November 2009 Archives

Foot Soldiers For Democracy

If you are looking for a great holiday gift you must check out Foot Soldiers For Democracy: The Men, Women, and Children of the Birmingham Civil Rights Movement. The book is edited by Dr. Horace Huntley and John W. McKerley with introductions from Rose Freeman Massey. Horace and Rose are 1970 alumni of African American & African Studies at the University of Minnesota and led the famous Morrill Hall Takeover of 1969. Their courageous actions led to the founding of the Department of African American & African Studies at the University of Minnesota.

Foot Soldiers For Democracy is firsthand accounts from the Civil Rights Movement's frontlines. Drawn from the rich archives of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, this collection brings together twenty-nine oral histories from people of varying ages and occupations who participated in civil rights activism at the grassroots level. These highly personal narratives convey the real sense of fear and the risk of bodily danger people had to overcome in order to become the movement's foot soldiers. The stories offer testimony as to how policing was carried out when there were no cameras, how economic terrorism was used against activists, how experiences of the movement differed depending on gender, and how youth participation was fundamental to the cause. Participants in the struggle ranged from teachers, war veterans, and a Black panther leader. This volume demonstrates the complexity and diversity of the spirit of resistance at a formative moment in American history.

"This outstanding work is an enormous contribution to the literature on the Civil Rights Movement, and it will provide rich material for debate as well as inspiration for years to come."

-Paul Oritz, author of Emancipation Betrayed: The Hidden History of Black Organizing and White Violence in Florida from Reconstruction to the Bloody Election of 1920.

Course Spotlight

Afro 3865 African American History: 1865 to the Present

Professor Keith Mayes explores the period between Reconstruction and the meaning of black freedom after the Civil War to contemporary issues such as reparations and racial profiling.

Professor Mayes begins by examining how the Civil War culminated in the liberation of four million slaves and the attempt by constitutional amendments to right the wrongs of the previous period of enslavement. Though constitutionally free, Reconstruction ended in failure, stripping African-Americans of their newfound citizenship and ushering in the period of Jim Crow segregation. Professor Mayes will detail black life under Jim Crow, but highlight African-American agency in the the realm of politics, labor, sports, music, and intellectual life.

The course will turn a crucial corner during the New Deal period and discuss how the 1930s and early 1940s set the stage for the modern civil rights struggle. With the Supreme Court's decree directly challenging Jim Crow in 1954, African-Americans entered a new phase in their history where protesting for black rights became a defining feature in American culture during the 1960s and 1970s. New leaders and organizations emerged along with novel cultural forms and expressions.

Professor Mayes ends in the contemporary period. What are we to make of the modern day black struggle around race, class, and gender? How are we to interpret the demand for reparations in the age of dismantling affirmative action? What about heightened incidences of police brutality? How do they all connect to the past? All these questions will be examined in 3865.

Race and Beauty Sold Separately

A Deeper Look at Black Barbie

The following is an excerpt from Race Wire the Colorine Blog by Adebe D.A.

Big questions about race and power may come in small, glossy packages.

In response to Barbie's legacy of monoracial beauty standards, Mattel created the Grace™, Kara™, and Trichelle™ dolls whose supposedly fuller lips, curlier hair, wider noses and more pronounced cheek bones signal a less conformist approach to toy design.

African-American veteran Barbie designer Stacey McBride-Irby was inspired to create the dolls, with more "realistic" African features, as a response to her daughters' inquiries about beauty and race.

Of course, fostering a generation of confident and aware girls requires more than toying with pigments or building new gadgets. It requires discussing race honestly and without accoutrements. We can't expect a multibillion-dollar corporation to care about deconstructing race, even if the new line celebrates a more racially diverse toy market. But we can have conversations outside the box—with our own kids, or kids we know—about problematic racial stereotypes, and why the Barbie brand of beauty is unrealistic as a whole.

This is not the first time a Black Barbie has run into problems or the question of racialized beauty has gained national attention. Observers agree that the dolls are a step forward from Barbie's first black friend, Colored Francie™, who appeared during the Civil Rights movement. But, frankly, it is hard to see forward movement when each doll comes with a stylist's chair, straightening iron, brush and more, feeding into racist beauty standards.

Some have also criticized the exploitative "bling" that comes with the dolls, and speculated that the mini Black Barbies that are part of the line (Janessa™, Courtney™, and Kianna™) are not the friends, but the children of the teenaged dolls.

Young people don't seem to be buying the hype. Youth blogger Alice Marie asks her readers, "This doll is supposed to represent Black Teenagers in America. Is that all you see us as? Weave wearing, Big Earring and Chain, Baby Mamas?" You can read more of her thoughts on Youth Outlook.

Mattel created the dolls to fill a void for young black girls who have seldom seen themselves reflected in their toys. But instead of actually addressing the void, the void's been given a makeover.

It is up to older kids and adults—and especially parents, as the holiday season approaches—to have a deeper conversation with kids about the dolls, whether or not they decide to buy one. We still need honest conversations about the relationship between Western beauty standards and women of color, what women of color have in common (or don't) with Trichelle™, and why it's important that Colored Francie™ is no longer sold in stores. Only then can we truly put racial stereotypes out of style.

Quote of the Month

How far you go in life depends on your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving, and tolerant of the weak and strong. Because some day in life you will have been all these.

George Washington Carver

Upcoming Events

Tour Governor's Residence

Date: December 1, 8, and 15

Time: 1:00p.m - 3:00 p.m

Location: 1006 Summit Avenue in St. Paul, MN

Cost: Free

The mansion has been decorated for the holidays and features a Christmas tree decorated by third-graders from across the state.

Holidazzle

Date: November 27-29, December 3-6,10-13 amd 17-20

Time: 6:30pm

Location: Nicollet Mall between 5th & 12th Street

Contact: 612-673-2100

Cost: Free

Christmas in the Twin Cities wouldn't be the same without an evening at the Holidazzle Parade. Enjoy the festive excitement of the light, float, costumed characters and music.

Black Nativity: A Season for Change!

Date: December 3 - 27

Time: Varies

Location: Penumbra Theatre

Contact: 651-224-3180

Cost: $10 for students with ID $38 for adults.

This family holiday fare features live music, original dance and the best jazz and gospel singers in the Twin Cities.

Delight in holiday favorites such as "No Room at the Inn," "Angels We Have Heard on High," "Joy to the World," and several songs new to Black Nativity including "The Twelve Days of Christmas," "The Soulful Noel," and "Boogie Woogie Santa Claus."