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How Do You Teach (Responsibly) a Racist Text in an Era of Rampant Racism?

How Do You Teach (Responsibly) a Racist Text in an Era of Rampant Racism?

Is there anything to be learned from teaching a text, movie, or piece of music that is racist or contains racist images?  If one is teaching older works, this question inevitably arises.  How do you teach it responsibly?  And what can students learn from that exercise that they might be able to use in other situations, such as when they confront racist texts or comments or incidents in every day life?  This is increasingly an issue we all need to confront and understand. Many of us teach in other historical periods or in different national traditions where the issues may not only be different but, to modern students, offensive.  How do we tackle these issues in our classes in a way that helps to inform everyone and demeans no one?

It's hard to imagine more difficult questions for our undergraduate classrooms, and they were tackled brilliantly in our class by doctoral students Mike Phillips and Katie Contess. 

Here are my notes and reflections, random and fresh, from tonight's remarkable student-led grad class on this topic in our course, "Teaching Race And Gender Theory in the Undergraduate Classroom."    

The students were leading us in a module on "Visuality" and designed several active, engaged learning pedagogical exercises to help us negotiate this territory.  It was an astonishing discussion.  To be sure, this is one of the most generous, thoughtful, engaged classes I've ever taught.  I and my co-prof Michael Gillespie leave each night deeply grateful that these graduate students are present or future professors.  It gives one hope.  These students, all term, have been willing to talk with candor and honesty, and are working hard to find ways to support their own students' understanding, knowledge, and insight, too. 

In the classroom and out, how do we confront racist stereotypes?  If we are teaching older, classic texts or films, we often have to address representations that are offensive.  How do we do this?  Do we simply avoid them?  Or do we protest? Or do we attempt to contextualize and analyze and learn from the practice?  Those are not rhetorical questions, but, in fact, three defensible, different strategies.  We may use one or another at different times, in different classrooms and other learning contexts, depending on what we hope to learn and accomplish by our actions.  

**

Our class is about giving graduate students who are already teaching or who will be teaching in the future methods, theories, and strategies for teaching difficult subject matter in introductory courses.  The class includes a high school and a middle school teacher as well as several students already teaching in four-year and two-year colleges.  The class itself is student-designed, with four "modules" that students design for us, teaching by doing new methods and experimental, active pedagogies.

Last night, the "Visuality" module taught our co-teacher, the brilliant Michael Gillespie of CCNY,  his own book Film Blackness.  We also read an essay by Paul McEwan on "Racist Film:  Teaching The Birth of a Nation," and began discussing another stunning book, Nicole Fleetwood's, Racial Icons. Stunning. Serious. Meaningful. Deeply real.  The graduate students leading this module, Mike Phillips and Katie Contess, showed us the famous, censored, banned racist  "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah" clip from the Disney movie Song of the South.  They juxtaposed it to the opening, bitter, angry, unforgettable song by Scatman Crothers in "Coonskin." (Another movie, for all practical purposes, banned.)  Crothers sings every ounce and syllable of that song with that long racist minstrel tradition fully in mind. [Mike and Katie posted a blog with their exercises and readings here:  "Confronting Racist Stereotypes Through the Racial Grotesque."].

***

The class was about teaching racist films.  It asked a key question: Should we teach them or not?  It's almost impossible to teach early cinema or cinema history without confronting racist imagery and representation. Values change.  And what if, in deciding not to teach such an offensive text, we're inadvertently "cleaning up" ("whitewashing") a reprehensible history?   Or do we just ignore these histories?

These are real and legitimate questions that the graduate students posed to us tonight. Every faculty member must address questions like this at some point (not always about racism but about something that comes up that they might prefer not to have to teach).  

Our class is about giving graduate students who are already teaching or who will be teaching in the future methods, theories, and strategies for teaching difficult subject matter in introductory courses.  Personally, I hate teaching books I don't like, or movies either. Yet every faculty member is, at some point, put in a position of having to teach something required that they don't like.

