Interview with Kia Caldwell
Dr. Kia Lilly Caldwell received her A.B. in Spanish Literature and Civilization from Princeton University. She completed her M.A. in Latin American Studies and Ph.D. in Social Anthropology, with a specialization in African Diaspora Studies, at the University of Texas at Austin. Dr. Caldwell is an associate professor of African, African-American, and Diaspora Studies and adjunct associate professor of anthropology at UNC-Chapel Hill. She is the co-director of the African Diaspora Fellows Program, which provides professional development to middle and high school teachers in North Carolina. She is also the Director of Faculty Diversity Initiatives in the College of Arts and Sciences at UNC. Her research and teaching focus on race, gender, health policy, HIV/AIDS, and human rights in Brazil and the U.S. Dr. Caldwell has received fellowships from the Ford Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation, Mellon Foundation, and the American Psychological Association. Her book, Negras in Brazil: Re-envisioning Black Women, Citizenship, and the Politics of Identity, was published by Rutgers University Press. She is also the co-editor of Gendered Citizenships: Transnational Perspectives on Knowledge Production, Political Activism, and Culture. Her new book Health Equity in Brazil: Intersections of Gender, Race, and Policy will be published by the University of Illinois Press in June 2017. Dr. Caldwell is also the co-editor, with Dr. Sonia Alvarez, of a recent two-part special issue of the journal Meridians focusing on Afro-descendant Feminisms in the Americas.
Dr. Caldwell will be one of our featured speakers during the keynote panel at the 2017 Feminist Geography Conference.
How did you come to feminist research?
I started doing research on Afro-Brazilian women’s experiences as a master’s student in Latin American Studies at the University of Texas at Austin in the early 1990s. I first learned about Afro-Brazilian women’s organizations while I was an undergraduate (during my sophomore year) and that experience set me on the professional path that I have followed since graduate school. Since there was very little research on Afro-Brazilian women when I was a graduate student, it was challenging to do work in this area. Because of this, my research was very interdisciplinary and also benefited from the ethnographic fieldwork I conducted for my dissertation. This research was later published in my book, Negras in Brazil.
What was last article or book you read that got you excited?
I recently read Chimamanda Adichie’s book, Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions. I appreciated Adichie’s approach to feminism, which she makes very accessible and practical. It was also refreshing to read a non-academic book that I could draw upon in my teaching. My students found Adichie’s discussion of the pressure for women to be likable, both in this book and her other writings, to be very useful.
How does feminism change the questions you ask?
I think it is important for feminism to become part of the types of questions we ask in our everyday lives, not just in our academic work. This can change how we think about the world, as well as about gender and ways to make the various contexts in which we live more fair and just. I’ve increasingly moved from defining feminism is not just a belief, but also a practice that we should try to incorporate into our lives on a daily basis.
Was feminism an important part of your graduate studies or dissertation?
There were not many feminist studies courses offered in my graduate program, however feminist theory and methodology were an important part of my dissertation research. Since very little research had been done on Afro-Brazilian women up until that point, I relied heavily on the writings and political practice of black Brazilian feminists, as well as the work of black feminists and women of color from the U.S. and Great Britain.
What recent trends or work in feminist scholarship do you find exciting?
There is a growing number of Afro-Latin American feminist scholars, especially from countries such as Brazil and Colombia. This has been encouraging to see, particularly since the number of Afro-Latin Americans in universities in the region historically has been very low. Political scientist Sonia Alvarez and I recently co-edited a two-part special issue of the journal Meridians on African-descendant Feminisms in the Americas. This special issue reflects the growth in Afro-Latin American feminist activism and scholarship and seeks to address the paucity of English-language publications in this important area.