Blog Post

Mediating Race: Evolving Syllabus

Mediating Race:  Evolving Syllabus

Mediating Race:

Technology, Performance, Politics, and Aesthetics in Popular Culture

IDS 81630

ENG 87400 Studies in Visual Media

Cathy N. Davidson (The Graduate Center, English and the Futures Initiative)

Racquel Gates (College of Staten Island, Media Culture)

Wednesdays, 2-4pm   Graduate Center 365 Fifth Avenue  Room TBD

(PLS NOTE: Although this course is not listed on the English Dept website, you can sign up with an IDS 81630 or Eng 87400 number on CUNYFirst: If you need assistance, please contact the instructors directly).


This course is cross listed in and in several cases counts towards certificates and majors in: American Studies, Africana Studies, Film and Media Studies, Women's and Gender Studies, Urban Education, Social Welfare, and Psychology.


Course description:

What does it mean to be “cool,” to be “fierce,” or to “slay”? How do film, television, and new media make these concepts legible to audiences? This course focuses on technologies, techniques, performance, and style as components contributing to our ideas, representations, conventions, and stereotypes of race. Rather than treat film, television, and new media as straightforward reflections of social realities, this course will analyze how the media establishes, and continues to shape, our understandings of what blackness (and gender) “look” like.

This course is designed for anyone in the humanities and social sciences who is looking for critical approaches to issues of race, racism, and representation in American popular culture and popular media. The course will be using active learning techniques, and will also be addressing pedagogical issues and methods, both those we use in this course and those that graduate students should find useful in their own teaching.  We will be looking at various ways to address the teaching and discussing of controversial, difficult, and complicated subject matter.

Evolving Syllabus

This course is designed using active learning methods that will engage students in projects meaningful to them, that they can help shape, and that include students in the development of the course itself. Much research on active learning shows these methods to be invaluable to empowering graduate students (even in the context of graduate studies which is often remarkably infantalizing and hierarchical). For those who are teaching, it offers pedagogical methods to be incorporated into your own classrooms.

The syllabus evolves until the course opens--and continues once the class begins as students are key in shaping the form, methods, content, and projects the class pursues and are co-designers of a unique learning experience that best serves their own careers, as researchers, thinkers, scholars, teachers, institution builders and beyond.

One portion of the course will be public and we will be using the site for public writing. The tool is designed to create an automatic "portfolio" for anyone who registers and blogs on the site. Blogs can be pseudonymous. Or can use your own name. Choose which best serves your career.



Our core critical, theoretical text for the class is Professor Gates’s Double Negative:  The Black Image and Popular Culture, Duke University Press, 2018. (Note: Please do not buy this book! Students enrolled in the course will receive a gift copy of this book in class.). 

We will also read a number of other crucial works of media studies; students will also be proposing other articles and books for us to read


Part One:  Introduction and Methods: Media Studies, Race Studies, Critical Pedagogy


Jan 30  Introductory Lecture:  Course overview, media theory overview, pedagogy overview.   

Think/Pair/Share: Three works of Black media that interest you most  (good bad or ugly)

Think/Pair/Share: Three issues that bother/interest/intrigue you on the topic of “mediating race”

Feb 6  Double Negative ,  Introduction, “Negativity and the Black Popular Image” Double Negative

Kristen Warner, “In the Time of Plastic Representation” 

Suzanna Walters, “Visual Pressures: On Gender and Looking” from Material Girls

Marlon Riggs’ Ethnic Notions

(OPTIONAL: *NB: There will be a discussion of Ethnic Notions followed by a panel discussion with Steven Thrasher, Patricia Turner, and Professor Gates at The Brooklyn Academy of Music on February 7. )

Feb 13  Double Negative  Chapter One, “Eddie Murphy, Coming to America, and Formal Negativity”

Film:  Eddie Murphy, “Coming to America”   

Feb 20  Pedagogy and Research Theory

    Cathy N. Davidson, “Active Learning Tool Kit: Rationale, Methods, Models, Research, Bibliography(“Why Start With Pedagogy?”)

