Patricia Hill Collins (Philadelphia, USA, 75 years old) really enjoyed the relationship with her young students at the Center for Gender Studies at the University of Cambridge, where she spent several months as a visiting professor. But it is noteworthy that this American philosopher, sociologist, and activist, knowing that it is in the streets, in projects to help the community, where consciences are changed and the struggle for greater social justice is forged, does not fully adapt to the academic elitism. British university town. It is cold and windy, even though the bright sun brings out the clearest shades of green from the trees and meadows. Hill Collins allowed himself to be photographed. Contribute eagerly to this interview. He recently received the Berggruen Prize 2023, worth one million dollars (about 920,000 euros), one of the most important prizes for thinking, awarded annually by an independent jury of people “whose ideas shape people’s self-understanding.”
Black Feminist Thought, written by Hill Collins more than thirty years ago, draws on the sources of fiction, poetry, music, and oral storytelling to describe the strength of black women under the double yoke of gender and race. Today, it is important to understand the many nuances of feminism, racism, and the conquest of freedom.
ANSWER. I don’t think it’s any closer, but I think I have a deeper understanding of what it means. Freedom is something you can only imagine. You will never achieve it completely. This is a linear question that leads you towards the goal you desire. What I do is observe everything that people do to get closer to that dream. And it’s an inspiring thing. When I talk and work with young people, I can feel how they believe in the possibilities that are before them.
Q. Your great method of analysis is intersectionality: recognizing that one perspective is not enough to answer the big questions.
A. Because the question we started to discuss, for example, is not only for black people. This is a question that refers to a wider range of people. And in that sense, part of my job also consists of criticizing current events and pointing out where changes are needed. We have leaders who fail us. That they are not leaders, but actors. Dealing with our fears. That is delaying the possibilities of more freedom, either individually, for black people or for humanity itself to live on the planet. It is up to us to learn to distinguish between people who seem convincing, but who have no commitment other than themselves, from those who are committed to causes greater than themselves.
Q. It is up to us to search for a consensus…
A. It is a question of work organization. Consider groups of people focused on issues of race, class or gender. They organize themselves from that particular perspective and from there they do their intellectual work. They often ignore other views and believe that theirs is a universal answer. I always respond to anyone who tells me that the cause of everything that happens is colonialism, or racism. Or the patriarchy. But it is not about telling these people that the perspective in which they specialize is wrong, but asking them what they can contribute to the big questions: how to achieve social justice, truth or freedom. What is the ethical heart of all these questions? How do we overcome conflict and reach consensus? The challenge lies in creating the intellectual space for those conversations to happen.
Q. What are the big questions of our time?
A. First of all, I would say hope. We intellectuals have done a great job of convincing people how horrible the world is, to the point that the youth of today are soulless. I consider myself an optimist. If not, what is the meaning of my work? I have to believe that in my work I contribute to making things better. I never imagined that today’s youth would have such a nihilistic outlook. And his biggest concern is actually the second big issue: climate change. I often work with young black people. And I remember the shock that came to me years ago at a meeting in Cincinnati, Ohio, where an activist working in neighborhood projects explained to me what the main problem in his community was that children who are 12 or 14 years old do not see a future for themselves. How can a child deny his future? There is a way to connect hope to these big issues that are not voluntary. It is about understanding that challenges like climate change require a collective effort with many actors in different areas. And often the young, or the most oppressed, show the greatest strength. We can see this in cultural phenomena like hip hop.
Q. Surprised, because you first pointed to hip hop as a vehicle that gives a false and hypersensual image of black women…
A. It started as something masculine and patriarchal, but under the umbrella of hip hop a lot of things started happening. Among others, women joined in challenging the way the art form was created. Art has always been a form of salvation for people. That is why many young women are very attracted to the world of fashion. This is interesting. That aesthetic. That’s how to claim your own body. Like what happened in hip-hop. “I will claim my body in a way that offends you, but I have the right to do that,” they tell us.
Q. And there arose a conflict with the classic feminists of the old school.
A. Well, classical feminists, ironically, are more respectful of power systems than they think. And these young women are the ones who say to them, “Didn’t you fight for our right to control our own bodies and exercise this kind of freedom? We understand that your fight is not about using our bodies to make big companies rich. But if we know what we’re doing and we know it, why can’t we? I admit that at first it was difficult for me to accept this speech. But we need to get out of our comfort zone and listen to what young people tell us about what it means to be young, about the source of power they wield, and about their power to shape a culture.