Teach-In (Week 5): Black Europe and “White People for Black Lives”

Under the heat of the bright SoCal sun, #TheUndercommons crew came together to disrupt the space of the Janss Steps, an architectural homage to the racist spatial covenants that historically governed property rights in Westwood, once more.

This Wednesday, The Undercommons facilitated three teach-in sessions: one, a discussion on White Allyship vs. White Accompliceship facilitated by guest speaker Paul Michael from the group “White People for Black Lives”; two, a joint teach-in session with Deonte Harris and Madina Thiam on Black Britain and Black France (respectively), and more broadly on the diverse forms in which Blackness and the Black experience can manifest; and three, a French Lesson with Bianca Beauchemin, where we parsed through the influence that language differences may have in our understanding of the experiences of the marginalized, and in our understanding of oppression, through a translation of the song <<Humain à l’eau>> by Stromae.

In the discussion on White Allyship v. Accompliceship, we broke into two groups to contribute to a public discussion on what it means to be a White Accomplice (read: to the Struggle) and the pitfalls of allyship.  One group was formed as a safe space for People of Color to comfortably discuss what they desire from white allies, and another formed as a safe space for White people to discuss their experiences, mistakes, and advice for being an accomplice to the struggle and for the liberation of POCs.

Brainstorming White Accompliceship
Brainstorming White Accompliceship
Teach-In: Ally v. Accomplice
Teach-In: Ally v. Accomplice

The discussions on both Black Britain and Black France culminated in the takeaway that Blackness cannot – and should not – be defined solely by the U.S. Black culture, and that each of the three states (France, the United States, Britain) would do well to learn from the way race is defined – and the consequences of that definition – in each.  It was fascinating to learn that while blackness in the U.S. is often defined simultaneously by a complete break from our ancestral heritage and a complete entrenchment within U.S. history, Blackness in both Britain and France is often rooted elsewhere.

The Caribbean roots of British Blackness and the diverse African connections in France are a keen reminder, in both our personal and in our political lives, that the state of Blackness is not monolithic.  Deonte Harris cemented this fact as he concluded the presentation, calling for us to remember the diversity of the African Diaspora in future research, in activism, and for its own sake as a necessary truth.

This final statement segued nicely into the next presentation with Bianca Beauchemin, where she led a public translation and subsequent discussion on the song <<Humain à l’eau>> by Stromae (the title translates to ‘Man Overboard’).  We went through two verses and the chorus of this song, going line by line to discuss the definitions, and culturally specific connotations, of the words and idioms Stromae employs.  The link for the song (accompanied by a translation and intro from Stromae) is posted for your convenience below!

<<Humain à l’eau>>

All in all the sessions were awesome.  Informative, engaging, and on point.

Love and light.

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