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7 Q+A: Karen Flynn

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“You have to meet Karen Flynn, she is amazing!” One of the joys of the She Said Project is hearing who YOU think are amazing women in our community. And we couldn’t agree more with your suggestions!

Dr. Flynn is an associate professor at the University of Illinois, the author of Moving Beyond Borders: A History of Black Canadian and Caribbean Women in the Diaspora, and a columnist for The Star. Follow her on Twitter at @KarenFlynnPhD.



What are you grateful for today?
I’m grateful as the saying goes, ‘to be in the land of the living.” Recently, I have seen several Facebook posts of unexpected and sudden deaths. I’m reminded of the fragility and preciousness of life, and to not “sweat the small stuff.”

Tell us about one of your friends and what you love about her.
I could never just tell anyone about one of my friends; that would be unfair. I also don’t want to get called out for excluding anyone (it’s happened before!). I will say that I have been blessed to have the most amazing and thoughtful friends. A lot of them have had difficult and painful lives but have preserved against the odds; they make me extremely proud!

Describe one of the best days of your life.
There is no one day! These days are significant because most people (self-included) believe they wouldn’t happen: completing my PhD, getting married and having a child.

What’s the best lesson you learned from your mother/grandmother?
To stand up for myself and others who are unable to, and to “treat people the way I would like to be treated.”

We’re all unique. What is your special gift?
To have difficult and uncomfortable conversations around sensitive issues with a variety of people, without making them feel “attacked,” defensive, or that I have my own agenda. My objective is not to change peoples’ minds, but to present them with information and hope they will be self-reflexive enough to recognize that inequality, for example, exists in myriad forms (sexism, racism, homophobia, xenophobia, etc.,), and have real impact on peoples’ lives.

What could women be doing to make their community a better place?
Recognize that women come from a variety of backgrounds, that is, we are not a monolithic group. To insist that we are “all women” without recognizing, for example, that I’m a Black woman with my own unique issues fractures as opposed to build community. One thing that immediately comes to mind relates to those of us raising Black boys, and the lengths we have to go to protect them. My sister tells me in no uncertain terms that she is saving to buy my nephew a car as soon as her turns 16; he’s currently 9. My nephew, she tells me, will NOT be a passenger in his friends’ cars. He can only have one passenger in his car at any given time. She will be sure to remind him to keep the music decibel at a minimum. I know that none of my white friends obsess about their children being killed or harmed by police officers for being white. I have had too many conversations with educated women who are in denial, or have no clue despite the overwhelming empirical evidence that Black boys and girls are treated differently, especially in the educational and judicial system. When I mention pipeline to prison, I often get a blank stare. If we are to make this community a better place, it means women have to come out of their comfort zone, it means wanting for my child what they would want for theirs. The community is much stronger when we work towards making sure all children are equally valued.

What would you do if you weren’t afraid?
Bungee jump from the CN Tower (Toronto, Canada)

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