What is Blackness? The Phil Lind Initiative, a speaker series organized from January to April 2020, will deconstruct this question by addressing the themes of “Thinking While Black.”
Dr. Phanuel Antwi, one of the organizers of the series this year, talks about the process behind selecting the theme.
“This year, we formed a committee of over 10 professors from various departments such as English, political science, journalism, social justice, School of Public Policy — and together we decided that we wanted to focus on race,” he said.
“Through conversations as a group, we decided to focus on one contained idea that can be explored over a period of four months and ended up choosing Blackness. ... Once the focus was agreed upon, we contacted scholars in the US who’ve previously worked on the issue of racial violence as it pertains to Blackness.”
The committee then came up with a line up that includes prominent American scholars, writers and intellectuals such as Claudia Rankine, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Roxane Gay, Ibram X. Kendi and Jesmyn Ward.
Antwi also recounted an experience from when he and his friend first came to Vancouver. They needed afro picks for their hair and went to over five Shoppers Drug Marts to find one. Yet they couldn’t find a single store that could accommodate them.
“It is these simple insignificant moments that seem so disconnected from the larger social structure that form the fabric of disconnected racial violence,” he said.
Through the series, the organizers and the speakers wish to highlight the breadth of thought in Blackness.
“Through the series, we want the students, faculty, and community members to rethink the ways the world is organized and the way the world understands Blackness,” said Antwi.
“We want the audience to pause and think about ‘thinking while Black’. Meditate on what it means for them to ‘walk while Black,’ ‘talk while Black’ and to ‘breathe while Black.’ We hope that when the audience is listening to the speakers, they also think about how what the speakers are saying is applicable in Canada.”
Quoting Denise Ferreira da Silva, Antwi reiterates, “The problem isn’t that we are different. Acknowledging that we are different doesn’t mean we are trying to posit one race over the other. Difference doesn’t have to mean separability. Focusing on Blackness doesn’t mean we’re separating from others, it just means we are acknowledging our differences.”
The question remains, with racism and prejudice so entrenched in our society, can we really rethink ourselves? Antwi believes we can.
“But it isn’t going to be easy,” he cautioned.
“But rethinking the ways we live in the world, the ways we organize the world and the ways in which we are organized by the world liberates us to live otherwise.”