by Aimee Mepham, WFU Humanities Institute Program Coordinator
As colleges and universities nationwide address racial bias and other serious concerns impacting campuses, the teach-in focused on the ways in which scholarly writing and critical reflection help communities understand where they are, how they got there, and how to take steps toward real change.
Each session focused on a topic and included a short reading that the faculty member selected for students to read prior to the discussion. The evening concluded with a reception at the Charlotte & Philip Hanes Gallery where students and faculty were able to view the exhibit, “Freedom Now! Forgotten Photographs of the Civil Rights Struggle.”
The response to the Teach-In was overwhelmingly positive. Mary Foskett, Humanities Institute Director and Kahle Professor of Religion, said, “The Teach-In was aimed at providing students eager to engage faculty outside the classroom the opportunity to enter into academic discourse on race and racial formation in a setting and on a scale that allowed for thoughtful exchange and interaction. Our faculty, who are so deeply invested in our students, were equally eager to lead the sessions. It has been really wonderful to see how meaningful the Teach-In was for students and faculty alike.”
In the comments the Humanities Institute collected through a post-session questionnaire, students said they appreciated the format of the sessions and stated that the experience made them want to read more and engage in further discussion. Many students indicated that they would like to see the Institute hold another teach-in and also expressed enthusiasm in participating in possible faculty-student reading groups that would continue to address issues of race and community.
Teach-In Faculty and Topics
Sally Barbour (Romance Languages; Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies)
Reading: Minnie Bruce Pratt, “Identity: Skin, Blood, Heart” from Yours in Struggle: Three Feminist Perspectives on Anti-Semitism and Racism.
I read this article as a grad TA in a (then-called) Women’s Studies course when it came out, and as a white woman who grew up in the south, I especially appreciated the way it addressed white privilege. As I have taught it over the years, students continue to find it helpful as a way to think about how our individual identity is wrapped up in (sometimes various) group identity.
Steve Boyd (Religion) and Muhammad Siddiqui (WF Presidential Fellow ’14)
Reading: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Letter From Birmingham Jail.”
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., having been arrested in 1963 for demonstrating to end discrimination in public accommodations responds to eight clergy who criticized him for outside agitation, creating unnecessary tension, impatience, and disturbing the peace. Dr. King addresses perennial obstacles to the establishment of equitable social, political, economic and cultural policies: the fictitious belief that equality inevitably comes in time, without a struggle; there was not already tension between African Americans and Whites; hierarchical social arrangements, while experienced as orderly by dominant groups can hardly be called just; and the invisibility to Whites of systemic violence towards African Americans.
Jonathan Cardi (Law)
Reading: Jerry Kang, “Trojan Horses of Race.”
Jerry Kang’s article, “Trojan Horses of Race,” will introduce you to the fascinating and disturbing world of implicit, or unconscious, racial bias. Why do police–often good, reportedly “unbiased” people–so frequently shoot black males? Why do people with stereotypically African-American names get fewer job interviews? Why is it so hard for a person of darker skin tone to get a cab in New York or rent an apartment in DC–even when the owner is also of similar ethnicity? Kang’s article gives us a glimpse into a new body of psycho-sociological research that helps answer these questions. Before reading the article, please go to https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit. Click “Demonstration,” follow the instructions, then navigate to “Race IAT.” Take the test. (You will not be asked to reveal your results during the class discussion!)
Paul Escott (History)
Reading: Alexander H. Stephens, “Cornerstone Speech” and an excerpt from an Abraham Lincoln/Stephen Douglas debate.
I’ve chosen these documents because they can give us deep insight into the importance of race — not just slavery — in the Civil War era. William Faulkner said that the past isn’t dead — it isn’t even past. These documents are powerful reminders to us of how deep-rooted and widespread racism was in 19th-century America.
Michele Gillespie (History)
Reading: Vivian M. May, “Anna Julia Cooper: Black Feminist Scholar, Educator, and Activist” and Anna Julia Cooper, “Discussion of the Same Subject.”
Anna Julia Cooper (1858-1964), a self-described “ black woman of the South,” dedicated her life to the pursuit of social justice. She was deeply committed to articulating and especially to critiquing hierarchical and exclusionary practices, especially in respect to race and gender. Her ideas continue to resonate in contemporary debates about race relations, feminism, and rights, both in domestic and international contexts. Too few people know the full complexity of Cooper’s ideas even as Wake Forest is the new home of Professor Melissa Harris-Perry’s Anna Julia Cooper Center on Race, gender and Politics in the South. I want to use the attached Cooper speech and an essay that examines Cooper’s life and thoughts by noted Cooper scholar Vivien May to introduce this powerful and important historical figure to Wake Forest students.
