January 2010 Archives

A Message from Scott

Thumbnail image for Picture1.gifDear Alumni & Friends,

Welcome to the first 2010 edition of The Village. It's hard to believe that 2009 has come and gone and Dr. King's Holiday is right around the corner. The retrospective view of our year is a heartening one, because it makes clear how much the Department has accomplished in 2009. It would take far more space than we have here to recount the many achievements of our students, graduates, faculty, and staff. Suffice it to say, we have a remarkable community of individuals who contribute to the forward momentum of African American & African Studies.

Many of you have contributed to the Department's successes through your hard work. And some of you have contributed financial resources that will help shape us as one of the most proactive African American & African Studies department in the world. I would be remiss, though, if I did not note the significant financial challenges that face us. I am delighted to be able to present you with news of the Department, but hope that you will recognize that we need your help to sustain our forward momentum.
Best wishes and let's make 2010 our year!

Loss for Words: Reid, Obama and Semantic Silliness on Race

The following is an excerpt from Race Wire the Colorines Blog by Michelle Chen.

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The 24-hour news cycle is still ravishing Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's fumbling words on Barack Obama's presidential campaign, skin tone, and lack of "Negro dialect." And as usual, all this analysis just leaves us more confused about what we're talking about and why.

The quote in question was unearthed from "Game Change," an inside-baseball account of the 2008 presidential race:

"[Reid's] encouragement of Obama was unequivocal. He was wowed by Obama's oratorical gifts and believed that the country was ready to embrace a black presidential candidate, especially one such as Obama -- a "light-skinned" African American "with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one," as he said privately. Reid was convinced, in fact, that Obama's race would help him more than hurt him in a bid for the Democratic nomination."

The quote dredges up some classic post-racial imponderables: 1) Did Reid degrade Obama on the basis of race, or, as Omar Wasow contended on TheRoot.com, merely offer an assessment of how the electorate might? and 2)a) Did he make a correct statement but say it the wrong way, and 2)b) Was he just flat-out wrong, end-of-discussion?

Unfortunately, the punditry tends not to separate the substance behind the politician's words from the posturing and code undergirding them. So the crux of Reid's gaffe seems to be an utter failure to understand that words matter, whether your message contains a kernel of truth or not.

Joan Walsh at Salon is agnostic on Reid's statement, arguing that an a priori dismissal of Reid's words does little to advance the debate needed to expand racial consciousness in the supposedly enlightened (or delusional) Obama era:

If we're ever going to have our long-delayed conversation about race, white people are going to have to be able to participate even on issues that black people have considered their own. I can't count the number of conversations I had in 2008, with savvy political observers of every race, talking about the advantages of Obama being light-skinned and biracial.
Seriously, does anyone really think it's coincidence that our first black president is a biracial man who came from Hawaii by way of Harvard (with a little political rough and tumble in Chicago)? If my thinking that means I can't be Senate majority leader ... well, that's OK. I didn't want that job anyway....
Harry Reid expressed his thoughts inelegantly, he understands that now, and perhaps we'll retire the term, and the idea of, "Negro dialect." But if progressive racial-justice Democrats don't think politicians of every race size up the field in terms of competitive advantage—and sadly, even today, accord advantage to African-Americans who put white folks at ease, speak "white" or "standard" English, and even, yes, look "less non-white"—we're kidding ourselves.

While Walsh sees a contradiction, even a double-standard, in discussions on race among Blacks versus whites, RNC Chair Michael Steele (who's been known to suffer from verbal incontinence himself) seized on Reid's blooper to accuse the Democrats of hypocrisy when playing the race card:

Neither Steele nor Walsh speak directly to the cultural and political flashpoints surrounding race and language in communities of color—that is, why it's not just what you say, but how you say it and yes, who's doing the talking, that determines how different groups will read your message. Ironically, that reality is what Reid was trying to articulate from the outset, albeit with telling clumsiness. Perhaps he was underestimating the electorate's political sophistication and overestimating his own.

