Remixing Black Pasts and Futures: Representation & Belonging
Thursday, Nov 21, 2013 - Thursday, Nov 21, 2013 | 4:00 pm - 5:30 pm
691 Barrows Hall
Center for Race Gender Thursday Forum Series presents…
Remixing Black Pasts and Futures: Representation Belonging
Kimberly McNair, African American Studies
Over the past four decades Black Power iconography has been evoked within advertisements, posters, and apparel that appeals to consumers of political paraphernalia. I explore the histories of these images mediated across genres in American popular culture from the late 1960s and early 1970s to the present. Through examination of what I term t-shirt culture, I map the relations between contemporary media, social movements and culture, and the performance of leftist politics. I am concerned with the discourse surrounding Black radicalism and the ways appropriated images from the past informs historical memory in the present moment. Using media theory, remix theory, and performance theory, I investigate t-shirt culture as not only a form of commodity culture associated with the t-shirt industry but as a meaning making behavior. I contend that “wearing history” is a type of performance, and that individuals who don the symbols of African American protest tradition extend and enliven that tradition by and beyond aesthetic means. I explain how contemporary products remix and reimagine not only the images (both the physical image and the iconic, “public” image) of specific individuals and groups, but also their political philosophies and the overarching tenets of the Black radical tradition. T-shirt culture is another medium through which Black identity and representation has been contested. Our memory and understanding of Black radicalism is reconstituted each time it is enacted through these products. Stepping away from the “problem” of appropriating radical iconography and looking at t-shirt culture as a “practice” allows us to examine how Black subjectivity is created through visual discourse and performed through material practice. If we look at t-shirt culture in practice we find that cultural producers have found a middle ground that exists between appropriation and cooptation, where commodification serves a parallel mission of political education and personal style. My central concerns are how these t-shirts convey historical, cultural, and political meanings in the present moment, and how they relate to modern political struggles and communication within the African diaspora.
In 2011, the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, a non-profit offering support to public Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), revealed that nearly 18% of students at the nation’s 105 HBCUs identify as non-black; and at some institutions, black students no longer represent the majority. Historically Black, a half-hour documentary film, offers a glimpse into the recruitment efforts of HBCUs that have begun to set their sights on attracting nonblack students and chronicles the experiences of recruiters at a school where ethnic diversity is the vogue.