To mark the second anniversary of RACE.ED, Michaelagh Broadbent spoke to Dr Katucha Bento and Dr Shaira Vadasaria, Lecturers in Race and Decolonial Studies in the School of Social & Political Science, who are stepping up as RACE.ED Co-Directors for 2022/23.
Can you share what RACE.ED is and its aims?
Shaira Vadasaria: RACE.ED is a research and teaching hub committed to the study of race, racialisation, colonialism and decoloniality. It was co-founded by ourselves and Professor Nasar Meer with the intention of constellating researchers, educators and practitioners committed to this study at the University, as well as globally.
We might think of RACE.ED as a pedagogical repository that keeps the study of race and colonialism alive within a liberal era that seeks to disavow historical wrongs and manage ideas about racial difference.
Katucha Bento: Through this platform we have conversations in a transnational way and with communities outside academia. RACE.ED encompasses a diversity of knowledge production in an interdisciplinary way. This is about doing important work for an important time, to discuss and validate knowledge and existence that has been systematically marginalized. RACE.ED is space to have these kinds of conversations, and hopefully inspire that movement.
Why is it important to have this network at the University?
KB: It’s a new way of doing collegial work towards anti-racism at an institution that was built from the profit of slavery and colonialism. It’s important to have this space where we can promote different voices and show how racism can be manifested.
We have a story to tell from other parts of the world, and we are encouraging people to create a constructive dialogue: what does it mean to be decolonial in different parts of the world, and in different readings of race, racialisation and racism?
Can you share a bit more about RACE.ED’s collaborative nature?
SV: The internal collaborative nature is so important because that’s the ethos that we operate with. Our network is made up of more than a hundred members, and we have a steering committee that’s comprised of members from different University Schools and Colleges.
To give an example of the work we do, we had a really amazing three-part symposium on decoloniality, which was a collaborative, co-badged project between CRITIQUE, genderED and RACE.ED, which are all internal University networks.
We aimed to encourage conversations around the misuses and abuses of the term decoloniality and what it means to think about it, or to recentre it in its both historical and global context. It was a fruitful experience because we were a set of colleagues working on and thinking through these questions together. Bringing this to the table allowed us to think about what we are doing here at the University as this gets invoked, to think cohesively and clearly about what these terms mean and how they’re mobilised.
What are you most looking forward to over the next year?
KB: I’m really looking forward to our upcoming transnational solidarity radical pedagogies project, and having a link or dialogue with other communities and weaving these conversations together.
SV: I’m excited about opening up the pathways for this kind of new addition to the work we do at RACE.ED which, up until this point, has really been focused around the teaching, event series, podcast and blog.
I’m also excited about refining curricula. I think there’s a lot of energy that goes into the launch of a new course, or even the revision of an old course. But there’s something special about the practice of a course over time. As Katucha has said in reference to Paulo Freire’s thinking, there’s never going to be the same conversation, the same students, guest teachers. It’s always going to be a different experience. I would add, each student enters the classroom with their own social history and biography, which impacts how we engage with texts themselves. I’m also curious about how we get more direct teaching time with the students because that’s the bread and butter of what we do as educators. Indeed many of us share commitments to education that open to anti-racist, queer and feminist perspectives, in a way that goes hand-in-hand with how we situate and critique race and coloniality.
RACE.ED is celebrating its second anniversary this year – how does it feel to reach this milestone?
SV: It feels great and at the same time, we can’t eclipse the contexts that we’ve been operating in either – the past few years under Covid-19 has made time and space just feel like a big vacuum and blur somehow. The globe has been reconfigured. How we socialize has shifted completely, and yet somehow we’ve managed to build a community space that is very alive, very rich, very textured in a growing moment of social isolation. I’m excited about what RACE.ED can be when we’re in a different place with Covid-19, when we can come back to intimacy in a different kind of way, under a different set of conditions.
KB: Maybe because of the challenges we faced with Covid-19, we found solace with each other, and that links with everything that we are talking about – what it means to be collaborative, what it means to be colonial or feminist. So, creating this kind of community during the pandemic also meant for us to have a different way we approach each other and the topics, and everything that we are doing.
What do you have planned to celebrate?
SV: We are organizing a workshop on building transnational solidarity between Brazil and the UK – going beyond borders. I think it will be a great way to celebrate our anniversary, to keep in mind the challenges and our intention of being present with each other as we build solidarity. Building transnational solidarity: radical pedagogies from the South will run from the 18 to 21 July.
What has been a particular highlight?
KB: In our seminars we have had different scholars presenting on queer, decolonial, anti-racism, positionality – topics that are so important for us to continue reflecting on what is happening in our world and what we can do.
For example, we had people from Brazil presenting, such as the poet Tatiana Nascimento, who talked about queering our dialogues and writing, making poetry through our presence. We also had Dr Osmundo Pinho from Brazil, and the amazing Jamaican scholar, Dr Deanne Bell, who came to talk about creating another version of the world as we recognise humanity away from the capitalist colonial terms that had been presented to us, co-chaired by Rashné Limki and organised with EREN (Edinburgh Race Equality Network). Every single voice that we have been able to show with our platform has increased and grown an archive of voices and perspectives for RACE.ED and beyond.
SV: I am so grateful for the ways that members of this network can come to the space that is RACE.ED and bear their ethics, politics, hearts – it’s all connected because we’re invested in this work. It’s not just a job we can turn on and off, and I think somehow RACE.ED has facilitated that intellectual space to also be quite a vulnerable one. And I don’t know that there’s any other way to meaningfully engage in the kind of questions we do without some level of rawness and vulnerability. The kind of ethical framework that we operate within nourishes this kind of political sensibility.
What has been the biggest challenge for RACE.ED?
KB: I think it must always be challenging to speak from an anti-racist perspective in a colonial institution. This needs to be a challenge that will remain – otherwise, if you switch it off, then I would start asking myself what I’m doing here. So this is an ongoing challenge, and I’m happy to sit with this discomfort and these challenges as we grow in RACE.ED and open the platform more.
How can other members of staff get involved?
KB: We have seminars, a podcast and blog which are open to access as teaching and pedagogical tools or people may reach out to us if they would like to contribute to the conversation about anti-racism or coloniality, for the blog for instance.
SV: This network really doesn’t belong to anybody – it is very much community driven. This is not to erase the labour or vision of the directorate or steering committee, but it is to say that the political commitments, ethos and vision are growing and the dynamics are being shaped by the political context that we’re in. RACE.ED embodies a force that is attentive to the histories that have allowed for the on-going violence of colonial modernity and subsequently responsive to the political moment that we find ourselves in.
This interview was originally published in the University of Edinburgh’s staff magazine, Bulletin, on 14 June 2022.
The recording of the original interview conducted by Michaelagh Broadbent with Shaira Vadasaria and Katucha Bento can be viewed on the RACE.ED MediaHopper Channel.