[Syllabus] John Jay College: Race and Ethnicity in America (Fall 2012)

"Frank Leon Roberts"

Glenn Ligon (b. 1960), Rückenfigur, 2009.

John Jay College of Criminal Justice (City University of New York)
Department of Africana Studies
Eth 125: Race and Ethnicity in America
Professor Frank Roberts
e: frankroberts@nyu.edu

Course Description:
This course serves as an advanced introduction to the study of race and ethnicity in the contemporary United States. Our themes will include: the impact of racialization upon social identities, social structure & institutions, social behavior and culture; the roots of contemporary social/cultural issues within historical constructions of race, racism and white supremacy; resistance and protest movements for social integration, liberation, and/or sovereignty; theories of race, ethnicity and racial oppression; and issues of domination and subordination. Throughout we will attend to the ways that gender/sexuality/class are intertwined with race and racism, and central to their constructions. Our focus this semester will be on the cultural politics of race in the post-civil rights era.

Required Texts:
(Available at the John Jay Bookstore)
Richard Schaefer, Race and Ethnicity in the United States
Fredrick Harris, The Price of the Ticket: Barack Obama and the Rise and Decline of Black Politics
Tricia Rose, Hip Hop Wars: What We Talk About When We Talk About Hip Hop—And Why It Matters
Michael Eric Dyson, Come Hell or High Water: Hurricane Katrina and the Color of Disaster

A Preview of Our Textbooks:

Michael Eric Dyson, Come Hell or High Water: Hurricane Katrina and the Color of Disaster

This work examines what Hurricane Katrina reveals about the fault lines of race and poverty in America – and what lessons we must take from the flood. When Hurricane Katrina tore through New Orleans, hundreds of thousands were left behind to suffer the ravages of destruction, disease and even death. The majority were black, and nearly all were poor. The Federal government’s slow response to local appeals for help is now notorious. Yet despite the cries of outrage that have mounted since the levees broke, America has failed to confront the disaster’s true lesson: to be poor, or black, in today’s ownership society, is to be left behind. Displaying the intellectual rigour, political passion and personal empathy that have won him acclaim and fans all across the colour line, Michael Eric Dyson offers a searing assessment of the meaning of Hurricane Katrina. Combining interviews with survivors of the disaster with his deep knowledge of black migrations and government policy over decades, Dyson provides the historical context that has been sorely missing from public conversation.

Eileen O’Brien, The Racial Middle: Latinos and Asian Americans Living Beyond the Racial Divide

The divide over race is usually framed as one over Black and White. Sociologist Eileen O’Brien is interested in that middle terrain, what sits in the ever-increasing gray area she dubbed the racial middle. The Racial Middle, tells the story of the other racial and ethnic groups in America, mainly Latinos and Asian Americans, two of the largest and fastest-growing minorities in the United States. Using dozens of in-depth interviews with people of various ethnic and generational backgrounds, Eileen O’Brien challenges the notion that, to fit into American culture, the only options available to Latinos and Asian Americans are either to become white or to become brown. Instead, she offers a wholly unique analysis of Latinos and Asian Americans own distinctive experiences—those that aren’t typically White nor Black. Though living alongside Whites and Blacks certainly frames some of their own identities and interpretations of race, O’Brien keenly observes that these groups struggles with discrimination, their perceived isolation from members of other races, and even how they define racial justice, are all significant realities that inform their daily lives and, importantly, influence their opportunities for advancement in society.

A refreshing and lively approach to understanding race and ethnicity in the twenty-first century, The Racial Middle gives voice to Latinos and Asian-Americans place in this country’s increasingly complex racial mosaic.

Chapter One, “The Panethnic Racial Middle”:

Fredrick Harris, The Price of the Ticket: Barack Obama and the Rise and Decline of Black Politics (Oxford University Press, 2012)

The historical significance of Barack Obama’s triumph in the presidential election of 2008 scarcely requires comment. Yet it contains an irony: he won a victory as an African American only by denying that he was the candidate of African Americans. Obama’s very success, writes Fredrick Harris, exacted a heavy cost on black politics. In The Price of the Ticket, Harris puts Obama’s career in the context of decades of black activism, showing how his election undermined the very movement that made it possible. The path to his presidency began just before passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, when black leaders began to discuss strategies to make the most of their new access to the ballot. Some argued that black voters should organize into a cohesive, independent bloc; others urged a more race-neutral approach, working together with other racial minorities as well as like-minded whites. This has been the fundamental divide within black politics ever since. At first, the gap did not seem serious. But the post-civil-rights era has accelerated a shift towards race-neutral politics. Obama made a point of distancing himself from older race-conscious black leaders, such as Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson–even though, as Harris shows, he owes much to Jackson’s earlier campaigns for the White House. Unquestionably Obama’s approach won support among whites, but Harris finds the results troublesome. The social problems targeted by an earlier generation of black politicians–racial disparities in income and education, stratospheric incarceration and unemployment rates, rampant HIV in black communities–all persist, yet Obama’s election, ironically, marginalized them. Meanwhile, the civil-rights movement’s militancy is fading from memory. Written by one of America’s leading scholars of race and politics, The Price of the Ticket will reshape our understanding of the rise of Barack Obama and the decline of a politics dedicated to challenging racial inequality head on.

