Slavery, Lived Realities and Decolonising Forced Migration Histories – A transcript of an interview with Asst. Prof. Portia Owusu

This piece, a transcript of Dr. Carpi and Asst. Prof. Owusu’s recent podcast, discusses how indigenous narratives and histories of slavery have been erased from the ‘grand narratives’ of traditional teaching of forced migration history and how, although erased, these histories and lived experiences of slavery are still evident in the inequalities and discrimination experienced in Black communities today. The discussion goes on to examine how African American and West African writers engaged with ideologies of Pan-Africanism and Black Internationalism and how concepts of race and racism are experienced differently by Black Americans and Black Africans. Lastly, Dr. Carpi and Asst. Prof. Owusu reflect on how the positionality of academics can influence the ability of the academy to truly decolonise the production of knowledge.

Asst. Prof. Owusu is author of ‘Spectres from the Past. Slavery and the Politics of ‘History’ in West African and African-American Literature,’

If you find this podcast of interest, the Southern Responses to Displacement project has been exploring similar themes. Read about how the project aims to centralise the experiences and perspectives of refugees’ from Syria and how they conceptualise Southern-led humanitarian responses here and here. You can also access the recommended readings at the end of this piece. 

You can listen to the podcast below:

Slavery, Lived Realities and Decolonising Forced Migration Histories: A transcript of an interview with Prof. Portia Owusu – Interview with Dr Estella Carpi and Dr Portia Owusu

EC –  So hello everyone, my name is Estella Carpi, I’m a Research Associate working on the Southern Responses to Displacement project. We are based in the Migration Research Unit in the Department of Geography at University College London. This is our first podcast in 2021.

Today I invite all of you to reflect on this question: What sort of history have we been taught at school and in particular what sort of forced migration history?  Have we ever questioned the chronology, the factuality of these events, and the selective focus in our history classes? So how can we really decolonise the history of forced migration and the way it’s taught?  Today we will particularly reflect on the issue of slavery and we have the pleasure to have with us Dr. Portia Owusu. She’s a Visiting Professor, sorry, a Visiting Assistant Professor in English literature at Texas A and M.  Her research is mainly about the history of slavery according to West African and African American writers of the 20th and 21st centuries.

So Portia recently published her book ‘Spectres from the Past. Slavery and the Politics of ‘History’ in West African and African-American Literature,’ Her work powerfully shows how these writers rejected the traditional history and hegemonic historiographies of slavery in favour of literary narratives about the past and, as some of you might know, the Southern Responses Project largely engages with the colonial understandings of forced migration and geographies of aid. So what we’re interested to discuss today with Portia is how indigenous understandings of slavery had violently been removed from the grand narratives of official history. So why is it that the project examining Southern responses to displacement, we are particularly interested to discuss the issue of slavery?

I would like to remind you that in the Western version of forced migration studies the people who forcibly left their land didn’t fit today’s normative accounts of forced migration and therefore they were not recognised as refugees. Instead, the figure of the refugee has primarily responded to the missionary impetus of Western subjects that desire to assist and care.  So, in this sense the definition of refugee was instead removed when it involved a battle against enslavement and against the slave trade. In this sense forced migration has mostly been let’s say an entry point to study areas where white saviours became aid providers. So that’s why mainstream forced migration studies has erased the history of slavery in the African continent and beyond and those experiences are not included in the global history of forced migration.

So let’s say slavery has become in academia is a sort of self-standing body of literature that we’re going to discuss with Portia today.  But, of course, this act of removal is not innocent in anyway. The slave trade is actually the biggest forced migration in human history.  12 million Africans were deported to the American continent. So why has that erasure happened?  The creation of African diasporas was accompanied by the emergence of global capitalism and European colonial powers.  This form of migration didn’t find room in the forced migration literature in Western institutions especially because the governments, like the UK government and the US government, historically refused to name the slave trade a crime against humanity.  As Portia names it in her own work this is of course the politics of history that is all but unbiassed.  And, for example, NoViolet Bulawayo’s award winning ‘New Names’ which Portia recommended to me, in the past depicts social conflict displacement and migration through the skeptical voice of a very young girl, whose name is Darling, who first lives in a Zimbabwean slum and then in the US. And Portia will make other examples herself of all of these. So, in light of these, Portia, can you tell us how and why slavery was deleted from official historiographies according to West African and African American writers?