    Jesse Stommel, “Dear Student”



Part Two:  Key Texts/Video/Media [Students add supplementary material]

  • Students will work in groups to select additional, supplementary critical material, additional texts for discussion


[Academy Awards:  Feb 24, 2019; nominations Jan 22]


Mar 6  Rap music as a tool, A Tool for what? (In my best Lil Jon Voice)[ Z ]


If you have time… Read this as well. Not required but could aid in the conversation:


Mar 13 JayZ, “4:44” [Tiffany]

“Footnotes for 444” ( )

The Carters


hooks, b. (1990). “Choosing the margin as a space of radical openness.” in Yearning: Race, Gender, and Cultural Politics Boston, South End Press.


Mar 20 Assisting Instructor Christina Katopodis will lead “Critical Karaoke

Optional:; Janelle Monáe, Dirty Computer

Derrick Clifton, “Dirty Computer Delivers a Black, Feminist, & Queer Vision of Freedom

Laura Mulvey, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema

FI Symposium Planning (April 9)


Mar 27 Jordan Peele, Auteur?

    Racquel Gates, “The Last Shall Be First

    Lenika Cruz, “In Get Out, The Eyes Have It


Apr 3    Surrealism: Boots Riley, Sorry To Bother You [Casandra Murray]

Sorry to Bother You and the New Black Surrealism”

Optional: “We’ve Got A Lot To Teach You, Cassius Green,” The Coup (Song)

   “‘Crazy’ Anticapitalism” (Review)

    Jeremy O. Harris, Slave Play and Daddy [Renae Jarrett]

A Playwright Who Won't Let Anyone Off the Hook []

Slave Play NYTimes Review []

How to Fuck with White Supremacy []


You might also want to check out this video from the GC piece on Jeremy O. Harris:


April 9 3:30-6:30 PM FI Symposium, “Race and Its Futures: Teach, Research, Imagine”

Google Doc Abstract and Run of Show:


Part Three: Students Choose Texts/Videos/Media, Supplemental Readings,

Students work in groups to choose texts, analysis, pedagogical exercises


Apr 10 Representation(s) of Queer People of Color: Post-Stonewall, Post-Reaganomics, Post-RuPaul?: A brief history of race, class, & drag and an analysis of the mainstreaming of “drag culture” through erasure/etiolation/panic  [Sam]

“Paris is Burning” (1991) (


“Snatching an archive: Gay citation, queer belonging and the production of pleasure in RuPaul’s Drag Race” (Michael Shetina, 2018) (


RuPaul’s Drag Race: A study in the commodification of white ruling-class femininity and the etiolation of drag” (Caroline Hodes and Jorge Sandoval, 2018) (|A564607580&v=2.1&u=cuny_gradctr&it=r&p=AONE&sw=w)


RuPaul’s Drag Race is still figuring out how to handle gender and race” (Scott McKinnon, 2018)


Background pedagogy text: “Why Have Students Design the Syllabus”


Apr 17 Exportation of Blackness into Central and South America from the US; Visual Representations of Latinas Diana & Solange


Salsa y Azucar! The infiltration of blackness through music[Diana]


Celia Cruz and La Sonora Matancera- 1956

Celia Cruz “La Negra Tiene Tumbao” 2009

“Salsa Diva is Buried” 2015 [AP Archive]


Short reads:

Jeimy Osorio Talks Skin Darkening to Play Celia Cruz, Congratulates Zoe Saldana on Her Transformation for Biopic [Billboard]

Amara La Negra Talks Culture, Colorism, Anti-Blackness and Celia Cruz [Latino USA]

Cardi B is Taking Style Notes from Celia Cruz and I’m here for it [Fader]


Additional reading (not required):

On Celia’s once classified FBI file [The Harold]

Celia Cruz: The Voice from Havana [NPR]


Celebrity Culture and Tackling Anti-Blackness in U.S. Latinx Communities [Solange]

What does Addressing Anti-Blackness in the Latinx Community Look Like in the Age of Trump?” [Medium]

“What is a Problematic Fave?” [The Mary Sue]

Isabel Molina-Guzmán, “Disciplining J.Lo: Booty Politics in Tabloid News”


Additional reading (not required, but can be useful): Gina Rodriguez profile in BUST Magazine



May 1

1) Police Relations and Youth Media/Culture [Dave]

(Materials listed below is to help with providing context and understanding prior to class presentation/exercises)


KRS-ONE “Sound of Da Police”:

NWA “F-ck The Police” (Snippet from film “Straight Outta Compton”):

Jay Z Decodes ‘99 Problems’:

Travis Scott on black people’s problems:

Meek Mill: Prisoners need a new set of rights:

