African American faculty get to tell their stories about the university: A special double issue of Public Seminar
Friday is usually a members-only post, but I want to share it with the whole list because our new special issue of Public Seminar deserves as wide a distribution as possible. If you know someone who would like to sit with some stories about how our African American colleagues experience life in United States universities, please:
Last summer, I was on Zoom with high school friends. We had missed our 45th class reunion (I can’t even tell you how weird that phrase is to write since, in my heart, I am still in my thirties) and had decided to meet occasionally online to catch up and trade stories about the future. Only one of us was Black: a research scientist with a university appointment; she represented 33.3% of the African American women who graduated with a class of over 50.
As talk turned to the possibilities for retirement, this classmate began to tell us, frankly, what it was like to be a Black science professor. There was being stopped by security; there were the students who openly questioned not just her authority but also her knowledge of the subject. Then there were the teaching evaluations that made personal comments about her attitude and appearance. She was, she said, counting the days.
These were not things that I didn’t know. But like so many things about race and racism in the university, I mainly had these conversations with other white people—not with faculty affected by these inequalities.
So this time, I listened. And I began to wonder what it would look like to devote an entire issue of Public Seminar to African American faculty.
So we did. In coalition with New School President Dwight A. McBride and his editorial assistant, Justin Joyce, I had the privilege of co-editing this week’s special issue, “Teaching While Black.” Better yet, despite how busy the authors we asked are (as McBride himself writes in the lead essay, “I am a busy man—but being Black, whether as an assistant professor or as the leader of an urban research university, has always added invisible work to an already full plate”), everybody we asked agreed to write.
Now, we all know that when you put together a collection, it is wise to over-solicit. Things happen, people fall behind, and they get cold feet.
But not this time. Everybody met that commitment. So it’s a double issue.
This much content meant extra work for the staff at Public Seminar, for which I thank them from the bottom of my heart. But what it also meant is eleven powerful, original essays. Below, you can click the hotlink on each author and go straight to that story—or peruse the whole issue here.
In addition to the introductory essay from President McBride, we have wisdom from historian Erica L. Ball (Occidental), tax law professor Dorothy Brown, women’s studies scholar Beverly Guy-Sheftall (Spelman), media studies professor Charles I. Nero (Bates), anthropologist and artist Gina Athena Ulysse (UC-Santa Cruz), Black Studies professors Sylvester A. Johnson (Virginia Tech) and Terrance Dean (Denison), American Studies professor Davarian L. Baldwin (Trinity) and law professor Bridgette Baldwin (Western New England Law School), literary scholar and playwright Lisa B. Thompson (UT-Austin), and American Studies scholar Duchess Harris (Macalester).
And that’s not all. We have an interview with political scientist Cathy J. Cohen (you got a preview of this on Wednesday.) Finally, there is an excerpt from Ana-Maurine Lara and drea Brown’s new book, Teaching Black: The Craft of Teaching on Black Life and Literature (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2021).
This is among the best work we have done at Public Seminar: more importantly, we hope that in the future, we will build out the platform as a site for authors of color to share their work with the world.
Director Michael Showalter’s The Eyes of Tammy Faye (2021) is now on Amazon Prime and Hulu: I watched it this week and could not recommend it more. A biopic of televangelists Tammy Faye and Jim Baker, the film captures that moment in the 1970s when the Christian Right became culturally and politically empowered. Jessica Chastain, who also produced the movie, plays Tammy Faye as a proto-feminist, and it is almost believable.
Next Tuesday, Ohio Republicans will go to the polls to cast their ballots in one of the two most expensive primary contests in the nation (the other is Pennsylvania’s GOP Senate race.) But Ohio is the nastiest. While JD Vance benefits from a Trump bump, “25 percent of registered Republican voters are undecided. And about half of the respondents who named a preferred Senate candidate said they might yet change their minds,” writes Jim Swift at The Bulwark. Swift continues, “the choices among the top contenders just aren’t good—not even for people who voted for Trump both times. They all know the Ohio GOP primary is a pandering contest that the far-right parts of the base are meant to judge.” And while Jane Timkin will lose, she will drain valuable support from one of the other slithery varmints on the ballot. (April 28, 2022)
Decades ago, Richard Hofstadter was said to have nicknamed The New York Review of Books “The New York Review of Each Other’s Books.” Recognizing this quip is the kind of thing that, if you are even aware of that little bit of Cold War cultural humor, marks you as a quasi-insider. Since the NYRB was founded in 1963 by a group of friends, and Hofstadter died in 1970, that was probably even more true then. But is it true now? Historian Dan Stone looked at the data and concluded that “A hefty portion of the books reviewed in the NYRB have been contributors’ books. Furthermore, most of the contributors have had their own books reviewed.” There’s lots of schadenfreude in this Substack post: my source of nasty glee is that Gordon Wood, who had never met a woman in the field of early American history that he didn’t trash (and he often does it in the NYRB), wasn’t significant enough to make the word cloud. (April 27, 2022)
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