October 2009 Archives

A Message From Scott


Dear Alumni & Friends:

Welcome to the September/October 2009 edition of The Village. We heard from many of our alumni and what an impressive group! You are doing important work and we are proud of your many accomplishments.

This year we are paying special attention to the department's role in K-12 and community outreach. As we move forward, the department is continually examining ways to engage our alumni and friends. Therefore an important part of my role involves cultivating an even stronger relationship with you.

Throughout the year the department will call on you to: share with high school students how you are putting your degree to use, mentor college or high school students, or participate in upcoming events sponsored by the department. Your willingness to volunteer will provide current and future students with a fuller picture of what one does with a degree or minor in African American & African Studies.

Thank you for your support, generosity and confidence.

Ada Comstock Distinguished Women Scholar Award & Lecture

Picture2.gifCongratulations to Professor Rose Brewer. Professor Brewer received the Ada Comstock Distinguished Women Scholar Award and Lecture. She becomes the first women of color to receive this honor.

This prestigious award/lecture has been established to acknowledge and honor the scholarly accomplishments and leadership of distinguished women faculty at the University of Minnesota and to offer a forum for these scholars to share their insights and ideas with a campus and community audience.

Professor Brewer will deliver her lecture and receive the prestigious award on November 5, 2009. View a list of previous award recipients.

The Burning Question: You Have the Answer

Our goal in the Department of African American & African Studies is to prepare students to succeed in a wide range of professions. As an alumnus you know once you graduate with a degree in AA&AS the sky's the limit. Employers hire are graduates because you possess widely applicable skills that are transferable to the work place. As graduates of AA&AS you are well rounded critical thinkers and possess the skills employers are seeking. Yet we are continually asked:

What can I do with a degree in AA&AS?

To address this burning question the department has established a new initiative called Today and Tomorrow.Today & Tomorrow is an initiative that will couple current AA&AS majors with our alumni to help paint a clear picture of what one can do with a degree in AA&AS. As a representative of the Department you will:

  1. share your University experience
  2. state how AA&AS has prepared you for your career
  3. discuss your current position with metro high schools

Presentations will last no longer then forty-five minutes and your help will make a significant difference in creating a new pipeline for AA&AS majors.

This is a noble opportunity for you to create community awareness around AA&AS and help shape the life of tomorrow's scholars.

To make a difference contact:

Scott Redd at redd0002@umn.edu or call at 612-624-0556.

Did you know?

American cartoonist Aaron McGruder, creator of The Boondocks holds a degree in African American Studies from the University of Maryland

Course Spotlight

Afro 1201 Racial Formation and Transformation in the United States

More than ever, it is extremely important to help students understand racial formation and how it plays out in the United States. In this course Professor Yuichiro Onishi will examine "what does it take to discuss race seriously?"

Professor Onishi believes an exploration of this question demands a counter-narrative, given our contemporary moment is such that a growing public opinion:

  1. casts America as a "raceless" nation
  2. interprets antiracism as "reverse racism"
  3. embraces "diversity" to maintain the racial status quo

According to Professor Onishi "talking about race is not easy; it engenders a host of unsettling emotions ranging from guilt and shame to anger. Yet not talking about race as a social fact in American life and culture forecloses possibilities to understand how racial differences are constructed through domination over time and ultimately to reach across myriad boundaries of social difference to strive toward a shared sense of community and belonging."

With Onishi's help students will participate in racial struggles, albeit at times painful and challenging, to address and grapple with ethico-political imperatives to pursue social justice and make the notion of diversity anew.

Passing Judgement

The following is an excerpt from Diverse Issues In Higher Education by Murali Balaji.

Conservative criticism of Sonia Sotomayor's Supreme Court nomination reflects the nation's struggle with race and ethnicity in politics. From the time President Barack Obama introduced Sonia Sotomayor as his U.S. Supreme Court nominee to the day of her confirmation as an associate justice, conservative criticism of her nomination remained vocal and unrelenting.

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor

While some conservatives focused on Sotomayor's positions on gun rights and abortion, many seemed fixated with her comments regarding race and ethnicity. Their opposition, which continued up to the moment of the 68-31 Senate vote last month, appeared to be based on the notion that her ethnic background precluded her from judicial objectivity.

This might have been a typical conservative outcry to a left-of-center court nominee, but many scholars say the fight over Sotomayor is indicative of a larger struggle over the politics of identity. They say the Sotomayor nomination, on the heels of the election of the country's first Black president, appears to be an attempt by White conservatives to control the discourse on race and ethnicity.

Dr. Ronald Jackson, associate dean in the College of Media and chair of the African- American Studies department at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, says some of the GOP senators who opposed Sotomayor's nomination backed her appointment as a federal judge under President George H.W. Bush in 1992. Jackson says those same lawmakers might have felt pressure from conservative constituents wary of nominating a Latina to the nation's highest court."

It could be argued that people are nervous," says Jackson, whose research has focused on the construction of Whiteness. "The whole confirmation turned into a spectacle."

Media coverage of the comments and discussions didn't place histories of race and issues such as affirmative action into proper context, University of Minnesota journalism professor Dr. Catherine Squires says.

U of MN Journalism Professor Catherine Squires

"There are too few journalists who understand the history being framed," she says. As a result, "there is a very tangled network of problems that makes it very easy for [political commentator] Glenn Beck to say Obama hates all White people and that there is reverse racism."

