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Exploring gender, race, criminality, citizenship, and activism in Black refugee communities in Canada

Exploring gender, race, criminality, citizenship, and activism in Black refugee communities in Canada

Muna-Udbi Ali

Dr. Muna-Udbi Abdulkadir Ali joined the Faculty of Environment & Urban Change, specializing in the field of Black Studies in Geography and Environment, as an Assistant Professor in 2021. Prior to joining the Faculty, she had completed her Ph.D. at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE), University of Toronto. Her research interests cover diverse theoretical foci including Black studies, critical race studies, postcolonial studies, Black feminist studies, Black geographies, critical criminology, transnational feminism, queer studies, environmental justice, media studies, popular education, critical pedagogy, and public policy (specifically immigration, refugee, health, and welfare policies).

Ali’s current research and book project builds on her SSHRC-funded qualitative doctoral study of public policy and media discourses of gender, race, class, criminality, surveillance, and citizenship related to Somali communities in Canada during the 1990s and the implications of such discourses on Somali life today. Realized through a Black feminist analytic, her doctoral work engaged Canadian print-media and government archives to examine the ways power manifests in discourses, formation of knowledge, and the marginalization of Somali subjects, particularly in the construction of the racial imaginary of Canada in the 1990s. These archives continue to manifest and shape the social and material life of Somali people in Canada today. This work is inspired and grounded by her lived experience of growing up in Canada as a Somali person navigating welfare and the difficulties of Canada’s immigration system.

Ali speaking about Black refugee communities in Canada

Situating the first part of her research in the 1990s – a period of neoliberal reforms to welfare and immigration occurring during waves of Somali people entering Canada to seek asylum – Ali’s research captures a story of Canadian nationalism and neoliberalism during a particular moment in Canadian welfare history. She contextualizes how Somali people were constructed and positioned by the state, society, and media during this period, and argues that the 1990s were foundational to discourses of Islamophobia and the ‘war on terror’ in Canada today. The latter half of her research explores the implications of 1990s public policy and welfare fraud discourses on contemporary Somali life in the post-9/11 period, including the targeting of Somali people through anti-terrorism legislation, mass incarceration, surveillance and stigmatization of Somali youth and families. The recent murders of Abdurahman Hassan and Abdirahman Abdi at the hands of the Canadian nation-state and police as a result of such public discourses, typify the stakes of her research.

In addition to a monograph, Ali is working on a digital archive of Somali history in Canada based on media, government, and community documents she collected throughout her doctoral research. The end goal is to make these research and archival findings accessible to Black diasporic communities in Canada. Ali is also working on a documentary short-film and complementary article for publication with two colleagues, examining how the Canadian government enacts Muslim immigration bans similar to that of former U.S. President Donald Trump’s series of Executive Orders (13769, 13780, and Presidential Proclamation 9645, known colloquially as the Africa and Muslim Ban). The documentary short-film serves as an innovative pedagogical tool, providing an accessible, brief, and impactful avenue to discuss these issues with and for the general public.

Lastly, this summer, Ali began working with two colleagues from California State University San Marcos and University of San Diego on a project examining Somali activism in the Black Lives Matter movement in the U.S. For this project, prominent Somali activists throughout the U.S. were interviewed in order to explore Somali-American political consciousness in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd.

Outside of academia, Ali is a community worker, curriculum and policy consultant, researcher, and anti-oppression educator. She has worked in education and curriculum development in Canada, the United States, Kenya and Somalia.