Reflections on participating in Jamaican Organised Crime: Aesthetics and Style, Leicester, 2018
Tracian Meikle (PhD candidate, University of Amsterdam)
I have been doing my PhD for nearly five years now, which means that I have been to many conferences, symposiums, workshops, masterclass, much like any other academic. However, as a Jamaican enrolled at the University of Amsterdam and living in the city in which it is based, this means that on most of these occasions, I am the one of a few, if not the only black person present. In many of these sessions, the majority of presentations focus on peoples from nations that still suffer from the effects of colonialism and its aftermath. This imbalance in the racial background of attendees is usually not addressed, even though this could mean that visually and in subject matter, the meetings are reminiscent of the colonial knowledge project. While I love engaging with theoretical and empirical material that deeply engage with the life of people, my intellectual enjoyment comes with significant psychological violence. There is a strong negative sensorial experience of being the only person in the room who shares a similar background to many of the persons being studied. This is coupled with offhand comments and reactions that underscore the paternalistic way in which people from different lands are seen, and the bravado of presenters who talk about places with an all-seeing perspective that is seemingly bestowed upon researchers who are at the same time neutral and embedded.
I explain this experience I have so often because the workshop on Jamaican Organised Crime: Aesthetics and Style is almost the complete opposite of most other forms of academic engagement that I have endured throughout my PhD. The majority of the workshop delegates have a Jamaican or Caribbean background and engage with the country not only as researchers, but as citizens, even if based elsewhere. This make-up of attendees had the most profound impact on the kind and complexity of discussions that take place in the workshop. The lack of the need to explain basic knowledge of Jamaican society and the fact that particularities are not marveled on because of their difference make room for deeper engagement in seeking to explain and understand Jamaican society. This led to very interesting discussions on respectability, identity, crime, complicity and morality. Discussions that allowed us to deeply engage not only with the research subject/s but also our own relationship to the issues that we were discussing.
As a result, I consider my attendance to this workshop and others convened by Lucy and Rivke to be some of the best moments of my time as a PhD researcher. I hope that this effort to convene groups of academics that are diverse but have deeper ties to places that they research will be taken up by other researchers in Europe. This is needed if we seek to have an academia that truly reflects the world today and does not remain rooted in practices of colonial times.