Blackness and Borderscapes: JCU Welcomes Dr. SA Smythe
On Tuesday, January 23, 2018, the Department of Communications and Media Studies hosted an evening with Dr. SA Smythe. The event was organized in collaboration with JCU’s Queer Alliance and the Africans in the World Culture Club.
A UC President’s Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Gender & Sexuality Studies at the University of California, Irvine, Dr. Smythe received their Ph.D. in History of Consciousness with designated emphases Literature and Feminist Studies. Their current teaching and research areas include Italian Literary Studies, Postcolonial Historiography and Literary Criticism, Mediterranean Studies, Black Cultural Studies, and Migration Studies. They are also founder and co-chair of the Queer Studies Caucus of the American Association of Italian Studies (AAIS), and publishing editor of THEM: Trans Literary Journal.
Entitled “Blackness and Borderscapes: Queering Italianità with the Black Radical Tradition,” Dr. Smythe’s lecture explored issues of citizenship, Italianness, and cultural belonging, drawing influence from Italo-Ethiopian writer Carla Macoggi’s 2011 memoiristic novel, Kkeywa: storia di una bimba meticcia [Kkeywa: Story of a Mixed Girl] and Igiaba Scego’s Adua.
Dr. Smythe focused on how Italy perceived migration and “blackness” as contemporary phenomena. They discussed the different terms used in Italian to refer to migrants as well as black and POC Italians, noting that being “mixed” identity has historically been considered more acceptable if you were readily assimilable into the dominant category. They examined heteropatriarchal white supremacy in Italy and explained that even though blacks may become “hyphenated Italians,” or attain Italian citizenship, the struggle for rights and civil autonomy remains as long as there is the perception that the idea of Europe and European identity is exclusively white. Dr. Smythe also discussed the proposed changes to Italian law which would provide citizenship to children born in Italy, even if they do not have Italian parents. They showed skepticism toward the effectiveness of this law in improving the dire situation of those who will never qualify for this type of citizenship, such as asylum seekers or refugees.
Dr. Smythe went on to address the concept of “murderous inclusions” in the Italian context, a term that first appeared in a special issue of the International Feminist Journal of Politics, edited by Jin Haritaworn, Adi Kuntsman, and Silvia Posocco in 2013. Instead of taking for granted the incorporation of sexual and racial minorities as a certain pathway to liberal politics, this type of inclusion can be viewed as murderous when the focus shifts from their promise to their violences. An example of this is the shift in the purpose of citizenship given to individuals in the LGBTQ community. Instead of a full possession of rights, these people face violence and are categorized as “worthy and unworthy of state protection” or “socially dead.”
Dr. Smythe also touched upon the battle for same-sex marriage in Italy and the US, which they noted has eclipsed more important issues like healthcare, housing, prison abolition, and an end to state-sanctioned violence that makes certain sexual minorities the most vulnerable. Dr Smythe made an analogy between the “murderous inclusions” of LGBTQ people and those of “second-generation” migrants and Italian residents of color, briefly comparing the situation in the US with DACA recipients being leveraged as political pawns. They concluded that the problems went beyond the borders of the nation state and discussed the Black Radical Tradition and the role the Mediterranean had to play in its development, citing Cedric Robinson’s 1983 work, Black Marxism. Dr. Smythe called for an emancipatory politics anchored by black, queer, and transfeminist thought. They concluded their talk by re-stating a fundamental question: “Do we want the state to love us or do we want to be free?”