Harry Kiiru

Email: kiiru@wisc.edu

3rd floor, Bradley Memorial Building

I am a PhD candidate in the Department of African Cultural Studies with a minor in African American Studies. My dissertation titled “The Culturally and Racially Body in Motion: How Sub-Saharan African Immigrants Become Black in the United States,” is a study of the new African diaspora’s racialization processes of incorporation into the ethnoracial hierarchal order within the United States and how they negotiate this identity. The study begins with the 1959-63 East African Students’ Airlift which saw almost eight hundred students attend schools in the U.S. and Canada. The Airlift as a concrete historical moment allows me to construct a periodization that runs from the 1950s to the present. This period therefore embraces migration in a turbulent 1960s (Black Power and Civil Rights Movements, Jim Crowism, Cold War, African independent statehood), the post-independence economic migrations of the 1970s-2000s, and the current Black Lives Matter moment in its local and global orientations.

The key questions that my dissertation explores are: (1) By what means, or according to what terms, does the racialization process proceed for African immigrants in the United States? Put another way, how do sub-Saharan African immigrants become Black in the U.S.? (2) How do sub-Saharan African immigrants as cultural producers define and redefine themselves through migration in reconciling their ethnic and racial identities? (3) If historically, Africa in general and Africans in particular, have been engaged in a dialectical and antagonistic relationship with Euro-American epistemic traditions, which have sought to define Africans, how are members of the new diaspora challenging and redefining these identifications? Methodologically, my dissertation employs a mixed-method approach, incorporating archival research, textual and filmic analysis, and self-ethnography.

Apart from my dissertation work, I have previously served as a project assistant for the African Studies Program in the capacities of Community Engagement Coordinator for the Mandela Washington Fellowship’s Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI), planning of the flagship Africa at Noon, and the Crawford M. Young Conference. I have also been a Teaching Assistant for the Department of African Cultural Studies undergraduate courses: Introduction to African Cultural Expression and Introduction to African Literature. As a racial justice and equity practitioner, I have been serving for the past nine years in the Division of Diversity, Equity & Educational Achievement’s (DDEEA) Learning Communities for Institutional Change & Excellence (LCICE) as a Leadership Institute facilitator, a role which helps faculty, staff, students, and community members develop leadership capacities through cross-race dialogue in the creation of equitable working, teaching, and learning spaces across the university. Lastly, I am currently on the graduate student advisory board for the Graduate School’s Office of Diversity, Inclusion, and Funding and a member of the Decoloniality Dialogues Collective.