Tim Wise, Speaking Treason Fluently: Anti-Racist Reflections From an Angry White Male (Excerpts)

In Speaking Treason Fluently activist Tim Wise examines the way in which institutional racism continues to shape the contours of daily life in the United States, and the ways in which white Americans reap enormous privileges from it. The essays included in this collection span the last ten years of Wise’s writing and cover all the hottest racial topics of the past decade: affirmative action, Hurricane Katrina, racial tension in the wake of the Duke lacrosse scandal, white school shootings, racial profiling, phony racial unity in the wake of 9/11, and the political rise of Barack Obama. Wise’s commentaries make forceful yet accessible arguments that serve to counter both white denial and complacency—two of the main obstacles to creating a more racially equitable and just society. Speaking Treason Fluently is a superbly crafted collection of Wise’s best work, which reveals the ongoing salience of race in America today and demonstrates that racial privilege is not only a real and persistent problem, but one that ultimately threatens the health and well-being of the entire society.

Cornel West, Democracy Matters: Winning the War Against Imperialism (Excerpts)

In Democracy Matters, West returns to the analysis of the arrested development of democracy-both in America and in the crisis-ridden Middle East. In a strikingly original diagnosis, he argues that if America is to become a better steward of democratization around the world, we must first wake up to the long history of imperialist corruption that has plagued our own democracy. Both our failure to foster peace in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the crisis of Islamist anti-Americanism stem largely from hypocrisies in our dealings with the world. Racism and imperial expansionism have gone hand in hand in our country’s inexorable drive toward hegemony, and our current militarism is only the latest expression of that drive. Even as we are shocked by Islamic fundamentalism, our own brand of fundamentalism, which West dubs Constantinian Christianity, has joined forces with imperialist corporate and political elites in an unholy alliance, and four decades after the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., insidious racism still inflicts debilitating psychic pain on so many of our citizens.

But there is a deep democratic tradition in America of impassioned commitment to the fight against imperialist corruptions-the last great expression of which was the civil rights movement led by Dr. King-and West brings forth the powerful voices of that great democratizing tradition in a brilliant and deeply moving call for the revival of our better democratic nature. His impassioned and provocative argument for the revitalization of America’s democracy will reshape the terms of the raging national debate about America’s role in today’s troubled world.

Film Series Component:

Spike Lee (Dir.), When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts

Documentary: 255 Minutes

This intimate, heart-rending portrait of New Orleans in the wake of the destruction tells the heartbreaking personal stories of those who endured this harrowing ordeal and survived to tell the tale of misery, despair and triumph.The film also looks at a community that has been through hell and back, surviving death, devastation and disease at every turn. Yet, somehow, amidst the ruins, the people of New Orleans are finding new hope and strength as the city rises from the ashes, buoyed by their own resilience and a rich cultural legacy.

“Nuyoricans: Puerto Ricans In New York”

Documentary: 56 min

Nuyoricans: Puerto Ricans In New York celebrates the history, culture and contributions of a unique and vibrant community. At once both American citizens and migrants fram a Caribbean Island, Puerto Ricans in New York belong to two worlds. The word “Nuyorican,” itself, expresses this colorful combination of New York and Puerto Rican culture. Part of Thirteen’s ethnic American series, the film chronicles the history of Puerto Ricans in New York, taking us on a tour of several of their neighborhoods, from El Barrio uptown and Loisaida downtown to the South Bronx. It also treats us to a rich exploration of their art, music and poetry as well as their achievements in education, politics, sports and business. From bilingual education to the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, from “arroz con gadules” to Salsa in Central Park, this film salutes the Nuyorican experience.

“Desi: South Asians In New York”
Documentary: 56 min

With stories as varied as the vast terrain of the Indian subcontinent itself, Thirteen spotlights the colorful patchwork of South Asian culture across the tri-state area in DESI: SOUTH ASIANS IN NEW YORK. The latest in Thirteen’s Ethnic American Series, the film presents dozens of first- and second-generation New Yorkers who share their insights, reflections and experiances to illustrate the wide spectrum of Pakistanis, Indians, Bangladeshis, Sri Lankans, Nepalese and other South Asians who have become an integral part of New York City. From the Diwali Festival of Lights at South Street Seaport to “Bollywood” shows at Nassau Coliseum, the vibrant heritage of South Asia has found a home in New York.

“The Dominican-American Spirit”

Documentary: 56 min

The Dominican-American Spirit is a documentary tribute to the largest foreign-born ethnic group in New York City. There are over 800,000 Dominicans here, over half having arrived within the past decade.
Through a narrative tapestry of candid interviews and festive imagery, we begin with the tumultuous history of their island home, and arrive at the threshold of a new generation of triumph and achievement in New York. We learn how their strong island values, love of family, appreciation of nature, good food and glorious music have helped the Dominican-Americans overcome great obstacles to reach today’s turning point as proud members of their new community.

Week 2 Readings:
Cornel West, Race Matters
(“Introduction: Race Matters,” + “Nihilism in Black America” + “The Pitfalls of Racial Reasoning”)

Cornel_West, Race Matters (1-3)

Readings for Thursday, 9/6/2012
Cornel West, “Democracy Matters Are Frightening in Our Time”:



Cornel West, “The Deep Democratic Tradition”: