Please Welcome the 2019-2020 Visiting Faculty in the Feminist and Gender Studies Program!

While we are 96.2% sure you will hardly be able to even get out of bed while Professor Heidi R. Lewis is on sabbatical this spring—haha—we hope you’re as excited as we are about the super baaaaad Black women professors teaching hers and other courses this year!

 

 

 

 

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During Block 3, we welcome Peggy Piesche, a literary and Cultural Studies scholar whose work is centered in Black European Studies. Born and raised in the German Democratic Republic (GDR) or East Germany, Piesche studied in East and West Germany and Russia. She has taught at the University at Utrecht in the Netherlands and held visiting positions for at Vassar College and Hamilton College.

During Block 3, Professor Piesche will be teaching FG309/RM309 Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack: Critical Whiteness Studies, which teaches students how to conduct transdisciplinary studies of whiteness as a political racialized category with theoretical and material implications for identity and subjectivity formation, and micro and macro-level interactions between and among people and institutions. Students also examine the relationship between whiteness and gender, sexuality, class, nation, and other social, cultural, and political markers, especially considering the historical and contemporary origins and manifestations of, as well as resistance to, white supremacy and privilege.

 

 

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During Block 4, we welcome Kadari Taylor-Watson, a fashionista, Black image enthusiast, and Ph.D. student in American Studies at Purdue University, the program from which Professor Lewis also earned her Ph.D. in 2011.

During Block 4, Professor Taylor-Watson will be teaching FG312/RM312 Black Feminist Theory, which examines some Black feminist and womanist theories developed within and outside the academy, with a particular focus on the ways race, gender, class, and other social, cultural, and political markers are interconnected and the ways Black communities are particularly oppressed systemically and systematically, Black women’s relationships with Black men, motherhood, Black queer communities, work inside and outside of the home, religion and spirituality, and other concerns.

 

 

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During Block 7, we welcome Dr. Takiyah Nur Amin, a dance scholar, educator and consultant. Her research focuses on 20th century American concert dance, African diaspora dance performance/aesthetics and pedagogical issues in dance studies. Dr. Amin’s visit is particularly special, because she served as a Riley Scholar-in-Residence in the Theatre & Dance Department during the 2010-2011 academic year when Professor Lewis was also serving as a Riley Scholar in  Feminist & Gender Studies. Further, during the entire Spring 2020 semester, Dr. Amin will be working alongside Dean Edmonds as the Diversity and Inclusion Fellow-in-Residence.

During Block 7, Dr. Amin will be teaching FG206 Black Women in Contemporary Performance, which considers the ways Black women have operationalized performance as a site for cultural criticism and social commentary. Centering the work of artists including Josephine Baker, Katherine Dunham and others, students will investigate how the use of dance, music, song, costume and other performance elements are leveraged to both stabilize and interrupt audience assumptions about the possibilities of performance beyond entertainment or the stimulation of pleasure. The course will consider how notions of race, gender and sexuality are repeated as consistent performative acts and how these categories are crafted and expressed through the artistic choices of select Black women performers working across theatrical genres from the 1920s to the present.

 

Emmett Till, White Subjectivity, and Immortal Controlling Images

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By Spencer Spotts

In August of 1955, fourteen-year-old black teenager Emmett Till had been visiting family in Mississippi when Till was accused by two white men, J.W. Milam and Roy Bryant, of whistling at Bryant’s white wife, Carolyn Bryant, at a local store. A few days later, Till was abducted by Milam and Bryant, brutally murdered, and then disposed into a river. In court, Carolyn had elaborated that Till had made “verbal and physical advances towards her.” Even with sufficient evidence against Milam and Bryant, they were still found not guilty. However, more than sixty years later, Vanity Fair reports that a new book by Timothy Tyson includes a 2007 interview with Carolyn in which she admits to lying about Till’s verbal and physical advances. While the case of Emmett Till has been analyzed for decades by critical race scholars, there is obviously a temptation to re-interpret and re-analyze the Till case now. However, I advocate that we carefully engage in our “new” analyses, because if theories from critical white studies are applied, we can understand the case of Till – including the recent explicit claim of guilt by Carolyn – as anything but “new” or “shocking.”

Evoking the work of Patricia Hill Collins, the initial case of Till’s death relied heavily upon a history of controlling images about black men, and in particular, their sexuality – especially in relation to white women. Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic explain that early images of black male slaves depicted black men as “never overtly sexual” and that any “potential to be a sexual and economic competitor was minimized by portraying him as an object of laughter” through the use of blackface (171). However, Delgado and Stefancic later note that during the Reconstruction period, “sexuality denied to uncles and mammies found a crude outlet in a new stereotype of the recently freed male Negro as brutish and bestial…ready to force sex on any white women” (171). This new controlling image was originally used by white supremacists (be it white jurors or the KKK) during this time period to justify any violence enacted upon black men. It continued to inform how white people conceptualized themselves through blackness, and through an Other that plagued white American subjectivity and law even fifty years later, when Till was murdered.

Furthermore, Till’s death and court case effectively functioned to uphold Carolyn’s whiteness. Even Tyson, the author of the new book The Blood of Emmett Till, writes that the case “went a long way toward ruining her life.” Regardless of what has been theorized prior to the 2007 interview, Carolyn has now openly admitted to her role in the murder of Till, and yet her innocence is still protected and prioritized. Thomas Ross writes in “Innocence and Affirmative Action” that “the ‘innocent white victim’ triggers at some level its rhetorically natural opposite, the ‘defiled black taker’” (28). Ross argues that the existence of whiteness and its innocence relies on blackness and “the unconscious racist belief that the black person is not innocent in a sexual sense” (31). If we apply the history of controlling images about black men’s sexuality as noted by Delgado and Stefancic, the deconstruction of innocence rhetoric by Ross, Carolyn’s comments, and more importantly, Tyson’s writing of Carolyn, we should not be surprised but instead further warned about the power, strength, and seeming immortality of controlling images and their formative roles in the construction of white subjectivity.

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The Monthly Rag: Block 5 2017

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