Ending CREN and moving forward with racial justice

This is an edited version of the introduction given by Azeezat Johnson for the last CREN Black Feminism series event on Tuesday 18th July 2017.


I am really proud and a little bit sad to welcome you to our last event both within our Black feminism series (entitled “the work may be harder but it is still the same”) and within the Critical Race and Ethnicities Network – after this, some of us will be putting together is an edited collection on new directions in anti-racist scholarship. However, today is an opportunity for us to talk about what it means for us to move forward with racial justice given these not so new times of explicit racial violence. This event has been sponsored by the Ellesmere Charity, The University of Sheffield Department of Geography Difference, Culture and Space Research Cluster, and the PG Forum Fund from the University of Sheffield, Faculty of Social Science.

This is a strange moment for us to be hosting this particular conversation, as we’re hoping to talk about moving forward towards racial justice even whilst closing down CREN. There’s something really poignant about hosting this seminar series in the year of the 40th anniversary since the Combahee River Collective made their original statement, which includes the timeless line that we used for the title of this seminar series: “the work is harder but it is still the same”. Recently, one of the authors of the statement (Demita Frazier) recalled their thought process when writing the statement and said, “we really know we have to speak truth to power and address it, and we’re going to actively do it. We’re not waiting for anyone. We’re not looking for a road map. We were making a map.”

When we started CREN, it was because we needed to create our own map of how to push against these institutions that normalise and neutralise a whiteness that suffocates our beings. I often think about James Baldwin saying ‘The place in which I’ll fit will not exist until I make it.’ CREN has been an opportunity for us to work towards building a space wherein more and more of us can be seen, heard and thrive through both our conversations and our praxis.

This illustrates part of my hope for today and for the future more broadly: I hope that we can do the work of thinking, talking and behaving in a way that centres those of us that are objectified, devalued and forgotten. This is the work that I see so many already doing, and words cannot express how grateful and lucky I feel for being able to build these connections with people through CREN. Through our various events, we have seen so many people of colour carve out their unapologetic and brilliant voices, all of which far exceeded our initial expectations of the network.

And so it is precisely because we have made the decision to close this chapter of CREN that we are keen to talk about the work that is still to come. We look to understand the many different ways in which the stride towards racial justice may look harder and may require different tools, but it is effectively still the same.

The closing of CREN is not about failure but about letting go of this particular task whilst holding onto our overarching dream. I remember Kristie Dotson mentioning at a lecture long ago that any struggle for racial justice is not going to involve one singular movement, but has to involve several moves towards a freedom that we are unlikely to see in our lifetimes. We’ve taken this message to heart in the closing down of CREN: sometimes funding, time and energy dries up for this particular version of the work, but it doesn’t mean that you stop the fight. It is about recognising the need to constantly build from that which has past: and yes, the work may be harder at times, but it is also very much the same.

There are so many terrorizing factors that inform our yesterdays, todays and tomorrows. But it is because of these times that we must act to do and be better for one another. We must move closer and closer to valuing one another, even as the outside world looks to shrink our bodies further and further. But I am comforted by the many people I’ve seen who centre this care in their politics, in spite of all that surrounds us. This is exemplified in no better way than by the the speakers that we’ve had throughout this seminar series, all of whom do this work in their theory and praxis, and constantly inspire me to do and be better.

Time and time again, our work through CREN has shown us the possibilities in connecting and seeing one another so that our pain, anger and fears can be recognised, but also so that our joys and hopes can nourished. So even with all that surrounds us, and all that is unknown about the future, we have to look towards doing and seeing more of this, across various formats. This work is hard, but it is also necessary. It is hard, but past generations have laid such brilliant foundations for us. It is hard, but it is still the same.


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