Seun Twins: ‘Is it not better to have uncomfortable conversations?’

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Durham’s People of Colour Association (DPOCA) has only been running for three years but this year will see some of its biggest campaigns for diversity, says Seun Twins as she sits down with Indigo to discuss the success of DPOCA’s panel sessions, ‘B(l)ack Handed Compliments’ and ‘Who is the Black Woman’s Strongest Ally?’, the launch of its ‘Decolonise Durham’ campaign and the direction of the society in the upcoming months.

Tell us more about your experience leading and moderating these panel sessions with your vice president, Princess Banda.

I’m proper proud of our Black History Month (BHM) series. They were two hour long sessions, so we actually had the time to address and unpick complex issues. I was happy with the turn out and the quality of the debate, but also the variety of conversations we were having – especially uncomfortable conversations. They were so much deeper than the fluff pieces that you normally get from social media.

For example, during the B(l)ack Handed Compliments panel, we discussed the history of white supremacy and how that has affected the way we perceive skin colours, in that we celebrate a proximity to whiteness, but also how that subconscious anti-blackness has been especially traumatic for the black community. From there, we could dissect the black woman’s relationship with beauty – how come they make up only 30% of the American population but are in the majority 76% of consumers of hair and beauty products? Although there are black entrepreneurs now entering this industry, many don’t realise that they are socialised to reject their natural hair and contour their noses, and are being exploited by consumerism and capitalism for which the White Man is the face.

The panel, ‘Who is the Black Woman’s strongest ally?’, was even more narrow as it touched on the dynamics of allyship between black women and the wider community. We looked at the statistics of black women being more likely to be molested, raped or sexually assaulted and being less likely to be married. We anticipated an intense debate, to the point where even some of my male friends of colour did not attend the session because they felt that the conversation was too uncomfortable and targeted against them.

Complex questions like, do we need a 2018 Malcolm X? How do we navigate interracial dating? How can we live in oppressive institutional structures while breaking them down at the same time? Do we need new metrics of measuring black success? I’m so happy that we’ve created something for the next generation of DPOCA to carry on and take even further than we have this year.

 

What would you say to those who feel unwelcome or uncomfortable attending DPOCA events as the conversation may target them?

I would say, is it not better to have these uncomfortable conversations? If there is an issue that might involve you, shouldn’t you come and address it head first, even more so if it makes you uncomfortable? We create these spaces of dialogue and discussion but there must be an agency on your part to invite yourself and participate in them.

For example, we had some public criticism recently on Durfess, speaking out against our ‘Decolonise Durham’ campaign and I found it so funny because whoever it was based his opinion on the name of the campaign before knowing or understanding the complex issues that we will be addressing.

So, yeah, it is very difficult because making our events more palatable or dumbing down the conversation would really devalue the topic and quality of our discussion. These may be very intense conversations that we’re having but that’s not a bad thing because they are conversations that are never had and if you come along, you will learn.

 

 And what is DPOCA’s new campaign, ‘Decolonise Durham’, looking to do?

Decolonise Durham’ is a campaign to decolonise the university experience. It’s led by DPOCA’s co-campaign officers, Sabrina Citra and Sebastián Sánchez-Schilling and is inspired by the ‘Why is my curriculum white?’ campaign, part of the wider movement in the UK to make changes to our white and Eurocentric curriculum. It revolves around our reading lists, our resources, the ways we are taught by professors, the ratio of white to POC professors…

If universities are meant to be hubs for creating new ideas and growing one’s knowledge, how can they do this on the same views of five old men from five similar countries? We need postmodernist studies to play a bigger part in our syllabus, especially for humanities subjects as we study a subjective truth. It has to do with unlearning and relearning different concepts, particularly if taught by professors with different backgrounds and perspectives.

‘Decolonise Durham’ is going to be a great and very thorough campaign. It has connections with different institutions throughout the UK and many academics and lecturers will be coming to share their opinions and suggestions. And I especially like the alliteration of ‘Decolonise Durham’ because I feel like it gives us an edge over ‘Decolonise Cambridge’.

Photograph: Seun Twins via Facebook

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