I am blessed to be spending my weekend among a number of wonderful junior and senior scholars who engage in the work of Black women’s intellectual history. “Towards An Intellectual History of Black Women: An International Conference,” happening this weekend at Columbia, is one of the premier events highlighting the work of the Black Women’s Intellectual History working group that began back in 2006 to explore together the history of ideas produced by Black women both in the U.S. and abroad. The notion that a Black women’s intellectual history exists, while not new, is still as radical as it ever was. This seems especially so given Black men’s continued propensity to write texts about Black intellectuals that don’t include the work of Black women in any substantive way. It also seems that we still labor under hugely restrictive notions of what counts as “theory”, what counts as “intellect”, and what kinds of bodies do theoretical and intellectual labor.
It goes without saying then, that in a field of history where it still seems that “all the women are white and all the Blacks are men,” we are making history by daring to assert that Black women have a long, rich history of producing unique ideas about race, economics, science, literature, and gender.
I am immensely proud to be numbered among the scholars who get the opportunity of finding and exposing these ideas to others.
We kicked off yesterday’s event with two panels. The first panel, composed of yours truly, Tommy Curry, and Kyla Schuller, with Mia Bay moderating, and Thadious Davis responding, focused on those classic sisters, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Mary Church Terrell, Frances Harper and Anna Julia Cooper; these foremothers are often the first place we look when attempting to locate a history of Black women and ideas. The presentations did not disappoint, and the impassioned discussion afterward reminds us that we have still not yet exhausted what can and should be said about the original crew of race women.
The next panel, featuring Melissa Stein and Asia Leeds, with Farah J. Griffin moderating and Maboula Soumahoro, responding, discussed Black women’s contributions to medical scientific discourses and Black women’s participation in the UNIA in Costa Rica, respectively. These panels expanding my thinking about the contours of transnational connections between Black women and about the methodological problems that we encounter in dealing with Black women’s bodies and the ways that they talk about their bodies in the purported culture of dissemblance.
It’s all heady stuff, and I’m sharing rather quickly, as I’ll be off in just a very few minutes to hear a full day of discussions on the intellectual lives of Black women.
Perhaps I could sum up the first day in the paraphrased words of my colleague and mentor (though perhaps she doesn’t know that yet) Stephanie Evans, “I’m excited to be here. Here. Here in community with people who care about the things and people I care about, are interested in the questions I’m interested in, and know why these topics of study are important in the first place.” I completely agree. In fact, this is what it means to be in good, accountable, rigorous, loving feminist community in the first place.
More updates to come….