PO –  Well thank you so much for the opportunity to discuss these very important issues and also to kind of see the correlation between our work and certainly there are. And I think disciplinary backgrounds and research has demarcated these issues but I think we have more in common than we like to think.  I think firstly I mean to think about it is it very difficult history right and even in our own, if you think about it even our own personal experiences of trauma, often the first reaction or the first thing is to forget about it, you know.  Trauma is by its very nature something that is repressed and that is covered up and in order to approach it and address it one needs to work and that work is often very hard. You know, even as individual people it is very hard. Now we place this new concept in the context of countries, where a lot of countries after the slave trade were kind of attempting to rebuild their lives, individuals were trying to build their lives, but countries were also trying to move on.  In this moving on, how it was conceived is that there’s certain things that we cannot take with us from the past. Certain things that we need to pass on. So, slavery, definitely in the context of the US, you know the kind of the ideal, the Republic, you know, essentially slavery went against the nation’s ideals, ideas like life, liberty and the pursuit of freedom, so we already have this separation from theory and practice. Then in African countries, you know this ideal, the new nation state, you really couldn’t bring this past with you.  So what you find is selective history, you know, that the nation, the national history or the nation’s story becomes something that we need, we nit-pick. It can’t include the ugly stuff, because we don’t want to look at the ugly stuff, the ideal forgetting, that this story has to be passed on. But as Freud rightly tells us in a lot of his work, that, you know, that whatever is repressed will come back.  

So, what you find is that these things are seeping out in different ways, politically seeping out, socially seeping out, personally seeping out and politically we see that in inequalities and inequalities and discriminations, that we’re trying to deal with today, or we were trying to deal with in the early 20th century, that we are really acting like these things just came up, but really, truly, it had it’s underlining back in this history that we refuse to acknowledge.  So, then slavery becomes this Spectre, as I name in my book, you know, this ghost is always lurking around. We don’t want to admit it, the elephant in the room, but it’s always there.  So, I do think the short answer to that is the fact that what we have is a very ugly history and we would rather move on.  But by that moving on we just are not able to move on because it’s always in the present. So, you have this past that is always in the presence. So, they need to move on but also they need to address at the same time this kind of contradiction of space. This contradictory space of being. 

EC –  Thanks Portia for this introduction which is absolutely insightful. I was also wondering whether there is any official schooling system, educational system lets say, that has ever given room instead to these removals, let’s say, of history

PO – Ohh yeah absolutely and I think in order to kind of erase something or to undermine the history you need to have all these apparatus around you, right, and I think these so called official institutions, we think of school, we think even in the home, and how we talk about this history has really been an important tool in deciding how we can talk about slavery or any other history and how we remember. So, the school curriculum for example in Texas where I’m currently based right now even after this day you have certain books that describe slavery as migration and it doesn’t put a force in front of it. It’s seen as something ‘Oh they were working so,’ the language itself, you know, and if we think about this, this is how children are being taught this history, right, so they’re being told that, oh, people were brought here to work, that it was a migration, right, and it’s not just an American problem, you have in West Africa, particularly in the early 20th century, when people in these countries were going through decolonisation and trying to make this nation, this new nation, you know, and wrapped up in Pan-African rhetoric, of hope, you know, of forging on into the future, a lot of the books that were written, a lot of the historians, and if they were not historians from colonial background or even if they were Africans themselves, these histories were often kind of really glossed over very quickly. Nobody was talking really about slavery in kind of like, as a lived reality, you know, to use the words of Tony Morrison, we were talking about slavery without slaves, nobody was talking about it in terms of that incalculable loss, you know we often refer to this idea of 12 million people, which is supposed to be one of the official kind of statistics but really and truly we don’t know, 12 million is an incredibly conservative figure that we play around with but we don’t know, you know, and we’re not thinking about these people that jumped on board slave ships,  importantly who chose death rather you know, who chose the sea rather than to come to America. People, the incalculable loss, as in separation from family, separation, these things that, the trickle effect is still here today.  So often you’ll be talking about, I hear stuff like, you know, people talking about, you know Black people in particular in America, and the relationship to education, not being able to read, you know, having poor health, you know, as if it is a new phenomenon and it is so important for us to go back to root of these things. What happened to people who were enslaved and for whom educational was illegal?  If you read slave narrative, you know that a lot of these slaves who learn to read and write their stories, were doing it and it was a serious act of resistance and subversion.

