Sharing My Life Transformation to Radical Blackness and Renegade Scholarship

Sharing My Life Transformation to Radical Blackness and Renegade Scholarship

Black History Month 2022
Date: Wednesday 26 October 2022
Time: 18:00 - 19:30
Venue: tbc
Category: Academic events, Student events, Staff workshops and seminars
Speaker: Barbara Becnel

PhD candidate, social justice activist, and author Barbara Becnel has more than 20 years of experience working for prison reform in the state of California, while writing nine award-winning non-fiction books on street gang culture, as well as over one-hundred journal, magazine, and newspaper articles.  

From leading an international media campaign aimed at preventing the judicial execution of reformed Crips gang co-founder and Nobel Peace Prize nominee Stanley Williams, to organising an ‘Occupy San Quentin’ rally attended by hundreds in front of the state prison that houses California’s death chamber, she has often shown inspiring leadership and tenacity. Recently, she was appointed to an Expert Steering Group for tackling racial harassment in Scottish education. She also participated in a Steering Group focusing on the development of anti-racist curriculum for Scotland’s universities and colleges.  

Building on her MSc in Social Justice and Community Action (With Distinction) earned from the University of Edinburgh, Barbara returned there to pursue a PhD. Her thesis explores how death row became a symbol of heroism for America’s street-gang generation. Integral to this is her collaboration with three former-though-imprisoned South Central Los Angeles gang members who are co-researchers on the project.

My professional life began as a middle-class college-educated African American at a time when it was highly unusual for a black person to have earned a college degree in the United States. This was so because many institutions of higher education did not accept black students. My mother, who was awarded a Bachelor of Arts degree in Business Administration, during the 1940s, was forced to attend Hampton Institute, an all-black Virginia-based university. Hampton Institute was founded to serve black students in America who were unwanted or simply not permitted to attend white colleges. A generation later, I was only one black person of a graduating class of about 1,100 white students at a New York-based university. During my time there, I also won a Harvard University Summer School Fellowship to study International Economics and Philosophy. These days I am nearing the end of a PhD program to be awarded from the University of Edinburgh after earning an MSc from Edinburgh a few years earlier. My doctoral topic: Culture of the Condemned: A Critique of How Death Row Became a Symbol of Symbolism for America’s Street Gang Generation.

This talk will explore the ’in between’ of my life journey, which ultimately saw me reject my middle-class upbringing of instruction by my mother, a high-school principal, to look white, to talk white, to be as white as I could be, culturally, to succeed as an African American professional in a white-dominated nation. These days, I am nearing the end of my doctoral work and, after spending nineteen years in an immersive ethnographic practice researching the black Crips and Bloods gangs that originated in Los Angeles, I have become a social justice activist. I have transformed into a very different person than what I was trained to be many years ago by my mother. That transformation process is examined in my presentation at the University of Glasgow. I will also critique why such a transformation has led to a new social-justice battleground for me: reforming the academy’s elitist traditions in knowledge production.

Refreshments will be served.


Back to Events