CW: Racial violence
We completed the first week of the Aesthetics and Politics: Harlem, our unit on the Harlem Renaissance! For Monday, March 11, students read Ida B. Wells’s essay on lynching, Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Phases and Booker T. Washington’s “Atlanta Exposition Address.” Professor of English and Humanities Pancho Savery lectured on Washington, Wells, and the state of black people in America after the Civil War. Savery compared and contrasted Booker T. Washington’s and Ida B. Wells’s approach to promoting the rights of black Americans. Washington was focused on economic empowerment and power through education. In his controversial speech known as the “Atlanta compromise,” he argued that if black Southerners worked hard but submitted to Jim Crow laws and tolerated racism, white Southerners would eventually grant them free basic education and due process under the law. In contrast, Wells was an active anti-segregation activist, and her work as an investigative journalist documented the barbaric nature of lynching.
For Wednesday, March 13 and Friday, March 15, students read selections from W.E.B. Du Bois. Assistant Professor of English and Humanities Sarah Wagner-McCoy lectured on Wednesday, but there was no lecture on Friday. Du Bois, the first black person to earn a doctorate from Harvard, was an advocate for full civil rights and complete equality, opposing both the “Atlanta compromise” and Booker T. Washington. He was also a large proponent of Pan-Africanism and supported the independence of African colonies. Du Bois is also known for his widely used term “color line.”
Personally, I have enjoyed the material, but I know there have been some complaints about how the unit is being taught. At the beginning of the unit, many professors gave small talks in conference — almost disclaimers — on how to talk about race. Understandably, people were surprised and disappointed that while the Mexico City unit included lots of material addressing race, professors did not give similar addresses for it. Some people think that if these professors believed talking about Blackness deserved a disclaimer, then discussions of Latinx identity should have had one as well. I’ve also heard from some people who were disappointed that Wednesday’s lecture included very little discussion of race. Some students also felt that Wagner-McCoy’s lecture glossed over race and instead focused on narrative, structure, and argumentative style. Next week, we’ll cover Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series and essays from Alain Locke, Marcus Garvey, and W.E.B Du Bois, among others.