21st-Century African-American Perspectives on Race


Through close reading and discussion of a number of modern classics this course will seek to better understand two lines of African-American thinking about racism today. The more mainstream, “liberal” school of thought contends that America has always been — and is still today — a fundamentally racist nation. The less known, “conservative” school of thought contends not only that America has made great racial progress, but that the greatest obstacle to further progress is the “liberal” narrative itself. Readings includes works by Derrick Bell, Shelby Steele, Ta-Nehisi Coates, John McWhorter, Ibram Kendi, and Glenn Loury. Prior to the first class, please do the readings indicated on the syllabus and watch the 2020 documentary What Killed Michael Brown? … with as much “critical empathy” for each work as possible. Continue reading

A Matter of Black and White: 20th Century Perspectives on Race


Inspired by W.E.B. DuBois’s famous thesis that “the problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color-line”, this course will try to understand a variety of 20th-century perspectives on race through a sympathetic examination of a selection of classic works of fiction, nonfiction, and cinema by authors and directors Black and White, including: DuBois himself, Rudyard Kipling, Frantz Fanon, Thomas Dixon, Jr., James Baldwin, and Joseph Conrad, as well as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X. Prior to the first class, please do the short readings and watch D.W. Griffith’s (in)famous 1915 silent film, The Birth of a Nation … from a perspective as “critically empathic” as possible. Continue reading

Home Front, War Front: “Mrs. Miniver” and “Scarlett O’Hara” as the Interpretive Keys to Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun


Since it was first produced on Broadway in 1959 and by Hollywood in 1961, Lorraine’s Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun has been widely ranked as a modern classic — though perhaps not a completely understood one. For a full appreciation of this self-consciously-literary work requires not only, in general, a deep appreciation of a large number of subtle allusions in the text, but also, in particular, a deep appreciation of a few seemingly-trivial allusions to two of the most important American movies to come out of the World War II era: Mrs. Miniver (1942) and Gone With the Wind (1939). Once these contextual and intertextual allusions are fully understood, individually and collectively, the full significance of A Raisin in the Sun as a “war film” about the “home front” of America’s “race war” — indeed, as an “African American war film” about the “home front” of America’s “race war” — comes easily into view. Hansberry’s work thus exemplifies the dictum of T.S. Eliot’s “Tradition and the Individual Talent”: that no artist “has his complete meaning alone” but rather can only be fully appreciated when set “for contrast and comparison, among the dead”. Continue reading

Strategies for ‘Negro Advancement’: Booker T. Washington’s Up from Slavery vs. W.E.B. DuBois’s The Souls of Black Folk


Although often pigeonholed as “African-American intellectuals”, Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois thought deeply about the nature of man and America when developing their programs for “Negro advancement”. This lecture will examine their analyses and conclusions as reflected in their two best-known works, Up from Slavery and The Souls of Black Folk, as well as consider how and why they arrived at what are often understood as diametrically-opposed and mutually-exclusive perspectives and programs — for African-Americans in particular and human beings in general Continue reading

African-American Classics


Although issues of race and slavery have long been a prominent subject of American writing, the classic works of African-American authors are often unknown beyond the African-American community. This course will examine a selection of such classics in order to understand the works themselves, the canon of which they form a part and their relationship to comparable Euro-American works. Texts will include: David Walker’s Appeal, Frederick Douglass’s autobiographical Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington’s Up From Slavery, W.E.B. DuBois’s The Souls of Black Folk, and more. Continue reading

The Many Meanings of Meekness; Or, Taking the ‘Uncle Tom’ Out of Uncle Tom’s Cabin


Despite the fact that “Uncle Tom” has become a negative cultural stereotype connoting a Black who is abjectly servile to Whites, a close reading of Uncle Tom’s Cabin suggests that Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom was no “Uncle Tom”. Indeed, imposing such a characterization on the novel’s protagonist undermines one of the central messages of the book. This lecture will examine the novel and the history of its interpretation as a means of deriving a fair reading of both the text and its key character. Continue reading