Symposium Seeks New Directions in Black Radical Thought

By Griselda Jarquin – On February 17, 2017, the New Directions in Black Radical Thought symposium promoted a critical dialogue on black radicalism across the African diaspora.

The symposium—organized by institutions including the UC Consortium for Black Studies in California and the Department of African American and African Studies at UC Davis—opened with Kathy Sloane’s photographs of black intellectuals from the Black Arts Movement (1965-1976).

Up next was a conversation between artist, scholar, and activist Frank Wilderson, professor of African American studies and of drama at UC Irvine, and Maxine Craig, professor of gender, sexuality and women’s studies. Wilderson discussed the integral role played by his mentors in his artistic development. He also explored the connection between the Black Arts Movement and Black Lives Matter, and emphasized the importance of spaces for art and activism outside of academia.

Revolution and transnational blackness 

In the afternoon panel, scholars probed the possibilities and limitations of black radicalism. Jemima Pierre, associate professor of African American studies and anthropology at UCLA, examined the limitations of US black studies—which encourages practitioners to engage with black transnationalism and the African diaspora—arguing that it “reifies U.S. hegemony” and colonial practices. In addition, the current occupation of Haiti (which commenced after the 2004 earthquake under the guise of humanitarian aid) does not, Pierre argued, recognize the nuanced guises that U.S. imperialism takes, nor does it acknowledge that it gained strength under U.S. black leadership.

In “To the World, With Care: Black Feminism and the Long War on Terror”, UC Riverside Associate Professor of English Erica R. Edwards traced how 1970s and 1980s black feminist radical writing “reperiodized” the War on Terror to include the late Cold-War assault on Third-World radicalism. 

Delicate balance

Why has the 1965 Dominican Revolution been forgotten? UC Davis history graduate student Genesis Lara answered this question in her presentation, “The Stakes of Caribbean Freedom: The Dominican Republic and the Caribbean.” Lara demonstrated how the 1963 free election of Juan Bosch, and the subsequent implementation of the 1963 reformist constitution, was crucial to the island’s political development, setting it on course for revolution. The 1965 revolution that followed was, in turn, central to political and social developments within the wider Caribbean basin—developments that threatened to upset the delicate balance embodied by the Cold War.

Jeanelle Hope, graduate student in cultural studies at UC Davis, concluded the afternoon panel with her presentation, “The Afro-Asian Liberation Philosophy,” examining the emergence of Afro-Asian solidarity through the works of—and collaborative relationship between—Grace Lee Boggs and CLR James. 

Necessary affect

Keynote speaker Deborah A. Thomas brought the symposium to a close with her presentation, “What Zora Neale Hurston Gives Black Studies: Tell My Horse, Imperial Politics and Everyday Love.” Thomas, R. Jean Brownlee Term Professor of Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania, argued that the black diaspora transcends categorization. A careful analysis of Hurston’s Tell My Horse helped Thomas to position it within the vast literature on travel adventure narratives, and to explore what it can tell us about black life today. In addition, Thomas argued for the necessity of including affect in analysis of black radicalism.