African American Museum in Boston

African American Museum in Boston
The Museum of Afro-American History in Boston, Massachusetts (2014)

Monday, October 19, 2015

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Rachel Dolezal is Black

Rachel Dolezal is Black: Passing and the Social Construction of Race in U.S. Society
By Hettie V. Williams
This essay is not written to defend Rachel Dolezal’s apparent deception regarding her birth “race” (and other matters) or the issues concerning her estrangement with her family; nor is it concerned with the larger subject of cultural appropriation including Dolezal’s fetishization of blackness which is highly problematical on several levels. Rather, this essay is an abbreviated discussion on passing and the social construction of race in relation to the Dolezal incident. However deceptive her performance of race might be viewed, it can still be used to interrogate the construction of race in U.S. society.

Rachel Dolezal is black. Dolezal, now former Director of the Spokane National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (N.A.A.C.P.), has for some years proclaimed an African American identity. By attending a historically black college (Howard University), teaching courses in African American Studies, donning Afrocentric hairstyles, changing her diction, and darkening her skin, Dolezal has on multiple occasions passed as black. Perhaps she is as black as the blue-eyed blonde N.A.A.C.P. Executive Director Walter White who ran the organization from 1931 to 1955 and was considered black during the early decades of the twentieth century. Or, is she as white as our current president Barack Obama?
What does all of this mean? In contrast to Dolezal, Obama was raised primarily by his white mother and white grandparents in Hawaii. He is a man with a biracial ancestry who according to his biracial Indonesian-white sister Maya Sotero-Ng has "named himself" black despite having been raised in “white” culture for most of his life. Obama’s sister Maya identifies as "hybrid" or half white, half Asian.
Nicole Richie named herself black in season one/episode one of her web series "Candidly Nicole" just as Dolezal has chosen to name herself black. Richie was reared by two African American parents: Lionel and Brenda Richie. Riche’s biological mother is white (Karen Moss) and her biological father is of Mexican descent (percussionist Peter Michael Escovedo III). How can this be? Certainly, both Obama and Richie might be classified as biracial but both have chosen to name themselves black.
If race is a social construction, and it is, race then is about culture not biology. Further, race is an unstable social category that changes over time and space. Consider the racial categories that exist in places such as Brazil that do not exist in the United States (U.S.). Color has social meaning and real social consequences; but, there is only a human race; and, at the molecular level, everyone has trace elements of ancient African DNA as geneticist Spencer Wells has demonstrated in his human family tree project. Countless anthropologists have long agreed that Africa is the homeland of humanity. The international community, through organizations such as UNESCO, has long denounced the race concept as biology since 1951. In fact, an international contingent of social scientists signed onto the four UNESCO statements on race that were published from 1951 to 1967 that define the concept as a socio-cultural and historical phenomenon.
This is also evident in the American Anthropological Association’s (AAA) statement on race and this is further articulated in "RACE: Are We So Different?" a major initiative of the AAA that seeks to educate the public about race as a social construction. Racially, Dolezal is human. Culturally, she identifies as black. More interestingly, if we are going to cling to the myth that race is defined by biology then as one scholar has said “we are all African under the skin” including Dolezal. 
White's biography is as interesting as Dolezal’s when it comes to the question of racial passing. He was considered an “octoroon” (one who is considered one-eighth black), who came from a family of blue-eyed blondes, yet he is considered one of the most powerful black civil rights leaders of the twentieth century. Kenneth Robert Janken has argued that White often passed for self-benefit in his text entitled White: The Biography of Walter White, Mr. NAACP. This was a time when the one-drop-rule was in effect and anyone with “one drop” of black blood was considered black by law and social custom.  White also passed as a white man to record incidents of lynching in the American South.

Today, most Americans would likely categorize “Mr. N.A.A.C.P.,” as he is described by Janken, as a white man given that the one-drop-rule is now considered an anachronism. Currently, race is understood as culture by many scholars and increasingly a matter of personal self-identity though the vast majority of the lay public are still “seeing” race as biology, as the media attempts to impose a white identity upon a person who has chosen to name herself black. Let us all pass for what we think we are and kill the myth of race as biology. 

