Conversations in Black for Marginalia Review of Books: Alexander G. Weheliye

(Originally published for Marginalia Review of Books on September 1, 2015 in our Conversations in Black Series, hosted by me and Dr. Monica R. Miller. Here's a taste, but head on over to MRB for the whole interview).

MM/CD: Your scholarship is marked beautifully by a theoretical and methodological interdisciplinarity and analytical edge — thinking with discourses from diaspora studies, and from postcolonial studies to critical ethnic studies and critical theories more generally by engaging with, and forging a conversation among, a chorus of scholarly voices and sources seldom seen together in a single text. From Phonographies to Habeas Viscus, can you give us a sense of the theoretical and methodological trajectories, developments, and shifts your work has taken over the years and the importance of black feminist theories for the study of modern notions of humanity and of the human?

AGW: Thank you for the generous description of work. My training is in Black literary and cultural studies as well as critical theory, in addition to my on-going interest in popular music and social technologies. My formative encounters with Black feminism are two-fold. First, when I was a teenager I participated in the beginnings of the Black German movement, a movement initiated and led by Black women such as May Ayim and Katharina Oguntoye. And, although the movement was not framed as explicitly feminist (much in the same way as #BlackLivesMatter, by the way), it did highlight how questions of gender and sexuality need not be add-ons to think movements organized around Black Life. I doubt that I would have taken the same intellectual path without this formative exposure. Second, my mentors in graduate school were largely Black feminist writers and thinkers such as Abena Busia and Cheryl Wall, who taught me about the history of Black feminism but also exemplified the insights from Black feminist texts in their teaching and interactions with students and other faculty members.

Check out the rest of the interview here...

What's Really behind the Confederate Flag Protests?

On this year’s 4th of July holiday, many white Americans are feeling their identity encroached upon and their opinions ignored. Especially in the south, many whites feel that the recent focus on removing the confederate flag from public spaces is an attack on our heritage, our past, and our very identities. Here is the totality of what white southern identity looks like, as some would have us think:

Uncertain Humanism and the Water of Whiteness

HumanistJulyAugust15

IN 2005, one of today’s most revered American writers, David Foster Wallace (now deceased), delivered a commencement address to graduates of Kenyon College, titled “This Is Water.” The twenty-minute speech is worth a listen or read, freely available on YouTube and in Wallace’s eponymous 2009 collection, This Is Water: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life. Some of what he says in the address about liberal arts education is applicable to humanism. In particular, his words help to color a brand of humanism I refer to as “uncertain humanism,” a way of privileging human possibilities for flourishing that relies on an embrace of and appreciation for uncertainty—for not knowing, feeling anxious, insecure, and unsettled. Uncertain humanism is not just about how we approach “facts.” It involves how we approach our very identities and who we think we are.

Continue reading at The Humanist Magazine July/August 2015...

Humanism and Race Panel - American Humanist Association Conference - 2015

Here's a panel discussion on humanism and race from the American Humanist Association's annual conference, held in early May in Denver, CO. The conversation included Dr. Anthony Pinn, Dr. Monica R. Miller, Dr. Sikivu Hutchinson, and me, Dr. Christopher Driscoll. Join the ongoing conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #ahacon15

The Ten Cracka Commandments

#BlackSpring is here. #SayHerName is here. Looks like it is going to be a long, hot summer.

What’s a white person to do?

Recently, I had the pleasure to participate in the Interplay Hip Hop Symposium at Lehigh University. The event was hosted by the inimitable hip hop theatre pioneer Kashi Johnson and keynoted by brilliant lyricist and hip hop educator Asheru. I gave a lecture about white appropriation of rap. My lecture led to a discussion about how white people fit into the #BlackLivesMatter movement.

Together, we came up with these, the ten cracka commandments for 2015:

1.      #AllLivesMatter won’t matter until #BlackLivesMatter. This commandment is a litmus test and the greatest commandment.

Conversations in Black for Marginalia Review of Books: K. Merinda Simmons

(Originally published for Marginalia Review of Books on May 12, 2015 in our Conversations in Black Series, hosted by me and Dr. Monica R. Miller. Here's a taste, but head on over to MRB for the whole interview.)

K. Merinda Simmons is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Alabama. Her areas of interest include the relationship between religious expression and gender identity, Afro-Caribbean and African American Women Writers, Southern Studies, and Feminist Theory and Philosophy.

Her current research examines Afro-Caribbean and African American women’s migration narratives in the 19th and 20th centuries, giving specific focus to how travel across geographical and sociopolitical boundaries constructs notions of “gender” and “labor.” Simmons is currently at work on a book manuscript tentatively entitled The Work of Southern Womanhood: Mapping Feminine “Character” across Gender, Race, and Migration.

In this interview with Monica Miller and Christopher Driscoll, Simmons discusses the problem with post-blackness, as well as a number of issues related to discourses of authenticity and identity.

