Thursday, April 12, 2007

Translating "Black": From English to England

Finding a Voice: Asian Women in Britian, Amrit Wilson, 1978
Black Women:Bringing it All Back Home, Margaret Prescod-Roberts and Norma Steele, 1980
The Fat Black Woman Poems, Grace Nichols(pictured above), 1984
The Final Passage, Caryl Phillips, 1985
Strangers and Sisters: Women, Race and Immigration, ed Selma James, 1985
Watchers and Seekers, eds Rhonda Cobham and Merle Collins, 1988
Let it Be Told: Black Women Writers in Britian, ed Lauretta Ngcobo, 1988
"The Future of Reproductive Choice for Poor Women and Women of Color", Dorothy E. Roberts, 1990
Passion: Discourses on Blackwomen's Creativity, ed Maud Sulter, 1990
Don't Ask Me Why: An Anthology of Short Stories by Black Women eds. Blackwomantalk Collective, 1991
Kindness to Children, Joan Riley, 1992 (first book published by a women's press in the UK)
Young, Female and Black, Heidi Safia Mizra, 1992
Black Women's Writing, ed Gina Wisker, 1993
From Homebreakers to Jailbreakers: Southall Black Sisters, ed Rahila Gupta, 2003
The Aesthetics of Superfluity, Achille Mbembe, 2004
Katrina, Black Women and the Deadly Discourse on Black Poverty in America, Barbara Ransby, 2006
"Say it Loud: Perspectives on the Black Left", Left Turn Magazine, 2007

Isn't it wonderful when you finally actually see the area of inquiry that your work has been implying all along. Rather like being struck on the forehead by the heel of your own hand. Maybe my first clue should have been my choice to get a PhD in English. Maybe it should have been the "anglophone Caribbean" elements of my work. Maybe it should have been the way I kept buying novels by black british women writers and gifting them to the women in my family. Maybe it should have been the fact that as we all know by now this project is about my mother and grandmother (alongside the wider possibility of women coming before in a way that produces this me) and my mother was born and raised IN bloody England. You get the point. I should have known that my work had something to do with black women in England. But I didn't notice. In fact I had already booked a ticket to London before I realized that the development of "black feminisms" in Britian was a crucial site of my research. So there, to those of you who think quick and smart mean the same.
So my slow dance with destiny had led me to this set of weeks. At the end of the semester, ostensibly done with my qualifyng exams, deep in the production of a national event to end sexual violence, enjoying a visit from my mother...and reading frantically twenty books about black feminist activism and literary production in Britain from the New Cross Massacre to the new and violent terrifying anti-terrorist now. And despite this prelude and the radical inbetweeness of it, this reading turned out to be right on time. Not only does the interesting work of English Collective of Prostitutes, Housewives in Dialogue, Wages Due Lesbians and the other members of the Wages for Housework campaign push and cushion my thoughts about the domestic as an analytic through which to critique diaspora and nation-formation (and cultural nationalism), not only does almost every anthologized black woman writer have a critique of the publishing industry..and indeed what it means to be anthologized at all, and not only does Maud Sulter have the ill afro and small build that makes me think I could impersonate her blissfully, BUT this set of readings has ALSO helped my clarify why exactly it is that with a theoretical archive that does not come close to staying within the English language and an obsession with reading in every language I can find, my literary--primary archive which I thought was just about blackness, or black people or so persistantly Anglophone.
As usual, Brent Edwards is helpful here. While at first I worried that a project like mine, so influenced by Edwards work in the Practice of Diaspora of developing a print archive and a concept of translation or articulation in which diaspora and relationship more generally has to be something in translation that my mono-linguistic sources...just weren't diasporic enough. But this week of reading makes it clear that although articulations of black feminism and solidarity IN ENGLISH are circualating between the United States, Canada, the UK, the Anglophone Caribbean, and South Africa the term "Black" does not describe the same thing at all when one moves from one of these places to the other. So alongside, (African-American, West Indian, East Indian, Afro-Caribbean, Coloured, Indian, Asian) in all of these locations is an investment in the term BLACK. Not just by women who were speaking across different regional definitions of blackness...but who were also MOVING between these different regions and taking on Black as a mode of relationship strategically...and in black ink over and over again. If I am interested in what it means to be black then one place to look is the untranslatability, incommensurability of this term in what would want to be a black diaspora, but is not long as black and african are not quite synonymous.
So here I go into the world with this. First to Black Lily a film and music festival in Philadelphia for "unsung" musicians and filmakers (black?) and then across the pawned to visit my sister and to track down these publications, periodicals, pamphlets. To (w)it.


jef said...

Dear Alexis;

If I read this well, that means you'll be in England soon?

All best,


Kinohi Nishikawa said...

A key point you bring up here: witnessing the remarkable diversity of English-speaking black feminisms. "Translation" can shuttle between not just different languages but also the localized idioms of a common cause, in a common language. We are undoing "English" from within.

Niamo said...

Hi Alexis,
how brilliant are these musings and how distinctive is your search for the u inside us and ourselves. if you are across the 'pawned' now, i hope you find the treasures you're seeking. your writing really zings and inspires me!
love, niamo