Thursday, June 18, 2015

The Black Church Will Survive

THE INDOMITABLE RESILIENCE OF THE BLACK CHURCH

By Hettie V. Williams

The Black Church has always been the center of African American life and culture. Historically, it is an institution that has provided for the spiritual, economic, and social needs of the black community. In the era of enslavement, black Christianity emerged and like a balm in Gilead sorrow songs soothed the tattered souls who survived the diabolical Middle Passage. The terror that was recently visited upon nine African Americans in a South Carolina black Church has not the power to destroy the indomitable resilience of the Black Church.

Robert “Dynamite Bob” Chambliss who was responsible for several bombings in the city of Birmingham, including the killing of four little girls in the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church on September 15, 1963, was not able to abolish the indomitable resilience of the Black Church.

The same strength that brought us through the Middle Passage will carry us through this moment. We cry, but we will survive. The same strength that brought us through Jim Crow will sustain us through this horror. The same strength that brought us through “Bombingham” will carry us through this current Civil Rights Movement that has come to be known as the #blacklivesmatter campaign.  

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Racial Microaggressions in the Classroom

Here is a link to a report released by the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign on Racial Microaggressions in the classroom: Students of Color on their Classroom experience at the University of Illinois. I wonder how students at other schools would respond in such a survey? Further, what about faculty of color? How would they respond?

Thursday, May 21, 2015

The essay Mexican-American studies are path to success by Tony Diaz, which appears in the Houston Chronicle, discusses the educational value of Mexican-American Studies as well as some of the politics surrounding this field of study.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

A new anthology, Talking Back: Voices of Color (Red Letter Press, 2015), presents an unusually diverse group of writers speaking out on issues affecting communities of color. Contributors share tales of survival, explore little-known history, and offer insightful cultural reviews.

Nellie Wong, a widely published Bay Area poet and social justice activist, is the book's editor and author of the introduction, a striking meditation on the importance of "talking back" in asserting identity and power on an individual and collective level. Like Wong, the book's contributors are involved in community organizing. Based in a number of locations, their identities include Black, Asian/Pacific American, indigenous North American and Aboriginal Australian, Latino, Palestinian, current and former prisoners, immigrants, feminists, youth, elders, LGBTQ, students, unionists, and more.

Make no mistake about it, many of the writers are out-front radicals. Their aim is to communicate and mobilize. Speaking from and to the grassroots, their offerings are readable, persuasive, free from academic jargon, and rich with personal experience. Some highlights include: Nestora Salgado, an indigenous Mexican activist and U.S. citizen, who vows to resist from the maximum security Mexican prison cell where she has been held since August 2013. Mark Cook, a political prisoner for 24 years, describes the slave-labor conditions in U.S. prisons. Black Panther leader Eddie Conway speaks out in a prison interview prior to his release in 2014. Ralph Poynter describes how his wife, human rights attorney Lynne Stewart, became a political prisoner and calls for the release of all political prisoners. Former prisoner and aboriginal leader Lex Wotton describes racism and police violence Down Under. Palestinian exile Farouk Abdel-Muhti's gives a harrowing description of being held in U.S. prisons without charges for nearly two years following 9/11.

 Talking Back: Voices of Color is available from www.RedLetterPress.org, Amazon.com, Powells.com, and other booksellers.
 # # #

Talking Back: Voices of Color Edited and with an introduction by Nellie Wong Red Letter Press, 2015 $15.00, 240 pages, paperback, 5.5" x 8.5", index
 Print version: ISBN 978-0-932323-32-3
Ebook: ISBN 978-0-932323-33-0

Media information: Online press kit: http://www.redletterpress.org/presskit.html

Review by Acquanda Stanford - http://www.redletterpress.org/Acquanda_S_review.html

For more information, to obtain a review copy or arrange an interview or reading, contact Red Letter Press. www.RedLetterPress.org • Facebook: Red Letter Press Books Red Letter Press 4710 University Way NE #100, Seattle, WA 98105 RedLetterPress@juno.com - (206)985-4621