Readings (Light):

Jay Z Opinion (NY Times):

Straight Outta Compton and NWA to #blacklivesmatter:

2) Cultural appropriation for profit [Stephanie]

  1. What is cultural appropriation and why is it offensive?

     2. Keeping up with the Kardashians: Fame work and Entrepreneurial Sisterhood:

    3. The Dos and Don’ts of Cultural Appropriation:


May 8 Last class Hollywood and History (tentative title) [Chandni]

WARNING: This movie is full of gratuitous violence. If it is too much, please feel free to fast forward where you need to or simply read a plot summary and don't watch.  BUT: you will still be responsible for all the assigned readings and for participation in what will be an excellent discussion even if you don't see the whole film.

Hour one: Django Unchained (Dir: Quentin Tarantino, 2012) []


  1. Adolph Reed, “Django Unchained or The Help: How ‘Cultural Politics’ is Worse than No Politics at All and Why” (2013) []

  2. “The D is Silent” from Michael K. Johnson, Hoo-Doo Cowboys and Bronze Buckaroos: Conceptions of the African American West, (2014). PDF, attached. 

  3. “Django Unchained” from Richard Aquila, The Sagebrush Trail: Western Movies and Twentieth-Century America, (2015). PDF, attached.

  4. "Django Unchained is a heroic love story" []


Exercise:  Take a moment to review our evolving syllabus and think about how we have co-created a class.  Write down one or two things you learned this term (idea, image, concept, theory, content, vocabulary) that will influence the way you think in the future.  Read those things outloud. 


May 22  Final Projects Due--Send to instructors and post to HASTAC group by 5 PM






(NB: We will revise these in an interactive, collaborative pedagogy exercise on Feb 20)

This class is intended to offer students the following:

–in-depth knowledge of the course topic

–in-depth knowledge and practice of active or engaged learning (radical pedagogy) models applicable to teaching, management, community organizing, and any collective experience

–critical reading and thinking about the relationship between race and media

–original research and writing, including possible archival research

–collaborative planning and presentation

–dialogical communication with one’s peers (in writing before class as well as in class)

–extensive practice in giving and responding to serious, informed, critical feedback and in thinking through alternatives to "grading" as an evaluation mechanism

–writing and publishing for a wider audience


Course Requirements:

Successful completion of this course means fulfilling the five basic course components at a fully professional (graduate student) level, with original work, respect for one another, attention to the seriousness of the topic, and innovation in pedagogical approach.


(1) Class participation:

Full participation in each class: Even if you cannot attend in person, please do the reading and write a comment on the blog post by that week’s presenter. If you cannot physically attend a class, please indicate that you won’t be there on the Google doc agenda for that class period. If you need to miss a class where your Group is presenting, please make arrangements with your Group for how you will still contribute and then let the Instructors know.


(2) Website and Digital Components:

  1. Students should write a blog of 250-500 words on the topic of their presentation 48 hours before class time.


    (b) Before every student-led class, all students should read the blog of the presenter and write a “Comment” (50-100 words) in the “Comment” section on their blog, prior to that week’s class (so it can form part of our class discussion).


For blogging and public presentations of final work, we will be using a “Group” on Mediating Race on  Students should sign up to, either under their own names (if you wish a public “portfolio” of your work) or there is also an option to choose a pseudonym for your blogs. If you do the latter, make sure we know your pseudonym.  NB: is known as the “ethical Facebook” and never mis-uses or sells your data.


(3) Class Presentation:  

Each student will be responsible for one class presentation, either individually or in a group, as determined by the number of students in the class. Detailed description TBD.


(4) Spring Symposium: April 9, 4-6 pm:

As a Futures Initiative course, our class will be included in a Spring Symposium with the other three Futures Initiative courses. Our class will work together towards some representative presentation at the Symposium.


(5) Final Project: research/pedagogy/creative project:  Due May 22

with a public component, posted by the due date to the Group.

There are several options.



A research paper that grows out of the topic of this course, 12-15 pp with full bibliography.  If you are a doctoral student, this might be a part of a dissertation chapter, a prospectus, or other work re-shaped as a stand-alone paper for this course. For those pursuing a doctorate, we strongly urge that your final project be all or part of a piece you will or will plan to submit for publication.

i.To fulfill the online publication requirement, you can post an abstract of your paper rather than the full paper in our public Group on



For those interested in pedagogy, an alternative assignment would be to write a syllabus for your own course on “Race and Media” and then a reflection (approx 1500 words) on why you made the choices you made. Feel free to propose a different course on a relevant topic (make sure to ask us and discuss your proposed idea).