So this student-led module presented ways to engage us as students deeply in how we can analyze and not be brutalized by racist texts--and offered us techniques that the other students could use in their own classes. The Visuality group thoughtfully designed the class so that every student was "inventoried" (Freire and hooks's method or what the APA calls "Total Participation"); every student had a chance to articulate their feelings and interpretations of the material and their ideas about how to use or avoid such material in their own classroom.  They allowed our group to be diverse; they did not enforce a unitary position. The presented methods of active learning such that many points of view were expressed in order that we could all, together, come to understand the histories of racism these films embodied. (See "Confronting Racist Stereotypes".)

***

In the world we live in now, where it is increasingly acceptable to be racist in both general and in personalized (attacking) ways, it is crucial to learn techniques that call out, discuss, historicize, and arm oneself against racism. Learning how to address racism from a position of power, competence, and control is an everyday life skill.  For the classroom teacher, today, mastering such complex pedagogies is a necessity.

As much as I would like to say (as I have many times in the past) that I don't want to waste precious class time teaching work that I find offensive, teaching ways to interact with the offensive may be the jui jitsu of our historical moment--literally a martial art, a form of combat, in which the smaller, weaker opponent can learn techniques that allow them to triumph over someone with far more power.   

Teaching Birth of a Nation

The talk was real. This film (originally called "The Clansman") is a veritable KKK recruitment film and is credited, historically, with energizing a resurgence of the KKK.  It is also the beginning of modern cinematic techniques.  To not teach the film in an "Early Cinema" class is not only to leave out a crucial part of filmic history but to whitewash a heinous, racist pass.  It is akin to southern American history textbooks that simply "leave out" slavery.  But watching this film--its horrific representations of Black people and its blatantly racist lies--does violence to the watcher.  So the question again: How do you teach a racist film?

Michael talked candidly about what it feels like having to teach early cinema and having to teach Birth of a Nation.  He is African American and many of his students are students of color from radically different backgrounds--African Americans, immigrants from Africa, Latin America, Asia, the Middle East.  Unlike the African Americans in the class, these other students have different relationships to the specifically American racial history in Birth of a Nation.   Michael talked about the different ways he helps all of his students understand the movie as technology, as representation, and as false representation (which is to say a false history, a racist history, for a propagandistic purpose). Even with all of this careful framing, however, there is still the reality of watching that film, with its explicit racist violence. Lynching. He said he shows it but it disgusts him so much that sometimes he walks out of the class while it is being screened.  Sometimes he leaves the building even.  Then comes back when it is over to calmly, professorially help his students "contextualize" it.

This candor helped us all to understand that intellectual contextualizing does not eradicate violence.  This is important given the so-called "academic freedom" issues swirling around the invitations to overtly racist, incendiary speakers to campuses.   NB: Contextualizing what they say does not erase the violence done by having heard it, in a situation that supposedly is designed for your education and improvement.

 

Teaching The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

I know the feeling of being a professor called upon to teach something that you find deeply offensive.  It's how I feel about The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. 

Yes, I know this is one of the most cherished books in all American literature.  I know that many formerly racist white people were inspired to open-mindedness by the book.  I remember reading it at age 12 for the first time and finding it appalling.  I had never seen the "N-word" so many times.  The plot seemed designed to make the runaway slave Jim into some kind of infant (we did a lot of camping when I was a kid; any twelve year old would know that, if you don't want to be detected--say, if you are a runaway slave--you don't light a campfire on an island in the middle of a river). On the level of plot, character, and psychology, the book seemed like a lie to me. Lo, these many years later: I have never recovered from my initial "camping interpretation" of Huckleberry Finn.  I really despise this book.

And, at my first tenure-track teaching job, now well over twenty-five years ago, I was required to teach it in an American literature survey.  What was interesting to me, back then, was how teaching the book, and being candid about how much I disliked it, engendered one of the most powerful class discussions I've ever had, in a class of 75 "non majors."  Yet, after the class, a small group of African American students came up to tell me how deeply they appreciated my candor about despising the book.  Previous teachers had made them feel as if they were defective readers for being offended by this American classic. 

Think about the violence of being in a classroom and being told (implicitly or explicitly) that your offense at a classic means you are defective.  Is that really a purpose of higher education?  Should it be?  What are a student's rights in such a situation?

