Upcoming Roundtables and Forums

Online Forum: Black Women and the Politics of Respectability
*In collaboration with SOULS: A Critical Journal of Black Politics, Culture, and Society
April 24-28, 2017
Two African American women, half-length portrait, facing each other (Daniel Murray Collection, Library of Congress).

Cultural representations crafted by African Americans have often borne the special burden of “uplifting the race.”  From antebellum print culture and early motion pictures to contemporary television and social media, images and performances of blackness are expected to conform to ideals of respectability. The politics of bourgeois respectability among African Americans are structured by class, region and color. They are profoundly gendered and focused on sexuality through tropes of chastity, self-control, and virtue. The story of respectability politics is one of community members questioning if their images are noble, articulate, polished, and intelligent enough.  In other words, do certain representations make “us” look bad in front of “them”? African American creative workers who push back against these expectations are simultaneously criticized and embraced, shunned and commodified. This week-long forum, in collaboration with SOULS, interrogates the ways in which representations of African American women can be silenced–or resisted–through moral contestation and conformity in mass culture.

Participants: Jane Rhodes (University of Illinois at Chicago); Sara P. Díaz (Gonzaga University); Katharina Fackler (University of Graz); Ralina Joseph (University of Washington); Julian Kevon Glover (Northwestern University)

Online Roundtable on Robyn C. Spencer’s The Revolution Has Come: Black Power, Gender, and the Black Panther Party in Oakland (Duke University Press, 2016)
*In collaboration with the Journal of Civil and Human Rights
Final Dates TBA

Participants: Quito Swan (Howard University); Mike Ezra (Sonoma State University); Tracy K’Meyer (University of Louisville); Ashley Farmer (Boston University); Ibram X. Kendi (University of Florida); and Garrett Felber (University of Michigan)

About the Book:

In The Revolution Has Come Robyn C. Spencer traces the Black Panther Party’s organizational evolution in Oakland, California, where hundreds of young people came to political awareness and journeyed to adulthood as members. Challenging the belief that the Panthers were a projection of the leadership, Spencer draws on interviews with rank-and-file members, FBI files, and archival materials to examine the impact the organization’s internal politics and COINTELPRO’s political repression had on its evolution and dissolution. She shows how the Panthers’ members interpreted, implemented, and influenced party ideology and programs; initiated dialogues about gender politics; highlighted ambiguities in the Panthers’ armed stance; and criticized organizational priorities. Spencer also centers gender politics and the experiences of women and their contributions to the Panthers and the Black Power movement as a whole. Providing a panoramic view of the party’s organization over its sixteen-year history, The Revolution Has Come shows how the Black Panthers embodied Black Power through the party’s international activism, interracial alliances, commitment to address state violence, and desire to foster self-determination in Oakland’s black communities.

 Gerald Horne’s Black Radical History

*An online forum exploring the myriad ways Gerald Horne’s work has advanced the fields of African American History and African Diaspora History.

Final Dates TBA

ParticipantsYuichiro Onishi (University of Minnesota); Jessica Marie Johnson (Johns Hopkins University); Brandon Byrd (Vanderbilt University); Charisse Burden-Stelly (University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign); Phillip Luke Sinitiere(College of Biblical Studies)

*Featuring a response by Gerald Horne (University of Houston)

Online Roundtable on Devyn Spence Benson’s Antiracism in Cuba: The Unfinished Revolution (University of North Carolina Press,2016)
Final Dates TBA

Moderator: Greg Childs(Brandeis University)

Participants: Matt Childs (University of South Carolina); Melina Pappademos (University of Connecticut Storrs); Aisha Finch (UCLA); Ibram X. Kendi (University of Florida); Sandy Placido (Harvard University)

About the book

Analyzing the ideology and rhetoric around race in Cuba and south Florida during the early years of the Cuban revolution, Devyn Spence Benson argues that ideas, stereotypes, and discriminatory practices relating to racial difference persisted despite major efforts by the Cuban state to generate social equality. Drawing on Cuban and U.S. archival materials and face-to-face interviews, Benson examines 1960s government programs and campaigns against discrimination, showing how such programs frequently negated their efforts by reproducing racist images and idioms in revolutionary propaganda, cartoons, and school materials.

Building on nineteenth-century discourses that imagined Cuba as a raceless space, revolutionary leaders embraced a narrow definition of blackness, often seeming to suggest that Afro-Cubans had to discard their blackness to join the revolution. This was and remains a false dichotomy for many Cubans of color, Benson demonstrates. While some Afro-Cubans agreed with the revolution’s sentiments about racial transcendence–“not blacks, not whites, only Cubans”–others found ways to use state rhetoric to demand additional reforms. Still others, finding a revolution that disavowed blackness unsettling and paternalistic, fought to insert black history and African culture into revolutionary nationalisms. Despite such efforts by Afro-Cubans and radical government-sponsored integration programs, racism has persisted throughout the revolution in subtle but lasting ways.

Online Roundtable on Judith Weisenfeld’s New World A-Coming: Black Religion and Racial Identity during the Great Migration (New York University Press, 2017)
*In collaboration with the Journal of Africana Religions*
Final Dates TBA

Moderator: Rhon Manigault-Bryant (Williams College)

Participants: Clarence Hardy, III (Yale University); Danielle Sigler (University of Texas at Austin); Anthea Butler (University of Pennsylvania); Emily Clark (Gonzaga University); Tisa Wenger (Yale University); Chernoh Sesay, Jr. (DePaul University)

About the book

When Joseph Nathaniel Beckles registered for the draft in the 1942,  he rejected the racial categories presented to him and persuaded the registrar to cross out the check mark she had placed next to Negro and substitute “Ethiopian Hebrew.”  “God did not make us Negroes,” declared religious leaders in black communities of the early twentieth-century urban North. They insisted that so-called Negroes are, in reality, Ethiopian Hebrews, Asiatic Muslims, or raceless children of God. Rejecting conventional American racial classification, many black southern migrants and immigrants from the Caribbean embraced these alternative visions of black history, racial identity, and collective future, thereby reshaping the black religious and racial landscape.

Focusing on the Moorish Science Temple, the Nation of Islam, Father Divine’s Peace Mission Movement, and a number of congregations of Ethiopian Hebrews, Judith Weisenfeld argues that the appeal of these groups lay not only in the new religious opportunities membership provided, but also in the novel ways they formulated a religio-racial identity. Arguing that members of these groups understood their religious and racial identities as divinely-ordained and inseparable, the book examines how this sense of self shaped their conceptions of their bodies, families, religious and social communities, space and place, and political sensibilities.

Weisenfeld draws on extensive archival research and incorporates a rich array of sources to highlight the experiences of average members. The book demonstrates that the efforts by members of these movements to contest conventional racial categorization contributed to broader discussions in black America about the nature of racial identity and the collective future of black people that still resonate today.