Monday, May 11, 2015

Hip Hop Conference at UC Riverside


UC Riverside Department of Dance, Department Theatre, Film & Digital Production,

the Center for Ideas & Society, & the UC Humanities Research Institute invite proposals for:

 

Show & Prove 2016 (S&P16) Hip Hop Studies Conference:  CALL FOR PAPERS/PANELS/PERFORMANCES/WORKSHOPS


Department of Dance, UC Riverside
900 University Ave.
Riverside, CA  92507

April 8-10, 2016

Key Words:  performance, spirit

The "Show & Prove" series is dedicated to being a platform for scholars across the humanities and human sciences, Hip Hop artists and practitioners, community members, and students to interact, share work, and to collectively develop the field of Hip Hop Studies.  S&P16 is an interdisciplinary conference at which all of those who work on Hip Hop in disparate fields may speak to one another face-to-face, and help move each others' efforts forward.  Collectively we strive to better understand the nature of doing work on Hip Hop and the expanse of ways that Hip Hop speaks to the world.

The 2016 conference is focused on two key themes:  spirit and performance.  These keywords act as signposts around which we will convene.  On their own, each term speaks to a broad range of analytical possibilities.  "Spirit" entails notions of spirituality, the heart and soul of a culture, or its ideological core.  Yet there is also an easy slippage into limiting notions of essence, authenticity, and the real.  "Performance" has the obvious connotation of cultural production within Hip Hop, sometimes referred to as "the elements" (with DJing, MCing, graffiti art, and b-boying as the baseline).  Scholarship alerts us to the dimensions of "performance" that are also about performativity and the performance of everyday life-i.e. the ways that we enact identities, or that we deploy strategies of self-presentation.  "Performance" and "spirit" can also overlap in interesting ways:  e.g., people may perform reality or authenticity, both in the sense of an enactment on stage or as means of establishing one's own legitimacy.  S&P16 invites you to conjure up the possibilities of these themes.

 Some questions we might consider include:

  • What is the heart of Hip Hop?
  • How do performance and performativity converge in Hip Hop?
  • Does authenticity still matter?
  • Is resistance part of the spirit of Hip Hop?  To what end?  What does it look like in practice?
  • What does Hip Hop's spiritual expression look/sound/feel like?
  • How do we deploy heart, soul, and love for and through Hip Hop?
  • How does performance create new possibilities for being in the world?
  • Where can doing Hip Hop and thinking Hip Hop intersect?
  • Can Hip Hop teach us about our current socio-political terrain?
  • How is Hip Hop deployed for social justice?
  • What is at the "center" of Hip Hop?  Can we de-center Hip Hop?  Do we need a center?
  • How is Hip Hop as we know it challenged, critiqued, made possible, or destabilized by performances of Hip Hop?
In honor of the conference's relocation to UC Riverside's Department of Dance, we will feature performances-including theatrical pieces and dance classes.  S&P16 will also feature a special panel of undergraduate work, demonstrating the future of Hip Hop Studies.

Please submit a 300-word proposal for a paper, workshop, performance, film, or panel to Dr. Imani Kai Johnson at showandprove2016@gmail.com by August 15, 2015.  All proposals should specify space or A/V needs, and include name and contact information (please do not send CVs).  Panel proposals should include additional 200 word descriptions of papers.  Proposals for performances or films should specify the length of the piece, format, and its relation to the conference keywords.  Undergraduate paper proposals should be from current undergrads, and include a proposed faculty mentor who can serve as a guide in the process of preparing to present at a conference.  Notices indicating the acceptance of your submission will be sent by September 15, 2015.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Baltimore and the Western Media

Washington Post article on how the Western media would cover Baltimore if it happened elsewhere.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Monday, May 4, 2015

Professor No One is Reading You

This article Professor No One Is Reading You by Asit K. Biswas and Julian Kirchherr recently appeared in The Straits Times and it provides us with something to think about as academics: No one is reading us? More people will likely read this blog as opposed to a journal article or monograph written by one of the blog contributors.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Teaching Resource for Classes on Race and Ethnicity

RACE: Are We So Different? A Project of the American Anthropological Association is a very useful resource for those teaching courses on race/ethnicity.

