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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

A Message from Scott

Dear Alumni & Friends,

Welcome to the November/December issue of The Village. As the outreach arm of the Department of African American & African Studies, I've had the good fortune of experiencing firsthand the unparalleled talent of our alumni. AA&AS graduates are as diverse as they are impressive--so wherever you live, whatever your field, there is real value in maintaining strong ties to the department. One of the department's goals is to spread the word about the many opportunities for alumni involvement:

  • On Campus: AA&AS graduates are encouraged to share their perspectives and expertise as speakers at alumni and student events.
  • Locally: With ties on both sides of the river you can share with high school students how you are putting your degree to use or participate in Town Hall Forums in North Minneapolis at the UROC.
  • Professionally: Alumni are encouraged to look to AA&AS talent first to meet your hiring needs, and to "Take the Call" from alumni or students looking for advice or networking opportunities.
  • The Village: Keeping up with the online newsletter ensures that you'll be among the first to know about the latest happenings and many exciting initiatives of the department.
  • Facebook: The Department is now a part of the Facebook community. Facebook provides a networking space for AA&AS alumni. To take full advantage of the network, please make sure that your profile is up-to-date.

Finally, as a proud AA&AS alumnus/a, you are the very strongest ambassador of the department. Your leadership, involvement and support send a strong message to the world at large about the value of the degree—and the values of the University of Minnesota's AA&AS learning community. I look forward to getting to know all of you, and working together for the benefit of African American & African Studies, in the months ahead. Again thank you for your support, generosity and confidence.

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.