Conference Description

Troubling the Grounds:
Global Configurations of Blackness, Nativism, and Indigeneity
University of California, Irvine
24 – 25 May 2019

The resurgence of ultranationalist calls to greatness claim a form of sovereignty based on a nostalgic act of “return.” For example, Donald Trump’s presidential campaign to “Make America Great Again,” Bolsonaro’s “Make Brazil Great Again,” and Matteo Salvini’s “Make Italy Great Again” and “Italians First” share a desire to recuperate an originary colonial and nationalist project. This discourse gives way to anti-immigrant, anti-Black, and anti-Indigenous movements in great part because they promote a revisionist history which celebrates white cisheterosexual people as the rightful claimants to the land and therefore to the status of “native.” “Nativism” in this context refers to a return to whiteness, and thus, a return that renders impossible any other claims to sovereignty in favor of white ethnonationalist politics of recognition and fantasies of belonging.

Troubling the Grounds: Global Configurations of Blackness, Nativism & Indigeneity, begins on the basis that indigeneity, diaspora, and migration are racial-ethno-political categories emerging differently across geopolitical contexts. In Europe, for example, the Sámi people inhabiting parts of what is now Scandinavia are readily classified as Indigenous to those lands, whereas the Romani (including Roma and Sinti peoples) are often conflated as nomadic tribes. Rather than being recognized as Indigenous, these groups often experience racialization and a process of what Alyosxa Tudor calls “migratisation.” Likewise, “indigeneity,” as a political identity is not taken up evenly throughout the continent of Africa, Central America and various other regions, despite various peoples’ historic claims to tribal or ancestral lands. Given these geopolitical differences, we ask participants to contribute to a discussion about the ways in which ideas about race, ethnicity, and history inform our understandings of indigeneity, blackness, and mobility, as well as the political claims these categories make possible or foreclose.

In Demonic Grounds, Katherine McKittrick sets a foundation for thinking about racialized geographies, temporalities, and modes of political opposition to colonialism. In doing so, she urges us to think through how blackness and geography animate new ways of imagining the world. In Troubling the Grounds: Global Configurations of Blackness, Indigeneity & Nativism, we take up this call and facilitate a conversation across the fields of Black studies, Native and Indigenous studies, ethnic studies, postcolonial studies, and migration studies. The symposium builds on ongoing intellectual and activist conversations about anti-blackness and settler colonialism and seeks to refigure our conversations through a global lens. As a point of departure, we ask, what happens on a material and epistemological level when we return to Africa in these conversations and conflicts? How might centering Africa— differing ideas of the continent, it’s multiple colonial histories and contemporary political struggles— impact narratives of belonging, citizenship, nativism, migration, and indigeneity taking place in Europe, Turtle Island and Abya Yala? Likewise, in what ways do questions around settler colonialism and anti- blackness in the so-called West help or hinder our understanding of anti-colonial or de-colonial debates and struggles in various African contexts? McKittrick’s term “grounds” allows us to think critically of diasporic, Indigenous, and nomadic ways of living in the world not as mutually exclusive states of being but possibly as simultaneous spatial and temporal relationships.

We are interested in how blackness travels, is mobilized, or is (re)coded within discourses of indigeneity, citizenship and sovereignty where recognizable relationships to the state are determined. We understand that overdetermined positionalities (including the triad between the arrivant-diasporic subject-migrant, the native, and the settler/colonizer) shape our political responses. Therefore, it is imperative that we develop and continue strategies of solidarity that carefully and critically tend to the ways our narratives of belonging are brought to bear on each other. We will center Africa, the African diaspora, and blackness in our conversation, while understanding these terms (especially “blackness”) as expansive, intersectional, and mutable depending on how they are geopolitically and historically situated.

We are pleased to have as our symposium keynote Professor Boatema Boateng (Communication, UC San Diego). We will have scholars, activists, and artists sharing work at this symposium to consider how blackness travels (settler, post-, trans-, and de-)colonial circuits and animates particular responses and claims to the state, citizenship, and indigeneity.  Papers and discussions will cover some of the following topics and more:

• Black American imaginaries of Africa
• The “idea of Africa” in Native American and Indigenous Studies spaces
• What we might learn by bringing together settler colonial studies and post-colonial thought
• Nativism and whether/how it has bled over from the US-American context to, for example, support
ethnonationalist/white supremacist regimes and political parties in Europe without considering
indigenous peoples in those contexts
• Blackness and the question of sovereignty and indigeneity in Europe
• Citizenship studies and human rights discourse
• Black and/or African diaspora and how that’s mobilized intra-Africa versus between other
global contexts
• The political import of what “Native” or “indigenous” might mean in specific contexts
• Blood quantum or other biological/racial understandings of Indigeneity
• Possibilities and problematics of “new indigeneities”
• The role of indigeneity in black political struggle in various regions of Africa and Latin America
•Theories of sovereignty in black/African political imaginaries
•Indigenous/diasporic solidarities