Introduction to Black Studies summer course

 

July 31st, 2020

 

The day before we speak with Dr Ebun Joseph, she is on the RTE evening news defending the removal of four statues of Nubian princesses and slave girls from the front of Dublin’s Shelbourne Hotel. 

The report focused on how the American owners of the listed building had apparently not sought local planning permission first, but Joseph had a different perspective. “Young girls that were taken, beaten, raped and abused - how can that be art?” she asked.

This is the kind of thought-provoking question you might expect to ponder in her newly launched summer course, Introduction to Black Studies.

Already the co-founder and coordinator of the first Black Studies module in Ireland at UCD, Joseph has now designed this “taster course”, to be delivered online every Thursday in August from 6pm-9pm. 

“I have eight speakers who will cover everything from African history, literature, culture, art, music, language,” she says, hoping they will “decolonise the narrative” about Africa and “make sure our history is not whitewashed”. 

“You cannot be fully anti-racist without undersanding the history of Africa, pre-slavery Africa, true Africa, the one we call Mama Africa,” says Joseph, a Nigerian who has lived in Ireland for almost 20 years.

“The course is not prescriptive. It stirs up your critical consciousness and helps you ask questions like, ‘Why is everybody in my organisation white?’”

Having recently founded the Institute of Antiracism and Black Studies, Joseph highlights racism - in particular, workplace racism - wherever she sees it in Ireland, often via her Twitter account. Apparent bias against job applicants with African surnames, for instance. But she  also raises issues affecting asylum seekers and the Travelling community. 

“I see injustice and my mouth just opens,” she laughs. 

The #BlackLivesMatter movement that swept the world following the killing of American George Floyd by a policeman in May has opened important conversations about how people of colour are treated in Ireland. Some told terrible stories on mainstream and social media of abusive language and exclusion, proving racism is not just an American problem. Meanwhile many of us had no idea - much like we hadn’t really noticed those statues of slave girls outside the Shelbourne either. 

“Until we say racism exists, nothing is going to happen,” says Joseph. “Racism is not a KKK mask on your head. Racism is the everyday presence of a racial hierarchy that says one group is better than another based on their skin colour. The important thing is to understand that racism exists whether I see it or not. It’s like COVID-19. I can’t see it, I can’t touch it, I don’t know anyone who has been affected. But it exists.” 

It is not enough to say you are not a racist, as some of the witnesses to Loyd’s murder said. 

“By being ‘not-a-racist’ but not doing anything, you’re actually enabling racism. You become a participant. Being a bystander can inadvertently allow the death of others to happen. You must be actively anti-racist. If you are in your office and you’re watching somebody being racist and you’re saying nothing, if you look at racist policies and you say nothing - then you’re an accessory to that.”  

Joseph also asks us to examine the stories that perpetuate racism.

“You might say there are no black people in your organisation because they don’t apply for the jobs. That is a racist story. That is a story that you have told yourself to make yourself feel comfortable.”

The Introduction to Black Studies course hopes to open people’s eyes to everyday - or even historical - racism.  

“And once you have seen it,” says Joseph, “you cannot unsee it”. 

 

For more information about the Introduction to Black Studies “taster” course, email iabsireland@gmail.com. The course costs €50 and places are limited. 

 

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