Unique Teaching (NTH)



Unique Teaching
Dr. Walter Greason
Norristown Times Herald
10 February 2015

How do you honor the best teachers in your life? Do you name streets after them? Are there statues built to remind future citizens about their lessons? Schools and universities themselves are symbolic monuments to the teachings of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. Under this model, questions are more important than answers. The search for new knowledge is the priority. Too often, the attempt to standardize instruction and learning leads school boards and administrations away from these goals. Assessment and measurement become replacements for rote learning that dominated teaching before 1950. These approaches betray the purpose of education and dishonor every generation of students that suffers them.

Unique teaching recognizes that students are the center of every classroom. Teachers that understand and connect with their students make learning the joy it was conceived to be. It is the students’ questions that drive the most dynamic classrooms. Responsive instruction establishes the existing knowledge a classroom shares, then it organizes the learning organically in response to the values of the audience – not the instructor or the administration. In this way, past knowledge is a foundation – not a limitation – on the possibilities for growth. Start each class with questions, not answers, and encourage discussion and exploration of the reasoning underlying every subject. Help every student understand that extraordinary privilege of school and give them the tools to create projects celebrating their new knowledge.

Experience remains the best teacher. Endless lectures on the arcana of accumulated information are useless today. Process is more important than product, as Father Edmund Dobbin of Villanova University often said. The ways that teachers model their own learning processes are priceless. Demonstrate the intense focus of lab work, critical reading, or program design. Techniques like” research simulation tasks” let students learn about their own strengths and weaknesses, while also acquiring the most relevant data they need to move forward. For more than a decade, “supervised research experiences” have provided a transformational bridge into academic excellence for lifelong learners at every age. They challenge both students and instructors to maximize their intellectual efforts with sustained consistency.

Educators like Sonia Nieto, Karin Sconzert, and Vidhu Aggarwal have demonstrated a variety of strategies to energize classrooms around the world. For Nieto, attention to the structural inequalities that marginalize girls and students of color opens the door to both honesty and integrity among teachers to create inclusive excellence in education. Sconzert shows the importance of metropolitan geography in shaping the classroom experience as students and teachers must account for their cultural backgrounds in making a positive learning experience. Aggarwal is one of the leading scholars and artists using digital formats like “Specs” – an online literary journal – to raise difficult questions, leading to provocative and unexpected answers. Every community can look to these innovative models to celebrate local teachers through events each year. The teachers who reinvent their classrooms in constant response to the widest range of students deserve celebrity status. Take more time to publicly thank and honor them at their schools, in the malls, and in your homes.

Baltimore

Here is a another provocative article from Salon.com by Julia Blount concerning the recent events in Baltimore Dear White Facebook Friends: I need You to Respect What Black America is Feeling Right Now worth reading.

Friday, May 1, 2015

The Intellectual History of Intersectionality

The intellectual history of intersectionality begins with black women. The speeches of Maria W. Stewart in the 1830s to the statement by the Combahee River Collective delivered in 1977 reflect this history before the term "intersectionality" is coined by K. Crenshaw in 1989. The ideas behind this concept were fundamental to black feminism long before it became fashionable among academicians in the social sciences; and, scholars of African American intellectual history have now begun to tell this story in volumes such as Toward an Intellectual History of Black Women.

Racial Illiteracy

This article "White America's Racial Illiteracy" by Dr. Robin Diangelo (Associate Professor of Critical Multicultural and Social Justice Education) that has appeared recently on Salon.com provides an interesting look at racial illiteracy and white fragility.

African American Intellectual History Society

The African American Intellectual History Society Blog is a great resource for information related to the study of African American history and the study of African Americans in contemporary U.S. society. This initiative was founded by Dr.Chris Cameron who is currently an Assistant Professor of History at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

Race and Obama


Race and the Obama Phenomenon is a useful source on race, identity, and Barack Obama.