So, this history that is not gone, we like to think it’s gone but it’s not gone. And something like the education system really aids in how we think about these things, the language that we, the perspective that we write on, that we write from, even, you know, this idea for global history, you know. But even when it’s written by African Americans for example, you know, are we adding other voices to it?  You know, the politics of publishing, that you know means that there are certain voices that are inherently silenced or even when they’re there they come off like you know, this is what you can and cannot say. 

So, I do think that there are apparatus that helps, that aids, this kind of national amnesia, if you like.  Or if not national amnesia, how we’re going to remember it, and in how we’re going to talk about it.  If you have a school textbook that is describing slavery as people who came over to work, as people who travelled, these kind of languages has a lot, you know, in terms of how we think about it, in terms of how we view it, and in terms of how we see the link between the past and present.

EC – Thanks dear Portia, this is incredibly helpful.  And also thanks for reminding us that national amnesia and global amnesia is very often, is built on processes of this subjectification and the individualization of the people that we are talking about.  So in the Southern Responses project we’ve long dealt with the categories of North and South and we have explored the ideological, political, religious orientation of aiding practice, so of course we also engage with national, regional international approaches to resisting colonial powers, and for example, historian Hakeem Adi states that early Pan-Africanism helped African diasporas build unity. But countries in North Africa started embracing the Pan-African ideology only recently. We have a further example in the US context ,where you are, where Black Internationalism has often been posited as a valid alternative to Pan-Africanism that instead carry across different geographic areas and would put less emphasis, let’s say, on the African continent.

So, in this regard Portia, where do African American literary writers locate this much needed rewriting of official history?  Do literary text engage with these topics in the West African region and in the Americas that you’re concerned with? 

PO – Yes,  so I would definitely say in terms of where they’re located. So, if you have writers, the African American writers that have to engage with history or the history of slavery. So, for example Toni Morrison’s 1987 book, Beloved, which was quite a breakthrough in a sense that we’ve never had a text, a literary text, that talked about slavery in this way. Of course you know in 18th and 19th century, we had slave narratives that were being written by slaves who had just come out of slavery but that text itself was very political, in the sense that it was being sponsored by white patrons. They knew very well, you know, very well who they were writing for, they were writing for these audiences,  that essentially to use that text, that begged them for their freedom, right. As in, here I am, a human being, I can read and write like you, I’m worthy in God’s grace. So in those texts, we are quite limited in that sense,  you know,  there’s a lot of what people could and could not say and you see that particularly where people stop short.  I’m too traumatised to talk about this, you know, people didn’t want to offend, you know, women didn’t really wanna talk about rape, because it would offend the sensibilities of white fragile women who are reading these things.

So in the 80s, no from the 50’s onwards I would say, with the civil rights movement,  particularly radical forms, like black power, where writers really engaged with that and we’re writing from the raw, not necessarily for anybody, they went writing like the slaves, the ex slaves were,  the slave narratives,  they were writing for themselves, reading these texts that were looking at their own engagement or their own relationship to this history.  So, you finally, the focus was a lot on lived realities, you know, what were these people thinking. So for example, Morrison’s book Beloved, the focus is on their mother,  who had just come out of slavery and under the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850,  which meant that,  if even slaves, ex-slaves, they run away and go to the North,  like enslaved Africans who leave and go to the supposedly free North,  that slave owners would still pursue them,  and bring them back to the South to re-enslave them, right.  So what you find, for example, in the film, 12 Years a Slave, and so this mother is in Ohio, a supposedly free state, and she sees this slave catcher coming and she decides to kill her daughter, rather than letting her daughter, kind of, go in to slavery. And so you have this graphic novel that focuses on this mothers’ difficult decision to do what she felt like she had to do, and we haven’t had that before, so the focuses on lived reality, right, and you see this, I think even up to now, where these writers are less concerned with the grand history,  because there’s this assumption,  and in my opinion, a rightful assumption, that these histories are talking about slavery by skirting around it.  Almost you know, in this almost, almost like slavery without slaves, almost as if that it wasn’t human beings that were at the centre of it.  And in so doing, by continuously kind of dehumanising these people. 

