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“Death Beyond Disavowal: The Impossible Politics of Difference” with Grace Kyungwon Hong

October 12, 2016

by Leah Werier, Art History, PhD ’18 and 2016-2017 Graduate Fellow

            IRWGS began the 2016-2017 academic year with a thought-provoking presentation by Grace Kyungwon Hong, Professor of Gender Studies and Asian American Studies at UCLA. Professor Hong discussed her recently published book: Death Beyond Disavowal: The Impossible Politics of Difference.

            Hong began by discussing the context of the project, which she describes as the “ubiquity of death”: the death of her colleague Nellie Yvonne McKay in 2006, and the death and disaster in so many places in the world, including the thousands killed in August 2014 in the Israel-Gaza conflict and, that same summer, the murder of Michael Brown by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. Against the backdrop of Black Lives Matter and the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement, Hong stressed that brutality continues and asked: What resources do we have that can help us understand and challenge racial, gendered and sexualized violence and death? Hong finds some answers in the work of women of color feminists, and the theory of “difference.”

            A key thinker for Hong is Audre Lorde, the black lesbian feminist writer. Hong referenced Lorde’s 1982 address “Learning from the 60s,” delivered at Harvard University as part of Malcom X weekend. Hong argued that Lorde’s feminism demands, “that we all take in our own complicity of power.”  Hong emphasized Lorde’s attempts to craft an alternative vision of politics that is not self-interested. Black feminism becomes a comparative method for Hong; it is a tool for critique. 

            Hong also pointed to the important ways in which “difference” is utilized throughout the work of women of color feminists as a means of challenging the violent erasures caused by neoliberal ideologies. While neoliberalism implies a break with the past, there is no “clean break” with history, in Hong’s view. Rather, she explained, gesturing to the work of Avery Gordon, we are haunted by the phantoms, traces and residues of the past.  For Hong, the work of women of color feminists allows us to find those residues and the memories of death and precocity that neoliberal ideologies attempt to erase.