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Thinking Freedom from the Global South Spring 2021 Speaker Series

About the Thinking Freedom from the Global South series

The AU Department of Critical Race, Gender & Culture Studies, and the AU Women’s Initiative welcomed a series of speakers to our virtual campus in Spring 2021. This Series addresses the question of human freedom from the perspective of the "the damned of the earth," those on the underside of history. Each speaker, engaged in radical intervention across different emancipatory, anti-colonial struggles, considered how communities are thinking about and forging alternative futures. Speakers included Randolph B. Persaud, S’bu Zikode, Nigel Gibson, Françoise Vergès, Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, and Irene Calis.

The Speaker Series was part of an inaugural course with the same name offered by AU Professor Irene Calis and the CRGC. AU Students had an opportunity to pre-register for a closed workshop with speakers after their public event.

Schedule of Events

Co-sponsor: SIS Ethnographies of Empire Faculty Cluster
February 2 | 3:00-4:15 p.m. EST

Dr. Persaud was joined by Dr. Patricia Rodney, the widow of the late Walter Rodney, and Dr. Robbie Shilliam of Johns Hopkins University.

Dr. Persaud examined Walter Rodney’s contribution to subaltern critical political economy, and to the general politics of decolonization. Specific attention was given to the transnational character of Rodney’s work and praxis, and to the central role of violent racism in the emergence and reproduction of global capitalism. The presentation also examined the overdetermined complexity of racism in the configuration of the social, as well as a comparison of Rodney’s work with that of Fanon.

About Randolph Persaud

Randy PersaudRandolph B. Persaud is Associate Professor of International Relations at American University in Washington D.C. He specializes in the areas of race and international relations, globalization, human security, and the politics of identity. Before joining American University, he was Assistant Director for the Center for International Security Studies at York University. Dr. Persaud is the author of “Counter-Hegemony and Foreign Policy” published by the State University of New York Press and Co-Editor with Alina Sajed of Race, Gender, and Culture in “International Relations: Postcolonial Perspectives. New York: Routledge.”

About Patricia Rodney

Dr. Patricia Rodney is the CEO of Partner in Health, Education and Development (PHEAD), an international development consultancy organization formed in January 2011. As an experienced public health professional, Dr. Rodney's career spans the disciplines of health; adult education and literacy; social work; and women, gender and development. She spent 15 years in academic public health at Morehouse School of Medicine as Professor and Assistant Dean for Public Health Education.

About Robbie Shilliam

Dr. Robbie Shilliam researches the political and intellectual complicities of colonialism and race in the global order. He is co-editor of the Rowman & Littlefield book series, Kilombo: International Relations and Colonial Question. Robbie was a co-founder of the Colonial/Postcolonial/Decolonial working group of the British International Studies Association and is a long-standing active member of the Global Development section of the International Studies Association. 

Over the past six years, Robbie has co-curated with community intellectuals and elders a series of exhibitions–in Ethiopia, Jamaica and the UK–which have brought to light the histories and significance of the Rastafari movement for contemporary politics. Based on original, primary research in British imperial and postcolonial history, this work now enjoys an online presence as a teaching aid: Rastafari in Motion. Robbie also works with Iniversal Development of Rastafari (IDOR) to retrieve histories of the Rastafari presence in Baltimore and Washington DC.

Currently, Robbie is working on three strands of inquiry: firstly, a re-reading of classical political economy through its intimate relationship to Atlantic slavery, with a bearing towards contemporary controversies regarding "social conservatism"; secondly, a retrieval of Ethiopianism as a critical orientation towards global order, especially in terms of its cultivation of a tradition of anti-colonial anti-fascism from the 1930s onwards; and thirdly, South-South anti-colonial connections, especially between peoples of the African Diaspora and indigenous movements.

with founding President of the South African Abahlali baseMjondolo Shack Dweller’s Movement and an introduction by Nigel Gibson.
February 17 | 11:00 a.m.-12:30 p.m. EST
Location: Zoom Webinar

After the public talk, Nigel Gibson held a Master Class Workshop for AU students on the works of theorist and revolutionary, Frantz Fanon, with a particular focus on how Fanon’s interventions continue to find relevance today. This workshop offered students an opportunity to engage Fanon with one of the leading Fanonian thinkers of our time.

