Tuesday, February 3, 2015

New Directions in Black Feminism Studies: Tiffany Willoughby-Herard

Tiffany Willoughby-Herard is Assistant Professor of African American Studies at UC Irvine, and works on comparative racialization in the South African and North American contexts, Black political thought, and African feminisms. Her book, Waste of a White Skin: Carnegie and the Racial Logic of White Vulnerability, has just been published by UC Press. The publisher calls it “A pathbreaking history of the development of scientific racism, white nationalism, and segregationist philanthropy in the U.S. and South Africa in the early twentieth century, Waste of a White Skin focuses on the American Carnegie Corporation’s study of race in South Africa, the Poor White Study, and its influence on the creation of apartheid.” Using black feminism, black internationalism, and the black radical tradition, Willoughby-Herard explores the effect of politics of white poverty on black people’s life, work, and political resistance. In particular, this groundbreaking book examines the philanthropic institution of the Carnegie Foundation, contributed to the constitution of apartheid as a process of knowledge production in South Africa. Her manuscript examines U.S. complicity in constructing notions of whiteness, arguing that the Carnegie Commission Study of Poor Whites helped create knowledge production process central to apartheid, in particular scientific racialism. 

In so doing, she examines the role of this supposedly benevolent U.S. philanthropic organization in the production of social science knowledge as a form of legitimation for the racial violence of apartheid. She thus makes the argument that whiteness is a global phenomenon, one that links white racial formations transnationally, by demonstrating the ways in which the United States not only produced whiteness within its own territorial boundaries, but is implicated in white Afrikaner racial formation as well. As Dr. Willoughby-Herard demonstrates, The Carnegie Commission Study legitimated a number of violent practices that attempted to discipline poor whites into bourgeois respectability. These practices were very much organized around gender and sexual normativity, and included genetic monitoring, sterilization, mental testing, and forced removals and detentions. In this way, this essay demonstrates that eugenicist tactics were brought into being through deployment not only against non-whites, but on what she calls “contingent” whites as well. In so doing, Dr. Willoughby-Herard argues that whiteness is not a monolithic racial formation, but a complex and internally differentiated one. This project is thus an important contribution to whiteness studies, which tends to situate whiteness as simply privilege. By tracing the violent process by which poor whites were forced to become white, this project reveals the exact process of production and the precise effect of the scientific racialism that would underwrite the system of apartheid.

Willoughby-Herard’s talk in the New Directions in Black Feminist Studies lecture series, “I Write What I Like”: The Politics of Black Identity and Gendered Racial Consciousness in Meer’s The Black Woman Worker,” which takes place from 4 to 6 pm in Haines 135 on February 26, examines Fatima Meer’s Black Woman Worker: A Study in Patriarchy and Woman Production Workers in South Africa (1990), which raised critical questions about how the concept of gendered black consciousness articulated with racial colonialism, segregation, and apartheid.  Like other books published in its time, Black Woman Worker resulted from a robust confluence of political activity, autonomous research, and careful attention to the politics of publishing.  While the radical black feminism of that era was becoming coherent as a set of consistent political philosophies across the Americas and on the African continent, according to Willoughby-Herard, it was anticipating, laying ground work for, and helping to establish the publishing audience that constitutes current interests in comparative black feminist studies, black feminist internationalism, African feminisms, and African gender studies. Our histories of the making of “the working class” and “left” have been shaped forever by the role played by research on black working women as servants, migrant laborers, domestics, and enslaved people.  Following Pumla Gqola and Zine Magubane, she will examine and offer an account of how the contested and complex political identity of “blackness” was articulated in this moment, why this set of nested categories was necessary for Meer and her collaborators, and the cultural work that it did to bind together African, Indian, and so-called “Coloured” women in a context of extraordinary state and vigilante violence.

New Directions in Black Feminist Studies is a lecture series featuring three scholars who represent the best of contemporary Black feminist scholarship. This series will contribute to the renewed energy around African American studies at UCLA, with the recent departmentalization of African American Studies and Angela Davis’s recent residency in the Department of Gender Studies. It is curated by Grace Kyungwon Hong, organized by the Center for the Study of Women and cosponsored by Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies, Labor Studies Program, Institute for American Cultures, Department of English, Department of Gender Studies, Department of African American Studies, and International Institute. The speakers are Amber Jamilla Musser, an Assistant Professor of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Washington University in St. Louis; Talitha LeFlouria, an Assistant Professor of History at Florida Atlantic University; and Tiffany Willoughby-Herard, an Assistant Professor of African American Studies at UC Irvine. All these scholars have new books that represent important new scholarship in the field. 


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