2024 Sojourner Truth lecturer Rokhaya Diallo explores her life and the experiences of women


Award-winning journalist, broadcast host, and filmmaker Rokhaya Diallo is George Mason University’s 2024 Sojourner Truth Lecture speaker and award recipient. Born in France to Senegalese and Indian parents, Diallo said she started to notice that fewer people looked like her as she advanced in her studies and career. This led her to explore her own identity and depict the experiences of other women of color in her work.

Sojourner Truth lecture speaker, Rokhaya Diallo. Photo by Brigitte Sombie.
Sojourner Truth lecture speaker Rokhaya Diallo. Photo by Brigitte Sombie.

Race wasn’t something Diallo was really aware of while she was growing up, she said. “The U.S. narrative is prevalent all over the world, so whenever we speak about Black [public] figures [in France], we only refer to American figures,” said Diallo. For example, she said, there are landmarks named after figures such as Martin Luther King Jr., but not many named after historic Black figures from France. 

Diallo’s lecture discussed Republican Universalism in France, and she shared clips from her documentaries demonstrating the challenges Black women in France faced expressing their multiple identities in a society that prides itself on being “colorblind.”  

“It was important to question how France displayed itself on film and TV,” she said in describing her 2020 documentary Acting While Black: Blackness on French Screens.  “[The country] tried to tackle racist sentiments in the public space but also reshape the idea that we had about the French identity,” said Diallo.  

“This was my favorite part of the lecture,” said LaNitra Berger, associate professor of history and art history and director of African and African American Studies Program. “It really highlighted the inconsistencies in French policy and culture that make it difficult for people of color to feel accepted in French society.” 

Diallo’s February 26 lecture was virtual to an in-person audience.

“We wanted to be cost effective and honor Rokhaya's busy schedule, but we also wanted the feeling of a community gathering in person to discuss an important topic,” said Berger.   

The Sojourner Truth award is given annually to a Black woman whose work embodies the principles of Sojourner Truth through art, scholarship, activism, and contributions to public life. Sojourner Truth was an outspoken advocate for abolition, civil and women's rights in the nineteenth century. Previous speakers have included Marilyn Mobley, Jennifer C. Nash, Kakenya Ntaiya, Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, and Aja Clark.  

Also in attendance at the lecture was Stephanie Rambo, an assistant professor with Mason’s English Department. Rambo was presented with the Sojourner Truth Faculty Award by Berger for her research on literary Black girlhood across the diaspora.