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.

 

White Roses, White Women: Kesha, #timesup, and Critical Race Feminism

By Nan Elpers

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At the 2018 Grammy Awards ceremony last week, American singer-songwriter Kesha honored the #timesup Twitter campaign against sexual assault in the popular music and TV industries, performing her standard “Praying.” The song debuted in July of 2017, commemorating Kesha’s years-long legal battle against Sony producer Dr. Luke who allegedly sexually abused her during the years of their contract.  I will analyze Kesha’s performance, which was accompanied by artists Cyndi Lauper, Andra Day, Camila Cabello, Bebe Rexha, and Julia Michaels. To do so I will borrow from Critical Race Feminist (CRF) analyses of essentialism and popular attitudes towards sexual abuse to suggest that the choice to have Kesha represent #timesup at the Grammys was an obvious but disappointing one given her status, race, and personal narrative about her assault and survival.

Kesha fits the mold for the type of assault victim dominant U.S. culture willingly sympathizes with. CRF notes that due to stereotypes of black women such as the Jezebel and Sapphire archetypes, women of color who have been victims of sexual abuse and suffered the psychological tolls are less believable than their white counterparts (Ammons, 261). CRF Linda Ammons describes this lack of credibility awarded to women of color by considering the use of the battered woman syndrome as a defense for victims of domestic abuse who have attacked their batterers: “[t]he ‘essentialist’ battered woman profile is a white, middle-class, passive, weak woman” (262). While Kesha’s was not a domestic abuse case and she did not attack Dr. Luke, Ammons’ assertion nonetheless informs us of the kinds of women dominant culture considers capable of being victims. Kesha’s race and class alone were safe bets that audiences would recognize her story of victimhood and healing.

In addition to her wealth and whiteness, Kesha’s display of emotion further solidified her legibility as a survivor. At the end of the performance, Kesha began to cry, and the accompanying artists rushed to embrace her as the crowd delivered a standing ovation (McCluskey). Kesha’s tears visibly represented her pain in a way the audience could comprehend and identify with. Black feminist theory purports that dominant culture responds favorably to certain expressions of pain, crying being one of the most salient (Lewis). According to CRF, the requirement of recognizable pain disadvantages Black women victims of sexual violence seeking recourse because “certain characterizations and/or cultural behavior [may] be inconsistent with the notion of dependency” (Ammons, 262) and psychological trauma associated with victimhood. Kesha’s display of emotion aligns with the weakness descriptive of Ammon’s essentialist victim.

Selecting an artist who fits the bill for the essentialist victim of sexual assault to honor #timesup is troubling because it situates her to represent all survivors inside and outside of the Music and TV industries, including women of color and poor women. CRF Adrien Wing characterizes the social implications of essentialism as this false and wide sweeping categorization as “the essential voice that actually describes the reality of many white middle- or upper-class women, while masquerading as representing all women” (7). This assumed representation was visually demonstrated on the stage, as well. Barring Cyndi Lauper, the five women cited in news coverage who sang alongside Kesha are all women of color. By foregrounding a white woman, the women of color who performed alongside here where physically and symbolically relegated to the sidelines, their voices only heard through the filter of Kesha’s words.

Because women of color are both subject to higher rates of sexual violence and able to represent a wider pool of women (“Victims of Sexual Violence: Statistics”), the Grammy Awards would have done more justice to #timesup by highlighting a woman of color artist instead of Kesha. In her seminal essay on intersectionality, CRF Kimberlé Crenshaw argues that: “the refusal to allow a multiply disadvantaged class to represent others who may be singularly disadvantaged…limits remedial relief to minor adjustments within an established hierarchy” (26). In other words, allowing women of color, who are subject to the combined and multiple forces of sexism and racism, to also represent white women, oppressed only due to their gender, is a stronger attack on both gendered and racial systemic oppression. The choice to showcase Kesha explicitly challenges only the gendered hierarchy that contributes to a culture of hushed sexual assault claims, whereas foregrounding a woman of color would attack the racial as well as the gendered inequalities that perpetuate violence against women.

