Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Lemonade: A Woman’s Narrative, Not a Man’s Confession

Editor's note: Beyoncé has become the voice of women everywhere. Her activism, music, and actions in which she breaks through social boundaries have shown us what it means to be free. Two nights ago, Beyoncé performed "Freedom" from her new album Lemonade at the BET Awards and once again demonstrated what freedom looked like. Below, spoken word poet Tayllor Johnson reflects on Beyoncé's new album and what it means for women everywhere.

When I first heard about Beyoncé’s Lemonade, social media was abuzz with gossip. All I saw were posts speculating if Jay Z cheated, or whether this was all a ruse to get more people using Tidal, a music streaming site founded by Beyoncé and Jay Z. I knew then I was in no rush to see Lemonade. Beyoncé is a brand, I thought; it’s her job to keep us curious and engaged in her content. The public knows nothing about Beyoncé’s life besides what she wants us to know and even then, the public can only guess. What was going to be different about this album? All of a sudden she was going to share herself with all of us, revelations about her marriage, of all things? HA! Not a chance! I’ll pass on that publicity stunt. When a good friend of mine invited me to a Lemonade listening party to watch and discuss the film among other women, I must admit that I finally conceded to seeing what the hype was really about.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Michelle Cliff (1946-2016): Writer, Critic, and Fighter of Racism and Homophobia

Michelle Cliff was born in Kingston, Jamaica on November 2, 1946. She graduated from Wagner College in New York City in 1969 and then from Warburg Institute in London in 1974 with a PhD in the Italian Renaissance. A novelist, poet, short story writer, and literary critic, Cliff's works seek to retell history, addressing political and cultural issues. Cliff spent much of her childhood in New York, as her parents immigrated to the United States to look for better economic opportunities. She would return to Jamaica frequently to visit relatives before anchoring herself in the United States. This movement and exposure prompted her to adopt a multicultural identity, for she felt she could not limit her writing to just one place.

ICYMI: The Last Week in Black Writing and Culture (6/17-6/23)

"Seshat: A Digital Humanities Initiative in Literature, Language, and Criticism" sponsored by Howard University took place this week. Search hashtag #DHatHU on Twitter to keep up with the workshop presentations.

Dr. Tamara Cash wrote a piece on Juneteenth, highlighting an exhibit at the Watkins Museum of History commemorating the historic event. The exhibit is free to the public and will remain open through July.

See these amazing color photos of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. during his Chicago Freedom Movement campaign.

The Guardian published the piece, "Four Times African Writers Rewrote a Western Classic and Nailed it."

On NPRs Fresh Air segment, host Terry Gross spoke to Wendy Warren about her new book, New England Bound. Warren's book recounts how the New England colonists embraced the slave trade.

Khalid Rahmaan of The Nation spoke about Muhammad Ali and what it means to transcend race.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Requiem for Human Dreams

"Today there can be no doubt that Americans know the facts; and yet they remain for the most part indifferent and unmoved." This sentence from W. E. B. DuBois's article "A Negro Nation Within the Nation," Current History 42 (1935 ): 265-270 has been quoted by Ibram X. Kendi in Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America (2016). Du Bois's assertion sounds in 2016 like a lament from a person in ideological pain, and there can be no doubt that Kendi quoted Du Bois to remind us of the implacable and always changing conditions of human existence. There are indigenous nations still within the United States of America, but we who have no membership in those nations remain ignorant of them by choice. Perhaps, the ignorance is more a reflex action than a rational choice, an unconscious motion of marking the authenticity of being an American. Such ignorance and indifference, or selectivity in our commerce with facts, is not innately necessary or sufficient, a part of unadulterated biological functioning. It is a part of social and cultural engineering. No doubt we remain unmoved by knowing this fact, because the excruciating pain of being an American paralyzes common sense as well as the qualities of charity, hope, and faith which manifest themselves in most of the religions of this world.