Frantz Fanon discovered what we have discovered in our generation: if you are serious about victory, about succeeding to humanise the world, even a little bit, then your struggle must be a living politics. It must be owned and shaped in thought and in action by ordinary people. If every gogo (grandmother) does not understand your politics then you are on the road to another top-down system. Abahlali’s founding president will discuss the democratic power of the poor within post-Apartheid South Africa through the birth of the Shack Dwellers movement and what it means to build and sustain a living politic from the ground up, as the politics of the poor is met with violent state repression, including assassinations. The event begun with an introduction from Nigel Gibson, author of Fanonian Practices in South Africa: From Steve Biko to Abahlali baseMjondolo, and a noted leading thinker on Frantz Fanon.

About S’bu Zikode

S’bu ZikodeS’bu Zikode is the founding President of Abahlali baseMjondolo Movement SA. Prior this he was the chairperson of the Kennedy Road Development Committee before becoming its president. Under his leadership, the movement’s audited membership has grown significantly and reached 82 000. S’bu has strongly campaigned for the Right to Housing in the United States National Tour under the theme ‘Housing is a Human Right’. His calling includes safe and dignified housing for all in our cities. 

Under his leadership the movement has won a historic constitutional court case victory on what was an attack on the poor and popular democracy. This piece of Legislation became known as the “Slums Act”, which the South African government thought it was the answer to the Millennium Development Goal (MDG). Again this victory was seen by many South Africans as the victory for all the impoverished and marginalized in South Africa. We continue to celebrate our hard-won effort to humanize the world.

He believes that real progress on urban issues can be made when there is an agreement that the social value of land must come before its commercial value. He believes that practical steps that can be taken include ensuring that all new housing developments are in well located areas. He believes that all shack settlements should be provided with services and support while they wait for housing. That we take seriously the participatory in situ-upgrades are better than forcing people to rural dumping grounds. We must ensure that both transit camps and corruption are eradicated with immediate effect. It is important that all new developments are co-designed with the people that will live in them.

About Nigel C. Gibson

Nigel GibsonNigel C. Gibson, Associate Professor of Postcolonial Studies at Emerson College, is recognized as one of the leading scholars on Frantz Fanon. He is author of numerous influential works including Fanonian Practices in South Africa: From Steve Biko to Abahlali baseMjondolo (2011) and Fanon: The Postcolonial Imagination (2003 [which won the Caribbean Philosophy Association prize]) and co-author (with Roberto Beneduce) of Frantz Fanon, Psychiatry and Politics (2017). He is the editor of Rethinking Fanon (1999), Challenging Hegemony: Social Movements and the Quest for a New Humanism in Post-Apartheid South Africa (2006), and Living Fanon (2011) and co-editor of Contested Terrains: Contemporary Africa in Focus (2002), Adorno: A Critical Reader (2002), and Biko Lives (2008). He is currently the editor of the Journal of Asian and African Studies and is completing his forthcoming volume Fanon today: The Revolt and Reason of the Wretched of the Earth, commemorating the 60th anniversary of Fanon’s the Wretched of the Earth.

March 3 | 11:00 a.m.-12:15 p.m. EST
Location: Zoom Webinar

Racial capitalism and the armed branches of the State use the weapons of extraction, suffocation and exhaustion to pacify, neutralize dissent and revolt and to exploit and dispossess. Suffocation is accomplished either through murder by kneeling on a black or brown neck, by hindering or cutting breath, by attacking lungs with tear gas, polluting fumes, bad housing, polluted water and air, and by destroying forests (the “lungs” of the planet) and creating forests for profit. Exhaustion is obtained by fabricating crippling and debilitating conditions of transportation, work, and feeding oneself. Love is impeded. This constitutes an assemblage that states use to control populations.

Françoise Vergès proposed a decolonial feminist analysis of this economy and explore what kinds of decolonized praxis are deployed and what planetary practices are imagined to counter a politics of devastation. Vergès was joined by Professor Janine Jones, Associate Professor of Philosophy at UNC-Greensboro.

Following the public talk, Vergès held a Master Class Workshop for AU students on decolonial feminism as a concept and a site of radical activism.

About Françoise Vergès

Françoise VergèsFrançoise Vergès a cofounder of the association “Decolonize the Arts” (France), is a public educator and intellectual, an antiracist and decolonial feminist activist. Growing up in an intellectual anticolonial and feminist family in Reunion Island, a French postcolony, she lived in Algeria, France, Mexico, USA and UK. In the mid-70s, working for a feminist magazine and a publishing house on topics intersecting race, class, gender and State violence, she collected testimonies on torture, murder, disappearance, and repression in countries under military dictatorship (Chile) or civil war (Salvador).

