NewBlackMan: Politics as Usual: Decoding the Attacks on a Liberal Education

Politics as Usual: Decoding the Attacks on a Liberal Education

by David J. Leonard, Mark Anthony Neal and James Braxton Peterson | NewBlackMan

Few university courses generate much attention from mainstream media, but Georgetown Professor Michael Eric Dyson’s course “The Sociology of Hip-Hop: Urban Theodicy of Jay-Z” has drawn national attention from NBC’s Today Show, The Washington Post, The Associated Press, USA Today, and among many others. To be sure such attention is not unusual for Dyson, who is one of the most visible academics in the United States and has offered courses dealing with hip-hop culture, sociology, and Black religious and vernacular expression for more than twenty-years. Yet, such attention seems odd; hundreds of university courses containing a significant amount of content related to Hip-hop culture and Black youth are taught every year—and have been so, for more than a decade. In addition, there are dozens of scholarly studies of Hip-hop published each year—Julius Bailey’s edited volume Jay-Z: Essays of Hip-Hop’s Philosopher King, among those published just this year—and two Ivy League universities, Harvard and Cornell, boast scholarly archives devoted to the subject of Hip-Hop.

Any course focused on a figure like Jay-Z (Shawn Corey Carter), given his contemporary Horatio Alger narrative, and his reputation as an urban tastemaker, was bound to generate considerable attention, but the nature of the attention that Dyson’s class has received and some of the attendant criticism, suggest that much more is at play.

In early November, The Washington Post offered some of the first national coverage of the class, largely to coincide with the arrival of Jay-Z and Kanye West’s Watch the Throne tour to Washington DC’s Verizon Center. Jay-Z dutifully complied with the attention by giving Professor Dyson a shout-out from the stage. The largely favorable article about the class, did make note, as have many subsequent stories, about the cost of tuition at Georgetown; as if somehow the cost of that tuition is devalued by kids taking classes about hip-hop culture.

Other profiles of the course and Dyson have gone out of their way to make the point that the course had mid-term and final exams, as if that wouldn’t be standard procedure for any nationally recognized senior scholar at a top-tier research university in this country. Such narrative slippages speak volumes about the widespread belief that courses that focus on some racial and cultural groups, are created in slipshod fashion and lack rigor; it is a critique that is well worn, and that various academic disciplines, such as Women’s Studies, Ethnic Studies and even Sociology have long had to confront.

via NewBlackMan: Politics as Usual: Decoding the Attacks on a Liberal Education.

Mark Anthony Neal – NewBlackMan: Daughters of The Help

Daughters of the Help

by Mark Anthony Neal | HuffPost BlackVoices

Twenty years ago filmmaker Julie Dash celebrated the release of her groundbreaking film Daughters of the Dust. The film, set off the South Carolina coast, chronicles the lives of a black family, led by family matriarch Nana Peazant, at the turn of the 20th Century. Shot by cinematographer Arthur Jafa the film offers a brilliant portrait of black life, between and betwixt the modernity that would radically transform it. The film also offers one of the most complex and sophisticated views of the lives of black women in the era. It is a measure of how forward thinking Dash’s Daughters of the Dust was and how backward Hollywood remains 20 years later, that a film like The Help could be lauded as an intimate and authentic depiction of the lives of the Black women who worked as domestics. The tragedy is that far fewer people have seen, let alone, heard of Daughters of the Dust.

As I watched The Help — with my soon 13-year-old daughter sitting next to me — I couldn’t help but think about the daughters of Daughters of the Dust and the daughters of The Help. In Daughters of the Dust, there wasn’t a question as to whether these young women were facing progress, but rather whether that progress would be enveloped with the hard-earned integrity that helped their family survive the middle passage and enslavement. With The Help, I was left witnessing Minny Jackson (in a brilliant, Oscar deserving performance by Octavia Spencer) bequeathing to her barely teenage daughter, a life of servitude and labor exploitation. In one of the film’s more insidious moments, The Help passes off Minny’s daughter’s future as the product of the demands of Minny’s abusive (and invisible) husband and not the very visible system of Jim Crow that limited opportunities for such women and girls for more than a century.

Both my grandmother and my mother-in-law were domestics at one time or another during their lifetimes. My grandmother, now deceased, worked as a domestic for a time in the late 1960s for former New York Mets manager Davey Johnson, then a second baseman for the Baltimore Orioles. My mother-in-law worked as a domestic until her husband could acquire the kind of job that would allow her to stay at home and raise their children, the youngest of which is my wife. I imagine that both my grandmother and mother-in-law would readily admit that their experiences as domestics were far different than those experienced by black women in the deep south in places like Jackson, MS, where The Help is set.

Continue reading @ NewBlackMan: Daughters of The Help.