British Association of American Studies - Definitions Towards Solidarity: BAME Americanists in the UK and Critical Race and Ethnic Studies

Cara RodwayMMUh

Our series of panels develops a shared vocabulary for UK BAME Americanists working on critical race and ethnic studies at all career stages. We seek to introduce the latest approaches to familiar frameworks for cultural analysis, scholarly praxis, and intersectional activism to recover their radical critical energies.

This panel confronts questions about representation and institutionalization in American Studies as a discipline in the United Kingdom. In this panel, we ask what are the implications if there are few scholars of colour working in a field where critical race and ethnic studies is thriving? And how might we advocate for increased representation whilst retaining a commitment to forms of institutional critique? We take a stand against what Roderick Ferguson calls the “heterogeneous absorption” of such discourses under the guise of diversification.

In the spirit of solidarity we bring together definitions from our work in an act of collective self-definition towards the deliberate emergence of scholarly community of BAME scholars at all career stages: keywords for key conversations about research, teaching, and lived experience informed by queer and feminist approaches to critical race and ethnic studies in American studies. In this way we bring together old and new voices in a continued conversation that seeks to break the barrier between panel and audience in order to foster collectivity in ways mindful of the politics of citation.

Afrofuturism (Omara Dyer-Johnson (Nottingham))

My keyword is “Afrofuturism,” a term first used in a series of interviews by Mark Dery (1994) to refer to the disparate examples of black science fiction and fantasy. Whilst the meaning of Afrofuturism is intentionally flexible, it has become a way for artists and authors to examine the past, present, and future of black existence simultaneously (Ytasha L. Womack, 2013). It is a theoretical practice and an aesthetic that places the future of the African diaspora at the forefront of genre fiction. Afrofuturism has been used to refer to black nationalist literature from the 19th century to contemporary works of science fiction (Lisa Yaszek, 2016).

My research examines the way Afrofuturism addresses the lack of minority representation in science fiction and fantasy. The movement or aesthetic uses popular science fiction and fantasy to emphasise the multiplicity of black identity and importance of self-expression across the diaspora. I will discuss the way Afrofuturism in its many forms, has become a valuable creative tool in reimagining a future that is more inclusive of difference within the diaspora.
Afrofuturism can be useful for scholars as it intersects critical race theory, popular culture studies, future studies, as well as science fiction and fantasy studies. The aesthetic values the speculations of underrepresented black voices by focussing on the way they shape the future despite a pronounced lack in economic or political power. Afrofuturism emphasises the potentiality of futures for the African diaspora that contrast to the dystopian predictions which often make futurity seem inconceivable.

Refusal/resource (Leila Kamali (University of Liverpool))

My use of the double keyword “refusal/resource” draws from bell hooks’s account of the marginalised state which the woman academic of colour occupies on the basis of her intersectional position (hooks 1989); this tension is one where as a precariously-employed scholar of race, and a mother, I experience isolation in the university-network setting, as well as in other communities in which I participate. Drawing on hooks, I argue that the difficulty of this position also holds the potential of radical creativity in the discursive approaches which become available in my disciplinary and lived mobility between academic and ‘other’ spaces.

The position of ‘refusal/resource’ acknowledges moments when the personal psychic resource to continue to do the work must come at least in part from the refusal of the pressures of the institution, both in role-related affairs and in negotiating the job market. In this regard, ‘refusal/resource’ turns to the preoccupation of my literary research with terrains of silence, the unspeakable, inarticulate noise, and disembodied and deterritorialized memory. Where Sara Ahmed names the practice of institutional diversity policy itself as a ‘brick wall’ which prevents meaningful action, and the blurred distinction between diversity and intersectionality as a more fertile ground for change (Ahmed 2012), I envision an encounter with the language of diversity which insists upon the need for what Kamau Brathwaite calls ‘total expression’, a communal speaking space which must run around and under brick walls in order to give the language of diversity the ground upon which to acquire meaning.

