What is it like to be a black criminal lawyer in a white supremacist racist colonial system? How can one exercise a decolonial critique of this system knowing that fair treatment is not be found within its bounds? Further, what does it mean to practice law at all when this system is the predominant incriminating agent of non-white people, chief pretender to be the unquestioned dispenser of justice, and historically sanctions the violence of ‘law enforcement’ all at once? Helping us think through these questions is Kevin Bismark Cobham who is a Cambridge educated criminal defence lawyer who also defines himself as a movement lawyer, Pan-Africanist and community activist based in London. We also discuss a notion of ‘political blackness’ which is peculiar to the UK and look at its origins, goals and limitations in the context of a global understanding of blackness as formed by the violence of modernity, ‘the bowels of the slave ship’, and ‘the furnace of the plantation’.
This impromptu chat was recorded on the day after Stuart Hall’s passing on Tuesday the 11th of February amidst a flurry of obituaries on the influential and much celebrated postcolonial scholar, media theorist and public intellectual. Daniel and I had planned to catch up on things over the previous weekend and so when the sad news reached us on the Monday of the 10th we were still working through the loss and what Hall had meant in our respective lives; Daniel as a Black British cultural historian who excelled as an academic in the wake of the period marked by Hall’s contributions to the western academic landscape, not least of which was the short-lived Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies at Birmingham University directed by Hall from 1968 to1979 serving as an important intellectual guidepost; and I, as a refugee several times removed from any notion of a ‘home’ and for whom the terms transnationalism, diaspora, routes and roots have exceeded their significance as merely descriptive terms of the fugee experience and taken on existential qualities.
So this largely unstructured chat on the many legacies of Hall follows as a meditation on how his words have enabled us as individuals to broaden our ethical and political thinking in a rapidly changing world. I for one have profited immensely from his theoretical interventions to help me make sense of such loaded terms as ‘globalism’, or ‘globalisation’, or the ‘global local’, not to mention his acute critique of the neoliberal logic that would come to inform mainstream politics of the last four decades. Having been introduced to his work under Daniel’s tutelage in his Media and Cultural Studies lectures when he was based at the Wilberforce Institute for the study of Slavery and Emancipation in the University of Hull this chat will also roughly cover some of Hall’s intellectual contributions with regards to media’s role in society, anti-racist rhetoric, and the institutionalisation of cultural studies, a subject of study he helped inaugurate in the 19060s.