My own Huckleberry Finn adventure does not stop at my Michigan State University classroom.  Once I did not have to teach that book, I stopped doing so, but, for several years, I debated this topic with colleagues.  In the 1980s, at the height of a different Culture War, I gave an MLA paper that made everyone furious by analyzing why this American classic, that has moved so many people towards anti-racism in their lives, is not only deeply racist (its use of the N word would have been offensive even in its day) but violates good narrative form in order to make Jim ridiculous--which is to say harmless, which is to say sympathetic to racist readers.  Probably two hundred MLA'ers were in that audience and some agreed with me--and others were deeply offended. I was debasing a book that had changed their lives.  A small group (they all happened to be progressive white men, all of them older than I was at the time, much more senior, some of them famous in my field) came up to me after and, echoing my MSU undergraduates, said that I had done damage to a book that had changed their lives and had hurt them.  They were outraged.

You can see how this discussion keeps turning.  (The students conducting this module in our graduate class were adept at drawing out all of these twists and turns of a complex discussion.)

I don't want to derail this blog post with my lifelong dislike but I should note that, at one point, I was going to write a small book with my beloved friend and mentor, the late Emory Elliott--who adored Huck Finn --as a dialogue, on his love and my dislike for it, chapter by chapter with our alternative close readings.  That never happened and, in truth, I'm relieved.  Like Michael, I'd rather take a walk around the building during the screening .  .   .

In class last night, the graduate students addressed these issues with keen awareness.  A fascinating point of discussion: the relationship of speaker and audience.  Who is teaching, who is learning, in what context (elective? required course?), and how does that actual situation change the texts being discussed?  We addressed the difference (all of these pedagogical situations were represented in our room) of being a white prof in an all Black class--and vice versa. Or being a white or Black prof in a class of a number of different races. Or a white teacher with only white students or a Black teacher with only Black students. In a class with a required syllabus.  Or one where there is choice.

Academic freedom requires seriously contemplating these issues.

Teaching the Whitney Biennial Controversy

We talked about the controversy at the Whitney Biennial--the protests against a white woman artist painting Emmett Till in a Biennial with two curators of color, and in a show with more artists of color than just about any other Biennial in NYC history.  We discussed how in the 1970s these were key issues that then a number of Black artists responded to powerfully (Adrian Piper etc). The two hours raced by.  I wish it had been four or six hours.  (You can read a blog recap of the techniques and readings and YouTube videos offered by Aily Nash and Erica Campbell to address this controversy in "Using New Media To Teach Race and Gender Theory.")

***

Teaching--Talking Back--to Racist, Conservative Incendiary Speakers invited to Your Campus 

Like lone gunmen and terrorists, when a famous right-wing incendiary is invited to campus by a right-wing student or faculty group, the purpose is to create mayhem, using media coverage to amplify the message.  All over America, speakers are being invited by the American Enterprise Institute and other conservative and even alt-right white supremacist groups to engender protests, riots, violence, and other kinds of media attention:  the real audience  of these speakers is the media, where the optic is of one poor lone speaker confronting an enraged university crowd.  They get attention. Their cause gets attention. Universities look bad. 

It's a trap.  It works.

This is a structural and cultural situation that depends upon social injustice to do its work.  Others have explained this at greater length and depth but here is a schematic: if I give a talk about race or gender to an audience likely to believe what I say--if it is radical or moderate or even relatively conservative but also well substantiated--I am likely to draw a relatively small crowd interested in the topic, one commensurate with my own fame/notoriety but garnering little or no media attention.  The substance of the talk is its purpose and its impact is on its present audience.

If I am a provocateur-lecturer, brought in by a group already "branded" for its tendency to bring in provocative speakers whose actual audience is small but whose intended audience is the media beyond the talk, everything about the situation is structured for maximum reach to that audience beyond the talk. 

