On April 11th, 2018, the New York Times Magazine published an article titled, “Why America’s Black Mothers and Babies Are in a Life-or-Death Crisis.” The piece, authored by Linda Villarosa, was accompanied by a series of black-and-white photographs by LaToya Ruby Frazier. Both Villarosa’s writing and Frazier’s art are steeped in black feminist theory and queer-of-color critique. They use their work to advocate for the wellbeing of black people, especially women. Their black feminist praxis is evident in both the article’s language and the photographic representation of its subjects.
This interdisciplinary seminar begins with the NYT Magazine article and works to contextualize it in relation to canonical and contemporary black feminist and queer-of-color scholarship and creative projects, specifically those taking an intersectional approach to health, healing, kinship, sexuality, gender, and “wake work” (Sharpe 2016). We also will consider major events bookending the article’s publication. These include: New York City’s removal of the Central Park statue of J. Marion Sims on April 17th, 2018 (Sims has been hailed as “the father of modern gynecology” and operated on enslaved black women in Montgomery, AL), and black feminist and queer-of-color interventions into the #MeToo movement. Indeed, it was Tarana Burke, a black woman, who created a “Me Too” campaign back in 2007. As Burke explained to Ebony magazine in October 2017: “It wasn’t built to be a viral campaign or a hashtag that is here today and forgotten tomorrow. It was a catchphrase to be used from survivor to survivor to let folks know that they were not alone and that a movement for radical healing was happening and possible.”
Participants in the seminar will closely read and actively contribute to the discussion of assigned material. For each meeting, students will take turns submitting discussion questions and selecting a poem or work of art to analyze in relation to the assigned texts. For the final assignment, students will either: 1) produce a creative response (e.g., poem, work of art, song) to the syllabus material, accompanied by a 1-2-paragraph statement regarding its relation to the course’s themes; or 2) write a short essay (2-4 pages, double-spaced) in which they respond to at least two of the assigned texts, preferably bringing different genres of material into conversation.
Please come to the first meeting (May 11th) having read the NYT Magazine article.