Palimpsest (Nicole King (Goldsmiths, University of London))

I propose “palimpsest” as my keyword for this panel. The primary definition of palimpsest provided in the OED is a ‘parchment or other surface in which later writing has been superimposed on effaced earlier writing.’ The OED’s secondary definition, however, the more general, ‘something bearing visible traces of an earlier form’ is closer to the spirit of how I use palimpsest in my own work. In my investigations of 20th-century literary representations of African American childhood, I use the idea of an active palimpsest to describe and to theorise the instance, the how, and the why of the child figure seen to be actively questioning, expressing ambivalence or even refusing a racial identity already inscribed on their bodies, whilst simultaneously contemplating or forging alternatives. The image of visible traces of an earlier form provided by ‘palimpsest’ proves to be a nimble concept as it evokes the layers of inscription carried by the bodies of African American children, even as their bodies and minds actively grow and evolve, and invite and enact new ‘writing’ and sometimes contradictory superimpositions. 'Palimpsest' can be useful to others as a way of scrutinising the processes of racialisation and of black racialisation in particular. How black children read and write themselves in relation to socially constructed notions of ‘race’ and how they are read by others continues to function as a touchstone of American culture reflected in African American literature.

Integration (Christine Okoth (Warwick))

This contribution proposes a definitional exploration of the term “integration” to acknowledge its invocation of U.S. state formations on a local and global scale. Integration is most often associated with the achievements of the Civil Rights Movement and a political programme built around extending access to state institutions to disenfranchised populations. When detached from this particular context, however, integration takes on a more ambiguous character. For Jodi Melamed and Grace Hong, for example, the selective integration of formerly extraneous populations and discourses is one of the primary gestures of neoliberalism and has helped sustain a violent state apparatus. In relation to land, environment, and natural resources, integration has largely translated into the further displacement and dispossession of indigenous populations. On a global scale, the integration of regions in sub-Saharan Africa into U.S. economic and political programmes speaks of expansionism under the guise of development. In short, integration in the contemporary moment is yoked more to exploitation than emancipation.

In pointing to the evolving character of integration across geographies and temporalities this brief paper also proposes a thematic and methodological pivot from exclusion-based studies of subjection to an interrogation of the terms, mechanisms, and functions of inclusion. In doing so, it offers an expansive mode of framing resistance to subjection to include minute and minor acts of non-compliance that may not be easily categorized as revolutionary. In the spirit of conversation, this paper is therefore intended to provoke discussions of how we might build an activist scholarly practice that is not easily amenable to neoliberal methods of integration.

Unfeeling (Christine “Xine” Yao (University College London))

I propose “unfeeling” as my keyword towards a methodology that refuses the demand for the marginalized to prove their affective interiorities as evidence of their humanity. In my research I argue that racialized and queer unfeeling dissents from expectations of expressive and responsive affective labour according to sentimental biopolitics. The negativity of “unfeeling” registers how minoritarian affects are occluded in the American culture of sentiment; instead, I take this demonization of affective tactics of survival and resistance as indicative of the insurgent potential of alternative structures of feeling.

My paper then explores how the term intervenes in the inadequacies of affect theory to address race through the antisocial turn. I share how “unfeeling” brings together conversations about refusal and dissatisfaction with the universal human and belonging from Black, Asian American, and Indigenous studies informed by feminist and queer of color critique. While I briefly sketch the racial and sexual politics of specific modes I study elsewhere in more depth like Oriental inscrutability, unsympathetic Blackness, and queer frigidity, this presentation also offers “unfeeling” as a useful heuristic for understanding other dimensions of concepts like Edouard Glissant’s right to opacity and Koritha Mitchell’s shamelessness as necessity for the formerly imprisoned.

In closing I discuss how unfeeling operates as praxis for scholars of colour and those others marginalized whose affective resources are continually drained by the structures of the academy. By legitimating unfeeling in our activism and pedagogy to decenter whiteness, I claim that we can create collective space to survive and thrive.


LEARNED SOCIETIES STRAND: British Association of American Studies

Sat 9:15 am - 10:30 am