We Found (Black) Love in a Hopeless Place: Articulating Blackness in Vancouver’s Academia

A talk with Handel Kashope Wright
SCA Speaker Series | Friday September 10, 2021 | 12:30 PM | Zoom


In the wake of the supposed final straw that was the police killing of George Floyd in Minnesota in 2020 a justified outrage around police violence and anti-Black racism has erupted not only in the United States but in many countries around the world, including Canada. Several Canadian university administrations have issued statements condeming anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism and academic activists have organized a two day labour action, teach-in, social justice Scholars’ Strike. It is in this context that I take a page from Stuart Hall (who declares that one needs to speak autobiographically in order to avoid speaking authoritatively) and offer an autobiographical argument for the establishment and substantial support for Blackness (especially Black Studies) at Canadian institutions of higher learning.  As someone from Sierra Leone and hence what V.Y. Mudimbe has called an invented Africa, I was not Black there but rather was interpellated into Blackness upon arrival in Canada. I have continually found that it is hard being Black in Canada and even harder being Black in British Columbia. Being/becoming Black in Vancouver is rather, with apologies to Rhyanna, like finding love in a hopeless place. While I appreciate my own and other institutions’ attempts at undertaking anti-racism work in general and anti-Black racism work in particular, one of my central arguments in this paper is that such work is quite insufficient in the face of the gross underrepresentation of Blackness on university campuses and in academia.  I point to diversity and politics of difference within Blackness, a variety of approaches to conceptualizing Black Studies and to the need for and characteristics of a critical Black Canadian Studies.  My conclusion is that the robust presence of Blackness in Canadian academia, including critical Black Canadian Studies, grounded in the Black Pacific, is the more comprehensive goal in and of itself which will in turn contribute to addressing anti-Black racism and the evolution of what is being called “inclusive excellence” at Canadian institutions of higher learning here in Vancouver. 



Handel Kashope Wright is the inaugural Senior Advisor to the President on Anti-racism and Inclusive Excellence, Director of the Centre for Culture, Identity and Education and Professor of Educational Studies at the University of British Columbia. Prof. Wright is also Senior Research Associate of the Department of Communications Studies, University of Johannesburg, South Africa. Dr. Wright is co-editor of the book series African and Diasporic Cultural Studies (University of Toronto Press) and Associate Editor of the journal Critical Arts.  He serves on the editorial board of several cultural studies and education journals and book series including the European Journal of Cultural Studies, the Canadian Journal of Education and  Postcolonial Studies in Education, the University of East London’s Radical Cultural Studies and Cardiff University’s Critical Perspectives on Theory, Culture and Politics (both Rowan & Littlefield).  Prof. Wright has published extensively on continental and diasporic African cultural studies, cultural studies of education, critical multiculturalism and its alternatives, qualitative research and curriculum theorizing, including being author of A Prescience of African Cultural Studies (Peter Lang, 2004) and co-editor of Africa, Cultural Studies and Difference (Routledge, 2011); Transnationalism and Cultural Studies (Routledge, 2012); Precarious International Multicultural Education (Sense, 2012); The Dialectics of African Education and Western Discourses (Peter Lang, 2012) and  The Promised Land: History and Historiography of the Black Experience in Chatham-Kent and Beyond (University of Toronto, 2014). His work in progress includes two co-edited books on Black British Columbia (Fernwood, forthcoming) and The Nuances of Blackness in the Canadian Academy (University of Toronto Press, 2021).  Dr. Wright’s community engagement includes service on the Mayor of Vancouver’s Advisory Committee on Black History Month and the City of Vancouver External Advisory Committee on Equity and Diversity.

September 10, 2021