For example, if my normal audience is 25 serious, conservative thinkers, and my hosts book a room big enough to fit 250 or 2500, they already know that I am not coming to share information, for an educational purpose, but as a provocateur reaching far beyond my putative audience.  If my normal lecture fee is small, in this situation it will be large (often paid not by the university but by conservative backers of events like this who intend to garner maximum media attention). 

If normally there are a few handbills and emails announcing my talk, in this situation of provocation not education, there will be excessive communications and media will be abundant.

It is all a performance, in other words, designed for the media, not for the conveying of knowledge.  The purpose is not education but intimidation, accusation, humiliation of certain subjects and people who are the subject of the talk.  THE PURPOSE IS TO DO HARM, in other words.  

Like a KKK rally, the purpose is to draw the largest possible oppositional crowd and gain the most media attention.  Again, there are parallels to the lone wolf gunmen or terrorists.

University administrators who do not realize the purpose is not pedagogical but incendiary are not grasping the structural constraints nor the cultural ones of the situation.  Any discussion of "academic freedom" must also grasp audience and purpose.  The discussion (and this is exactly what our module was about) must also contextualize and frame the entire event. 

"Free speech" is not and never has been "free" in all contexts, to all speakers, to all listeners. 

***

Consider these three scenarios of non-parallel violence and incommensurate media attention:

(1) A Black teenager kills three people who happen to be Black.  This is not news (unless the method is so grotesque that the "news value" is the modeling of Black violence as "non-human" and a tacit justification of racism).  One social purpose of #BlackLivesMatter was to insist on the importance of Black lives by making visible the egregious killing of innocent Black people by police whose power allowed their actions to be unaccounted for (literally, no data existed in police record-keeping) and invisible in the media.

(2) A Black man kills three people who happen to be white.  This is on every news channel for a sustained period of time.

(3) A Muslim or immigrant with a Muslim-sounding name attempts to kill anyone or seems to have the intent of violence or may be seeming to plan violence:  This is international news.

Why? Because media is about the broadcast of what a majority or a powerful minority consider to be relevant not only to their lives but to the perpetuation of their power and the propagation of their ideology.

A speaker-provocateur who comes to campus falls somewhere between Scenario 2 or, more typically, Scenario 3.  The media attention to the event is proportionally greater than the event itself. 

If there are protests, riots, and violence, this shows how higher education and "youth today" are the intemperate ones and the speaker is rational, his/her ideology is the right, good, one and we need to be "open minded" and listen.  The structural inequality supporting everything about the event is ignored.

***

How do we use the appearances on campus by right-wing speakers in the way this module used racist texts to teach tactics for disarming racism, for a pedagogy of anti-racist activism?  

What if every visit by such a speaker became routinized by students and faculty on campus as an occasion to generate a "Freedom School" the way the Black Panthers did in the 1960s, spontaneous teach-ins and forums of counter-education? 

What if tactics such as those pioneered by Act Up were routinely used by peaceful protestors to garner maximum media attention to an anti-racist message (like the most clever signs at protest marches)? 

In the same way my class contextualized racist texts to introduce anti-racist ideas, what if every such occasion were routinized into a catalyst for organized anti-racist alternative education? 

How can we use active learning and active pedagogy for social justice, even in this extreme situation of provocation?

What if student and faculty protest followed the routinized forms of grassroots political action groups like Moral Mondays in North Carolina, led by Rev. Barber, such that, whenever a right-wing speaker showed up, everyone would know--including the media--that a countering Town Hall with a countering speaker would also emerge.  This would take the buzz out of the right wing speaker and possibly even require joint media attention. 

What else is possible? 

Ideology as Violence

Around the country, we are seeing incidents involving famous conservative scholars who deal in racist stereotypes, bad science, and a desire to provoke students to behavior that makes the students look irrational for protesting their appearance on campus.  Framed as "free speech," these conservatives are not at all situating their own work in the context of arbitrary bans on all those immigrants coming into our country from certain countries--no matter who they are as individuals--or a president of the United States making white supremacist statements about "rapists" coming in from Mexico and the need to build a wall. 

Why are they talking as if their work has no consequences? As if ideas, including their own, are not having actual, adverse, even devastating impacts on other humans?  They act as if their speech is about "ideas," not ideas weaponized as rationales for discrimination, for police brutality, for the prison/industrial complex, for income inequality, for violence and genocide.

