Introduced: Akwugo Emejulu

September 2022

Akwugo Emejulu is an expert in political sociology and researches the intersection of ethnicity, socioeconomic background, and gender.

Emejulu Akwugo Profil

What do you work on as a Fellow of the Robert Bosch Academy?

At the Academy I want to expand and deepen my understanding of how grassroots activists — particularly women of color — practice intersectional solidarity in Berlin.Solidarity is the emotional connection and political practice that binds activists together so they can work collectively to make change. Developing and maintaining solidarity is one of the most difficult challenges activists face because of the unequal power dynamics that exist between them. I’m interested in trying to figure out whether and how it’s possible for activists to resolve these conflicts, even temporarily, to work together to make radical social change. 

Over the last 15 years, I’ve been exploring women of color’s activism in Europe. The obstacles women of color face in trying to mobilize and organize in their interests are well documented. Not only do they have to negotiate racism, xenophobia, sexism, classism, homophobia, and ableism in the wider society, but also in their activist groups. Many women of color activists experience these supposedly radical groups as deeply alienating and excluding. What we don’t know so much about are successful models of intersectional solidarity. During my time in the city, I want to map this good practice and share it with other activists across the continent to support them in their crucial work for equality and justice.   


What are the most relevant issues in your field?

I’m a political sociologist who studies social and economic inequalities and grassroots activism. Thus, there are a number of interrelated issues that directly impact my work. Firstly, even though it doesn’t attract the attention it once did, austerity measures — tax increases, cuts to public spending, the privatization and commodification of public services — are of critical importance to my work. The on-going rollback of European welfare states and the increase in precarity and insecurity are an oftentimes overlooked animating factor of women of color’s activism.

Linked to this are Europe’s border and policing politics. Illegal push backs in the Mediterranean, detention, destitution, and deportation of migrants and the over-policing of Black and Brown people on Europe’s streets are all part of a panoply of everyday violence that activists are mobilizing against. Finally, Europe’s far right has been very canny in exploiting both the economic crisis and the so-called “refugee” crisis to make remarkable gains in electoral politics and in the legitimization and cooptation of their language in mainstream discourses. Understanding how these crises intersect and interact and in turn influence women of color’s activism is what I’m most interested in examining.


How do current global crises, such as the economic crisis, the so-called “refugee” crisis, and the triumph of the far right shape the work of women-of-color activists?

Activists are confronting a multi-pronged crisis without adequate resources and support. Many activists are living in precarity, are subject to the border regime, and must negotiate their safety in the midst of far-right violence. And yet, we see activists organizing to build a different world. From mutual aid groups supporting everyday survival to abolitionists working to end the carceral state to QTPOC (queer, trans, and people of color) club nights bringing joy to the dancefloor. Even in the midst of catastrophe, we see activists building community, building deep love and connection with each other and refusing to accept the world as it is. Thinking about the emotional work activists undertake in their refusals to be isolated, silenced and disillusioned is a very powerful way of understanding women of color’s solidarity politics.


What insights for your work are you expecting to gain during your fellowship?

I’m hoping to better understand the possibilities for successful intersectional solidarity work. I want to explore how groups navigate working across race, class, gender, sexuality, disability and legal status. I also want to explore the issues that mobilize groups to action, the organizational forms of these groups, their decision-making processes and how activists deal with success and failure. I also want to understand the relationship between activists, civil society organizations and policymakers and how solidarity operates between these different actors with very different agendas and interests.


What makes Berlin and Germany relevant for your work?

Berlin has a long and inspiring history of Black feminist activism. Audre Lorde, May Ayim, Katharina Oguntoye, Ika Hügel-Marshall, and their comrades founding and working in organizations such as Initiative Schwarze Menschen in Deutschland and ADEFRA – Schwarze Frauen in Deutschland are foundational for understanding the Afro-Deutsch experience but also Black feminism in Europe more broadly. There are younger activists and newer organizations, such as Women in Exile and International Women’s Space, carrying on this legacy but also creating their own distinct history through their groundbreaking anti-borders work from which there is much to learn.

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