The first keynote of the 2022 CERN LIVIANA conference was delivered by Dr Priscilla Ferreira, Assistant Professor of Geography and Latinx and Caribbean Studies at Rutgers University, who explored the lived tactics of Black survival especially by Black women who are experimenting with life-affirming initiatives even in the face of deadly violence.
Ferreira’s presentation “Economic Marronage: Black Solidarity Economies” is now available online through the CEI YouTube channel.
In her presentation, Ferreira highlights centuries-old traditions of radical Black activism, ranging from the Underground Railway in North America to the Quilombos settlements of Brazil, that incorporate “not just the refusal of subjugation and control but also the fierce and imaginative work of organising life-building and life-affirming livelihoods and institutions.”
She adds “Such initiatives form part of the plethora of daily practices of self-determination that sustain life and protect Black communities, and these initiatives range from supporting the ill and infirmed to caring for orphaned children, sheltering migrants, paying for funerals, bailing out incarcerated young people, sustaining farming and fishing in the face of land dispossession, cooperative economic initiatives, land occupations, religious sisterhoods and brotherhoods, mutual aid funds and study groups.”
“All these are examples of economic initiatives to sustain life and protect Black communities against anti-Black gratuitous violence and the general dishonour of enslavement, segregation, domestic terror, mass incarceration and sabotage.”
For Ferreira it is crucial to recognise both the history of Black pain that resulted from the violence of colonisation and slavery and the history of Black resistance and self-determination.
Both these histories are ever-present in her activist research in the favela Cidade de Deus (City of God) in Rio de Janeiro where Black women encounter an almost daily occupation of the favela by heavily armed military troops while developing intensely creative forms of contemporary economic marronage that involve diverse economic practices.
Ferreira explains that in these settings, women are exercising ‘collective courage’ (to borrow the phrase of Jessica Gordon Nembhard) as they work together to build initiatives such as a community centre that offers childcare in the favela while everyday supporting each other as they strive to nurture and educate their children against the backdrop of the military presence and an absence of state support for education, health and other social and economic services.
In an update in February 2023, Ferreira reports that the mothers' childcare centre has just got their first ever website up and running (in Portuguese) and they are excited to share the website with others.
In reflecting on the community economies framework and it's role in her activist research with women in Cidade de Deus, Ferreira explains that the framework helped to bring into focus “how we had been talking about a life and socialities that existed underneath the presence of white supremacy, and that this world was vibrant and present with its own scope and scale, its own tactics, its own practices of knowledge-building and community-building, and its own forms of relationality.”
“For me, this framework highlighted that the organising we had been doing was also about exercising economic agency—we’re not just political organisers we’re also economic agents, we’re producers of knowledge, and we have Black community economies. It’s not just about what’s not there.”
“When we share even the word community economies, women identify with it very quickly. In Rio de Janeiro and other metropolises in Brazil, the favelas are also called communities, so in urban vocabulary when someone says they are from a community this often means they are from a favela. So when we talk about community economies we’re talking about favela economies, and it’s an identity as economic agents that women embrace wholeheartedly.”
Photo: CECFA, Centro Educacional Criança Futuro e Adolescência, from favela City of God (https://cecfacdd.org/).