In writing this essay I do not mean to ignore that the attention paid to sexual violence against women at this year’s Grammy Awards is a victory in and of itself. It should also be noted that Janelle Monáe, a black female artist outspoken in the areas of women’s civil rights, introduced Kesha’s performance with a #timesup speech. Monáe’s presence and words did bring a woman of color’s voice to the table. Similarly, the inclusion of the four highlighted women of color artists who accompanied Kesha worked to the same end. Overall, though, Kesha’s musical performance at a musical awards ceremony made her the focus of the night’s attention to #timesup, perpetuating once again the image of the white female victim of sexual abuse.

Rail Jam, WinterFest, and Whiteness: Examining CC’s Outdoor Culture

By Valerie Hanna

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Colorado College seniors Nia Abram (EV Policy major, FGS minor) and Eliza Mott (Film&Media Studies major) gave a presentation to the CC student body on Monday, February 2nd about diversity and inclusion in CC’s outdoor culture. Abram and Mott’s presentation focused on how CC can re-imagine a relationship with the outdoors and a commitment to sustainability that is truly intentional and accessible to people of color on campus. Abram spoke from her personal experience as a middle-class black woman, making clear to a mostly white audience that she could not speak on behalf of all students of color on campus. Mott spoke about her experience being a white counselor at City Kids, an outdoor summer camp, where all of her campers and many of her staff members are black.

The crux of Abram’s and Mott’s argument was that simply making outdoor activities cheaper to try and get people of color outside is problematic. While financial aid is important for students of color who are in need, Abram stated that even though she has the financial means to ski, ski culture (and other outdoor activities) don’t feel inclusive and welcoming for her. In his piece “White Racial Formation: Into the Twenty-First Century,” Charles A. Gallagher writes, “The cultural mythology that has become today’s commonsense understanding of race relations is a definition of society that is colorblind” (9). In solely providing financial aid without intentional, thoughtful questions and reflections, CC outdoor culture perpetuates an attitude of colorblindness that does not take into account the cultural differences among white students and students of color. While Outdoor Education and the ORC have recognized financial need and offer generous funding, consciousness cannot be just of class but also of race and therefore culture.

Abram and Mott are attempting to promote critical reflection among a white-dominated outdoor campus culture. In “The Transparency Phenomenon, Race-Neutral Decisionmaking, and Discriminatory Intent,” Barbara J. Flagg asks white readers: “In what situations do you describe yourself as white? Would you be likely to include white on a list of three adjectives that describe you? Do you think about your race as a factor in the way other whites treat you?” For white folks like me, we may not realize the way that our whiteness informs our relationship with the outdoors because we have the privilege of not needing to think about our whiteness in day-to-day interactions with others or with nature. However, if we truly are committed to diversity and inclusion, we as white folks must reflect on our positionality in our leadership endeavors and in the spaces we occupy.

Abram and Mott stressed the importance of involving people of color in the dialogue and planning of outdoor events. They also offered several suggestions, such as including more activities at WinterFest (like snowshoeing) as well as subsidizing the ticket and lodging costs for students who are in need of additional aid. During outdoor activities on Yampa, they suggested including a wider variety of music (not just bluegrass, but R&B, perhaps). Mott and Abram proposed that instead of Railjam only showcasing a select number of skiers and boarders, Railjam could also include other winter activities in the vicinity, such as sledding and snowshoeing which more students could partake in. In “The Transparency Phenomenon,” Flagg goes on to state: “Even whites who do not harbor any conscious or unconscious belief in the superiority of white people participate in the maintenance of white supremacy whenever we impose white norms without acknowledging their whiteness” (222).  Similarly, white students must examine the norms we’ve constructed or are complicit in upholding, often unintentionally, in the context off CC outdoor culture. Abram and Mott challenge us to imagine new possibilities of engaging with the outdoors in ways that challenge mainstream white norms of being outside. Abram stated: “It’s not that one way of engaging in the outdoors is better than others. However, there is a dominant white narrative to outdoor culture and sustainability at CC. This is what we’re trying to challenge.”

 

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.