Part II The devastating consequences of “symbolic annihilation”

Media Diversified

“When You’re Strange”

by Zetta Elliott 


I felt like a stranger in my family—and in my country of origin, Canada—long before my father ever spoke those hurtful words.Orville Douglasis a dark-skinned, gay, Black man and no doubt his experience of discrimination in Toronto is informed by his identity, his personality, and—I suspect—his family (who seem not to have prepared him for life as a Black man in racist society). I am a light-skinned, mixed-race, straight, Black woman; I may not be as physically intimidating as Douglas, but I still know how it feels to walk the streets of Toronto and feel utterly invisible. If I hadn’t chosen to emigrate twenty years ago, I too might have internalized enough racist rejection to make a degree of self-loathing inevitable. I never wonder why I left, and I have no regrets. Had I stayed in Canada I…

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The “symbolic annihilation” of black children in literature can have devastating consequences. 

Media Diversified

by Zetta Elliot

“When You’re Strange”

Zetta ElliotZetta Elliot

In 2005 I wrote my first memoir following the death of my father and the unexpected termination of what was supposed to be a year-long teaching assignment in East Africa. From the discomfort of my childhood home I created a mixed-media memoir that examines the shifting terrain upon which we negotiate race, kinship, and identity. A couple of years before his death, in the heat of an argument my father said, “You’re a stranger in this family.” I decided to use his accusation as the title of my memoir since it accurately reflected the feeling of alienation I experienced in Djibouti and within my country of origin. Jamaica Kincaid once wrote,

“For some people, a fixed state of irritation is like oxygen. I understand this all too well.”[i]

This seemed an apt epigraph for the book since my frustration with Canada…

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Stuart Hall and Black British photography | Part 2

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by Jagdish Patel

In the UK, many photographers have used photography to examine their own identity, whether this identity rests in being black, their class, gender, sexuality or disability. In the period from the late 1960’s to the 1970’s many ‘white’ photographers also explored the social changes in Britain. This was a period when Britain began to lose its Empire, when decay and industrial decline were prevalent, which led to conflicts (industrial, racial and in Ireland) and the impact of immigration saw a rising tide of overt racism.

John Roberts identifies this shift on the ‘radicalisation of a younger generation of photographers in the wake of May 1968, and the entry of working class and lower middle class students into higher education with no attachment to the virtues of high culture’. (Roberts, 1998, pp145) In his view this led to ‘a powerful radicalisation of the critique and…

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Stuart Hall and Black British photography | Part 1

Media Diversified

by Jagdish Patel

The death of Stuart Hall on the 10th February was marked by worldwide praise for ‘Britain’s leading cultural theorist’. (2014. Stuart Hall – obituary, Daily Telegraph, 10th February,) It is rare for an academic to receive accolades in the mainstream press, and this perhaps reflects how Hall presented his ideas, not only through academic books, but through newspaper articles, periodicals, on television, conference talks and by attending ordinary public meetings.

sh_inline_0My own introduction to Stuart Hall was made by staying up after midnight to watch him present Open University talks. This was in my teens, and even though I didn’t really understand his talks, what I wanted to watch was a radical perspective on black lives in Britain, a perspective that was not articulated in the mainstream television programs.

Stuart Hall would be the first to point out that using the term ‘black’, in…

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Pius Adesanmi – Guest BlogPost: For Whom is Africa Rising?

Pa Ikhide

By Professor Pius Adesanmi

Winner, the Penguin Prize for African Writing

Author of You’re Not a Country, Africa!

Keynote lecture delivered at the 8th MSU Africanist Graduate Research Conference, Lansing, Michigan, October 17, 2014

(We just lost Professor Ali Mazrui. May we please observe a minute’s silence in his honour?)

The best of times and the worst of times. No, I have not come to Michigan State University to conduct an excursion into quotable quotes from Charles Dickens. I am just taking the liberty – presumptuously, some of you might say – to put into words what it must feel like to wear that enigmatic title, “Africanist scholar”, in these most paradoxical of times for and on the continent. One would ordinarily have assumed that being privileged to be called a producer of knowledge about a part of the world which is said to possess the distinction of…

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Islands in the Mainstream

One of the paradoxes of rhetorical inquiry is that it tends to disqualify the very activity on which it is founded. Beginning with Plato’s skepticism of its merit, inquiry into the practice of rhetoric has long been mediated by the constant need among rhetoricians to provide a solid, indisputable account of its worth. An unfortunate consequence of this is a contemporary tradition that has treated emergent rhetorics with similar skepticism and frustration—indigenous, feminist, queer, digital, and cultural rhetorics have all run afoul of the tradition at some point and have been subject to unwarranted dismissal or casual disregard.

