WoC Europe: What the Day Meant to Me

Francesca Sobande | 13.09.2016

Being involved in the organisation of the one-day symposium on Black Feminism, Womanism and the Politics of Women of Colour in Europe was an overwhelmingly empowering and encouraging experience. Seeing months of work and email correspondence culminate in a space buzzing with energy and filled with women from across Europe and beyond, was an incredible feeling. My hopes for the day were that lively discussions and debate were had and that women had the opportunity to meet and connect with other like-minded women.

As the event drew nearer I continually questioned and reflected on what I wanted to say as part of my presentation. Initially I intended to focus on my research to do with the depiction of Black women in the media and the experiences of Black women as media spectators but I started to feel as though I was losing site of what I ultimately wanted to speak about; being a Black woman involved in academia. I threw some caution to the wind and opted for a presentation that I hoped was more reflexive and auto-ethnographic in nature.

As part of my presentation I spoke about how I had initially doubted the adequacy of speaking from more of a personal perspective that day. I feel that this is just one example of the tensions that may exist for Black feminists in academia, who may see value in reflecting on their lived experience as part of their work but who may find themselves questioning how to do this effectively within some of the more restraining academic parameters that they encounter.

For me, not reflecting on my identity as part of my work seems counterintuitive to the task at hand. Approaching my research from a lens distinctly shaped by Black feminism has involved me embracing and navigating my own identity in a way that has undoubtedly shaped my work and who I am more generally. I have come to realise that this is not something to shy away from acknowledging and exploring but rather, is part of my research.

The impact and value of academic work may be measured in various ways. Conversations that I have had with Black women and women of colour as part of my research, including in informal and more formal contexts, may not traditionally be considered as constituting this. However, the opportunity to engage with and learn from such women as part of my research has made me realise that impact and value can take many forms. I feel that this can include the seemingly casual conversations that research can yield but which may spark new connections between people and a sense of shared experience.

The spirit of the day included an emphasis on creativity and the power of story-telling which was beautifully captured in many of the presentations, including the keynote delivered by artist, director, film-maker and writer, Cecile Emeke. At times, the conventions commonly embraced as part of academia can place restrictions on how researchers write, research and express themselves. This event was a firm reminder of the role that reflexivity can and does play in my research, as well as how creative and visual methods such as poetry and photography, can fuel this.

Hearing about the lives and experiences of such a diverse group of women was inspiring and heartening. Although there may be many differences between the lives of all who were in attendance, it felt as though many themes of the day resonated with most, such as reflecting on the key influence of Audre Lorde’s work and the contributions of many other Black women and women of colour who are and were creatives, writers and critical thinkers.

It still feels surreal that the event has been and gone but based on the dynamic energy and excitement of the day, I have a feeling that it was the start of things to come, rather than simply the being the end-product of months of preparation. I am looking forward to keeping up with the activity and lives of many of the women who took part in the event and can safely say that being involved in it was a privilege.

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