Before a gathering of about 200 people, 13 panelists emphasized the importance of Black feminism as part of the first Black Feminist Think Tank symposium, held Friday in the Michigan Union.
Sponsored by the University’s Department of Afroamerican and African Studies, the symposium sought to create a public forum for discussing an array of topics, including the history of Black feminism, Black sexuality and racial tensions in Ferguson, Mo. Though definitions of Black feminism vary, the concept emphasizes the intersections between race and gender when considering inequality.
Throughout the day, speakers and audience members used the hashtag #blackfeminismis to share their own reflections during the course of the symposium. Audience members were also encouraged to ask questions after every panel discussion, and most panels included some back and forth between speakers and the audience.
American Culture Prof. Tiya Miles, one of the four panelists, discussed the importance of involving and educating the next generation of activists.
“It takes the translation of work on multiple levels, across different age groups for us to keep spreading the word, to not forget that other people might not know about this material yet, and to really help create those networks of support,” she said.
At a brown bag lunch during the day’s events, panelist Andrea Smith, an associate professor at the University of California, Riverside, said universities can create a hostile environment for Black feminists, but noted that Black studies are beginning to have a deeper engagement on campus through new events and classes.
Maria Cotera, associate professor of American Culture, moderated the lunch discussion. Though she said Black feminist thinkers are often told the only way to gain visibility is through academic institutions, Cotera said that’s not the case. She said the notion of relying on academic institutions originates in the mentality of colonialism.
“This idea of visibility through the academic sphere will give you visibility broadly – that’s a colonizing trick,” Cotera said.
Another panel later in the day emphasized sexuality in the context of living as both Black and gay, as well as discussing topics like Black pornography, sexual freedom and identity. The panelists also discussed sexual categories and thinking openly about how those categories are viewed.
The symposium’s final panel focused on discussion about Black activists in Ferguson as well as Palestinian activists in Israel.
Donna Murch, an associate professor at Rutgers University, said recent protests have sparked exciting new movements.
“One of the most exciting things about Ferguson is literally the making of a whole generation of activists in six months,” Murch said. “There are literally hundreds of activists in Ferguson and a lot of them have also become very politicized around Palestine because of its interworld links to what happened in Ferguson and through the exchange of social media with the West Bank.”
Elizabeth James, a DAAS program associate and one of the symposium’s organizers, noted that the panelists represented a wide array of disciplines.
James said the event took a close look the ways in which society and institutions manifest inequality — a conversation that she said remains pertinent today.
“We all need to be on board with equality for genders,” she said.
LSA senior Alexa Ariazi said she found the symposium empowering.
“I think this particular symposium is really important and really, really rare, especially at the University since the time I’ve been here,” Ariazi said. “Black feminist thought has informed so many other theories. The speakers went across disciplines and it’s brilliant, and not just traditional methodologies are used. They really push the fold.”