Five Questions With Dr Hannah Robbins
8 February 2021
Dr Hannah Robbins tell us a little more on what we can expect from the Networks of Pride: Creativity, Queerness and Blackness event, plus she talks about what she's learnt during the lockdown and shares a song on her playlist that makes her dance...
What has been a culturally healing moment for you in these last few months?
I've been part of an organisation called the Free Black Uni and while working with the beautiful individuals involved, I focused reading books by Black radical thinkers and thinking about cultural healing and creation. As well as fighting to make education represent us and our history, there were loads of amazing moments that really touched me and reminded me that we are out and about, making noise and creating change. Example: over the summer (2020), I read a series of books by Octavia Butler (the Xenogenesis series) about how a group of humans adapt and process alien intervention on Earth. I really connected with one of the main characters and her mission to build and take risks to nurture her community. I got a tattoo of a panther roaring, inspired by the series, by an artist I love and a few weeks later, we discovered that someone else on the team had got another of the tattoos from the same series by the same artist thinking about Black radical traditions and power. We'd never talked about it but every time I catch a glance of the panther (called Lilith) on my forearm I think about the unspoken connections we forged and continue to use as the Free Black Uni goes through its next development phase.
What have you learned about working under lockdown?
So much! I'm neurodivergent so I have dyslexia, dyspraxia, and ADD so working without structure is more complicated for me. Most of all, I learned that I love the massive whiteboard in my office. (I miss her.) I am very visual and like to be able to draw and move things around on a blank space that I can easily change. The process of using pens and rubbing things out and crossing through things - taking deliberate time to consider what I am doing and why - helps me to understand and reflect on the different work I do. I also learned that I need a lot of lists and that the time we spend walking in corridors, waiting in line to make a cup of tea, or having a chat while holding open a door are important to my working process. I do my best thinking away from my desk.
What's the most inspiring area you work on within Black Studies?
In my own research, I work on introducing Black feminism to American musicals. I love the possibilities of reimagining the histories and stories we have been told in popular culture. Every semester, students in the music department amaze me with their new theories and ideas about the films and stage musicals they write about. When supporting the university's brilliant Black Studies PhD researchers, I am consistently amazed by the new and innovative techniques they find for documenting our lives and cultural influences. Black Studies allows us to approach topics on our own cultural terms in a way that many other "academic" spaces don't.
What's a song on your playlist that has made you dance?
"Famalay" by Skinny Fabulous. It reminds me of being at carnival in London and hanging with my dad and friends, which I haven't been able to do this year.
What can we expect from the Networks of Pride: Creativity, Queerness and Blackness event?
I hope that there will be a lot of laughing and joy. Conversations about being Black and queer are still few and far between in UK. I think it's really important to explore and celebrate how the things we are, inform the things we do and make.