Melissa Harris-Perry (Politics & International Affairs)
Reading: Kimberle Crenshaw, “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics and Violence Against Women of Color.”
This is the foundational article that articulated the academic concept of intersectionality, which insists that race, gender, class, sexual orientation, and other core political identities intersect to create forms of oppression and domination that are invisible if identities are considered only one at a time. This piece will prompt discussion about complex analyses of problems and coalition based strategies for action.
Derek Hicks (Divinity School)
Reading: Derek Hicks, “The Debasement Campaign” from Reclaiming Spirit in the Black Faith Tradition.
This chapter considers the issue of racial formation during the antebellum period and slavery in this country. Notably, it considers the ways black bodies were paradoxically framed as detestable and “esteem worthy” as sources of profit. We will discuss the significance of this dually constructed racial identity and what it means for our contemporary understanding of racial experience in America.
Lisa Kiang (Psychology)
Reading: Peggy McIntosh, “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.”
Racism (and other “-isms”) infiltrate many aspects of our daily lives–in ways that many people in “privileged” positions often take for granted. This reading on “privilege” addresses these aspects and poignantly illustrates the deep, systemic nature of racism.
Bill Leonard (Divinity School)
Reading: Fannie Lou Hamer, “We’re On Our Way: Speech Before a Mass Meeting Held in Indianola, Mississippi, September 1964.”
David Levy (Music)
Reading: Richard Wagner, Das Rheingold, Scene One.
For many years I have taught a FYS at Wake Forest on Richard Wagner’s epic operatic cycle, The Ring of the Nibelung. The composer, who wrote not only the music, but the text for these operas, touches on several issues, including those of power vs. love, economics, class structure, and racism. The opening scene from the first opera (Wagner called it a “Preliminary Evening”) sets in motion many of the events that deal with race and community, and form a touchstone for discussion of these important issues.
Grant McAllister (German & Russian)
Reading: Franz Fühmann, “Das Judenauto” (“The Yellow Car with the Star”) and Song: Fishbone, “Slow Bus Movin’”
Franz Fühmann’s short story “The Car with the Yellow Star” is a poignant story about the way children inherit stereotypes, hate, and prejudice toward minorities from parents and other adult role models and how these stereotypes in turn function as a means to justify condemning and blaming these minorities for any conceivable wrong that befalls the community.
Fishbone’s “Slow Bus Movin’” uses the metaphor of a bus to confront America’s ongoing racial problems. The image of the bus has particularly important connotations in the American collective consciousness regarding race. From Rosa Parks, the Birmingham Bus Boycotts, the Freedom Riders, and the forced bussing in the 70s and 80s. The message of the song is that racial equality is a figurative bus moving far too slowly. Moreover, it is driven by “white overlords” purposefully taking the bus on detours away from any sense of racial comity.
Ron Neal (Religion)
Reading: Ta-Nehisi Coates, “The Case for Reparations” from The Atlantic, June 2014.
I chose this article because it succinctly captures the legacies and slavery and Jim Crow and their ongoing role in American life. This article deals with the living connections between the past and the present, and from a pedagogical standpoint, I see this as the most fruitful way of engaging students on the issue of race.
Wendy Parker (Law)
Reading: Brown v. Board of Education from Equal Educational Opportunity.
Students will read the Supreme Court’s opinion outlawing school segregation, Brown v. Board of Education, to prepare for an in-class debate on a hypothetical lawsuit, Brown v. United States, which contends that the United States has failed to fulfill the promise of Brown. The class will specifically examine whether school integration is a worthwhile goal today, considering both the benefits and risks of racial integration in schools.
Tanisha Ramachandran (Religion)
Reading: Andrea Smith, “Heteropatriarachy and the Three Pillars of White Supremacy: Rethinking Women of Color Organizing” from Color of Violence: the Incite! Anthology.
This article presents a comparative analysis of three different systems of racism prevalent in the United States and their underlying logics (slavery/capitalism; colonization/genocide; Orientalism/war). The analysis seeks to shed light on reasons for some of the tensions in feminist anti-racist coalitions. It also shows how differently racialised and colonized people are implicated in each other’s oppression.
Erica Still (English)
Reading: Randall Kenan, “The Foundations of the Earth” from Let the Dead Bury Their Dead.
A story about missed opportunities and risks taken, “The Foundations of the Earth” raises questions about the possibilities, and difficulties, of learning to see those we love as they truly are. Randall Kenan engages with issues of identity, faith, love, and change in a way that invites deep respect and provokes honest conversation.