They act as if the "free flow of ideas" is really "free" in a society structured for inequality and, sometimes, violence too.

Nor do these current, prominent conservatives frame their own ideas within the history of genocide in the Holocaust and the way intellectuals served up pseudo-science to justify "racial cleansing" of Jews or the way, in the 19th century, other white supremacists called forth pseudo-science to justify colonialism, genocide against indigenous peoples, and slavery. 

In other words, when inviting such right-wing speakers is framed as free speech, the protestors look like suppressors of the free flow of ideas. One lone speaker is shouted down by a crowd; or a poster is defaced; or, in the worst case, there is violence and harm (inexcusable) done. It seems as if the "students" and "universities" are intolerant and the speaker the voice of free speech. 

Really?  That is not the rule of law. If your ideas legitimate genocide, shouldn't you be responsible enough to acknowledge that impact and use and take your own precautions to minimize that heinous impact in the world? 

Or, implicitly, is violence to others the (unstated) objective you are after?  

If so, then are protestors stopping "free speech" or preventing someone from shouting "FIRE!" in the crowded theater of a political situation veering closer and closer to fascism?

***

Teaching as Jiu Jitsu for Social Justice

As we saw in class last night, looking at and discussing these flagrantly racist films (Birth of a Nation is de facto a KKK recruitment film), the racist texts themselves--including those spoken from a podium on a college classroom--must be contextualized in the history of the violence they justify, support, and tacitly promulgate. Framed (as our class did last night) within a context of representations used to justify the violent suppression of or killing of others, one has to ask who, really, is the powerful one whose views are leading to the silencing of others?

One also has to ask:  what better pedagogical tactics--jiu jitsu again--are there for addressing racist speakers/racist ideas/racist tests/racist films on our college campuses? 

Protest itself is allowed by the Constitution and is a legitimate form of response.  Violence is not.  What better ways are there to respond to an offensive, racist speaker than with the kind of viral outburst that makes the speaker seem sympathetic, not as a contributor to a long history of violent suppression?  How can self-education, organizing, empowerment, and other forms of alternative education counter such speeches, enriching the community those speeches are intended to subdue rather than providing a platform for prejudiced, unscientific, unsupportable views? The Black Panther schools and the Freedom Schools and the long histories of alternative, activist, community-based empowerment and education against indoctrination provide excellent resources to guide us here.

Our class last night made me think about tactics for framing and addressing the substance of those who pretend to want only a "fair" intellectual hearing but whose very work is "unfair," embedded in racist, offensive, disrespectful ideas often supported by ideas such as the bell curve with their roots in 19th century eugenics, false biologism, and white supremacy.   Last night's class made me think about ways of addressing this intellectually. 

***

Here is one final point that should not be overlooked.  Although Birth of a Nation remains in circulation and is widely taught for its role in the "birth of cinema" (NB: the film was previewed at the White House: sound familiar?), it is not some modern-day "political correctness" that makes us appalled by its racism. There were many protests against the movie from the beginning, including marches organized by the new NAACP.

Similarly, there were protests against both Song of the South and Coonskin.  Disney and Gulf and Western (Bryanston distributors) decided not to show Song of the South, and Coonskin was also removed from circulation.  Neither is easily available today, even though it could be well argued that the former trades in racist stereotypes and the other is radically, intemperately, violently against racist stereotypes (while using them as what Gillespie calls the "racial grotesque.")  The idea that college students and professors are the only ones who protest what is "offensive" and who preclude "free speech" is part of the conservative ideology of our day and is not remotely true to the history of racism--or the history of protest against racism.   One other important reason to return to these historical documents is to underscore that, as much as racism is part of America, so are protest and anti-racist activism.

