra Brewster, Sandy Hudson, August Wilson, Katherine McKittrick, Akua Benjamin, Maryse Condé, Kamala Kempadoo, Marlene Green, Sherona Hall, Angela Robertson, Idil Abdillahi, adri zhina, Peggy Bristow, and Andrea Davis.

She noted that her thank you is provisional, incomplete and continuing.

“I want to give special thanks to Andrea Davis for her beautiful imagination and her beautiful vision for this evening. That vision and her commitment and her imagining and good company have made possible the Black Canadian certificate program at York University as well as my own presence here.”

Photo credit: York University   Andrea Davis, Chair, Department of Humanities at York University

Professor Sharpe’s work in African American and Black diaspora literatures, Black feminist theories, queer diasporas, Black visual cultures and North American multiethnic literatures positions her within the most exciting and cutting-edge research in Black Diaspora studies and establishes her as one of the most impactful scholars shaping the field from the perspective of interdisciplinary humanities, notes a brief biography of the scholar who joined Department of Humanities in June.

Sharpe is the author of Monstrous Intimacies: Making Post-Slavery Subjects (Duke UP 2010) and In the Wake: On Blackness and Being (Duke 2016).

She came to York from Tufts University where she taught in the Departments of English and Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies and was the former director of American Studies.

The lecture was presented by the Department of Humanities, Department of Music and the Jean Augustine Chair in Education, Community and Diaspora.

Photo credit: York University   York University Gospel Choir, directed by Karen M. Burke, Department of Music performs in the Tribute Communities Recital Hall Accolade East, York University

It opened a two-day event recognizing these new programs and research in Black Studies at York:
-       Black Canadian Studies Certificate Program
-       Black Studies and Theories of Race and Racism Graduate Stream
-       Black Child and Youth Studies Network
-       Network for the Advancement of Black Communities
-       Jean Augustine, Inez Elliston, and Beverly Salmon library fonds

The lecture was followed by “Struggles and Possibilities of Black Studies in Canada: A Workshop” on October 19 in Founders College at the university.

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