Stamped from the Beginning, like any book, may only awaken a few dozen Americans and disturb the bliss of ignorance. Nevertheless, Kendi's book may awaken a handful of Americans to recognize what such widely discussed books as Kevin Powell's The Education of Kevin Powell, Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow, and Ta'Nehisi Coates's Between the World and Me and such infrequently discussed books as Dennis de Rougemont's The Devil's Share, Sam Greenlee's Baghdad Blues, Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America and Gustave Le Bon's The Crowd work toward by indirection: the abject cognitive poverty of sentences in which the word "race" is the subject. There can be no doubt that Americans remain indifferent and unmoved by arguments in Charles W. Mills's The Racial Contract, arguments that are as crucial as the fictions about terrorism which circulate internationally.

As an irreversible new ordering of the world descends upon us , cognitive poverty ascends. In 2016, Americans and other human beings know only two facts: (1) Nothing is neither true nor false, because it is nothing and (2) Everything is either true or false, because it is everything. Know that these magic propositions ordain a requiem for human dreams.

Jerry W. Ward, Jr. 
June 18, 2016

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Juneteenth @ 150 + -- In Lawrence, KS and Beyond

Summer 2015 marked the 150th anniversary of the realization among the last enslaved people in America that they were now free under the terms of the Emancipation Proclamation. On June 19, 1865, in Galveston, Texas, two months after the official end of the Civil War, General Gordon Granger, commander of the occupying troops in Texas and Oklahoma, read the Declaration aloud to those gathered. When the news of the emancipation spread among the newly freed, they responded with joy and celebration.

June 19th became an annual day of celebration of the end of slavery, and eventually became popular throughout the nation, as black Texans migrated throughout the United States in the decades after Emancipation. The term “Juneteenth” is a Black English Vernacular contraction of two words, June and nineteenth.

This annual festival of freedom continues to celebrate the end of slavery in America. Like other cities it served as the catalyst for the 150th anniversary commemoration event held in June 2015 by the local NAACP chapter in Lawrence, Kansas, with the cooperation of The Freedoms’ Frontier National Heritage Project, the Spencer Research Library at the University of Kansas, the Watkins Museum of History, the City of Lawrence, and the Project on the History of Black Writing.

The Lawrence, Kansas Juneteenth History exhibit consists of 5 standing panels featuring images and text depicting the lives of African Americans in the era following the Civil War. The exhibit is being offered again this year, 2016, by the Watkins Museum of History in Lawrence, as a courtesy reminder of our collective past. Stop by and dedicate 30 minutes of your time to celebrate Juneteenth with us. You may learn something new!

We encourage you to share your stories on Juneteenth! Tweet #JuneteenthinLawrence @ProjectHBW.

[Tamara Cash, Exhibit Designer]

Tamara Cash is a native of CoffeyvilIe, KS. She is a KU alum with undergraduate and graduate degrees in education. Cash completed a PhD in 2006. She is a retired school psychologist, currently consulting in K-12 education. She also serves on the boards of several community organizations with a focus on eldercare/senior issues. In addition, Cash has a special interest in matters of cultural equity and African-American history.


Please consult the list below for educational resources on the history of Juneteenth:

"Juneteenth" at The Handbook of Texas Online, run by the Texas State Historical Association

"History of Juneteenth" at

"Juneteenth: The Joy of Freedom" at

Cultural resources on Juneteenth through the African American Lectionary

Many additional resources are available through the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation

Final Freedom: The Civil War, the Abolition of Slavery, and the Thirteenth Amendment by Michael Vorenberg

Juneteenth by Ralph Ellison

Children's books

Juneteenth Jamboree by Carole Boston Weatherford 

Juneteenth for Mazie by Floyd Cooper

Juneteenth by Micheaux and Drew Nelson

[Lists compiled by Project HBW staff Mona Ahmed and Matthew Broussard.]

Friday, June 17, 2016

ICYMI: The Last Week in Black Writing and Culture (6/10-6/16)

W. Camau Bell spoke on reading about Muhammad Ali in order to come to terms with his own blackness, as well as ending racism.

Rafia Zakari of The Guardian asked, "Is Gone with the Wind's nostalgia for slavery acceptable?" Zakari draws on an essay by New Yorker critic Hilton Als: "How must a woman who longs for a world of slavery be evaluated? It is not a question that bothers most readers. But it is in the details of cultural relics like Gone With the Wind, preserved here in the name of nostalgia, that the nubs and seeds of a resilient bigotry pass

from one era into another."

On September 24, President Obama will cut the ribbon for the opening of the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of African American History and Culture.