The Caribbean is no exception.

The region has been viewed as an archetypal site of modern fragmentation, coalescence, and consumption that all occur as a great confluence of languages, cultures, and worldviews in the region. In response, emerging scholarship in rhetorical studies has begun to put pressure on this myth and has called for a more robust understanding of the region, its people, and especially their means of negotiating the myriad complexities of vernacular life. Among vernacular practitioners, it is argued, rhetoric is more than the use of language to make meaning of observable phenomena, more than the critique of symbolic or material representations, or of how they and the things they say and do and make are viewed or named by others. More crucially, these practitioners are able to activate vernacular sensibilities for particular outcomes through conscious performativity, creative alterity, and other forms of deliberative display.

However, aside from its practitioners, and the few who specialize in its study, this fact is not self-evident. A significant reason for this is that although our activities are often implicitly persuasive (or possess suasive characteristics that are easily discernible), we do not often consider what we do to be within the realm of rhetorical studies. And for those of us inclined to view the argumentative, rational, and persuasive aspects of our creative and scholarly work as rhetorical, there is an additional tendency to avoid explicit attachment to the discipline, preferring to employ more palatable euphemisms (like versatility, discourse, strategies, or tactics) that appear to be less fraught.

From the view of rhetorical studies, such distinctions are a mistake.

As a matter of fact, distinctions of this sort are counterintuitive to the understanding of productive discursive activity as rhetoric, leaving many seminal works virtually dispersed, or beyond the perceived boundaries of the field. The development of Caribbean scholarship in rhetoric may thus be thought of as being doubly undermined—both separate and unequal—and subject to de facto invisibility and silencing. Ironically, this threat of erasure presents us with an invaluable opportunity to accomplish important definitional work. It therefore serves as the impetus for sustained engagement.

Rooted in the need to be seen and heard, as well as the imperative of giving a suitable account of the rhetorical tradition(s) from which it emerges, we are inclined to ask:

How do Caribbean people define themselves as deliberate practitioners of rhetoric, and how do their practices contribute to the knowledge-making processes that can potentially surpass the far too simplistic designations of “identity” or “cultural production” in contemporary society? What is the province of Caribbean rhetoric, its scope? What are its inimitable characteristics and its more generalizable ones, which would encourage meaningful interaction? What are the greatest impediments to rhetorical exploration, particularly with regard to the intersections of rhetoric with related arts (aesthetics, poetics, philosophy, and politics)? Who gets to theorize what it is and is not?

If rhetoric is indeed grounded in human activity, does it not fall to those engaged in that activity to name themselves and their representative rhetoric(s), theorizing in terms they devise?

The study of Caribbean rhetoric is itself an affirmation of that logic, a response to the implicit urgency triggered by the glaring absence of such work from the field. As a necessary measure, it resists tendencies toward reflexive parochialism, viewing interdisciplinarity as its best approach, an approach that promises to be more generative and, ultimately, more useful to theorists and practitioners alike; the breadth of scholarship to which it can be applied is intended to reflect not only the inherent complexity of the region, but also suggestive of the ways contemporary understandings of Caribbean rhetoric is/ought to be conceived, articulated, practiced, taught, and preserved.

This is adapted from a Call for Papers I shared last year for a collection of the same name. As I make my way through the many fine essays that were submitted, I’d be happy to discuss the project and will remain open to possibilities for additional essays that can satisfy a reasonable deadline. I realize this gives me a bit more work to do, but I think it’ll be worth doing if the result is more people engaging in conversation and inquiry into Caribbean Rhetoric.


Lecture: Radical Archival Practices and the Digital Humanities: The Early Caribbean Digital Archive

If you’re gonna be in NY, you should try to attend this lecture. If I could, I would, as it could certainly illuminate my own thoughts on vernacular archiving as a demonstration of Caribbean rhetorical activity that I begin to explore here:

Repeating Islands


Radical Archival Practices and the Digital Humanities:
The Early Caribbean Digital Archive
Elizabeth Maddock Dillon
Thursday, Sept. 4, 4-6 p.m.
CUNY Graduate Center, Room 5318
365 Fifth Avenue

The promise of the digital archive is one of infinite access and endless accumulation—a democratization of knowledge. But the shape of the archive has always been determined by relations of power. Foucault, for instance, defines the archive as the site of the “law of what can be said, the system that governs the appearance of statements as unique events.” Do the new affordances of digitization change or merely reinforce existing divisions between speakable and the unspeakable pasts and futures? This paper turns to the newly-founded Early Caribbean Digital Archive project (a digital collection of pre-1900 texts and images from the Caribbean) to consider how the silences of the archive might be addressed and redressed—not simply by way of accumulation, but by way…

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