So I would definitely say African American writers, and by extension African writers, would obviously do it differently, often try to locate these ideas from the perspective of lived experience and the individual subject and also they always come and join and link between the past and present, you know,  seeing this history as something that has not necessarily, that has not passed. And again,  going back to what the national project or history will want us to think that you know,  this is something that has passed, we have progressed so much,  and a lot of these writers are resisting that kind of linear historiography, you know,  that you know,  that was the past,  now we have progressed and look at us now, in the same knows, slavery by any other name,  you know,  we might not be physically in chains,  but you know,  there’s ramifications of this history.  Ava Duvernay’s, for example, although that’s not literary text, documentary on Netflix, documentary Thirteen, really put that across very very powerfully, that you know chattel slavery may be over but let’s look at it the 13th Amendment of the United States and how he had made place for the, you know, disproportionate number of black people to be jailed and to be incarcerated.  So black people are making up 70% of the jail population but yet  are 10% or even less of the national population.  And just, that doesn’t make sense, and how do we understand this without going back to this history, that’s forever speaking into the present. 

EC – And like, it’s so much important to connect temporalities and lived experiences as you said to these transnational and regional trajectories of history, in a sense, in forced migration. So getting back to the importance, of like let’s say, grouping countries and people from different regions, it can be even like American African writers in the United States, or those who are based in Western Africa,  and that like really counts in understanding how we can actually rethink the history of aforesaid migration in connection to slavery. So, I remember that in African ideological history Pan-Africanism maintains the form of political, but also social mobilisation, moved outside of Africa before 1945 and kind of returned to the African continent after the end of World War Two, and you also look at African diasporas and West African writers in the continent instead.  So, what geography has mattered to reformulate a West African politics of history and have these ever changed throughout literary history?

PO –  I think that this has definitely changed. So let’s go back to Pan-Africanism for example. You are definitely right to say that they moved outside of the continent before 1945, but after 1945 you see that a lot of the project will happen from the continent.  And I think that a lot of it is again to, the movement allows people to connect,  right,  again going back to this idea of emphasis on subjectivity and lived history,  so it’s so easy to think that,  you know,  your world is all that it is when you are just in one place and you know you just focus on what you are seeing,  what you are hearing and you understand it from your context and your own vision.  But I think when people move out and when you see these kind of connections, and that okay,  I’m not the only one feeling this and I’m not the only one seeing this, and I think for West African writers, or even from the West African politicians, I think you know,  the movement outside predominately to,  kind of,  the African diaspora to America to America North America,  the United States. When a lot of these politicians or these activists came to United State to study, for example,  Kwame Crima, for example,  if you read his autobiography it is really interesting,  he comes to the United States to study in Pennsylvania, he goes to this café and there  is this incident he kind of details in his autobiography,  and he just walks in to get a cup of tea and they they’re like I can’t serve you,  and he’s wondering why can’t you serve me? I don’t understand why you can’t serve me, I have money, you serve tea, I need tea, you know,  and so finally you get his realisation that he cannot be served because he’s black and he at this place that is segregated and that moment when you realise this this mark that he has,  the skin colour that he shares with other African Americans, and how it literally stops him from being able to do what he wants, is that moment where in many ways,  well at least how he frames it in his autobiography,  it’s a very important moment,  it’s almost like an epiphany,  where he realises that he’s not,  that the different, the difference and also the sameness, you know, that prior to that he was an African but now he’s just realising that in the United States he is black,  and in a way that kind of solidified his concept of Pan-Africanism, this idea of kind of like, although history might be experienced differently this sameness in terms of how one is seen when one is in different places,  and hence he comes back to Ghana with, you know, with a bit more kind of ideas on how to that you know this political ferver couldn’t  just stay in the African continent,  that it needed to be something in the diaspora. 

