Blog Post

Using new media to teach race and gender theory

For Cathy Davidson and Michael B. Gillespie's course Teaching Race and Gender Theory in the Undergraduate Humanities Classroom, the class split into four modules that addressed theory through distinctive practices and discourses including visuality, music, literature and pedagogy. The visuality module, of which I was a member, decided to create subsections. Katherine Contess and Mike Phillips focused on narrative feature films in the first session, and for the second part we focused on new media and graphic novels. Erica Campbell who assigned and conceived of the activities for the graphic novels will recap on her session in her own post. Here, I am mostly reflecting on the sessions related to the new media works.

 

We assigned the following texts and materials for the two class sessions:

 

Nicole Fleetwood's On Racial Icons with a focus on the Introduction and Chapter 1: "I am Trayvon Martin".

 

Martine Syms's Black Vernacular: Reading New Media.

 

James N. Kienitz Wilkins, B-Roll with Andre, 18 min, 2016,

 

 

Hennessy Youngman videos

How to make an art 

How to be a successful black artist 

Institutional critique 

 

We also assigned the following blog assignment:

 

Inspired by Michael's proposition in his book Film Blackness that "the idea of black film is always a question, never an answer," we'd like to propose that everyone formulate 3-4 questions based on any or all of the materials we've shared with you for this week. Our materials aren't all films, but the generative and open-ended form of a question seems like a great starting point for focused discussion and analysis. The questions can be based on one or more works or can be overarching questions that related to multiple works. Please post your questions to the discussion forum (you must log in to post on the forum).  

 

In class, we began the session by asking everyone to pair up and share their questions with a partner. We also asked them to chose one question each to share with the group. We had class participants volunteer to share their questions as a way to begin a discussion about the materials.

 

I noted a couple of the ideas that came up in the discussion: Damele was responding to the song from the previous session and the theme song from Coonskin. She asked, what if someone else re-made the song? Sylvia was interested in the idea of the fetishization of art work by POC in relation to Martine Syms’ text. Eric wondered: How does the identity of the artist affect the way we receive the work? Katie reflected on the trans-nationality of icons from the Fleetwood text and brought up the main actor in Get Out. We then ran out of time for the discussion that week but returned to it in the following session.

 

During those two weeks, the controversy around Dana Schutz’s painting “Open Casket” in the Whitney Biennial became a very urgent topic. We discussed it in class as it was very relevant to the class and, in particular, to the visuality module. So I shared a few readings related to the discussion including:

 

Coco Fusco: https://hyperallergic.com/368290/censorship-not-the-painting-must-go-on-...

Hannah Black's original letter: http://conversations.e-flux.com/t/hannah-blacks-letter-to-the-whitney-bi...

Kara Walker: https://www.instagram.com/p/BR-3iH5l0ZW/?hl=en

Aria Dean: http://thenewinquiry.com/essays/the-demand-remains/

 

Since the previous class discussion didn’t cover the graphic novels and "B-ROLL with Andre" we decided to begin the next session with two questions that had been posted to the blog the week before:

 

I chose Nicky's questions around audience assumptions in “B-Roll with Andre”:

"Some of the readings and also this clip touch on the subject of Treyvon Martin's death and how because he was mislabeled based on his outward appearance to be a menace to society and therefore a threat to the person who did the judging and the killing, I am curious and pose these questions: 1) Based on the "story" of the hooded character in this film what was the initial thought you perceive this "Andre" character's race to be?" (please see her other 3 questions on the blog)

 

Erica wanted the class to think about Darren's question: "What are the critical skills and techniques that critics/expert readers/we practice on visual texts on race and gender that we need to teach our students? How do experts and we do the things we do to visual texts that allow us to decode the ways in which texts represent and critique race and gender?"

Nicky and Darren began the class off with their questions which lead to a nice discussion, and that was followed by Erica’s handout and exercise related to comics.

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