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Spring 2019

Mediating Race: Technology, Performance, Politics, and Aesthetics in Popular Culture

Cathy N. Davidson (The Graduate Center, English and the Futures Initiative)
Racquel Gates (College of Staten Island, Media Culture)

Wednesdays, 2-4pm

Course Number: IDS 81630

What does it mean to be “cool,” to be “fierce,” or to “slay”? This course focuses on technologies, techniques, performance, and style (including fashion) as components contributing to our ideas, representations, conventions, and stereotypes of race. More specifically, this course asks how cinematic and media aesthetics have contributed to how we identify and “read” blackness in popular media. Rather than treat film, television, and new media as straightforward reflections of social realities, this course will analyze how the media established, and continues to shape, our understandings of what blackness “looks” like.
Blackness occupies a complicated space within the popular imaginary and popular culture. On the one hand, film and media have, since their inception, marginalized blackness in literal and figurative ways in order to reinforce the centrality and normativity of whiteness. At the same time, however, the world has obsessively consumed black performance and black style and celebrated black stars. When we talk about the “swag” of former President Barack Obama on the cover of Ebony magazine, or the glamour of Lena Horne in the 1940s, what are we seeing? When we identify Sidney Poitier’s cool film demeanor or Beyonce’s fierceness in her 2013 Super Bowl halftime show, what does this consist of?
These seemingly conflicted impulses are perhaps one of the most enduring legacies of the formation of American society, originating with the capture and introduction of African slaves (and their attendant cultures and traditions), solidified in the early days of minstrel performance, and reinscribed through today’s hyper-mediated culture. Debates around cultural appropriation have often focused on the racial politics of African American stylistic and cultural traditions being coopted by whites and other non-blacks, but there has been less exploration of how certain seemingly “ineffable” traits have become associated with blackness in the first place. This course asks how popular culture has created the aesthetic vocabulary for how media consumers “read” blackness in all of its various incarnations.
This is an ideal course for anyone in the humanities and social sciences, for those interested in traditional and new media, and for anyone looking for sophisticated, critical, and original approaches to issues of race, racism, and representation in American popular culture. In addition, the course will be using a number of active learning pedagogical techniques that will both make this a lively “workshop” of ideas to which every student will contribute and will offer anyone who is teaching, at any level, a new set of methods, activities, and ideas about active learning and the teaching of controversial, difficult, and complicated subject matter.

Afrofuturism—Race and Science Fiction


Jonathan Gray (The Graduate Center and John Jay College, English)
Joy Sanchez-Taylor (LaGuardia Community College, English)

Wednesdays, 11:45am – 1:45pm

Course Number: IDS 81640

In 1994 Mark Dery defined Afrofuturism as “speculative fiction that treats African-American themes and addresses African-American concerns in the contexts of twentieth-century technoculture,” locating its origins in the early work of Samuel Delany (and O. Butler? and Sun Ra?). Our seminar takes Dery’s definition as a point of departure to examine the fiction, films, graphic narratives and music videos produced in the sub-genre of Afrofuturism. Because Afrofuturist expression runs the gamut from literary (science) fiction to popular music, it is incumbent for graduate students interested in African American and Africana literature and culture, American Studies, popular culture studies, and science fiction and fantasy to engage in the necessarily interdisciplinary inquiry that Afrofuturism demands. Indeed, the question of Afro-futurity informs recent creative work (Junot Diaz’s “Monstro,” HBO’s Westworld) and technical innovation (Black Twitter) that would seem to fall outside of an Afrofuturist paradigm. Thus, our exploration of this topic will problematize our understandings of speculative fiction (also known as science fiction or sci-fi), question how the imbrication of technology into our lives transforms human subjectivity, and survey literary theory to arrive at an understanding of how Afrofuturism has developed since the mid-20th century and how it promises to propagate itself into the future.
This course is grounded in student participation. Students in the course will thoroughly investigate primary and secondary sources on Afrofuturism and will play an active role in the course by taking turns as facilitators of class discussions and through the completion of a class project with a digital humanities component.


Critical Race Scholarship: Theories and Pedagogies


Michelle Billies (The Graduate Center and Kingsborough Community College, Psychology)
Soniya Munshi (Borough of Manhattan Community College,Social Sciences, Human Services, and Criminal Justice)

Thursdays, 11:45am-1:45pm

Course Number: IDS 81650

In this interdisciplinary course, graduate students will engage with critical race scholarship to build from and integrate this scholarship into their own research and pedagogy. Readings will span an expansive array of critical race theories and methods. Scholarly traditions will include transnational and diasporic feminisms; Black geographies and Caribbean philosophies; indigenous studies and critical ethnic studies; critical whiteness studies; queer studies; disability studies; activist scholarship; and, literature addressing pedagogical approaches in these areas. Students will use course readings to craft a writing project useful in their research or teaching. They may deepen an understanding of a particular theorist or body of work; rewrite the philosophical or theoretical underpinning of their research; create a course, syllabi and/or set of teaching plans; collaborate with another student to generate theory or a team-taught course; examine internalized dominance or internalized racism and its relationship to their scholarly work or teaching; or another project they propose. Students will be invited to contribute a reading to the syllabus.
Contemporary challenges in the academy and society at large confirm the crucial need for intellectual engagement with critical theories of race and intersectionality that address systemic, historic racism. This graduate course is a means of proliferating knowledge and critiques of race in and out of the academy while developing strategies for furthering this work in the undergraduate classroom. The pedagogical approach will foster open discussion of personal relationships to the readings as well as experiences of race and ethnicity.

Reading and Speaking Race

Juan Battle (The Graduate Center, Sociology, Urban Education, Public Health)
Sigmund Shipp (Hunter College, Urban Policy and Planning)

Mondays, 4:15-6:15pm

Course Number: IDS 81660

This course will provide students with a deeper understanding of contemporary academic and public discourses surrounding race and ethnicity. Grounded in a sociological approach, students will read key social scientific texts on the meaning of race from both historical and contemporary perspectives. This class is different than a traditional race and ethnicity graduate course because it asks students to not only understand academic discussions of race and ethnicity but also work to make these complex arguments accessible to wider audiences. With journalists and publics becoming increasingly interested in nuanced discourse about the influence of race in the Post-Obama era, the class presents a unique opportunity to help emergent scholars hone their voices and analysis.
The contemporary political environment necessitates a language and nuance that helps articulate an increasingly diverse yet still unequal world. Weekly discussions will be facilitated by rotating members of the class. Students in the course will be expected to develop three written products: 1) an op-ed targeted at a major news publication such at the New York Times or a national news publication; 2) an article for Contexts magazine, The Conversation or a similarly public facing publication; and 3) a book review for an academic publication. The course will draw primarily from two texts: Beyond Black and White: A Reader on Contemporary Race Relations edited by Zulema Valdez and Going Public: A Guide for Social Scientists by Arlene Stein and Jessie Daniels. We plan to incorporate guest speakers who specialize in public facing work including a journalist, an editor from public facing publication, and academic with high profile success engaging publics.