Black Feminism on the Edge (Enrichment Lecture: 18)

Black Feminism on the Edge

The Department of English organized the eighteenth in its series of virtual Enrichment Lectures on June 7, 2021 with Prof. Samantha N. Pinto from the Univ. of Austin, Texas (USA), on “Black Feminism on the Edge”. Prof. Pinto began her talk by elaborating on the term “edge” and how it entails pushing the edges and margins of the society in order to open up new avenues of feminist thought. Her work is thus devoted explicitly to Black Feminism in its multiple forms, iterations and locations and looks at Black women at the centre of debates about rights, nationality and freedom. She particularly focussed on Black women celebrities for they occupy the centre of political life and subjectivity and therefore their cultural representations can help understand the historicity of Black women. She further stated as to how Black women’s stories were essential to achieving corrective history, especially those of the “infamous” bodies who are situated on the verge of intelligibility.

A majority of the lecture was dedicated to a discussion around Mary Seacole, the British-Jamaican nurse, healer and businesswoman, who was active during the Crimean war. Seacole, for Pinto, illuminates Black women’s writing in self-invention. Her memoir stays on the move, she added, and depicts mobility rather than domestication. It speaks of her becoming an idealist capitalist subject of the Empire through precarity. Seacole occupies and defines herself as being on the edges of the Empire and, in doing so, distances herself from other modes of feminist writing even as she was enterprising in her inhabitation of the grey areas of gender, politics, geography and ethics. Her skill in delivering effectual healthcare ensured her unparalleled financial stability and self-reliance. The modern appropriations of Seacole’s story provide alternate routes to Black women Diaspora, and she has symbolically come to represent the re-ordering of distributive justice.

Prof. Pinto also talked at length about Pauline Hopkins’ Of One Blood, a work which dares to imagine Black women’s bodies as fantastic objects which fear, know and sense “differently”. The work offers a genealogy that includes racial injury and - instead of providing readers a resolution - thrives on contingency and unknowability. To read Black women’s texts – their cultural labour and production – is, therefore, to necessarily re-negotiate the concept of the political around embodied vulnerability. She concluded her talk by emphasizing how the Black woman’s body is the starting point for feminist studies/ scholarship rather than its tragic inverse.

The talk was followed by a Q&A session which prompted a discussion on various topical issues such as the Black Lives Matter Movement; the role of social media in perpetuating misogyny; the intertwined notions of freedom and boundedness; the dynamism that characterizes feminism as a theoretical and political framework; and the representation of Blacks by Whites, among others.