questions of presence

abstract

This article considers some of the ways in which ‘the black woman’ as both representation and embodied, sentient being is rendered visible and invisible, and to link these to the multiple and competing ways in which she is ‘present’. The issues are engaged through three distinct but overlapping conceptualisations of ‘presence’. ‘Presence’ as conceived (and highly contested) in performance studies; ‘presence’ as conceived and worked with in psychoanalysis; and ‘presence’ as decolonising political praxis among Indigenous communities. I use these conceptualisations of presence to consider the various ways in which the black woman as figure and as embodied/sentient subject has been made present/absent in different discursive registers. I also explore what is foreclosed and how this is itself linked to legacies of colonial ‘worlding’. I end with consideration of alternative modes of black women’s presence and how this offers a resource for new modes of sociality.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Miles Davis' album released under that title by Capitol in 1957, contained tracks that had been recorded between 1949 and 1950. The sliding temporality of the emergence of a mode of jazz called ‘cool’ was the dominant presence for a while, echoing the paradoxes of ‘presence’ more generally!

  2. 2.

    Nishnaabeg, also called Anishinaabe, are one of several culturally related Indigenous peoples whose lands traversed parts of what is now Canada and the USA. Others in this grouping of related peoples include the Oji-Cree, Ojibwe and Algonquin.

  3. 3.

    See the 17 February 2016 article in The Guardian, ‘My daughter was failed by many and I was ignored’ (Gentleman and Gayle, 2016).

  4. 4.

    The death of Sandra Bland following her being stopped by the police for a supposed traffic violation, was the event that gave rise to the #SayHerName movement and campaign. She was found hanged in her cell on 13 July 2015. This was three days after she had been stopped.

  5. 5.

    One need point to no more than the violence and contempt meted out to black lives by the police in Brazil, the USA and the UK.

  6. 6.

    Pamela Ramsey Taylor lost her job following a period of suspension, and Mayor Beverly Whaling resigned from her post.

  7. 7.

    Boris Johnson (2002), the current Foreign Minister of the UK, wrote of ‘piccaninnies’ etc. in his column in the newspaper The Telegraph, published 10 January 2002; Kelvin MacKenzie (2017), once editor of The Sun newspaper, now only a columnist, wrote of the Everton football player Ross Barkley in terms that referenced ‘gorillas’, published 14 April 2017.

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acknowledgements

An earlier version of this paper was presented at the Association of Psychosocial Studies Annual Lecture in December 2016. My heartfelt thanks to the Association for inviting me and to the lively and engaged audience from whom I learnt much and whose energy sustained me. I hope I do justice to you here. Special thanks to my beloved friend and inspiration, Avtar Brah. Thanks to the anonymous reviewers for their close reading and helpful suggestions.

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Correspondence to Gail Lewis.

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Lewis, G. questions of presence. Fem Rev 117, 1–19 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41305-017-0088-1

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keywords

  • black women
  • presence
  • colonial violence
  • de-gendering
  • psychosocial
  • triangular space