To fulfill the online publication requirement, you can post your syllabus and an abstract of your paper rather than the full paper in our public Group on



You may also create an artistic project (video essay, media “remix,” multi-media presentation, etc.) on a topic of your choice that engages with the themes of the course. For the creative project, you must also submit a 1000 word essay and a bibliography that explains how the form and content of your project address your topic and course themes.



What else? Make us a proposal! If you have an alternate idea for a significant final project, please make a proposal. It should be a project that has the same scope as these, and that includes a public blogging component on For example, a Wikipedia entry would be an excellent alternative project. This can be a substantive, original multimedia project, preferably public-facing. If it is collaborative, please define the roles of each participant.


In addition to making your project public-facing, in fulfillment of the online publication requirement, write a meta-reflection about the steps you took when creating and developing the project (e.g., what media tools you used, what challenges you faced, why you made the choices you did). You can share your reflection as a blog post in our Group on


D.  OPTIONS FOR ENGLISH PHDs (plus public component)

Check with the English Program and your adviser about what you need for your English Program Portfolio. We have agreed to make final projects compatible with the portfolio requirements for English Program (and other) students but have very little information.  It’s your responsibility to check and confirm that this "counts" for the English Program: This is the information we have (quoted directly):

i.     12-15 page review essay--an annotated bibliography of 15 primary or secondary sources

ii.     a syllabus with a 1500 word account of a pedagogical approach to a text

iii.    a 10-page conference paper.   



We will be discussing various assessment methods throughout the course and careful feedback will be part of each Group presentation.  




Golden Globe Best Picture Nominees inc Black Panther, Black Klansman,
and If Beale Street Could Talk. Yes, our syllabus just EXPLODED! Can't
Mediating Race: Evolving Syllabus


Here's where we are at with our evolving syllabus now, March 5, 2019:



Part One:  Introduction and Methods: Media Studies, Race Studies, Critical Pedagogy

Jan 30    Introductory Lecture: Course overview, media theory overview, pedagogy overview, TPS   

    ASSIGNMENT:  Register for by next class (your registration will need approval)

Feb 6    Double Negative, Introduction, “Negativity and the Black Popular Image”

Kristen Warner, “In the Time of Plastic Representation” 

Suzanna Walters, “Visual Pressures: On Gender and Looking” from Material Girls

Richard Dyer, “The matter of whiteness

Overview: Academy Awards, Discourses of “race films”

Marlon Riggs’ Ethnic Notions

(OPTIONAL: *NB: There will be a discussion of Ethnic Notions followed by a panel discussion with Steven Thrasher, Patricia Turner, and Professor Gates at The Brooklyn Academy of Music on February 7 @7PM.)

Feb 13    Double Negative, Chapter 1: “Eddie Murphy, Coming to America, and Formal Negativity”

Film: Eddie Murphy, Coming to America

Feb 20    Pedagogy and Research Theory - Lesson Plan; Draft of Proposal for FI Conference

    The New Education, Introduction

    Davidson, “Active Learning Tool Kit

Jesse Stommel, IDear Student

In class: work on RFP for Futures Initiative Conference (due March 1)

(Optional: Prof. Davidson, “Is Higher Education for Everyone?” Feb 21 @ 6:30 PM at GC)

Part Two:  Key Texts

Students will work in groups to select additional, supplementary critical material, additional texts for discussion 


[Academy Awards:  Feb 24, 2019]

Feb 27    “Love and Hip Hop” Possible Guest Speaker Jon Mallow

Racquel Gates, “Why I Love Reality Television,” New York Times, September 28, 2018.

Chapter 4, “Embracing the Ratchet: Reality Television and Strategic Negativity”  

(Due March 1: Submit a CFP to FI Spring Symposium, “Race and Its Futures: Teach, Research, Imagine”)

Love & Hip Hop Atlanta: Season 5 E02 “Full Disclosure” Available for purchase on Amazon for $1.99 (SD video)

    This short clip


Mar 6  Rap music as a tool, A Tool for what? (In my best Lil Jon Voice)[ Z ]


If you have time… Read this as well. Not required but could aid in the conversation: