Below is the description and course reading list for a writing class I designed and am teaching in Spring 2016 in the English Department at UC Davis.
English 003: Introduction to Literature: Black and White and Read All: Writing Literature, Writing Race
Race is read all over: thinking about race and, especially, thinking that is shaped by ideas about race, is global and constant, from college campuses in the United States, to Paris, Brazil, South Africa, just about everywhere. Though each location and social situation is unique in its thinking about race, race is something we think we “see”; it can shape what we think we know about particular human beings; it can shape our behavior and treatment of others; it can affect our life circumstances, opportunities, and hazards. But what is “race”? We often use the term “race” to refer to groupings of humans who share (or seem to share) distinct physical phenotypical traits. And in practice race is also often used to refer to cultural traits. But in both of these cases, after scratching the surface there are many complexities and contradictions that make simple categorizations quite problematic. Why? Race is a social construction, meaning simply that “race” is an idea created by humans to explain or understand the world. So some scholars argue that racism—as expressions of how people are thinking about race—is not only a useful way to understand “race” as a socially constructed idea but perhaps its defining characteristic: racism makes race. Race (and other social constructions) is a flexible concept that change over time and place, and can differ depending on the society in which they are used. As a social construction, we can look to an unlikely place to better understand race: literature and culture, expressions human experience and human thought. The creative expression of literature shows us what people see, think, and imagine about their world in particular places and times. Importantly, literature is not simply about recording knowledge; literature makes new knowledge that shapes society. So literature also creates understandings of race. Thus, to write literature is also to write race.
Below is the description and reading schedule from the syllabus for a class I designed and am teaching during Summer Session 2015 at UC Davis, through the Humanities Program.
Humanities 002B: American Humanities Forum: Justice or “Just Us”: Policing and Race in the Black Humanities, from Slavery to the Present
Course Description and Objectives:
Protests that began in the summer and fall of 2014 (and that continue) over the killing of black men Michael Brown and Eric Garner by white police officers in Ferguson, MO and Staten Island, NY have made the intersecting issues of police conduct and race relations highly visible. But the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter does not announce a new problem or movement—indeed, it follows a much longer history of anti-black racial discrimination by law enforcement that ranges from disrespectful misunderstanding to brutality and homicide. And current activism follows a much longer history of protest and resistance to racially discriminatory law enforcement.
I’ve read around a bit about Django Unchained (2012) but haven’t seen it yet. Naturally, it has generated its share of “controversy,” even if all that such controversy means in material terms is discussion that serves as further promotion for the film–compared of course to the response in parts of the Muslim world to a youtube video. But engaged discussion is no doubt the best response we can have to culture. The debate about Tarantino’s use of the word “nigger,” instigated by Spike Lee among others, is perhaps the oldest and most stale response. (See Sam Jackson’s approach to this problem here: classic.) More interesting have been meditations on the so-called “Django Moment,” when, watching the film in the theater, black folks are unsettled by the laughter of white folks around them. I can’t say that I am particularly driven to see the film, but the amount of talk, especially in Black Studies / Race Studies circles, and the coincidence of its release with Spielberg’s Lincoln makes me feel the need to go see it. And if I can get time, I will. Without having seen it, I’d say that Ta-Nehisi Coates’s take on the film is closest to my own preliminary thoughts: that it is an effort of democracy within the system–nothing challenging but a significant intervention or inversion into the genre film. Continue reading Django’s Prologue?: Rethinking Inglourious Basterds→