New Directions in Black Thought and Culture in the Era of Mass Media

AHA Session 237
Saturday, January 5, 2019: 3:30 PM-5:00 PM
Stevens C-6 (Hilton Chicago, Lower Level)
Felicia Viator, San Francisco State University
The Audience

Session Abstract

Since 2012, young African-American activists, including Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and DeRay McKesson, have used the most ubiquitous of social media tools, including Twitter and Facebook, to create what The New York Times described as a “model of the modern protester: part organizer, part citizen journalist who marches through American cities while texting, as charging cords and battery packs fall out of his pockets.” Taking cues from both the Freedom Riders and the Arab Spring, these “modern protestors” have utilized smartphone technology and the broad networking potential of social media as a means to an end––to build a uniquely egalitarian movement for social justice. Inspired by the Black Lives Matter phenomenon, this session seeks to explore the intersections of black radicalism and mass culture in American history. Scholars on the panel will present new research considering how African Americans have harnessed the social, economic, and political power of popular culture, especially through mass media. By treating their subjects as cultural architects and by engaging with new historical methodologies, these scholars offer us exciting new directions in the studies of both African American history and popular culture.

Jerome Dotson reveals how African-American physicians in the 1970s, concerned about high rates of hypertension in black communities, spurred black political and cultural celebrities to tout the connections between diet and wellness. In Dotson’s work, black Hollywood, black nationalists, and black doctors are aligned in the cause of raising awareness about a health crisis long ignored by the medical mainstream. Using the under-explored work of Harlem Renaissance poet Arna Bontemps as a case study, Emily Lutenski examines how radical black writers of the Depression era struggled to reconcile their revolutionary goals with their personal and professional ones. Lutenski’s work gives us a useful lens for understanding how subversive black entertainers and scholars today grapple with commercial success. Jeanelle Hope examines the vital role that poetry and poet-activists have played in the development of contemporary black radicalism. Her work demonstrates how, since the Black Power era, hip-hop and spoken word have emerged as the primary vehicles by which black radical thought has evolved and spread across the globe. By digging deep into the catalog of Gil Scott-Heron, Joseph Thompson shows how black music in the 1970s addressed the impact of Cold War defense spending on black communities. Thompson’s careful analysis of Scott-Heron’s music offers us new ways to see how the artist called attention to institutional white supremacy.

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