Ta-Nehisi Coates at The Atlantic criticizes the comparison between the Senator's remark and the overt bigotry of Sen. Trent Lott:

I think you can grant that, in this era, the term "Negro dialect" is racially insensitive and embarrassing. That said, the fair-mind listener understands the argument—Barack Obama's complexion and his ability to code-switch is an asset. You can quibble about the "light skin" part, but forget running for president, code-switching is the standard M.O. for any African American with middle class aspirations.
But there's no such defense for Trent Lott. Lott celebrated apartheid Mississippi's support of Strom Thurmond, and then said that had Thurmond won, "we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years.'' Strom Thurmond run for president, specifically because he opposed Harry Truman's efforts at integration. This is not mere conjecture—nearly half of Thurmond's platform was dedicated to preserving segregation. The Dixiecrat slogan was "Segregation Forever!" (Exclamation point, theirs.) Trent Lott's wasn't forced to resign because he said something "racially insensitive." He was forced to resign because he offered tacit endorsement of white supremacy--frequently.

If there's a double-standard at work here, it lies in society's double-edged sensitization toward race in the public discourse: public figures remain neurotically fixated on the tokens of "diversity," but when they're called to reflect on how race is lived by others--and to work through their own blindspots instead of retreating to simple cynicism or wishful thinking—they're tongue-tied.

Course Spotlight

Afro 3433: General Survey of Development in Africa

"TadeIn this course Professor Tade Okediji will survey the major problems that confront African countries in their quest for economic development from a global perspective. Professor Tade will focus on socio-economic and macroeconomic issues that have contributed to Africa's high levels of poverty and inequality. In his discussions he will analyze issues such as persistent corruption, agricultural sustainability, health, and the role of multinational organization in proposing development strategies for various countries by examining a few case studies. The course will conclude by examining the prospects of development and growth in Africa in the 21st Century.

Alumni Making a Difference

The Department is proud to present the Alumni Poster (PDF). The Alumni Poster is designed to highlight the diverse careers of our esteemed alumni and how the degree helped them achieve success in their field. The poster is located on the Department's main website and will be distributed to future students nationally.

We would like to showcase different alumni through out the year. To be highlighted please contact Scott Redd at redd0002@umn.edu. Congratulations to the six alumni featured. The department is proud of the difference you are making in the world.

Quote of the Month

MLK.jpg"As long as there is poverty in the world I can never be rich, even if I have a billion dollars. As long as diseases are rampant and millions of people in this world cannot expect to live more than twenty-eight or thirty years, I can never be totally healthy even if I just got a good checkup at Mayo Clinic. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the way our world is made. No individual or nation can stand out boasting of being independent. We are interdependent."

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Upcoming Events

Celebrate the Dream 2010:The Dream Lives On

Date:January 15, 2010

Time: 7:00p.m

Location: Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis

Cost: Free and open to the public

Minneapolis Community & Technical College 20th Annual Celebrate the Dream Birthday Tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr. This year's keynote speaker will be Geoffrey Canada, President and CEO of the Harlem Children's Zone.

Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Diversity Job Fair

Date: January 18, 2010

Time:9:00am - 3:00pm

Location: Minneapolis Convention Center

Cost: Free andopen to the public

Sponsored by the NAACP and PSI.

Meet face-to-face with recruiters and hiring managers from local and national employers, and speak candidly with industry leaders about opportunities in your field.

Whether you're an active job seeker or just curious, you may discover a career opportunity just right for you.

iAfrica: Connecting with Sub-Saharan Art

Date: January 21, 2010

Time: 6:00pm - 9:00pm

Location: Minneapolis Institute ofArts (MIA)

Contact: Tammy Pleshek (612)870-3171 tpleshek@artsmia.org

Cost: Free and open to the public

The MIA presents an innovative exhibition that explores nontraditionalmethods of displaying, engaging with, and understanding African Art. For more informationgo to http://www.artsmia.org/index.php?section_id=343&pr_id=220