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Bodies of Value in Academic Life: ACUSAfrica Colloquium 2021

Updated: Sep 10, 2021

The ACUSAfrica network, launched in 2019, hosted an online colloquium in February 2021. Titled Advancing Critical University Studies: Critical University Studies and the Battle Against Global Racism, the aim of the colloquium was to build the ACUSAfrica network to advance critical and radical approaches to the study of higher education through a combination of practical and intellectual work. As such, it constituted three sessions, locating the colloquium within the intentions to 1) build the network, especially in Africa; 2) grapple with questions of the study of the university within the African context; and 3) engage with the battle against global racism, especially as it plays out in higher education.

The final session of the colloquium was presented by Prof Shirley Anne Tate tackling global racism in higher education. Her talk was titled: "‘If you were a white man they would have negotiated with you the minute you were approached’: Bodies of value in academic life".


This provocation looks at how white (anti-)racist empathy can be the location of white fragility, white innocence and white racist hate speech. It uses the often heard prefatory disclaimer ‘If you were a white man … ’ as an ameliorator of offence in its very reiteration of white, male bodily value. ‘If…’ simultaneously conveys the (im)possibility of the Black woman’s skin value and the dis-value of Black feminist (decolonial) theoretical production, knowledge and experience because of institutional misogynoir in academia. ‘If…’, as white male supremacist(anti-)racist empathy, remains possible because of the white unquestioned skin privilege which entails work environments ruled by hate/disgust/contempt for Black women. Black women are interpellated as white problems through the racial dissection of the white gaze which continues to replay the colonial HuMan as a point of comparison. The psychic, material, corporeal and carnal life of institutional misogynoir is maintained through the (im)possibility of ‘If…’.


Shirley Anne Tate is Professor and Canada Research Chair Tier 1 in Feminism and Intersectionality in the Sociology Department, University of Alberta, Canada, and an Honorary Professor at the Nelson Mandela University in the Chair for Critical Studies in Higher Education Transformation. Previously, she was Professor of Race and Education, the first appointment of its kind in the UK, and founding Director of the Centre for Race, Education and Decoloniality at Leeds Beckett University. As a Cultural Sociologist, she is a qualitative researcher interested in intersectional thinking. In her writing, research and teaching she draws on Black feminist, gender, critical ‘race’, queer, and Caribbean decolonial theory within her overall

focus on Black Atlantic diaspora studies and emerging identifications.

Shirley’s research interests include the body, ‘mixed race’, domestic and care work, beauty, Black intersectional identifications, migration, positive and negative affect, the culture of Britishness, food, ‘race’ performativity, decoloniality, transracial intimacies, skin bleaching/lightening/toning and the politics of skin. She has for some time been developing an area of work on racism’s affects within the micro-practices of institutional racism which has an academic and practitioner/activist audience in South Africa, The USA, Brazil and the UK. Her 2015 book on decolonising skin bleaching in Black Atlantic zones has had a wide academic interest within the UK and South Africa.

Her recent publications include her 2019 book on decolonizing sambo (Emerald), and the chapters ‘Anger, psychic institutional pain and silencing in academia’ in Scholarly Engagement and Decolonization: Views from South Africa, The Netherlands and the United States (African Sun Press), ‘The student of color attainment gap in higher education and the institutional culture of equality, diversity and inclusion’ in Handbook on Promoting Social Justice in Education (Springer), and ‘Love for the dead: sambo and the libidinal economy of “post-race” conviviality’ in Rethinking the Past for a New Conviviality: Opposing Colonialism, Anti-Semitism, Turbo-Nationalism (Cambridge Scholars Press).


See here for the full report of this colloquium.


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