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Anthony Bogues on academia, activism, advancing justice

University professor, activist, former politician discusses justice, legacy of slavery

Anthony Bogues regards himself as many things: a critical intellectual, scholar, writer and curator.

Over the past 19 years, Bogues has embodied each role while holding various positions at the University: He first joined Brown’s faculty in 2000 before serving as the chair of the Department of Africana Studies from 2003 to 2009. The University most recently appointed Bogues to be the director of the Center for the Studies of Slavery and Justice in 2012.

Bogues’ appointment as the inaugural director of the CSSJ in 2012 fulfills a central goal established in the University’s 2006 report from its Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice to create a center focused on advancing research about the legacy of slavery and justice.

Despite his established career as a professor on a college campus, Bogues says that he does not view himself as an academic, due to academia’s tendency to be removed from the real world.

“Academia is a space where you can work as a critical intellectual, but you also have to follow actual protocols and disciplines of an academy, so you end up with narrow questions,” Bogues said. “I’m more preoccupied with trying to think about the world we live in, think about history and ideas and cultural expressions and think about the ways in which people of African descent have shaped the world.”

Bogues, who is a renowned scholar in Caribbean and African studies, says that he uses his work to understand how to advance racial and economic justice inside and outside of the University.

Path to the University

While growing up in Jamaica, Bogues said he found himself engrossed in literature — novels, poetry and philosophy from authors like Marcus Garvey, an activist for the Black Nationalism and Pan-Africanism movements, to W.B. Yeats, the Irish poet. This literature inspired Bogues to be an activist, he said.

Bogues “was part of a generation, like myself, that emerged from the ’60s very much concerned with questions of decolonization and equality,” said Brian Meeks, chair of the Africana Studies department. “When nobody else was reading radical literature, he had huge bookshelves full of it. He is very much concerned with how to make a difference and change things through theoretical thinking.”

Bogues’ activism began at his high school, where he worked to change the school’s history and literature curriculum to be more representative of the Caribbean and to create a more democratic school structure. Additionally, in high school, Bogues led public demonstrations against the police brutality that working-class and low-income black communities faced, he wrote in an email to The Herald.

Possessed by the desire to challenge the status quo, Bogues said he wanted to pursue a career as a writer post-high school. But being a writer was not held in high regard in Jamaica, partially due to the financial constraints associated with the career, Bogues said. So, he opted to become a radio and television journalist instead.

“From a young age, I always felt that the power of the word and being able to write about the world through words was very important,” Bogues said.

For about a decade, Bogues worked as a journalist in London before returning to Jamaica  in 1979 to work as a TV producer for the Jamaica Broadcasting Corp.

But Bogues was still set on making a change, so in the late ’80s, he became a full-time activist for the People’s National Party. This Democratic-Socialist party aimed to decrease unemployment rates and increase access to education for all people, particularly those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. In 1989, the party won a general election, and Bogues was made the chief of staff to then-Prime Minister Michael Manley.

Bogues only stayed in the position for 3 years. He decided to leave politics after a banker from the United States told him that Jamaica had “no sovereignty” as a “debtor nation.”

“At that moment I decided I needed to leave politics since I was only there to change society, and if that was not possible, then I needed to do something else in this new conjuncture of global neoliberalism,” Bogues wrote in an email to The Herald.

“I decided to go to school and study because the world was changing,” he added.

Bogues received a Ph.D. in political theory from the University of the West Indies in 1994. In 2000, he came to Brown for a summer fellowship at the John Carter Brown Library to research the Haitian Revolution. Upon presenting this research, Bogues was asked to join the University’s faculty, where he has remained for nearly two decades.

Leading the CSSJ

Since he was appointed the director of the CSSJ, Bogues has seen his work at the Center and his scholarship fuse together, driving conversation around the connections between slavery’s legacy and justice today.

“You can discuss slavery as if it is something that has historically gone and passed, and recognize it or give an apology and that’s it. Or, you can say to yourself that slavery has a legacy today that continues to structure our everyday lives,” Bogues said. “We have to ask, ‘What are the ideas in our national discourse today that have been shaped by slavery and how do we deal with them?’”

Thus far, Bogues has witnessed his work at the CSSJ impact a number of institutions. At Brown, Bogues has worked with other departments, like the classics department, to create workshops about the history of the Transatlantic slave trade. Bogues said he hopes to continue these workshops this year.

Through initiatives like the collaborative workshops, Bogues said that the CSSJ is influencing the way people think about slavery and its legacy today.

Bogues and the CSSJ have also worked with museums around the world to challenge biases in curatorial practices. For instance, Bogues said that a French museum requested his advice to ensure that an exhibit regarding the Haitian Revolution would avoid perpetuating any stereotypes of Haitian people.

Moving forward, Bogues aims to continue changing the way that Brown, Rhode Island and national communities regard slavery’s legacy today and ideas of justice.

“He is ambitiously determined to recenter Caribbean philosophy and Black radical thinking in American thinking,” said Matthew Guterl, a professor of Africana Studies and American Studies. “Much of his work has to do with creating new archives and new ways of seeing and understanding Black radical past. We are so lucky as members of the community to have him at Brown because he is such a treasure, and I am so grateful every day I can learn from him.”


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