As scholars from the Global South, we must resist being complicit

by Laura Loyola-Hernández

This intervention is written from someone who is from the Global South and working in a Global North institution, often encountering racism, xenophobia and “white fragility;” someone in between borders, juggling dos lenguas, two epistemologies and cultures.

I write from a place of privilege and submission, I am a latinx working in UK academia, una emigrante navigating a Hostile Environment. I depart from a feminist decolonial perspective retaking the work of Gloria Anzaldúa, Sueli Caerneiro, Ochy Curiel , Aída Hernández Castillo and Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui in which anti-racist, decolonial and I would add anti-frontera feminism is key in dismantling white supremacy, misogyny, heteronormativity and colonialism in our communities. I propose an anti-frontera feminism, one that not only encapsulates anti-racist, decolonial work but that questions, resists and pone de cabeza literal policies and borders between nations and countries. An anti-frontera feminism that recognises and values the passing of people, families, ideas, sentimientos, from one place to another, knowing that sometimes our physical presence in certain spaces are acts of resistencia. Anti-racist decolonial feminist work is not for institutions to commodify and advance careers. You cannot patrol our bodies, monitor our immigration status, deny us as knowledge producers of our own historias while appropriating and packaging our activism and lives to be consumed by bodies that have never had their presence questioned in these spaces.

For those of us who have been racialized in UK academia, ‘black and ethnic minorities’ is a term that is used to agglomerate us into one category. This term has helped unite the voices and struggles of minorities in UK HE. Nevertheless, it has also contributed to invisibilising anti-blackness, in particular misogynoir: “a historical anti-Black misogyny” (Bailey and Trudy, 2018: 762), which is pervasive in UK universities. It only takes a visual reading of classrooms and offices across UK universities to see that those of African heritage in particular black womxn and non-binary people are the least represented and heard demographic. They bare the brunt of racism and xenophobia. As PoC from the Global South we have a duty of care to our hermanxs, we must be held accountable if we participate in anti-blackness, call it out and not be complicit in it.

Those of us who have been racialized and are migrants from the Global South are often used as tokens of diversity and multiculturalism in UK universities. We are used as the poster boys and girls that meritocracy works, under the slogan “we are international” (Safia Mirza, 2018).  Look they made it despite not being from here! We need to break the myth that if you work hard enough you can make it in a system that has been built to exclude you, to negate you. In this sense, as Global South scholars subjected to Hostile Environment policies, we tick the “diversity” box for universities while the very same institutions act as racist and xenophobic border agents.

As part of our decolonial feminist anti-racist anti-frontera work, we must question our complicity in these dynamics and refuse to participate in the name of “diversity.” We must recognise our own privilege and our complicity in someone else’s oppression. We must question the privilege that comes with having certain passports. Not all migrants are the same, even those of us subjected to the Hostile Environment are diverse and experience these racist and xenophobic policies differently. Therefore, I do not adhere to the term BAME, I depart from a latinx perspective, one that is mi historia, that reflects my own encounters with colonialism and racism. This is not to say that the term latinx is not controversial, as it has most often been used to support mestizaje (white supremacy system in Latin America). Rather I use the term latinx as Ochy Curiel proposes, to recognise oneself as a subaltern and vindicate latinx  “como un acto de resistencia”.  It is from here I want to rescue, acknowledge and reflect on those who have paved the way for me to be able to write these words. I recognise those that cleared el camino for me to be in UK academia: from my abuelitas to feminist decolonial latinx, black and immigrant thinkers. I am of two tongues, two histories, me zumba la cabeza with feelings, ideas and transitions, I therefore write in Spanglish, a reflection of my everyday life.

I’d like to focus for a moment on ‘decolonising the curriculum.’ It’s often misunderstood as exchanging one group of scholars for others in reading lists. Yet, for many of us it is changing the way we teach and address unequal power relations that black and students/scholars of colour live every day.  In doing so, we as teachers must challenge our own participation in this system yet this is hardly the case when: “professors are unwilling to admit that to teach without biases requires that most of us learn anew, that we become students again” (hooks, 2010: 31).  Just to name one example, I have often raised the issue about the lack of inclusion of not only UK black feminist scholars but chicanx, indigenous and African scholars in Gender and Women’s study centres in the UK and these observations always fall on deaf ears. It is not enough to talk about Judith Butler for an entire term and only give one class to a limited number of UK black and Global South feminist scholars. To quote Ochy Curiel: “No es lo mismo citar a Judith Butler en la tesis que a Ochy Curiel”. 

As academics from the Global South we are not immune to taking advantage of the privilege of being in a Global North institution as we are in danger of  “building a small empire within an empire” and “strategically appropriating” the contributions of Global South scholars for our own economic and professional gain without a meaningful dialogue with our counterparts (Rivera Cusicanqui, 2012). How can we recuperate shared stories and practices of anti-racist and decolonial struggles from the Global South without it becoming a commodification? Without advancing our own careers at the expense of our hermanxs who are in the Global South? I don’t have the answers, and the number of words are limited here. I am constantly questioning mis acciones, retando mi alrededor y aprendiendo. I extend love, cariño y solidarity to all who fight for a world where there is no longer colonialism, white supremacy, ableism, homo and trans* fobia. Collective action is resistencia.

 Laura Loyola-Hernández is a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow at the School of Geography, University of Leeds. Her interests are decolonial thought, feminist political geography and critical race studies with a focus on Latin America. Her research and teaching is grounded in a feminist decolonial perspective. Laura also tweets.

Further reading

  • Bailey & Trudy (2018) On misogynoir: citation, erasure, and plagiarism, Feminist Media Studies, 18(4): 762-768. DOI: 10.1080/14680777.2018.1447395
  • Curiel, O. (2007) Crítica poscolonial desde las prácticas políticas del feminismo antirracista, Nómadas, (26):92-101,
  • Curiel, O. (2016) Feminismo Decolonial. Prácticas Políticas Transformadoras. Conferencia,
  • b. (2010) Teaching Critical Thinking: Practical Wisdom, Routledge: New York.
  • Rivera Cusicanqui, S. (2010) Ch’ixinakax utxiwa : una reflexión sobre prácticas y discursos descolonizadores, Buenos Aires : Tinta Limón. ivera-cusicanqui.pdf
  • Safia Mirza (2017) ‘One in a million’: A journey of a post-colonial women of colour in the White academy in Deborah Gabriel and Shirley Anne Tate (ed.) Inside the ivory tower: Narratives of women of colour surviving and thriving in British academia, UCL Institute of Education Press: London, pp:39-53.

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