Our class last night dealt directly and indirectly with some of the most urgent issues in contemporary higher education.  It's what makes this course so precious and the students in it so remarkable. My head is spinning. And the good news is that, as part of the Futures Initiative, we make our work in class public so soon the students will be putting up their worksheets for active learning, their readings, their lesson plans, their discussions.   (In this "Group" on HASTAC, you will be able to find all the public postings for our course.  Here's one for the opening module on activist, engaged pedagogy: https://www.hastac.org/blogs/jessericeevans/2017/03/07/teaching-transgress-collaborative-syllabus)

 

Teach-Ins and Performance Activism

I think about a movement:  what would happen if, every time a right-wing provocateur were invited to campus, students "Occupied" campus with instant teach-ins and sign making.  What if instead of protest signs, the speaker were ignored but everyone carried signs with correct, counter-messages.  Facts would be one way.  Quotes from derisive reviews would be another.  Url's to progressive websites.

What if, instead of shouting down a speaker, every time they said something racist, everyone raised a sign with a countering fact.  Or put on a mask with a Grim Face.  And sat silently, with mask and face. 

THAT gets media attention and then requires the media to deal with a real fact, a real insight, not to rehearse the racism of the speaker.  There are so many creative, informative ways to turn a bad thing into a good one.

Activist pedagogy says there must be better ways of responding that acquiescence or shouting down.  WE HAVE KNOWLEDGE ON OUR SIDE. 

But we rarely teach in a way that empowers our students with the tools to be actively engaged with their own learning and to represent that learning in a way that serves them in the world.  If the binary is "the professional right-wing speaker" versus "protestors," we lose.  Using active and activist pedagogy helps our students learn how to themselves be actors--not just resistors--in a more just world. 

Active learning teaches students how to use knowledge as a weapon for social justice and good.

 

The Futures Initiative:  Linking Pedagogy to Social Action and Institutional Change

The Futures Initiative is about "advancing equity and innovation in higher education."  It links how we teach to how we become engaged, activist, responsible, and productive members of society.  We connect active learning in the classroom to institutional and social change. 

Last night's student-led class on an extremely difficult subject embodied active and activist learning.  The "class" includes the various exercises we did online before the class (on a closed group website, free and built for the Futures Initiative on the student and faculty-created free CBOX CUNY platform), and then the exercises we did in class so that each and every student could be heard, could have a voice.  I think of how much we would have missed had Michael and I simply lectured or held a conventional discussion, with voices from one or two extroverts.  Instead students designed and led the exercise and led us in all having a voice--with methods that we can then use in our other classes.

Teaching Students to Be Actors in the World

Paulo Freire, in Pedagogy of the Oppressed, emphasizes that how we learn is as important as how we teach.  The one-way transmission model reinforces the passivity of students, their lack of agency.  It puts them in a binary of either accepting or resisting oppression--not having new ideas, new methods, and better content, ideas, facts, assertions, and thinking with which to counter and defeat it. 

This course on "Teaching Race and Gender Theory in the Undergraduate Classroom" was designed to empower graduate students with techniques that would allow them to empower their undergraduates, a disruption of the one-way model that characterizes the apprenticeship of graduate school.

This is a choice.  How to teach, how to learn.

We can either teach students to be passive recipients of knowledge.  Or we can scaffold learning so students become passionate creators of new knowledge.  These are choices that, in the most restrictive situations, every instructor (even in a religious middle school) can make.  These are about how we envision education and its role in shaping society.

Keep watching this site.  There is far more to come . . .  When "Teaching Race and Gender Theory in the Undergraduate Classroom" ends, we'll remix this site on hastac.org so that anyone can borrow from the tactics and methodologies for active, activist learning.

The students in the class each recreated their class modules in blogs on this site, and many also, as a final project, wrote a syllabus for a future course on some part of this topic.  All of these resources will be remixed and presented in a user-friendly way and new materials, now, are being put up every day.

*******

Additional Resources:

ADDENDUM #1:

I can't stop thinking about the actor and singer, James Baskett, who performed "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah".

