Original Interview of Dr. Anne Garland Mahler in English by Vogue Japan journalist Reina Shimizu
- What is the definition of Global South? Why is it an important concept today from your point of view?
The Global South is a concept that is used in several ways. In governmental and development organizations, like the United Nations, the Global South is often used to refer to countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. However, this nation-based understanding of the Global South is an appropriation of a concept that has deeper roots in Cold War radical political thought. In academic and activist circles, the term is used in a more geographically fluid way, referring to spaces and peoples around the globe that are negatively impacted by contemporary capitalist globalization. In other words, there are economic Souths in the geographic North and Norths in the geographic South. Through this geographically fluid definition, a third meaning is attributed to the Global South where it refers to a global political community that is formed when the world’s “Souths” recognize one another and view their conditions as shared.
2. At Cambridge the Consortium for the Global South has been established. Has there been any progress in resolving the problems Global South has raised since its foundation? What are the challenges for the future?
The Global South as a political concept comes out of the history of global justice movements, and particularly a Cold War movement called the Tricontinental. The Tricontinental movement, which involved liberation struggles from eighty-two countries, often used the term “South” to refer to spaces of oppression around the globe. Importantly, the Tricontinental movement framed its critique of global capitalism through focusing on racial violence and racial inequality. We need to remember this history in order to face our current challenges. One of the biggest challenges we have today is the need to bring together struggles against global capitalist inequality, like the World Social Forum, with racial justice movements that are focused on reforming national and local governments, like the Movement for Black Lives. In other words, we need a global movement against “racial capitalism.” These days, there are exciting developments in this direction but still so much work to be done.
3. As an individual living in the North, what should and could we do?
People who find themselves in the “North,” meaning spaces of privilege regardless of geographic location, need to commit time, energy, and resources to supporting struggles for racial and economic equity. Solidarity from those of the us in the North must take forms that are tangible and practical. While it’s helpful to understand how local movements link up to similar movements around the world, I think it’s best to start locally and to think about what you enjoy and are skilled at doing. In justice work, as in life, when people do what they love and what they are good at doing, they tend have the most impact. Once you have identified potential ways that you can contribute, it’s extremely important to listen first to local organizers. Find out the goals and needs of the movement, learn as much as you can about the context, form relationships, and respect the expertise of people who have been in the movement longer and who are directly impacted by the issues being discussed. Effecting change is all about trust and relationships, and trust and relationships can be difficult in contexts of deeply entrenched and historic inequality. So, listen first before you act.
4. Can we say that the current pandemic has brought consciousness of the problems of the Global South? The vaccination programme will succeed only if all people in all parts of the world have access to it. Are you optimistic?
Crises often have a way of exacerbating already existing disparities. Within the United States, where I live, COVID-19 has had a disproportionate impact on Black and Latinx communities, both in terms of higher risk of exposure to the virus and higher rates of COVID-related unemployment. In the vaccine roll-out, we are seeing worrying trends of inequitable distribution between wealthier and white zip codes versus zip codes with higher Black and Latinx populations (for example, the “North” of Chicago’s suburbs versus the “South” of Chicago’s Southside). While I am not an expert on vaccination distribution, I think we will likely see this kind of unequal distribution around the globe.
In recent years, we have seen an expansion of solidarity movements and grassroots activism, facilitated by innovations in communications technologies. However, alongside this expansion in global solidarity politics, we have also seen an alarming trend towards ethnic nationalisms and xenophobia. Whether or not the pandemic and its exacerbated disparities will help us to have greater political consciousness remains to be seen. But we must remain optimistic and remain committed to doing our part.
5. You wrote that solidarity from those of the us in the North must take forms that are tangible and practical. This is an important point. Would you be able to give some examples? What do you do personally, or what have you seen people doing in your town or in the US? If you think of any examples related to fashion or consumer’s action, it would be ideal, but really any examples will be much appreciated.
Solidarity can take so many forms. In other words, it doesn’t always have to be marching in the streets. If you enjoy crafts, bookkeeping, design, writing, cooking, entertaining, anything really, there are ways to mobilize your talents. In Charlottesville, Virginia, where I live and work and which has been a hotbed of anti-racist activism for some time, people’s contributions have ranged from making t-shirts to creating posters to providing legal support to cooking a meal for protestors to hosting solidarity parties for activists facing legal charges. If you work at a company or a university, there may be ways to support diversity and inclusion work happening in your work space. Regarding our consumer habits, we should always educate ourselves to make our consumer habits more ethical, but beyond this, there are ways to contribute that may be meaningful to you and that may help to build community and equity where you are locally.