Tag Archives: lecture

On Black Motherhood: Reporting on the Social Justice Teach-In by the “Mothers of the Movement” at Rutgers

by María Elizabeth Rodríguez Beltrán

On Thursday, November 14th, 2019, the Douglass Residential College at Rutgers University hosted the Mothers of the Black Lives Matter movement, ten black women whose sons were victims of gun violence. The mothers present on the stage were, Marion Gray-Hopkins (Gary Hopkins’ mother), Gween Carr (Eric Garner’s Mother), Lesley McSpadden (Michael Brown’s mother), Wanda Johnson (Oscar Grant’s mother), Valerie Bell (Sean Bell’s mother), Kadi Diallo (Amadou Diallo’s mother), Greta Williams (Kevin Cooper’s mother), Gwen Wesley (Cliff Wesley’s mother), Hawa Bah (Mohamed Bah’s mother) and Montye Benjamin (Jayvis Benjamin’s mother). The venue where it was held, Vorhees Chapel, seemed more than an appropriate location as these women expressed how their different religious beliefs and spiritual practices motivated them to search for ways to honor their sons through community work and activism.

Associate Dean Elizabeth Gunn, as the moderator, started the conversation by asking them to share qualities about these young black men that did not come out in the media. The mothers shared things ranging from how one of their sons was very skilled in many things but very bad at swimming (Kadi Diallo, about her son Amadou), to how their sons were mentors, peacemakers, and leaders in their communities. Gween Carr, for instance, chronicled how the media has portrayed her son Eric Garner’s murder in a way that attempts to justify the unjustifiable but that she knows, and many witnesses have attested, that Eric “was there breaking up a fight between [two of his] friends” and not selling cigarettes in the streets as has often been said.

Through different testimonies, the mothers expressed how they are not “anti-police but against brutality.” Moreover, when asked by the audience about practical things to do to support the movement they called to action in these ways:

*Ask your community leaders to hold a town meeting with the police officers in your community as a way to create a closer relationship with them. The police body should get to know the people they are policing, and “we should know who is policing us.”
*Inform yourself (do your research!) about the present laws and proposed bills coming up in congress about policing and gun laws and call your representatives to ask them to stop or push them forward.
*Go to jury duty, do not try to get out of it! “We need a group of our peers.” The mothers expressed how, in many of their cases that made it to court, the jury was not representative of their peers.
*“Get your phones out” when you see any injustice, but especially when there is any interaction with the police. They warned, “stay at a safe distance, but make sure you record it.”
*If stopped by the police, try to memorize their badge number and info, but more importantly, “try to get home safe.”

At the end of the section on the “practical recommendations” the mothers were emphatic about this last part: that in order to continue the fight and before taking any action, people need to “get home safe.” They repeated that all measures need to be taken to survive any interactions that can place one’s life at risk.

When asked another harrowing question about when it is appropriate to have “the talk” with black and brown children about police violence against people of color, the speakers shared some of the conversations that they and their families have had about the police and potential dangers. They remembered how some were having these conversations with their kids as early as seven years old. These activists also reminded the audience that even when the parents of white children should also teach them about police brutality and its effects on society, they should be aware that the parents of black and brown children are having a completely different conversation. These conversations –more often than not— rest on a question of life and death, and that this is not the case for all children.

The audience was also able to learn more about these women when they were asked about things that they do outside their activism that they enjoy. Their answers covered things like walking barefoot on the grass, dancing and spending time with their families, as well as cooking (and not cooking!), traveling, talking to youth in their communities, and “doing my nails and looking cute!”

Closer to the end of the event, the mothers were asked that if they could describe their sons in one word, what would that word be, and they said (in the order they were seated):

For Kevin Cooper-Loving
For Gary Hopkins- Humorous
For Sean Bell- Strong
For Eric Garner- Generous
For Cliff Wesley- Precious
For Amadou Diallo- Wisdom
For Mohamed Bah-Helpful
For Michael Brown- Courageous
For Oscar Grant- Leader
For Jayvis Benjamin- Loving

And thus, responding to the call of these mothers, I invite you to remember these young men as the loving, wise, humorous, and strong leaders they were, to be courageous and stand against injustice and help generously in any way we can.

