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Microcolonial Desires: Race, Affect, Disaster and (Im)Possible Freedoms in the U.S. Virgin Islands

Date and Time: 
Tuesday, June 16, 2020. 12:00 PM - 01:30 PM
Meeting Location: 
Zoom
Workshop: 
Concerning Violence: A Decolonial Collaborative Research Group 2019
Meeting Description: 

What does freedom mean to the people of the United States Virgin Islands, a small contemporary American colony in the Caribbean? The residents of this predominantly Black insular area of the United States occupy a liminal position in the American empire. As territorial inhabitants, Virgin Islanders have peripheral economies, truncated voting rights, and histories of environmental injustice and military occupation. Yet, in this part of the dependent Caribbean, decolonization is often relegated to the realm of the impossible, and questions of self-determination produce a Derridean hesitation (aporia). This phenomenological ethnographic work grapples extensively with Sylvia Wynter’s theories on the human and finds that political uncertainty in the face of the political status question illuminates some of the racist, neoliberal, environmental, and colonial ideologies that normalize American colonialism through the shaping of Virgin Islanders’ desires. A closer look at the discourses circulating in the U.S. Virgin Islands in the aftermath of Hurricanes Irma and Maria, the two Category 5 hurricanes that devastated the territory and the region in September of 2017, suggest that the climate crisis, anti-blackness, and social death create the affective landscapes where quotidian desires and (im)possible freedoms are discursively framed, contested, and reimagined.

Dr. Hadiya Sewer is a research fellow in the Program in African and African American Studies at Stanford University. She holds a BA in sociology from Spelman College and a MA and PhD in Africana studies from Brown University. As an African philosopher her interdisciplinary research interests include: structural racism, American colonialism, feminism, environmental justice, and radical political theory. Her dissertation, Possession: an Ethnographic Phenomenology of American Colonialism in St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands, uses the U.S. Virgin Islands as a case study to trace the conceptions of freedom and the human that exist in this part of the dependent Caribbean. Sewer’s work is motivated by the questions, “what does it feel like to be colonized today?” and “what are the processes by which colonialism is normalized and accepted?” She is the co-founder and president of St.JanCo, a nonprofit that pursues land rights for the preservation of identity, history, and culture on St. John, USVI.

Sponsored by the Stanford Humanities Center. Made possible by the support from an anonymous donor honoring Former SHC Director John Bender, the Mellon Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Please register HERE.

Workshops Calendar

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