David Hajdu of The Nation reviewed James McBride's newest book on James brown, Kill 'Em and Leave. Hajdu praises McBride's break from oral history and conventional biographical nonfiction. He writes that McBride "is generally more concerned with the literary force of his writing than he is with the exactness of its details...When McBride breaks away from oral history and takes off on one of his writerly flights, the book is a joy."

Book Riot has created a list of 15 new books by black authors to read this summer.

Juneteenth is only a few days away! Read up on the history of Juneteenth.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

What Makes Me Sad: Brief Comments on Prince

After the death of my father, I’m starting to realize that my family may have a slightly different notion about death.  In Kalamu ya Salaam’s unreleased manuscript about Robert Johnson, he states of the Delta that birth and death comingle like night and day, one needing the other for its completion.  Thus, I’ve never feared nor bemoaned death because I’ve always been more interested in the quality of life rather than the quantity of life.  Since my father transitioned, I’ve yet to cry because all my memories of him cause me to laugh.  Yes, I miss him, especially during moments when I’m doing something that he enjoyed.  

But, the quality of his life—the joy that he brought his family and his friends—far outweighs those very few moments when I miss him.  Truly, what makes me sad is not death but when people mistreat or harm people.  My mother and Aunt Iola were special education teachers, and they both instilled in me that the worst human being is someone who takes advantage of others.  People hurting people—that makes me cry.  Death only bothers me when it’s the death of a young person or a death from a senseless act of violence, and, of course, all acts of violence are senseless.  So, when I first heard the news of the possibility of Prince’s transition, I thought about the rumors that Prince hadn’t been doing well, that he looked very thin, even for him, and I said a short prayer for those closest to him, some people I know and some I don’t.  My prayer wasn’t for him because the Prince I knew was a man completely comfortable with his life and his faith.  More importantly for me, Prince was a man who squeezed every drop from life.  He found his love—music—and dedicated his entire being to it.  I could write some historically important piece about Prince continuing the legacy of African-American music while his lyrics introduced to the narrative the notion of the post-Civil Rights (which is something quite different than post-racial) individual black, but I’ve done that.  And, I’ve done it quite well.  For those who want to see/hear that, I’ll be on local Fox news at 9:00 p.m. and WLBT at 10:00 p.m. briefly discussing that.  (See entire news interview here:  

Monday, June 13, 2016

ICYMI: The Last Week in Black Writing and Culture (6/4-6-10)

KU professor John Edgar Tidwell spoke about Langston  Hughes's unpublished story, "Seven People Dancing": "This is a very interesting piece because it provides us new information to ponder as we seek to interrogate Hughes' complexity in the early 1960s...As for the modernist features in the short story, Tidwell said there are subtle shifts in narrative viewpoint, including a paragraph where the white woman character Joan describes herself and explains what she is doing."

Check out the live tweeting of the "Space and Place in Africana/Black Studies" conference hosted by Purdue University. #NEHBlackspace. HBW's very own Kenton Rambsy presented his research on text-mining. 

Muhammad Ali, world renowned boxer, died Friday at the age of 74. Apart from boxing, Ali was known for his poetry, predicting in which round he would knock out his opponent. His death came less than two months after the death of Prince Rogers Nelson. Look out for a tribute to Prince coming soon.

Annalisa Quinn reviewed The Hatred of Poetry by Ben Lerner. Lerner argues that we expect too much from poetry, and this "inevitable failure of poems to live up to their sublime promise generates a kind of contempt."

Kwame Dawes spoke on directing the African Poetry Book Fund. Dawes founded the project after noticing that there were no publishers exclusively dedicated to publishing African poets.

Harry Belafonte spoke on how one trip to Africa in the early 80s changed his life. It wasn't the trip itself, Belafonte said, but witnessing famine and drought while the rest of the world sat by with indifference. 

The New York Post is excited about these 10 books for this summer and fall.

Isabel Wilkerson reviewed Yaa Giasi's Homegoing, about the effects of slavery on family and lineage. In the novel, two half sisters are separated at birth and sold into slavery and remain unaware of each other and the six generations that follow each sister.

Dr. Maryemma Graham wrote on the remake of Roots in "Roots: The Good, Bad, and Ugly."