So I do think that for a lot of these writers, there is almost kind of like this retracement of the triangular relationship, that you had during slavery, so to Europe, to the Americas and back again,  you know, so this triangulation relation, you see that a lot in as these writers move around spaces,  how they notice these differences,  but also these similarities and hence the ability to interconnect , create these concepts that allows for that.  I would also say that though, whilst it has very good merit to it one of the concerns as you find, you know with Pan-Africanism,  and even now in the global, kind of like, black nationalism that we find articulated in Black Lives Matter, for example, is that there can be so much emphasis on,  kind of,  the sameness or the essence of blackness for example, that we forget that there are the differences, but also key,  that there is sameness but also key differences.  So for example, the concept of race and racism for example is something that American Blacks experience in America and see their political lens through that but Africans don’t necessarily,  so I think we gotta be careful in how we group these together in the sense that we tend to lose focus of different aims and projects specific to the lived realities of those people.

I’m not sure if I’m making sense of that so the movement enables people to me to see sameness but at the same time the risk of that is that we tend to blur experiences

EC – Yeah yeah and this is like somehow the forceful character, let’s say, all these groupings that I was talking about so trying to come out with new, like, categories, like, of how to group people and experiences but with the risk of a homogenising all of these groups again so these totally speaks to two our endeavour as well as a project to reflect further on the cultural maps of forced migration. And even like in in our own project we are trying to build on Professor Elena Fiddian-Qasmiyeh’s work that previously focused on this idea of international solidarity that develops between countries of the South and she provides the case of Saharawi and Palestinian refugees who migrate to Cuba to benefit from educational fellowships that were provided to them by the Cuban state. So, this is just like an example of how these trajectories as well can be drawn in different ways but they don’t necessarily generate a sense of belonging or affiliation to new country or the host state.  But, of course, like, in the case of diasporas this becomes even more complicated in a sense when we discuss issues such as Pan-Africanism. 

So, Portia, like as humanitarian scholars, Prof. Fiddian-Qasmiyeh and I have often expressed our concerns about today’s possibilities for decolonising the Academy and also the aid sector there is what we are mainly concerned with.  These possibilities for decolonisation don’t really look very promising at present and so I personally believe that the decolonial term for western scholars has become a way to feel legitimated, like to feel like legitimate teachers and researchers, and to get our work approved in in the international intellectual community. So, in that sense I think we need to adopt a critical gaze instead on these shortcuts to decoloniality.  From my perspective too many of us in Western societies have yet not become conscious of our own white fragility, as D’Angelo suggested a few years ago. So White Fragility by Robin D’Angelo is, by the way, a book that I highly suggest and I think there’s not enough knowledge on what alternative ways of working and thinking would mean nowadays in Western societies and also on what decoloniality would mean to people in the supposed global South, so we don’t know enough about ourselves in the first instance, as subjects of the global North and in relation to the South. Of course, here I don’t mean to standardise people in the global North in any way or discard the history of regional awareness that some people have worked on with huge efforts but I think more work in the global North needs to be done on self-awareness and especially in relation to the South.  So how is this need to decolonise let’s say discussed in contemporary literary debates in the West African region. And Portia, we would really like to know your personal take on this. 

PO –  Yeah it’s a really great point, and I mean,  I’m glad you brought up Robin D’Angelo’s book and I will definitely second that it’s a very important book to read. Beyond white fragility I would also say that it’s probably a sense of black fragility. I mean I’m a black West African, Ghanain to be specific, woman who grew up, who was born in Ghana but who grew up in the United Kingdom and I had, to all intents and purposes,  a very good life and very good education,  travelling around , so although this decolonised curriculum, and it’s a very sexy kind of term at the moment, you know I did my Phd at SOAS, so this is a term that I heard all around you know, so to quote the kids in the street, you know,  this is what Woke people kind of say, but I think there’s something,  that you can be so Woke that you could be sleeping,  and I think when it comes to these things,  that we really need to pay a lot of attention to our own positionalities, right,  so this idea of kind of like decolonising knowledge, I totally agree that in some cases,  not all cases,  it can be a way of us kind of getting our work done,  and we don’t critically probe it enough.  So, what are the real, what does it mean to decolonise knowledge? In what we have we decolonise our own thinking first?