She holds a PhD in political theory from the University of California at Berkeley and has taught at Sussex University and Goldsmiths College in the UK. As the co-director of the scientific and cultural program for a forthcoming museum on Reunion Island, she proposed a “museum without objects.” She was president of the French National Committee for the Memory and History of Slavery (2008-2012), a project advisor for Documenta 11, organizer of the program “The Slave in Le Louvre. An Invisible Humanity” for the 2012 Paris Triennial. She has worked with filmmakers and artists (Isaac Julien, Yinka Shonibare, Kader Attia) and is the author of films on Caribbean writers. 

Recent publications: The Women’s Womb. Capitalism, Race, Feminism, Duke UP, 2020, Resolutely Black. Conversations with Aimé Césaire, Polity, 2020, Une théorie feminist de la violence. Pour une politique antiraciste de la protection, La Fabrique, 2020. Forthcoming, A Decolonial Feminism, Pluto2021.

March 24 | 11:00 a.m.-12:15 p.m. EST
Location: Zoom Webinar

Using Nishnaabe storytelling, theory and aesthetics, this presentation explored the themes of relationality, reciprocity, resistance and resurgence. With excerpts from her books, As We Have Always DoneThe Gift is In the Making, and This Accident of Being Lost, Simpson used the practice of making Maple Syrup to immerse audiences in a contemporary Nishnaabe world that rejects colonialism, white supremacy and heteropatriarchy and collectively works towards building an alternative. The presentation ended with a screening of the short stop motion animated film Biidaaban, a collaborative work between Simpson and Métis filmmaker Amanda Strong.

About Leanne Betasamosake Simpson 

Leanne Betasamosake SimpsonLeanne Betasamosake Simpson is a renowned Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg scholar, writer and artist, who has been widely recognized as one of the most compelling Indigenous voices of her generation. She is the author of seven previous books, including newly released, A Short History of the Blockade, and the novel Noopiming: A Cure for White Ladies which was released in the US earlier this year by the University of Minnesota Press. As We Have Always Done: Indigenous Freedom Through Radical Resistance was awarded Best Subsequent Book by the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association. Leanne has released four albums including f(l)ight and Noopiming Sessions, and her new work Theory of Ice. Her latest book, co-authored with Robyn Maynard and entitled Rehearsals for Living: Conversations on Abolition and Anti-Colonialism is forthcoming in 2022.

April 7 | 11:00 a.m.-12:15 p.m. EST
Location: Zoom Webinar

Fanon insisted that any liberation struggle must make space for critical reflection. This simple but crucial point is especially challenging when the political moment is marked by fragmentation, deteriorating conditions, and unhopeful prospects. In this final installment of the Thinking Freedom from the Global South Series, Palestinian intellectual activists Calis, Tabar, and Salaita came together in a collective act of critical pause, of as Biko put it, ‘thinking from where we are’ on the Palestinian dream deferred. In other words, to grapple with Palestinian liberation beyond the idea of it, and instead, grounded in a dialogue with the sobering reality of the present, the intellectual traditions of the past, toward alternative liberatory praxis for the future. The discussion situated Palestinian liberation in a broader conversation with the global South, and in doing so, prompts a radical re-imagining of emancipatory possibilities.

About Irene Calis

Irene CalisIrene Calis is a decolonial scholar, educator, and organizer based in the Department of Critical Race, Gender & Culture Studies at American University. Her research focuses on emancipatory politics from the perspective of those living their struggle, which currently brings together comparative lessons from South Africa, Indigenous North America, and Palestine to explore how anti-colonial struggles imagine, collectivize their visions, and work to build their preferred futures. She has taught in South Africa, the Arab World, Oceania, and the UK and engages academic and wider forums on issues that address the workings of power in society and how those on the underside of history are actively contesting and shaping the terms of their existence.

About Linda Tabar

Linda Tabar is a Palestinian scholar. Situated in the field of Middle East Politics, International Studies and Transnational Feminist studies, her research focuses on violence, dispossession, spatial politics, social movements, feminist and decolonizing struggles. She is currently working on a book entitled Palestine, Memory, Decolonization: Indigenous Encounters and Imaginaries of Liberation. Her articles have appeared in a variety of journals including: Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society, Third World Quarterly, Upping the Anti, Journal of Palestine Studies, Critical Arts: Journal of South -North Media and Cultural Studies, and Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East.  

About Steven Salaita

Steven Salaita is author of eight books, most recently Inter/Nationalism: Decolonizing Native America and Palestine. Learn more and read his writing at his Salaita's website.

Past Events

Watch past events from the Thinking Freedom series at the ARPC events archive:

ARPC Events Archive

The Antiracist Research and Policy Center
AU Department of Critical Race, Gender, and Culture Studies
AU Student Government Women's Initiative