Excerpt from Nuances of Blackness in the Canadian Academy

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In honour of Black History month, we are highlighting Nuances of Blackness in the Canadian Academy: Teaching, Learning, and Researching while Black by Awad Ibrahim, Tamari Kitossa, Malinda S. Smith, and Handel K. Wright. The essays in this book make visible the submerged stories of Black life in academia. They offer fresh historical, social, and cultural insights into what it means to teach, learn, research, and work while Black. Read an excerpt from the introduction of this book below:


Contextualizing the Black Canadian Academic

“The presence of Blackness in Canada disrupts the imaginary of the nation. Blackness haunts the nation by making visible what is made invisible, and when it comes to the academy, it takes the signifying practice of what it means to teach, learn, and research while Black into social, historical, cultural, and psychic places that are yet to be fully explored. The chapters in this volume navigate these places and explore what happens when the unexpected is a Black body that shows up in a nice place like Canada, specifically the Canadian academy, a place that wraps itself in a blanket of civility and innocence. In raising this epistemo-ontological question, we gesture toward a signifying practice that unapologetically locates Black Canada in time and place, questioning also the adequacy of Canada as a terminus-given constant flow of the African diaspora. In doing so, Black Canada is located within histories and a politics without guarantees (Hall 1992, 1996), where nuances, not unidimensionality, is the term that best describes what it means to be Black in Canada.

Making sense of these histories and multiple moments, as demonstrated in this volume, enables Black Canada to spell its own name and write itself in a place where the dominant national narratives tend to imagine it as belonging elsewhere. But the act of writing is never innocent; it brings joy as much as pain. So the nuances of Blackness, the conceptual frame that is guiding this volume, oscillates between the two – joy and pain – knowing fully that histories and socio-political understandings of the nuances of Blackness in Canada, as elsewhere, require considering its situatedness within a broad historical, political, and cultural dynamic, especially as these articulate themselves in social interactions.

Daring to situate Blackness in Canada confronts the converging and diverging flux of two phenomena. First, in a broad national and academic context, Blackness in Canada has come to realize and to resist the easy seduction of an essentialized ascribed identity constructed by whiteness. Under the white gaze, Blackness is allowed to be only one thing, a singular essentialized identity, which eschew nuances and multiplicity that “Black Canadas” insist on carving for itself. As a defence against the onslaughts of white supremacy’s bewildering combinations and permutations of “bad faith,” animus tinged with plastic smiles, condescension, and “know your place-ism” (to use the words of Lewis Gordon [1995]), there is a temptation to insist on an overdetermined politics of Blackness that eschews diversity and difference. This volume reveals possibilities for an ontology of Black self-identifications, Black pride, and community construction and authentic intra-racial solidarities without abandoning a Black resistance to anti-Black racism. Second, and relatedly, there is the epistemic and practical realization that there are many “bad faith” defining tropes about Blackness and Black people. Against the perdurability of anti-Black tropes there seems neither escape nor refutation. But rather, as noted by Baldwin (1963) and Fanon (1967), there is forbearance until the white Other learns love of self without the need to conjure a dehumanized Black Other to hate. Since that cannot wait, priority is given to Black people figuring out not only how to exist, but also how to thrive, in spite of pervasive, persistent anti-Black racism and without resort to the barren ground of essentialism. There is, accordingly, a rather lengthy list of negations against which Black people must define their/our humanity. This must be done without overdetermining those negations as the centre of their/our existence. Thus, given this book is by Black intellectuals and engaged scholars within the academy, the principal existential and ontological negation that concerns us is the presumption that by virtue of our Blackness in the white cultural imaginary we lack intellectual competence, that we are always already “presumed incompetent” (Niemann et al. 2020).”

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