GLORIA WEKKER

Contributor: Betta Pesole

Gloria Wekker is a contemporary Afro-Dutch feminist intellectual and a social and cultural anthropologist (MA: UVA 1981, PHD: UCLA 1992), specialized in Gender Studies, Sexuality Studies, African American Studies and Caribbean Studies. Her complex and pioneering thinking originates from the necessity of fostering tools and instruments of vision to understand facts and discourse concerning women’s lives in the Black Diaspora, as well as the multiethnic Dutch society as it has resulted from decolonization.

Well known as one of the foremost advocate of intersectional thinking in the Dutch academia, Wekker belongs to those activists who, from the late seventies onwards, have been connecting feminism with antiracism contributing to the development of an antiracist queer standpoint in the Netherlands. The  history of such a movement  is best described in her book  CaleidoscopischeVisies, Zwarte, migranten- en vluchtenlingenvrouwenbeweging in Nederland (Caleidoscopic Views. The Black, migrant and refugee women’s movement in the Netherlands, 2001) where she presents intersectionality as the intellectual output of Black, Migrant and Refugee women raising the issue of the simultaneous discrimination and exclusion on the basis of gender and ethnicity.

With a view to formulating policy in ways that could account for the complexity and variety of Black, Migrant and Refugee people in The Netherlands, Gloria Wekker has served on many governmental and social advisory boards. Over the years she has worked for the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Culture on Ethnic Minorities’ Affairs and the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment. In 1987, as Policy Associate at the Office for the Coordination of Ethnic Minorities’ Affairs of Amsterdam, she wrote the Anti-Racism Policy Paper of the city.

Wekker’s intellectual production, both as Scholar as well as Governmental Advisor, has shed light on the epistemological foundation of academic knowledge and public discourse with the aim of integrating gender and ethnicity perspectives in them. Programmatically titled Building nest in a windy place, her inaugural address as the Aletta (IIAV)-chair on Gender and Ethnicity at the Faculty of the Humanities of UU dwells on the issue of power and knowledge production:

Even though the terms have changed and the analytical instruments have become more complex, issues of (in) visibility, issues about who has the power to let his/her voice be heard, which knowledge in the academy and in society as a whole is dominant and which is oppressed, which questions are deemed worthy enough to be studied and which are not, have occupied my mind for some decades now. These are epistemological issues and in order to understand science as social production, as not neutral and innocent but linked to power, it is useful to first look at the genealogy of Western science and to the emergence and formation of notions of sexual and racial difference. The question why certain forms of knowledge gain power and credibility and are highly influential, while others are not, fascinates me.

As Professor of Gender and Ethnicity at the Faculty of Utrecht, Wekker has worked  on formulating concrete tools to achieve greater diversity in institutions of higher education through the revision of Dutch curricula. Worthy of notice are her  publications on the importance of diversity in the University, such as the report “Network On Ethnicity And Women Scientists” written with Dr. Cassandra Ellerbe-Dueck. The report investigates the situation of Dutch female academics taking into account differences amongst the female academic population in terms of ‘race’, ethnicity and their intersections. However, Wekker’s considerations on higher education and curricula are best reflected in the article Still  crazy after all those years,  feminism  for the new millennium  where she argues for passing on a particular brand of feminism to next generations:

The cultural archive (after Said) to be passed on should be transnational, intersectional, interdisciplinary, relational and reflexive. […]we need a European brand of feminism that is not complicit with the legacies of modernity, which continue to construct  ‘race’.

For these reasons, as Director of GEM - expertise centre on gender and ethnicity- at Utrecht University and member of ATHENA - advanced thematic network in European Women’s Studies-, Gloria Wekker has fostered the foundation of a Standing European Working Group Black Athena with the aim to establish a firm platform for activities on gender and ethnicity, as well as a ‘prototype’ module on MA level on intersectional theory in a European perspective.

 

In 2007, Gloria Wekker broke ground in Gender and Sexuality Studies with the publication of her book The Politics of Passion; Women’s sexual Culture in the Afro-Surinamese Diaspora (Cup 2006), which was awarded the Ruth Benedict Prize of American Anthropological Association. The book stems out of Wekker’s 25 year-dedication to the study of Mati Work in Suriname and it is a follow-up of Wekker’s PhD dissertation (1992) I Am Gold Money (I Pass Through All Hands, But I Do Not Lose My Value): The Construction of Selves, Gender and Sexualities in a Female, Working-class, Afro- Surinamese Setting at UCLA under the Supervision of Claudia Mitchell Kernan. In The Politics of Passion, Gloria Wekker lays out a number of challenges and provocation to the emerging global gay culture by offering an account of same gender sexualities of Caribbean women, who do not identify with western conceptual frameworks of lesbianism and create families from relationships that are not limited to blood ties, or to a choice between heterosexuality or homosexuality.

 

In 2011, Gloria Wekker has been granted with a one-year sabbatical fellowship at NIAS (Netherlands Institute for Advanced Studies) to work on her next book Innocence Unlimited. ‘Race’, Gender and Sexuality in the Dutch Cultural Archive. A preview of her current work was offered by her 2009 George Mosse lecture titled “Of Homo Nostalgia and Better Times. Homosexuality and Postcoloniality”. Here, Wekker offers an intersectional analyses of the contemporary Dutch cultural archive, focusing on public discourses and policies which construct the promotion of gender rights and multiculturalism in the Netherlands as conflicting. Wekker exemplifies how such an orientalist and homonationalist standpoint associate the West with sexual freedom, depicting tout court Islam as a culture that is oppressive of sexual freedom. According to Wekker, such a discourse is based on a widespread ‘nostalgia’ for a supposed idyllic time: a nostalgia that takes on the specific form of a longing for the days “when there were no Muslims and women’s and gay emancipation was achieved”. To this, Wekker’s contribution consist in highlighting how migrant sexualities should be understood through modes of ‘doing’ rather than modes of ‘speaking’, reminding that there are diverse ways in which sexualities might be lived or inhabited. Thus, Wekker provides gender and sexuality studies with a helpful framework to avoid the reproduction of the hegemonic western static nature of sexual identity and to understand migrant queer sexualities outside of Dutch nationalist dynamics.

 

Brought up and socialized in Amsterdam of the 70s and 80s, Wekker has early been active in the Afro-European Women’s Movement. In 1984, she was a founding member of Sister Outsider: a black lesbian women’s literary circle based in Amsterdam and named after the essential writings of the black lesbian poet and feminist writer Audre Lorde. For her intellectual production as well as for her year-long activism, Wekker has received nominations for several social prizes on the basis of what she means to the communities of gays/ lesbians/ Surinamese people as well as to migrant women in the Netherlands. The latest of these are the 2010 Nomination for the “RozeLieverdje/Pink Sweetheart Award” by the Green Left Party in Amsterdam and the 2004  Nomination for the “Triomfprijs/Triumph prize”, awarded by NOW-the Dutch Scientific Research Council, for her contribution to the empowerment and the turning of strength and quality of black, migrant and refugee women into influence, control and power.

 

Along with her numerous academic publication, Gloria Wekker, who also is on the editorial board of several international journals in the fields of Queer and Feminist Studies and the Social Sciences, has written and published poetry and prose.