esse quam videri

Me, and John Cage’s “How to Get Started.”

cageI blame my colleague, curator Amanda Krugliak, for persuading me to put my thoughts out there in a new form — performance. Not just any performance, mind you. I’m taking part in a production of John Cage’s “How to Get Started,” in a collaboration between the Cage Foundation and Michigan’s Institute for the Humanities.

It works like this (they tell me.) I’ll give 10 talks, three minutes each. A recording of the first talk will be played underneath a reading of the second, and so forth, until my words become what I think of as more of a soundscape (and less of a talk.) It’s turning out to be a semester for exploring my ideas through creative outlets. I’ll post the result and you’ll tell me what you think!

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“Visiting” the Smithsonian’s new Museum of African American History and Culture

coleMy friend, historian Emily Clark, posted this image of Johnnetta Cole’s Bennett College inauguration robe during her visit to the NMAAHC. I was moved because I was at Bennett College when I saw the post, getting ready to deliver the Founders’ Day address, marking Bennett’s 90th anniversary. I’m a booster for Bennett because my own grandfather, David Jones, was president there for 30 years, and because it is one of only two remaining HBCUs for women.

When Muster (the blog of the Journal of the Civil War Era) invited me to pen a review of the Museum, I jumped. You can read more about my virtual visit, the history of HBCUs told there, and why you should make the visit to Washington to see for yourself here.

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Reading L.D. Burnett’s “In Conclusion.”

gates-and-paradiseI’m reading L.D. Burnett, from her recent paper at the USIH meeting. I most often encounter her via a quick quip on Facebook or Twitter. So I was all the more moved to find her here, in long form, thinking out loud about the meaning of our life’s work as academics. I am always eager to link arms against cynicism and its related world view. Thanks for L.D. for sharing this:

“Because we don’t live in the abstract. We are alive for one another, concretely, completely, complicatedly, in the round – friend and foe, enemy and ally, adjunct and administrator, student and professor. Yes, the battles and skirmishes of academic politics have always been about ideas, about the life of the mind. But they have also been about the very means – our very means – of living. Academic politics matter, just as ideas matter. They matter because we do.”

You can read the full text on the USIH blog site here.

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The Mixed Experience

The Mixed Experience is hosted by novelist and activist Heidi Durrow. I joined Heidi, along with colleagues Karen Downing, Mark Kamimura, and Ed West, to talk about multiracial identity at the University of Michigan, and beyond. Listen in here.

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Landmark Cases: Dred Scott v. Sandford, for C-SPAN

CSPANI joined GWU Law’s Chris Bracey and C-SPAN’s Susan Swain for an episode of C-SPAN’s Landmark Cases on Dred Scott v. Sandford. The show runs 90 minutes, but you can also find highlight here.

 

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Julian Bond’s Great-Grandmother a Slave Mistress? How the New York Times Got it Wrong

When the New York Times termed the late Julian Bond’s great-grandmother, Jane Bond, a “slave mistress,” social media fired back, enumerating all the ways in which this phrase mis-characterized the terms of a sexual exchange between an enslaved woman and her owner. Historian Emily Owens captured the Twitter exchange here. In this essay, I ask how the Times could have gotten this so wrong. It turns out that historians, 19th century usage, and the Times own practice all contributed to the use of a phrase that the paper’s own public editor finally admitted was regrettable. Read more here.

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We Are the Intellectuals

BIWCHNo question posed here spoke to me more than that asked by Kientz Anderson in her Introduction to this roundtable: “Who are intellectuals?” This question was that which guided our work from the outset. I hope it isn’t revealing too much to say that, one important sense, crafting a response was not very difficult. Yes, we searched, probed, rethought, and reimagined women of the past as thinkers and producers of ideas. Of course we stretched understandings of genre, and overthrew conventions of sites for and means of production. We looked hard to find black women and their ideas in new and unexpected places. It was work. But it was also easy in that the women about whom we wrote had always been there, waiting for us to hold them up to the light. They were intellectuals even before we set out to write their histories, of that I am certain. Read more here.

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On The Cherokee Rose, Historical Fiction, and Silences in the Archives

TheCherokeeRose-coverThe Cherokee Rose, the debut novel by historian Tiya Miles, caught me in the middle of a longstanding argument. I had pre-ordered the book from its publisher John F. Blair, and so it arrived unexpectedly, as if unsummoned. It was March, a busy moment in the term. Still, I stole time that Saturday, reading it nearly cover-to-cover in one sitting. I left the last chapter until the next day, just to savor the experience. Miles is my colleague at the University of Michigan, and that hints at why I’d let my email pile up just to read a work of fiction. Generally, I’m the sort that lets a stack of books accumulate for later summer reading. But there was more. As I said, I was trying to settle an argument and thought The Cherokee Rose might help. Continued here.

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The Dreams Deferred by Baltimore’s Mortgage Crises Set the Stage for Unrest

On the steps of the city courthouse, a monument to equality and the rule of law, Baltimore residents have learned how dreams can be brutally deferred. There, the property of the city’s poor and working families has been, by order of the court, auctioned to the highest bidder. When examining the tensions that erupted in Baltimore in the last two weeks, the consequences of losing homes should not be minimized as a factor in the sense of outrage and injustice. Foreclosures in the wake of the subprime mortgage scandal of 2008 have been the end game in predatory lending schemes that plundered the single modest asset held by many black Baltimoreans: their homes. Read more here.

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Rallying Around Lynch Nomination, Black Women Flex Their Political Muscles

Glimpse a preview of dynamics that will shape the 2016 election cycle in the contest over Loretta Lynch’s nomination as Attorney General. As the first African American woman XXX AG NOMINATION LYNCH HDB2403.JPG A HKN USA DCslated to occupy that office, Lynch signals a degree to which race and gender no longer
determine access to political power in the United States. Even more noteworthy, Lynch has not been alone. Organized black women activists have turned out to lend her their voices and their influence. It is this force in American political culture – that of African American women – that will be aimed at debates about race, gender, and politics in 2016. And they will make a difference. More here
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