Carol Memmott of the Washington Post reviewed Terry McMillan's newest novel, I Almost Forgot about You. 

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Roots: The Good, Bad, and Ugly

For four days after Memorial Day, 2016, American viewers gave studied attention to a remake of Roots, the 1977 blockbuster film that captured our hearts and minds. Those born after the Roots phenomenon can hardly comprehend what those eight days of television history felt like. We were still reeling from the Watergate scandal (1974) and the end of the Vietnam War (1975), with mixed emotions about whether to celebrate the American Bicentennial (1976). We needed something to call our own. Watching the film became a family affair and the recovery of family history everybody’s business. Although scenes of racial violence on television are now commonplace, Roots placed this violence in the context of an American story bringing past and current social practices together. The author of the book on which the TV miniseries was based, Alex Haley, became our hero with his special gift, the ability to serve two masters well. He had found the perfect venue for feeding our souls, the lucrative entertainment genre, and succeeded in moving black history to the foreground of popular culture. The record of Roots’ viewers—100 million or more—has yet to be broken.

Haley reportedly signed 500 copies of the book daily, speaking to an average of 6,000 people at events. Numerous TV and radio talk shows brought public confessions of appreciation on the lecture circuit. If the novel was faction, the subsequent film, which was in production long before the book’s release, was edutainment. Such a worthy subject would make millions of dollars for all who were involved, Doubleday, ABC, and Haley himself, to name a few. To then National Urban League executive director Vernon Jordon,) Roots was “the single most spectacular educational experience in race relations in America.”

In fact, the creation and production of Roots as novel and film were so successful that the charges of plagiarism and other issues brought against Haley hardly registered in the public consciousness. And yet one by one, Haley’s challengers began to unravel the threads of a very different story on both sides of the Atlantic. British journalist Mark Ottaway questioned the authenticity of Haley’s research in The Sunday Times. Margaret Walker was the first and Harold Courlander the second to sue Haley for plagiarism. Walker identified 156 instances from her 1966 novel Jubilee, outlining them in her journals, in the transcript of her lawsuit, and in a later speech at Wayne State University. She lost her legal suit in a ruling by Judge Marvin Frankel. In the wake of Haley’s vehement denial, she was reviled, tried in the court of public opinion as nothing other than a hater.

Friday, June 3, 2016

ICYMI: The Last Week in Black Writing and Culture (5/28-6/3)

Tamara Best of the New York Times wrote on the social advocacy of writer Ralph Ellison and photographer Gordon Parks, both of whom used their talents to address racial injustice.

Todd Steven Burroughs recapped the James Baldwin International Conference held in Paris from May 26-28th.

Thomas Chatterton Williams explored the life of Albert Murray and his complex analysis of art. Paul Devlin's new book Murray Talks Music is a collection of compiled interviews of Murray. Murray was a novelist, literary critic, and a founder of Jazz at Lincoln Center.

Jamie Poniewozik reviewed the new remake of the "Roots," which premiered earlier this week, in "'Roots" for a Black Lives Matter Era." Similarly, the Huffington Post highlighted a "Roots Syllabus" created by Black Twitter with a list of essential readings on slavery.

Dr. Natalie Cort spoke about succeeding as a person of color in a predominately white institution.

In local news, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Kansas has named its first associate dean who will oversee diversity, equity, and inclusion programming. Dr. Jennifer Hamer will be in charge of strengthening the retention rates of underrepresented students.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016


In his nicely crafted review essay "The Anger of Ta-Nahesi Coates" (New York Review of Books, February 11, 2016 issue), Darryl Pinckney raises the penultimate question of our day:

"Which is better: to believe that blacks will achieve full equality in American society or to realize that white racism is so deep that meaningful integration can never happen, so make other plans?"

In the first choice of response, the word "equality" really ought to be "power," so that the second choice would appear with better advantage. Moreover, the word "power" might provoke certain neoliberal, colorblinded readers to have epiphanies. We recognize, of course, that Pinckney is writing for the NYRB audience, and some liberties of vision are simply forbidden. One must not trample on the tender sensibilities of an august readership. For the 1% of the readership that has achieved post-humanity, even the common sense phrase "white racism" will be deemed micro-transgressive.