New books from Indiana University faculty
Editors: Indiana University's Department of African American and African Diaspora Studies, one of the nation's oldest academic programs devoted to studying the black experience, has been actively publishing research. Over the past year and in coming months, seven current and one former faculty members will have published books at respected academic presses.
The public is invited to a special reception to recognize these authors, on Oct. 8, begining at 4 p.m., at Memorial Hall East, 1021 East Third St. This special edition of Book Marks focuses on these books by several of IU's African American scholars.
While the call for the United States and other countries to account for historical racial injustices -- particularly those against African Americans, has been strong -- the array of approaches towards reparations is far from unified.
Redress for Historical Injustices in the United States: On Reparations for Slavery, Jim Crow, and Their Legacies (Duke University Press, 2007), co-edited by Michael T. Martin, professor of African American and African Diaspora Studies and director of the IU Black Film Center and Archive, brings together a broad range of opinions from activists and scholars about how to "repair" historical wrongs against African Americans. It also includes many primary and secondary documents related to the reparations debate, some being published for the first time. "Monetary compensation is but one strategy in a multipronged approach for redress and reconciliation with the past," Martin wrote with co-author Marilyn Yaquinto, a professor at Truman State University. "It is the combined moral, political and material investment in the lives of the descendents of slaves -- along with other African peoples in the diaspora -- that is the desired outcome of the prevailing reparations movement." Increasingly, social science programs and law schools are including the study of redress in the curricula, so it is not just a topic for debate by activists and politicians. "A failure to address the past -- whether in Selma, Soweto or Săo Paulo, where the legacies of racial injustices are as disturbingly current as they are painfully tangible -- makes it urgently clear that, despite the hostile social environment, the time to act is now," the authors wrote. "The moment is no less contentious or more opportune than other junctures in American history when African Americans demanded justice denied." To speak with Martin, contact him at 812-855-3875 or email@example.com.
In addition to their merit as commercial art, movie posters have been visual cues to the social construction of race in society, as revealed by that most potent dream merchant, Hollywood. Imaging Blackness: Race and Racial Representation in Film Poster Art (IU Press, 2007) draws from an extensive collection housed at Indiana University's Black Film Center and Archive. Edited and curated by Audrey Thomas McCluskey, with a foreword by Melvin Van Peebles, it presents the artistic and thematic range of racial representation in the American film industry from its early days through the present. "From the beginning, images of people of African descent have played a primary role in the cinematic imagination of the West," said McCluskey, associate professor of African American and African Diaspora Studies and interim director of the Neal-Marshall Black Culture Center. "These images have propagated demeaning and nightmarish portraits of black people. At the same time, however, film has been a vehicle for conveying the brilliance of black performance -- its artistry and creativity -- despite the intention to scapegoat and confine black humanity. This dichotomy is part of the history of the black presence in America and specifically in Hollywood." Posters in the book come from every genre of film, including action, comedies, documentaries, dramas, musicals, mysteries and even Westerns. McCluskey can be reached at 812-855-3875 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
How have social forces shaped the work of scholars studying race and race relations in America? In his book, The Social Sciences and Theories of Race (University of Illinois Press, 2006), Vernon J. Williams Jr. examined the work of major scholars such as Franz Boas, George W. Ellis, Booker T. Washington, Ulysses G. Weatherly and Monroe N. Work and found that ethnicity and a range of social and political pressures had important impacts on the developing fields of sociology and anthropology. An example of this was the debate over "absolute" and "relative" white intellectual superiority. "By adhering to a reifed notion of biological race as real and as a consequence subject to historical and scientific investigation, behaviorial scientists have indeed aided and abetted the promulgation of moot issues," wrote Williams, professor of African American and African Diaspora Studies and professor of American Studies at IU. "For at issue during the past three centuries are ethical problems that often require a leap of faith that clouds the eyeballs of even the strictest methodological purist." In his book, Williams demonstrates the dynamic nature of the ideas of behavior scientists and reveals the social, cultural and intellectual forces that influenced their "supposedly value-neutral scientific thinking." The book has been nominated by the University of Illinois Press for the 2007 Myers Center on Bigotry and Human Rights Outstanding Book award, the winner of which will be announced in December. To speak with Williams, contact him at 812-855-5908 or email@example.com.