For other reports on this event, see here, here and here.

Framing a Socialist Face: Studio Photography in Late Mao China

By Penny Yeung

On Monday, March 26th, Professor Nicole Huang, chair of comparative literature at the University of Hong Kong, delivered a talk on her research project in progress, titled “Framing a Socialist Face: Studio Photography in Late Mao China.” The talk was held at the Alexander Library Pane Room and is part of the ongoing China Lecture Series organized by Asian Languages and Culture.

One of the driving questions behind Prof Huang’s research is, in her words, “What constitutes a Chinese socialist face in visual representation, particularly in photographic portraiture, during the late Mao period?” Prof Huang began by highlighting issues of periodization and her specific choice of the “late Mao period”—which spans the 1970s and the early 1980s—to delimit the temporal scope of her study. Typically, the year 1976 is cited as a turning point in contemporary Chinese politics and has served as an anchoring date for much research in the social sciences. But as cultural practices rarely change overnight, Prof Huang argued that looking at the late Mao period allows for a better account of the changes in patterns of cultural production and consumption. Three essays by Georg Simmel, published in 1901, 1903, and 1908 respectively, on physiognomy and the aesthetic significance of the human face in modernity provided additional framing. Prof Huang pointed out that for Simmel, the “face flourished and circulated at a wider level at the onset of modernity.” The human face was often glorified, as the “coherent [wholeness]” it embodied and symbolized stood in as foil to the forces of fragmentation and alienation wrought by modernity. Her research asks whether Simmel’s insights are translatable to the late Mao context.

Prof Huang then shared from the part of her research that focuses on commercial photography. To investigate how practitioners apprenticed themselves to the trade and developed a set of aesthetics, Prof Huang conducted extensive interviews with commercial photographers who had worked during that period. Her talk led the audience through a fascinating account of how commercial photography grew and thrived as an industry during turbulent sociopolitical times; in fact, commercial photo studios saw the “largest increase during the Cultural Revolution.” As she explained, because the Red Guards had ransacked studio settings and backdrops in 1966, the dearth of accessories led photographers to turn to light as the predominant element which they could manipulate in their trade, and later, their art.

Prof Huang’s talk spotlit one photographer in particular—Zhu Tianming, an eminent practitioner and theoretician to come out of that period. Like most commercial photographers, Zhu began his career through apprenticeship in the 1930s and had no formal training or education in the arts, but by the 1960s his theorizations had begun to be circulated by the national photography society and came to constitute some of the earliest Sinicized theories of photography. Zhu theorized about the use of lighting, tones, and contrast to “sculpt the Chinese face.” He also differentiated between the kinds of gradation used to photograph male and female subjects. Zhu’s practice informed his theory, and yielded portraitures that are unmistakably inflected by elements of race, gender, nation, and class. The locale of Shanghai, where Zhu was based in his later years, adds another dimension to this study. As a hub of film production, the city provided a milieu where commercial photographic practices experienced a cross-fertilization with cinematic techniques; as a result, some of Zhu’s work, too, bears a “Hollywood imprint.”

While the Socialist face, like the body, could be politicized, trained, molded, and aestheticized, Prof Huang argued that the “highly tempered Socialist face was set loose a bit in the experiments of Zhu” during the transitional period. In time, the techniques Zhu experimented with and which were disseminated through his writings solidified into a new orthodoxy. Prof Huang emphasized that the consolidation did not transpire in a linear fashion; practices in their earlier guises could still be observed late into the transitional period. It is also important to note that with practitioners setting the standards, the new orthodoxy encompassed practices of individual agency rather than developing as a set of state-sanctioned norms.

