If I’m honest, and I am, I wouldn’t be writing this blog if it weren’t for Stuart Hall. Now I was writing on Afro-Diasporan culture long before I even knew who Hall was, but when I discovered his work and his writings over two decades ago, it was like a rainbow of realization went off in my brain. Here was an educated Black man who had been speaking out for decades against racism, colonialism, and oppression…and he even wrote about television sometimes.
“They Didn’t Have Tails”
Hall’s heritage was self described as “part Scottish, part African, part Portuguese-Jew.” He was born in Jamaica, a country that I have mentioned before, prides itself on it’s love and it’s struggle. This fact was explained to me by many a Jamaican on and off the island paradise. Stuart Hall traveled to Britain to study at Oxford, but soon realized it wasn’t for him. He later went on to become a Sociology professor at the Open University from 1979 to 1997. He was vital in the development of Cultural Studies as a discipline in Birmingham in 1964. The Guardian quotes him as downplaying his own importance in Britain and across the world, taking the view that racial tension would gradually improve due to “ a multicultural drift, just having them [people of other cultures] around, they weren’t going to eat you, they didn’t have tails. “
Race The Floating SignifierThis is one of Stuart Hall’s classic lectures. He speaks here to the use of classification as a system of power.
I find it oddly ironic that he passed on the same day I wrote my angry black rant about why I hate Black History Month. Stuart Hall is the kind of iconic figure we all need to be celebrating more often, although I am sure most people, especially in the U.S. have never even heard of him. He was called a “Jazz fan, a hipster, and a left-wing hero,” in a recent article about the documentary film of his life The Stuart Hall Project, which recently premiered at Sundance. I remarked sadly the other day that if I had this life to do over again I would spend it studying Cultural Studies at the feet of Stuart Hall, drinking pints of Guinness and watching Eastenders. So a warm Voodoo farewell to you Stuart Hall, from this Voodoo priestess who knows she doesn’t have to hide in the shadows anymore, because of great men like you who spoke up and spoke out against racism, unfair classifications, and injustice. There is a veve drawing in my future for you, with a television and a black fist.