So, for example one of, I think we can decolonise knowledge is by thinking a lot about methodology. How do we do things right, and in what way does it speak to, and what ways does the methodology that we use, how does it speak to or promote a certain type of knowledge?  There’s a very good book that I’m losing the title of right now, that talks about kind of decolonising the methodology, I think something like Linda Smith, a [ New Zealand] anthropologist, and this idea that we need to really think about the methodologies that we are using.  For example in my own work, what does it mean for me that I’m reading a lot of these texts in English, you know what are the limitations of this language for people who really wanting to kind of speak the truth, and their lived realities,  even when it’s translated,  something is lost. How do I define literature for example, is it just the written word which traditionally have been, what has been in the Western epistemologies and literary, to do with the written words?  But in Africa we have texts that are oral text, or even text that are silence in themselves,  right. 

So, thinking a lot about methodology and the forms of knowledge that we are leaning towards, are we willing to embrace different forms of epistemologies, different ways that people think? So, I think it’s questioning a lot of our own training and I’m learning to unlearn a lot of the things that we have internalised. I think it’s wrong for us to think of ourselves as a neutral, especially when we have,  when we are you know you maybe kind of racially, culturally or whatever as you know position towards that culture that you’re working but I don’t think that you should take for granted that, with your own learnings, that might not necessarily position you as a neutral person. 

I also think that, you know you brought up the idea of getting our work done, and I do think that sometimes we can be quite selfish in that sense and if we are serious about decolonising knowledge are we making steps to maybe work with the very people that we are writing about. I’ve known a lot of scholars and I’ve experienced a lot of scholarship that writes about Africa but maybe they have never been to the continent, or they’ve never talked to, kind of, anybody from who’s working the same area on the continent, you know, so it ended up being part of African Studies without Africans and that inevitably is a form of colonisation really, to borrow Edward Said’s words, this idea that you know the Orient you know they cannot speak for themselves no you have to speak for them,  and I think that academics, often with good intentions,  we end up doing these things.

So, when I do think about decolonisation or decolonising the syllabus or whatever term that we use for it, I definitely do think that you need to start with us, we shouldn’t see it as something that outside of us we need to question everything that we do, how we think, what method we using, in in what way are these things reinforcing structures that have been steeped in colonialism, you know.  Our engagement with wherever, whoever and wherever we’re working with, are we seeing these people, as people that we can get something out from, or people that we can stand side by side, you know, are we just going to these countries, where the countries that you are working within, just abstracting then seeing yourself as this authority figure that, you know, with your education you can come up with a new way and what assumptions are we having about the other, you know, how are we using funding for example, when we interview people are we paying them, are we giving back to these communities?

 I think it is a noble project, which is something I’m totally for, but I think we need to be so aware of our own positionalities, and critically, critically assess our aims.  We shouldn’t think that just, I mean, just because we have this noble idea, that in themselves they’re noble. I think academia can often have the stereotype of being quite liberal, right, so, and to go back to us saying we can be so Woke that we can be sleeping, so I think it calls for something to really, really critically appraise ourselves, you know, like take the splinter out of your eye before you try to remove the log out of somebody else. Don’t see this thing as something outside of ourselves. But, you know, for us to really engage with and ask ourselves some serious questions.  But I do believe that it is called for, and I am very appreciative of the fact that we are having these conversations, you know, at universities, institutions, that previously wouldn’t have really seen it as something worth even considering, so I’m very hopeful about it, but I think that we need to really critically engage with it and don’t romanticise just the ideal, but really put our money, in a sense, where our mouths is. 

EC – Yeah and we also think we absolutely need to be wary about the current tokenization in a sense so but of decoloniality in today’s academia and also like in the Middle East region,  that we look at as a team,  there’s very little use of indigenous sources in the languages of this region even other than Arabic that can be Kurmanji for the Kurds in Syria and Turkey or it can be like even in Persian and Amazeera for the northern Africa region and so forth. So the use of indigenous sources and also like an engagement with a different understanding of the concepts that we got normalised to is quite important, we need to alienate,  like we need to sort of unlearn,  like the term you rightly used,  all of these conceptualizations and try to embrace them in a different way, so that’s a very hard process and unfortunately I agree with you there are no shortcuts to that,  so thanks for reminding us of the aims, like the importance of the aims in this process, yeah like you wanted to add something to this.