Continue reading here...

Conversations in Black for Marginalia Review of Books: Anthony B. Pinn

(Originally published for Marginalia Review of Books on February 17, 2015 in our Conversations in Black Series, hosted by me and Dr. Monica R. Miller. Here's a taste, but head on over to MRB for the whole interview.)

Dr. Anthony B. Pinn is currently Agnes Cullen Arnold Professor of Humanities and Professor of Religious Studies, and also Founding Director of The Center for Engaged Research and Collaborative Learning at Rice University in Houston, Texas. He is also Director of Research for the Institute for Humanist Studies in Washington, DC. In addition to these titles, while at Rice Prof. Pinn has developed a robust PhD program in African American Religious Studies recognized for its intellectual rigor and emphasis on professionalization.

Spanning a career of nearly 25 years, Pinn has published over thirty books, which have impacted a variety of fields and subfields within the academic study of religion and have made him one of the most prolific and influential scholars of religion of his generation. In February of 2014, Prometheus Books released Anthony B. Pinn’s Writing God’s Obituary: How a Good Methodist Became a Better AtheistAs this title notes, Pinn is also a well-known atheist, or non-theist (to use his own preferred moniker). His brand of theology doesn’t require “god” but emphasizes the ordinary as well as the extraordinary dimensions of life, and the cultural ingenuity humans muster in community, in particular the African American community.

Recently, we sat down with Professor Pinn to talk about Writing God’s Obituary (WGO).

Pinn can also be found on Twitter @anthony_pinn

Continue reading here...

Conversations in Black for Marginalia Review of Books : John L. Jackson, Jr.

(Originally published for Marginalia Review of Books on December 15, 2014 in our Conversations in Black Series, hosted by me and Dr. Monica R. Miller. Here's a taste, but head on over to MRB for the whole interview.)

MRBConversationsinblack

In the first installment in this new series, Conversations in Black, Miller and Driscoll talk to John L. Jackson, Jr. about his new book with Cora Daniels, Impolite Conversations: On Race, Politics, Sex, Money, and Religion.

Jackson is Dean of the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Policy and Practice and the Richard Perry University Professor of Communication, Africana Studies, and Anthropology in the Standing Faculty of the Annenberg School for Communication and the Standing Faculty of the School of Arts and Sciences. Before coming to Penn, Jackson taught in the Department of Cultural Anthropology at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, and spent three years as a Junior Fellow at the Harvard University Society of Fellows in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He received his B.A. in Communications (Radio, TV, Film) from Howard University in Washington D.C. and his Ph.D. in Anthropology from Columbia University in New York City. As a filmmaker, Jackson has produced a feature-length fiction film, documentaries, and film-shorts that have screened at film festivals internationally. His research has been funded by the National Science Foundation, the Ford Foundation, Harvard University’s Milton Fund, and the Lilly Endowment (during a year at the National Humanities Center in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina). He has published a number of widely celebrated books, including Harlemworld: Doing Race and Class in Contemporary Black America (University of Chicago Press, 2001), Real Black: Adventures in Racial Sincerity (University of Chicago Press, 2005), Racial Paranoia: The Unintended Consequences of Political Correctness (Basic, 2008). More recently, Thin Description: Ethnography and the African Hebrew Israelites of Jerusalem (Harvard 2013) and most recently, Impolite Conversations: On Race, Politics, Sex, Money, and Religion (Atria 2014). This most recent book also has a website with more interviews and videos.

Jackson is also on Twitter: @johnljacksonjr.

MM/CD: Impolite Conversations is an issues-driven dialogue between you and journalist Cora Daniels, both of you friends since high school. Could you tell us a bit about how the project came together, and how it took specific shape as this series of “impolite conversations?”

Continue reading here...

Hands Up!: Mountaintops and the Dawn of White Limitation

(Originally published for Marginalia Review of Books on January 19, 2015. Reprinted here in full including images that were not included in the MRB post due to permissions issues.)

The hard truth is that neither Negro nor white

has yet done enough to expect the dawn of a new day...

With these words taken from Dr. Martin Luther King’s final book Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?, King prophetically and woefully suggests that for the dawn of a day without racism, more black blood and suffering will come hand in hand with white denial, ignorance, and indifference.

I remember well a day in middle school, during gym class. We’d just arrived to gym and were swiftly told that in lieu of P.E., we’d be attending the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day assembly. Some students were happy, others were sad to miss the glorified recess that is junior high phys.ed. One white student, I’ll never forget, spoke up and said “Martin Luther King, Jr. Day ... more like James Earl Ray day.” Amid awkward laughter from students and an even more awkward silence from the gym teacher, we walked to the auditorium. As our class sat down, my childhood emotion met with intellectual curiosity and I wondered, “Were we there to celebrate King’s life or to have our minds galvanized as to exactly what happens to those who profess to climb insurmountable mountains?