Here is a tragic entry from Wikipedia for James Baskett:

"After abandoning his studies of pharmacology for financial reasons, James Baskett supported himself as an actor, moving from his home town of Indianapolis, Indiana to New York City, New York and joining the company of Bill Robinson, better known as Mr. Bojangles. As Jimmie Baskette, he appeared on Broadway with Louis Armstrong in the all-black musical revue Hot Chocolates in 1929, and was announced for Hummin' Sam in 1933, although it failed to open. Mr. Baskett also acted in several all-black films made in the New York area, including Harlem Is Heaven (1932) starring Bill Robinson. He went to Los Angeles, California and had a supporting role in Straight to Heaven (1939), starring Nina Mae McKinney, and bit parts in the films Revenge of the Zombies (1943) and The Heavenly Body (1944). He was invited by Freeman Gosden to join the cast of the Amos 'n' Andy radio show as lawyer Gabby Gibson, whom he portrayed from 1944 to 1948.

In 1945, he auditioned for a bit part voicing one of the animals in the new Disney feature film Song of the South (1946), based on the Uncle Remus stories by Joel Chandler Harris. Walt Disney was impressed with Baskett's talent and hired him on the spot for the lead role of Uncle Remus. Baskett was also given the voice role of Brer Fox, one of the film's animated antagonists, and even filled in as the main animated protagonist, Brer Rabbit, in one sequence. This was one of the first Hollywood portrayals of a black actor as a non-comic character in a leading role in a film meant for general audiences.

Baskett was not allowed to attend the film's premiere in Atlanta, Georgia because Atlanta was racially segregated by law.

Although Baskett was occasionally criticized for accepting such a "demeaning" role, his acting was almost universally praised, and columnist Hedda Hopper was one of the many journalists who declared that he should receive an Academy Award for his work.

Academy Award

On March 20, 1948, Baskett received an Honorary Academy Award for his performance as Uncle Remus. He was the first African-American male actor to win an Academy Award.

Illness and death

Baskett had been in poor health around 1946 during the filming of Song Of the South due to diabetes and suffered a heart attack. His health continued to decline, and he was often unable to attend the Amos and Andy show he was in. On July 9, 1948 during the show's summer hiatus,[8] Baskett died of heart failure resulting from the diabetes at age 44 and was survived by his wife, Margaret.[9][10] He is buried at Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis.[11]"

Tragic.

 

ADDENDUM #2   Columbia and Barnard Faculty Responding to Charles Murray and his visit (March 20, 2017). 

(Note how reading about James Baskett frames reading this letter about Murray.  Pedagogy is framing.)

"We are Columbia and Barnard faculty who find Charles Murray's book “The Bell Curve” (co-authored with Richard Herrnstein) not only wrong-headed but reprehensible. It rests on eugenicist pseudo-science to claim that, on balance, people of African descent are genetically and immovably less intelligent than whites. Moreover, we consider much of Murray’s work to be tendentious dogma ruled by hostility to the idea that government can do anything useful to benefit disadvantaged people of any color.

But whatever our views of the merits and demerits of Murray’s latest work, we insist that the student chapter of the right-wing American Enterprise Institute has the right to invite him to speak, and that he has the right to speak uninterrupted. The fact that his sponsor is a wealthy right-wing organization is irrelevant.

We urge the audience to permit Murray to give his speech unimpeded. This is a matter of the principle of free speech. As John Stuart Mill put it, even good ideas wither into “dead beliefs” when they are not openly contested. But practical politics are also at issue here. Any attempt to obstruct Murray will be instantly weaponized by supporters of President Donald Trump into yet another reason to hate “elitists” and to divert from the damage his regime intends.

We must be mindful that precisely this happened earlier this month, when protesters at Middlebury College drove Murray from the lecture hall and, in the process, struck a professor and seriously injured her. At a time when universities are under fire from an anti-democratic, anti-liberty, anti-scientific regime and white supremacy rides high, we at Columbia must not fuel the fires of bigotry and anti-intellectualism."

 

 

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June Jordan on why "freedom of speech" is not grounds for white supremacists to speak on university campuses: “Show me the freedom that this University upholds: show it to me in its admission policies. Show it to me in its financial aid programs. Show it to me in its curriculum, in its required readings, in the color, the sex, the viewpoints of its faculty. Show me this freedom that this institution holds so dear.”

- “On the Occasion of a Clear and Present Danger at Yale” (1975)

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