We are so incredibly proud of the work we were able to do over Black History Month to celebrate and champion the Black community, both local and national. Our former BAME Officer Julia Ngadi was able to have some absolutely incredible conversations with creatives, scholars and politicians from all over the world. We hosted some fabulous events dedicated to opening up discussions, educating and celebrating Black art & culture, and we were able to shine a light on Black visionaries who risked their future to make history.
However, the work is never over. Black History Month only exists because as a society we don't pay enough attention or give enough recognition and gratitude to the overwhelming contributions of the Black community to British history. This must change.
We are incredibly humbled and delighted that LJMU Senior Lecturer Alexandra Pimor was able to sit down with Julia for a conversation on Black History Month, her career so far, and the importance of activism.
My name is Alexandra. I am Franco-Malagasy and as such I am a métisse in French, which sounds a lot nicer than ‘mixed-race’, considering I do not adhere to the social construct of race. I spent my childhood in France and became an adult in the UK where I lived in Liverpool for almost 24 years. I now share my time between Paris (home) and Liverpool (work), although the current pandemic has changed things a bit! I have been an academic for the past 18 years, and I love what I do, which is more a vocation than a mere job.
Black History Month is an interesting concept for me. There is no such event in France, where frankly, I do not believe there is any national recognition of black history. I studied Black History at Liverpool Community College when I first came to the UK. It was an eye-opener, inspiring and revelatory – for the first time, I could see parts of myself and my African heritage in History in a way that was elevating and that acknowledged black peoples’ achievements; a change from black African peoples being erased, demeaned or depicted as background characters in the glorified colonisation stories of European empire-building. So Black History Month for me means a time of acknowledgement, celebration and discovery – of past, present and future experiences that contribute to owning our place, dignity and worth as Black peoples.
I describe myself as an earth activist in that I want to stand for the rights of nature and harmonious living for people and planet. My activism is based on this adage: ‘be the change you want to see in the world’ (Gandhi), and means that any change starts from within; so I endeavour to nurture myself in every way because, growing up black/brown in a predominantly white society, there was little care, respect or love for my mixed melanin or my kinky hair. In a world where we are made to feel not enough, less than or invisible in so many ways, it is crucial to practice self-care, self-respect and self-love. This practice is described by many as a ‘revolutionary act’ and a form of inner activism.
This inner activism is especially relevant for Black and any oppressed peoples who carry a substantial amount of inherited collective and/or lived trauma. Therefore, rising up to give ourselves permission to feel, experience and express joy, happiness and good vibes is in itself a revolutionary act. Honouring our collective and inner history, taking care of our wellbeing, health and wealth, allowing ourselves to become conscious creators of our lives for the better – all these are revolutionary acts because inner activism requires us to rewire our minds, change our thinking patterns, rediscover our inner life from a place of love, enjoyment and acceptance. It requires us to decolonised our beings from the prejudices and perceptions that were imposed upon us from being racialized, labelled and othered. It offers us an opportunity to de-condition and cultivates our inner being so that we can free ourselves from the prison of the mind, which is where any impossibility can then become possible. In my view, inner activism is essential as an integral practice to any outer form of activism; otherwise, how else would Mandela and his generation of great minds, for instance, have managed to effect change in apartheid-era South Africa if they had not first attended to their self-respect, self-care and self-love, to their inner activism? Activism is about standing up for change, so I start from within to do my part in changing our reality into something more caring, loving and respectful of ourselves, each other and the planet.
I have been a volunteer for 3 organisations that reflect where I want to direct my efforts and focus – Rights & Humanity; the Natural Arts Association; and Women’s Earth and Climate Network (WECAN). All three are concerned with influencing co-creation for a kinder world in harmony with nature and each other, mostly through educating minds and effecting cultural societal and policy change. In this line of work, where change starts with people’s perceptions, it is not easy to measure results as it would depend on the criteria we choose to focus on. For my part, I would say that the aim of galvanising people to learn alternative ways of thinking, come together and seek creative solutions to today’s crises is a result in itself.
The highlight of my career is an ongoing appreciation of the people I work with, both colleagues and students alike. I became a senior law lecturer a little randomly, in that this was not what I had anticipated. I fell into academia a bit like you fall in love – unexpectedly and with great joy. I remember the first time I taught a class; I was awestruck by the fact that I thoroughly enjoyed discussing law with students, and in so doing facilitated mutual discovery and learning. There are two things I love most, I think. The first is reflecting on ideas and creative projects through knowledge sharing with colleagues. The second is to witness students coming into their own when they realise how amazing their minds are and they start playing with ideas, concepts and developing their own theories. Every year I get rewarded when I read original papers from students who get incredibly passionate about topics beyond the basic curriculum.
I wish I had known earlier that my voice has equal worth to anyone else’s. I used to be very shy; in a debate, conversation or any situation, I would also question my views and myself to the point where I would hesitate to say what I thought. Today, it doesn’t matter if what I have to say might sound ridiculous or be dismissed, as long as I speak from an authentic space, my voice has a worth equal to any other being. This knowledge has enabled to me teach, write and to make valuable contributions to debates with confidence.
Law defines our realities, it sets out how we are to relate to each other and the wider world. Law as such frames the parameters of acceptable normative human activities and behaviours. The thing about human law is that it is not immutable as it develops with human evolution, and we are the ones who create our laws and legal systems. In other words, we determine the parameters of our realities. Therefore, I do not see law as purely functional and mechanistic, but as a medium for creative societal and cultural change, whether it is through academia or the practitioner’s route.
My advice to black students is thus: pursue a career in law with passion and a vision of the world you want to live in, so that you may study, research and/or practice law with purpose and meaning. Ensure that you do what matters to you earnestly and with integrity, and look after yourself and wellbeing in the process.