Prof Huang’s rich lecture sparked many questions and comments from the audience. The lively Q&A touched on issues including how discourses of nation and nationalism may have played a role in influencing aesthetics; regional and national variations; the place of racial minorities; the relationship between aesthetic shifts and the politics of the transitional period; and possible parallels and divergences from other sociopolitical contexts.

Ato Quayson’s Lecture: “On the Affliction of Second Thoughts: Mode of Doubt in Postcolonial Tragedy”

By: F. Joseph Sepulveda

As part of AMESALL’s Distinguished Speaker lectures, Ato Quayson gave a compelling talk on the topic of second thoughts in postcolonial fiction. He began by showing a clip from the Indian film The Lunch Box (2013) that features a middle-aged man contemplating his image in the mirror. He lingers and appears to scrutinize himself doubtfully, as if he does not recognize himself. We then hear his inner monologue where he describes sensing the smell of his deceased grandfather, and he wonders if it is not his own smell that he has detected. Indeed, he wonders if he has not grown old. This moment of self-reflection, doubt, and misrecognition is Quayson’s departure point on what he will elaborate as the thought-image-affect nexus.  For Quayson the scene exemplifies a moment of interpellation where the man feels himself being hailed by the memory of his grandfather, and this memory confirms for him his old age.


Quayson persuasively described–through close readings of Henry James, African literature, and Fanon–what he calls the “viscerality of thought,” that is, the way that inner dialogue can produce thought affliction. His concluding reading of Fanon’s famous scene of interpellation as a Negro in metropolitan France highlights his investment in readings that engage the body, affect, and inner dialogue. He asserts that Fanon’s theory occurs through moments where his black body is not simply interpolated by the other but becomes “discombobulated” by such hailing. He essentially calls for reading Fanon and others as writing a theory that emerges from the body and takes place through a reflection on subjection as it occurs in the reiteration of repetitive encounters, where experience and its interpretation occur simultaneously and “generate a discursive delirium.” Exploring postcolonial film, fictions, and theory ranging from Lacan to Fanon, Quayson’s talk was thought-provoking for those of us interested in psychoanalytic, postcolonial, and affect theory.



David Scott Lecture: “Michael Manley and Political Will”

By: Shawn Gonzalez

On February 26, the Rutgers Advanced Institute for Critical Caribbean Studies (RAICCS) celebrated its new status as an institute with the inaugural Sylvia Wynter distinguished lecture. Carter Mathes opened the event by discussing the new status of RAICCS. Dean Peter March also delivered a welcome message. Then, the audience watched a video about the history of the institute, which provided an overview of its programs including research, teaching, postdoctoral fellowships, and visits from scholars, artists, and performers. The video also outlined future directions for the center, including its upcoming graduate certificate.

David Scott, professor of Anthropology at Columbia University, presented his lecture “Michael Manley and Political Will.” The lecture focused on Michael Manley’s book Politics of Change: A Jamaican Testament published in 1974, during his first term as Prime Minister of Jamaica. Although this text is usually read in light of Manley’s later career, Scott urged the audience to set aside the familiar lens of tragedy. Instead, he focused on how Manley constructs his political will in this text and argued that an attention to political will is valuable in our current political climate which seems so distant from Manley’s. He ended the lecture by considering this earlier age as an intellectual inheritance. He asked the question of how we can both claim and be claimed by this inheritance.


David Scott in conversation with Yarimar Bonilla and Carter Mathes

After the lecture, Yarimar Bonilla and Carter Mathes responded to Scott’s presentation. Bonilla drew connections between the political moment Scott described and three other contexts: Guadeloupe in 2009, Puerto Rico during recent debates about the island’s political future, and the United States during the current election cycle. Bonilla questioned how the concept of political will could inform our understanding of all three contexts. Mathes considered how Manley’s book was initially read in the United States and made connections with other figures like Martin Luther King Jr. and Peter Tosh. He also compared the narrative Manley constructs in Politics of Change to related literary representations including Sylvia Wynter’s Hills of Hebron and Marlon James’ A Brief History of Seven Killings. These responses were followed by a broader discussion with the audience.