Feminist Classics Revisited is an annual series co-convened by Sarah Franklin at Cambridge and Sara Ahmed, an independent scholar. Each year a classic feminist text is the subject of a symposium attended by the author or editor. The series is sponsored by the Cambridge Sociology Department.
This year our chosen text is Heidi Mirza’s edited collection, Black British Feminism, which was published 20 years ago this year. Our symposium will also be a 20 year birthday party for this much read and cited work. At 20 years old, Black British Feminism is the youngest of the feminist books we have discussed thus far. We have chosen it because as a collection it helped to create a collective; to create a space for black women and women of colour within feminism and the academy. Black British Feminism also had a ‘feminist classics’ project; it brought together some of the early ground breaking work by black women and women of colour with newer commissioned pieces. The book thus reached back over 70 years when black Britishfeminism evolved as a conscious political act uniting African and Indian anti-colonial liberation activists in their solidarity against British Imperialism. At the time of its publication, Patricia Hill-Collins the author ofBlack Feminist Thought, remarked on the books, ‘energy and freedom’ which she said was ‘reminiscent of the “coming to voice” of the early African American black feminist movement, embracinga collective “black” but far from uniform voice’.
Many voices can also mean many pathways. It is noteworthy that a number of the contributing writers in the collection have not had conventional academic careers; some wrote from outside the academy and stayed outside; some became academics but left early; others started on an academic pathway and ended up as writers and artists. What do we learn from this plurality of paths and trajectories? With the editor Heidi Mirza and many of the authors of individual papers in attendance, we will be revisiting this collection with the following key questions in mind: how do we survive the whiteness and patriarchal machinery of the academy? How does black feminism allow us to do feminism differently? Why do so many black women and women of colour leave and how can we transform the institutions if we stay? How can our lives outside the academy also be understood as where we do black feminist work? In asking these questions we will also reflect on the genealogies of resistance and agency that shaped our struggle ‘then’ and ‘now’. This intergenerational conversation will illuminate the roots and directions of a new intersectional movement for racial, gender and social justice that anchors the black feminist project in the new millennium.
With introduction from Sara Ahmed, contributions from Ann Phoenix, Stella Dadzie and Amrit Wilson (classic reprints), Tracey Reynolds and Bibi Bakare-Yusuf (newly commissioned pieces), commentary from Gail Lewis and Lola Okalosie, reflections from Heidi Mirza and concluding remarks from Avtar Brah.