In recent years, the Movement for Black Lives (M4BL) has elevated Audre Lorde’s notion that self-care is a political act, pushing us to have a national conversation about effective strategies for maintaining emotional wellness in the context of white supremacy and patriarchy. The discussion is one Black feminists have been engaging in for generations, attempting to find ways to be well, and remain well, despite the disproportionate amount of emotional labor Black women are expected to provide in organizing spaces, their households, neighborhoods, and on their jobs.
This talk focuses on a group of African American tourist women who repeatedly traveled to Jamaica (before MB4L) in order to pursue happiness and diasporic belonging, while seeking to escape U.S.-based racism. Using data from ethnographic research in the U.S., Jamaica, and an online community, I ask, “Which insights do we gain about race, gender, and power within African diasporic relationships if we center Black women’s affective lives? What do we learn about race and gender if we consider Black women’s pursuit of happiness as a political project?”
Bianca C. Williams is an Associate Professor of Anthropology at The Graduate Center, CUNY. She earned her B.A. and Ph.D. in Cultural Anthropology, and a Graduate Certificate in African & African American Studies, from Duke University. Williams is a past recipient of the American Anthropological Association & Oxford University Press Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching of Anthropology. Her research interests include Black women & happiness; race, gender, and emotional labor in higher education; feminist pedagogies; and Black feminist leadership studies.
In her book, The Pursuit of Happiness: Black Women, Diasporic Dreams, and the Politics of Emotional Transnationalism (Duke U Press, 2018), Williams examines how African American women use international travel and the Internet as tools for pursuing happiness and leisure; creating diasporic relationships; and critiquing American racism and sexism. Williams argues that pursuing happiness is a political project for Black women. Additionally, she has written about “radical honesty” as pedagogy in the volume, Race, Equity, and the Learning Environment (edited by Tuitt, Haynes, and Stewart 2016), and published on #BlackLivesMatter, anthropological writing, and tourism in the journals Souls and Cultural Anthropology, and on the blogs Savage Minds and Anthropoliteia. The investigative thread that binds Williams’ research, teaching, and organizing is the question “How do Black women develop strategies for enduring and resisting the effects of racism and sexism, while attempting to maintain emotional wellness?” She is currently working on two projects: (1) an examination of plantation politics and campus rebellions in the academy with Frank Tuitt and Dian Squire; and (2) an analysis of Black women’s organizing and emotional wellness practices in the Movement for Black Lives.