Political Scientist Malinda S. Smith named 2018 Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation Fellow

Research project will address the virtual absence of Black women in many stories Canadians tell themselves about diversity, citizenship and belonging

Donna McKinnon - 26 June 2018

Earlier today, the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation announced its 2018 research fellowships, naming Faculty of Arts' political scientist Malinda S. Smith and Kim TallBear (Native Studies) to the distinguished roster of intellectuals in the humanities and social sciences whose "audacious and original" research projects are shaping the future of Canada and the world.

New Fellows are recognized for their productivity, their commitment to communicating their findings to the public, and their ability to devise innovative solutions to the pressing issues of the day.

For Smith, questions of diversity, equity and inclusion have been at the core of her research for more than two decades. She says that while our national narratives increasingly identify diversity as a defining feature of Canada, these stories are often incomplete at best, and in some cases, exclusionary.

"As a political science scholar, I am interested in decolonial knowledge production, and in transforming the too-fleeting appearances of Black Canadians generally, and Black women in particular, in successive national imaginaries and dominant stories we tell about ourselves in three areas - politics, law and education."

Her project, entitled, "A Seat at the Table: Engendering Black Canadian Pasts and Futures," will address the virtual absence of Black women in these national narratives.

"For me, storytelling is profoundly personal and political," says Smith. "You can think of my project as a desire to uncover and weave the missing threads in this diverse Canadian fabric, and how the visible - and indeed the invisible - threads tend to constitute Black life as a single story. My research is about unravelling this thread and weaving different stories about Black Canadian multiplicity, about the multiple meanings of being Black or becoming Black, and what this means over time and Canada's vast geographies."

Smith draws inspiration from Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, who cautions about the danger of 'a single story that tends to rest on a stereotype.'

"I agree with Adichie that stories can be used to dispossess and 'break the dignity of a people,' but they can also be used to mobilize, to inspire, uplift and 'repair that broken dignity'," she says. "My project is a contribution to this larger project of re-constituting the Canadian fabric in ways that engenders livable Black futures."

Smith will use the Trudeau Fellowship funding ($225,000 over three years) to drive her research in three interrelated directions. First, she will conduct original research on Black women pioneers, ground breakers and nextgen leaders and activists. "[This research] addresses significant gaps in Canadian diversity stories by excavating the often-hidden histories of Black women's contributions to the advancement of human rights, dignity and inclusive citizenship in Canada," she says.

Malinda Smith with Michaëlle Jean and Jennifer Kelly

The second part of the project will focus on storytelling, in particular digital storytelling, profiles, videos and podcasts that will eventually be shared on a research, teaching and learning portal, Digital Diversities Canada.

Third, she will bring together Black women in politics, law and education at a symposium, A Seat at the Table. "This collaborative roundtable on Black, women of colour and Indigenous feminists in dialogue on decolonial futures is close to my heart," she says.

The final deliverable will be a book project, Engendering Black Canadian Futures: Beyond a Single Story.

Smith's research project takes place in the context of the UN Decade for People of African Descent and "a sobering" Human Rights Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent report on Canada that she says "highlights how the legacies of colonialism, slavery and anti-Black racism have become normalized and continue to shape Black life and futures."

"We see this in the tendency to criminalize Black folk-if not Blackness itself-through racial profiling, carding and racist assumptions about Black intelligence and IQ. We see this in the ways in which doors continue to be closed or there's a glass ceiling for Black people in many institutions including in politics, judiciary and higher education. There's an urgency to disrupt these political, economic and social dynamic in order to create a world that values Black life and contributions."

When Smith received notification of the Trudeau Fellowship, she says she went through a range of emotions.

"Truth be told, I was overwhelmed. I am thrilled to have been selected for such a prestigious national award. This Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation Fellowship opens doors to dynamic and engaged community of outstanding mentors, fellows, and scholars in Canada and globally."

And, she says, "it has given me the opportunity of a lifetime to build on and advance research that has been a labour of love for the past two decades."

Dr. Smith is the recipient of numerous awards for her research, engaged scholarship and advocacy, including the International Studies Association-Canada Distinguished Scholar Award, 2018-19, the Viola Desmond Honour (2018), the University of Alberta Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Award (2018), and the Canadian Association of University Teachers' Equity Award (2015).

Read more about Dr. Smith's Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation Fellowship here.

Related: Dr. Malinda S. Smith has been named Provost Fellow from August 1, 2018 to December 31, 2019. During her term as Provost Fellow, Dr. Smith will work with Deputy Provost Dr. Wendy Rodgers and stakeholders across the University community to support development of the University's Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) Strategic Plan and companion implementation documents, identify EDI best practices for selection committees and processes, support development of an online EDI gateway for the University of Alberta, and identify EDI best practices in research, teaching, service, administration, and community engagement. Congratulations Dr. Smith!