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  • Kerry Pimblott

Confessions of a BlPOC Historian

By Nicole Gipson


As a person of colour, I most often encountered bias, prejudice, and institutional racism in negation: through a lack of recognition of my efforts, in the whisper networks I had not been privy to, in the jobs interviews I was not invited to, in the employment I was not offered, in the housing I did not have access to, and in the social mobility I did not experience. The absence of these privileges is something I have grappled with all my life, observed my parents and grandparents manage with varying degrees of success, and seen too many members of my close and extended family suffer stress-related illness and die prematurely from. A combination of higher education, employment, and housing provided a certain degree of social mobility for my parents, as they moved out of the legally segregated spaces the Civil Rights movement helped eliminate in America. With the erosion of the legal mechanisms put into place as an antidote to systemic injustice, we, the members of the next generations of African Americans, must work harder for less, despite new and improved diversity and inclusion employment policies. These grim realities make the moments when opportunities do arrive all the more appreciated and a source of great joy. Today, my new role as Senior Research Associate at the University of Bristol, presents new opportunities and welcome challenges.


The Mystery of the Twelve-year-old Girl and the Missing Statue


Here’s what happened: a twelve-year-old girl was in her bedroom when she heard noises in her sister’s room and her father screaming questions at her. Ever since she was six years old, she had been a captive spectator of this dark spectacle. She remembered that he always took whatever it was out on her sister, but this time the situation seemed more intense, as she couldn’t hear her sister’s usual screams but muted sounds like someone gasping for air. She knew her sister was dying. Normally, little girls in distress first run to their mothers in circumstances such as these, but hers was crying in the bathroom as she always did. There was no time for dilemma or indecision. She ran into the next room and saw her father choking her sister and jumped between them. She could see that he was not in his right mind, but in Vietnam, the war he shared macabre stories about, throughout her childhood. Those scattered moments of rampant bloodshed still raged inside him. The little girl yelled “stop!” as she looked into his eyes. The deep trauma she witnessed there was the last thing she would ever see as he grabbed her instead – made and destroyed on the same day. She would never know how brave she had been or that he would never touch her sister again after that day.


I never forgot her. Through the years, I often imagined what kind of person she would have been had she lived. I kept her alive in my imagination as a kind of urban legend or tragic Grimm fairy tale, deferring to her in moments of indecision or emotional hardship, not just because she was Black like me, but because she appealed to my sense of doing what was right, no matter the cost. She is a member of the Eumenides now. She has become my moral compass, whose comforting presence always gives me courage and reminds me to be true to myself.


My first reaction on September 17, 2023, when the Bristol flyer dropped me off at the Centre bus stop directly in front of the notoriously vacant plinth on Colston Avenue, was to stand at its base and laugh. It wasn’t a laugh of disdain or derision but of distance and discomfort. Standing there facing the void of that platform, a looming representation of the signified, I understood the true legacy of slavery was in my heritage and the choices my family have made to survive and thrive down through the centuries in the face of racial oppression and its myriad consequences. I felt a heavy weight on my shoulders and thought about my ancestor, Marguerite Guillory, a freed slave from Louisiana – so many emotions. Then suddenly, I felt calm and focussed. I was not alone. The little girl’s return was never so welcome. She was not cold, shrieking, frightful, or loquacious. Her purpose, this time, was to soothe my solemn mood. That day, she had but one word for me. As her presence seeped into my brain, she whispered, “justice.”



“Legacy” Evelyn Todd (1918-2020) and Nicole M. Gipson (granddaughter): descendants of the freed slave Marguerite Guillory (1727 c.a.-?).


Welfare Citizenship and Intersectional Feminism in Africa, 1940 – 2000


I am currently in the first phase of the “Welfare Citizenship and Intersectional Feminism Project.” One of my goals is to examine African women’s role in the national liberation struggles for independence and the parts they played in the construction of the postcolonial state in the twentieth century, through an intersectional feminist lens. Achieving this goal involves the deconstruction of this conceptual framework into two constituent parts: feminism and intersectionality. The first issue is challenging the political assumption that there must be a “universal basis for feminism” and to extract from that challenge based on the parameters of country, tribe, and even generational characteristics, iterations of African feminisms that have emerged due to culturally specific forms of patriarchy and gender oppression [1]. My second objective is to analyse the “intersectionality” of ethnicity, gender, and class to “map the margins” of ethnically discriminatory, sexist, and classicist narratives in spaces such as the workplace, the domestic sphere, educational institutions and housing that marginalize African women [2]. Archival research in these historical periods, particularly the archival destruction that accompanied regime changes has left “agnotological fissures” that will prove difficult to fill. I look forward to working with my project colleagues Saima Nasar, Sreenanti Banerjee, and Siza Dube. I would like to thank the Human Resources administrative staff and my two mentors, Misha Owen and Stephen Mawdsley, for their on-going support and guidance as I begin this new phase of my academic career.


Notes:

[1] Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. (1st ed. Florence: Routledge, 2006), 5.

[2] Kimberlé Crenshaw, “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics and Violence Against Women of Color,” Stanford Law Review 43, no 6 (July 1991): 1241 -1300.

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