Precarious Publics | Bianca C. Williams, Black Feminist Politic of Teaching & Organizing with Emotion

March 20, 2017
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University of Colorado-Boulder Associate Professor of Anthropology Bianca Williams is a teacher/organizer with Black Lives Matter, and a mobilizer for equity within Anthropology. She constantly encounters people’s feelings and the affective stereotypes they bring into a space. Angry Black Woman. White tears. Strong Black Woman. White fragility. Scary Black Man. Contrary to the belief that individuals engage in critical thinking and strategic planning without emotion, Williams contests that feelings and emotions often drive how, and if, one utilizes (critical race) theory and (feminist) praxis. It also influences how, and if, individuals are able to show up as allies/accomplices inside and outside the classroom. Prof. Williams offered "radical honesty," a Black feminist approach to truth-telling that can enable us to embrace emotions as we learn, organize, and envision what future anthropologies will look like. This talk focused on two questions: (1) How might radical honesty assist us in mobilizing our emotions into action as we prepare for all that this next phase of oppression(s) may bring? (2) How might we use our emotions as data for better understanding power and equity, as we recognize that all emotions are not created equal?

Bianca C. Williams is an Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Colorado Boulder. She received both her B.A. and Ph.D. in Cultural Anthropology at Duke University, with a Graduate Certificate in African & African American Studies. As a Black feminist cultural anthropologist, Williams’ research interests include Black women & affect; African diasporic relationships; race, gender, and emotional labor in higher education institutions; and Black feminist leadership studies and activist organizing. The investigative thread that binds Williams’ research, teaching, and service together is the question "How do Black people develop strategies for enduring and resisting the effects of racism and sexism, while attempting to maintain emotional wellness?" In her book, titled The Pursuit of Happiness: Black Women and the Politics of Emotional Transnationalism, Williams examines how African American women use international travel and the Internet as tools for pursuing happiness, creating intimate relationships and friendships, and critiquing American racism and sexism. Based on four years of ethnographic research in the U.S., Jamaica, and a virtual community, The Pursuit of Happiness explores how and why these African American tourist women cross transnational lines to pursue happiness and seek social belonging within the context of diasporic diversity. This book is in press at Duke University Press, while other publications on this research can be found in Transforming Anthropology and Souls.

Her interest in feminist pedagogy led Williams to theorize "radical honesty" as a pedagogical approach in a chapter in the volume, Race, Equity, and the Learning Environment: The Global Relevance of Critical and Inclusive Pedagogies in Higher Education. For her work in the classroom, Williams earned the 2016 American Anthropological Association/Oxford University Press Teaching Award. Committed to the notion that anthropology can be an important and powerful motor for institutional and cultural change, Williams is a proud member of the Association of Black Anthropologists (ABA), the Association of Feminist Anthropologists (AFA), and the Working Group on Racialized Police Brutality and Extrajudicial Violence. Her writing on her organizing with Black Lives Matter can be found on the blog Savage Minds, in Cultural Anthropology, and Anthropology News.

The talk, entitled “Radical Honesty and Subjective Truths: A Black Feminist Politic of Teaching & Organizing with Emotion” was part of the Precarious Publics Workshop at Duke on Feb 4, 2017 and was organized by Duke’s Department of Cultural Anthropology.

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