Beck's comments—which he directed at Obama following his intervention in an alleged racial profiling case involving Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr.—were repudiated by other conservatives, but they fell in line with claims by such right-wing commentators as Rush Limbaugh and Michelle Malkin, who considered the Sotomayor nomination as a direct attack on Whites. Limbaugh, for one, asserted that Sotomayor "brings a form of bigotry and racism to the court. ... And how can a party get behind such a candidate? That's what would be asked if somebody were foolish enough to nominate David Duke or pick somebody even less offensive."

Squires, whose research has focused on public spheres and mediated discourses on race and gender, says the backlash against Sotomayor can be traced back to the culture wars of the 1980s and 1990s. The culture wars included attacks on welfare recipients and affirmative action using racially coded terms such as "welfare queens" and "quotas" in order to create White resentment toward a more multicultural country.

Moreover, she says, media coverage in recent years has included conservatives of color who have been strategically positioned to argue against diversity

"You have this really terrible paradox of people using their race to debunk the idea that race matters," Squires says. "On the other side, you have Whites saying, "We have lost our meritocracy.' Sotomayor's nomination brings White victimhood into the frame."

Political discourse has always included an element of race, though it has been largely coded since the GOP unleashed its Southern strategy to capture disaffected White Democrats. The backlash against affirmative action and crusades against political correctness in the 1990s stemmed from a perception by many White conservatives—and some moderates—that the country's changing demography shifted power away from those who have long held it. But Jackson says Sotomayor's "wise Latina" comment and White conservatives' opposition to it implies that only White can be objective, whereas minorities always display partiality to those in their community. "What's interesting in their claim is that, because you look a certain way, all your decisions would sway toward people who look like you," he says. "If that logic follows through, all White folks will only vote favorably or make decisions on behalf of them."

Obama's election might have been a precursor to a new wave of backlash. During his campaign last year, the president was categorized as a Black radical by opponents because of his longtime association with the outspoken Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Similarly, conservative ads that ran during the Sotomayor nomination focused on her involvement with the Puerto Rican Legal Defense Fund, depicting her as an extremist and tying her to former Weather Underground member Bill Ayers.

Dr. Miguel Centellas, who teaches political science at the University of Mississippi, says such ads reflect White anxiety over the importance of Sotomayor's confirmation.

"I think a lot of White Americans are scared," Centellas says. "I think there's this whole idea of 'I want my country back. Everything is changing.'"

But Centellas says those fears are not limited to conservatives or Republicans. He says, during Obama's nomination, his handlers de-emphasized his Kenyan heritage and highlighted his connection to White middle America by focusing on his Kansas grandparents. Such attempts, he adds, imply that Obama's Blackness is an undesirable "other" when seeking White voters.

"It's very difficult to get past that because the normal is White and it's difficult for people to internalize what all that means," he says. "We've tried for years to believe that this is a colorblind society."

As a result, Sotomayor's judicial record, which has leaned right of center on some issues, became an afterthought in the wake of conservatives' desire to push the "wise Latina" issue. But Squires says even Sotomayor's supporters tried to downplay her ethnic identity.

"The larger problem is that people on the left and liberals have been so cowed by race that they try not to offend White people," she says. As a result, Squires says, Sotomayor's supporters will try to highlight every case in which her decisions are in line with an "objective" ideal of the law. She says downplaying the role Sotomayor's identity plays in her legal decisions reinforces an unrealistic notion of interpreting law.

"It's better to be pluralist in this rather than adhere to this objective, unmediated by- identity reading of the law," she says. "There's that juxtaposition of saying we're all affected by our background and then pointing out that some of her decisions are normal in the eyes of the mainstream. And we've come to understand normal as being White male judges."

Another problem, she adds, is that "people will question, 'Is she in line with X?' when X has not been defined."

Still, Squires says she hopes the sort of reaction exhibited by those opposed to Sotomayor's nomination signals "the death throes" of White conservative backlash. She points out that the country's changing demographics are a reality.

Centellas, however, says the ugliness of the Sotomayor nomination and confirmation process indicates that the country has a long way to go with how it deals with race and ethnicity, particularly in political discourse. Until then, he notes, being empathetic or showing that one's ethnicity shapes his/her experiences won't go over well with many Whites, whose perspectives with some exceptions have been shaped by the idea they don't have ethnic backgrounds.

"We have to have a conversation in this country that everyone has an ethnicity," he says. "I think someone has to initiate it. And I think that person has to be White."

Upcoming Events

Ada Comstock Distinguished Women Scholars Lecture Series

Date: 11/5/2009

Time: 4:00 p.m.

Location: Cowles Auditorium

Cost: Free

RSVP: women@umn.edu or call 612-625-9837

Featuring Professor Brewer. Professor Brewer's lecture is entitled Colorblind, Post-racial or Not? Exploring Race in the Obama Era.

African American Authors Series

Date: 11/11/2009

Time: 7:00 p.m.>

Location: Coffman Memorial Union Theater

Cost: $15

Contact: Northrop Ticket Office 612-624-2345

Department of African American & African Studies faculty member Alexs Pate, host Ishmael Reed, author of 25 books, including New and Collected Poems, 1964-2006 and Conjure.

2009 MMEP Annual Meeting

Date: 11/19/2009

Time: 3:30 p.m.--6:00 p.m.

Location: Minneapolis Urban League

Cost: Free

To register go to: http://www.thedatabank.com/dpg/104/personalopt1.asp?formid=calendar&c=5061846

During these tight fiscal times, equity in education is not just a critical conversation to have after the fact, but should be an objective at the very core of fiscal decisions. At MMEP's 2009 Annual Meeting of Members, staff members from Growth & Justice and local community leaders will reflect on "Race Equity and Smart Investments in Minnesota's Students."