The Politics of Blackness in Britain (with Mohan Ambikaipaker)

In this week’s episode, guest Mohan Ambikaipaker discusses his article “Music Videos and the ‘War on Terror’ in Britain: Benjamin Zephaniah’s Infrapolitical Blackness in Rong Radio,” which analyzes the political project of the music video Rong Radio, created by British artist Benjamin Zephaniah based on his own dub poem. Ambikaipaker argues that Rong Radio illustrates an “infra-political blackness,” a form of coalition building that is less tied to specific identity markers and instead builds solidarity across people of color responding to shared legacies of disenfranchisement through colonialism and imperialism. Ambikaipaker also discusses the affordances of music videos for activists looking to raise awareness of transnational issues and for educators hoping to generate discussion on complex topics in the classroom.

“I think [Rong Radio] is a poem addressed to black people writ large, to think about where we are at in terms of our political imagination and our political orientations and our political commitments. Because you have these two different levels. There’s all of these kinds of social mobility, consumption, celebrity, stock market, neoliberal ethos going on that’s captivating working-class people and people of color. And then here are the people who are being tortured in detention cells just down the road — tortured, brutalized, and then released to come home, lives broken.”

Episode Transcript (opens as PDF)

Show Notes

3:30 A Different Hunger by A. Sivanandan

14:30 a look back at Britan’s Black Panthers

18:30 Domination and the Arts of Resistance by James Scott

23:30 self-biography of Benjamin Zephaniah

26:30 Zephaniah on the Michael Powell Campaign

29:00Rong Radio” by Zephaniah music video

41:15Obamanation” by Lowkey

44:30 a brief introduction to Cecil Rajendra

About the Guest

Mohan Ambikaipaker is Associate Professor in the Department of Communication, Tulane University, specializing in critical race theory and decolonial/postcolonial studies. He is also an affiliate member of the Department of Anthropology, Africana Studies, Asian Studies and Latin American Studies. He was formerly Assistant Dean of Admissions at Swarthmore College and maintains an active research interest in narrative inquiry, critical university studies and questions of racism in high education. He is the author of the ethnography Political Blackness in Multiracial Britain (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018), an examination of the lived experiences of African Caribbean and South Asian communities confronting racial violence and policing violence in London. He has also published extensively in discipline-leading journals such as Communication, Culture and CritiquePostcolonial StudiesEthnic and Racial Studies and the Journal for Intercultural Studies. He co-authored the public policy report, What’s New About New Immigrants in 21st Century Britain? while he was a visiting research fellow at the Runnymede Trust, a race-relations think-tank in Britain. His expertise has resulted in international media appearances and he has been a featured speaker in the Emmy-nominated PBS show, Blackademics and the Asian current affairs show Consider This. Ambikaipaker’s research and teaching is comprised of three strands (U.K., U.S. and Malaysia) and engages comparative research in theorizing connections between liberal-democratic political systems and the reproduction of racial regimes. Tulane University’s undergraduate student government awarded him the John Stibbs Award for Outstanding Faculty Member in 2017.