Public debates over America's current foreign policy often treat American empire as a new phenomenon. A new book, Race, Nation, and Empire in American History (University of North Carolina Press, 2007), co-edited by IU professor Matthew Guterl, offers pointed reminders that visions of national and international greatness were a cornerstone of the new country when it was founded. The book brings together some of the most accomplished historians in America, who make observations about how notions of empire have framed debates over western expansion, Indian removal, African slavery, Asian immigration and global-economic dominance. "It was assembled, in large part, as a thoughtful response to those who argued that the American intervention in Iraq was a decidedly new and different affair," said Guterl, director of IU's American Studies Program and associate professor of African American and African Diaspora Studies. "If, as many suggested, the U.S. had long been an anti-imperial power, then the assumption of imperial control in Iraq represented a clear break from the long established tenets of American foreign policy. We, the co-editors, disagreed. So we pulled together a volume that is meant to show just how deeply and repeatedly the United States has drawn from the well of empire over its roughly two and a half centuries. By any measurement, we have always been an empire." Guterl can be reached at 812-855-7718 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Is a holy war raging in Brazil? By many accounts, as Indiana University anthropologist Stephen Selka describes, evangelical Christians and practitioners of African-derived Candomblé -- a religion similar to Vodou in Haiti and Santeria in Cuba -- are engaged in a battle for Brazilian souls. An assistant professor of African American and African Diaspora Studies, and American Studies at IU, Selka conducted ethnographic fieldwork in the state of Bahia in northeastern Brazil between 2000 and 2002. While living in Brazil, he often read or heard reports of evangelical Christians attacking Candomblé temples. "Such incidents like that are often framed as battles in an ongoing holy war," he said. Selka argues, however, that for many Afro-Brazilians these attacks are about more than just religious antagonisms. "Many Candomblé practitioners equate evangelical attacks on their 'terreiros' with racism." In fact, the symbolic connection between African-derived religion and Afro-Brazilian identity is close enough that images of Candomblé are often featured prominently in antiracist campaigns in Brazil. Yet Selka also brings attention to the fact that evangelical Christians are getting involved in anti-racist struggles, albeit in ways markedly different from Candomblé practitioners. His book, Religion and the Politics of Ethnic Identity in Bahia, Brazil (University Press of Florida, 2007) explores the intriguing variety of ways that Brazilians of African descent draw upon Christian and African diasporic religions as they construct their ethnic identities and struggle against racism. This engaging ethnography highlights the multiplicity of Afro-Brazilian ethnoreligions while emphasizing the ways in which "race matters" in Brazil. Selka can be reached at 812-855-5610 or email@example.com.
While black films are no longer considered a novelty and often do well at the box office, challenges continue for directors wanting to make more serious black-themed films. "There are a dwindling number of black stories being filmed, particularly ones that are not romantic comedies or 'hood' movies, said Audrey Thomas McCluskey, editor of Frame by Frame III: A Filmography of the African Diasporan Image, 1994-2004 (IU Press, 2007). Since the people making decisions to greenlight movies "are from outside the black community and cannot recognize merit, many deserving movies are left unmade." They include films about boxer Joe Lewis and even Martin Luther King. Her book is a reference and resource for scholars and film devotees alike. It documents the contributions of Africans and African Americans in all aspects of the cinematic arts. It includes narrative descriptions and plot summaries, listings of black cast members, directors, executive producers, film composers, performers, producers, screenwriters and Academy Award winners and nominees. McCluskey can be reached at 812-855-3875 or firstname.lastname@example.org.