PO –  Just totally agree with you,  that it is hard work you know,  it’s a bit you know,  I think even when we included different methodology or different forms of knowledge it is important for us to see them as legitimate, because I think even sometimes when we do we just like okay let me just you know, acknowledge for example that Arabic is not the only language spoken in the Middle East , but are we treating it as legitimate or are we tokenising our work?  Are we treating these forms of knowledge as legitimate, even when we don’t share these perspective are we treating them as legitimate, and I think these are questions that we need to really ask ourselves.  I mean empathy is hard, you know, everybody can sympathise but empathy really requires you to put your feet in that person shoes and that always is a hard job and I think in academia we can get so busy, you know, that we just think, come on, let me just write this up.  But I think if we’re going to do the job of decolonising knowledge, if we are serious about it then we need to be really committed to it and start the work in ourselves, we shouldn’t assume that you know, it is out there, you know, like now with the whole kind of discourse of anti racist and anti racism or how to be an anti racist you know and it’s like yeah you must assume that you know it’s not good enough for you to say that I’m not racist you must assume that you have views or you know or you have perspectives that are not healthy and whether you know it or not your acting it out and I think I could be academics mean to have the same approach that we shouldn’t assume that you know, ohh I just have respect for everybody so that’s how I am working, I think you we need to assume that we’ve been trained in a certain way that is not helpful and how are we visibly going to unlearn those things

EC – Yes so that’s why like I mentioned that the D’Angelo book because it really speaks to the importance of fighting oneself in a way like decolonisation should start from there but it doesn’t really look like it is presently going on, so thanks Portia wholeheartedly for such insightful responses and for genuinely sharing with us your important work on these issues that should actually be objects or reflection for everyone. So, I hope you all want to remain connected with the Southern Responses project please visit our website tomorrow more about the projects and how it will evolve.  So thank you very much and you can also follow us on Facebook and on Twitter and stay tuned thank you.  And, thanks Portia.

PO – Thank you very much

EC – Thank you,  it was a pleasure


If you find this podcast of interest, the Southern Responses to Displacement project has been exploring similar themes. Read about how the project aims to centralise the experiences and perspectives of refugees’ from Syria and how they conceptualise Southern-led humanitarian responses here and here. You can also access the recommended reading below:

Carpi, E. (2020) No one wants to be the “Global North”?  On being a researcher across the North and the South.

Carpi, E. (2018) Humanitarianism and Postcoloniality:  A Look at Academic Texts

Carpi, E. (2018) Teaching Humanitarianism:  The Need for a More Responsive Framework:   

Carpi, E. and Fiddian-Qasmiyeh, E. (2020) “A Sociology of Knowledge on Humanitarianism and Displacement: The cases of Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Turkey,” in Salvatore, A., Hanafi, S. and Obuse, K. (eds) The Oxford Handbook of the Sociology of the Middle East,Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. (2020 online edition; 2021 print edition) (An abridged version of this chapter will be available online soon)

Fiddian-Qasmiyeh, E. (2020) Recentering the South in Studies of Migration

Fiddian-Qasmiyeh, E. (2019) Exploring refugees’ conceptualisations of Southern-led humanitarianism

Fiddian-Qasmiyeh, E. (2019) Histories and spaces of Southern-led responses to displacement

Fiddian-Qasmiyeh, E. (2018) Southern Responses to Displacement: Background and introduction to our mini blog series. 

Fiddian-Qasmiyeh, E. (2018) Pan-Arabism

Fiddian-Qasmiyeh, E. (2017) Refugee-Refugee Humanitarianism

Fiddian-Qasmiyeh, E. & Daley, P. (2018) Conceptualising the global South and South–South encounters

Fiddian-Qasmiyeh, E. & Fiori, J. (2020) Migration, Humanitarianism, and the Politics of Knowledge – An Interview with Juliano Fiori

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