Posted in A Professor's Thoughts..., Feature Spotlight, On The Radar

Inside Shang-Chi’s evolution from forgotten comic book character to big-screen superhero*

~Scottie Andrew, CNN Entertainment

Shang-Chi and The Legend of the Ten Rings First Reactions

So a couple a weeks ago I had the opportunity to offer a few of my thoughts about Asian representation in comic books and its relationship with the latest Marvel film, Shang-Chi and The Legend of the Ten Rings for CNN Entertainment!! To view the complete article see here.

Check out some of the snippets below:

Shang-Chi’s early issues relied on some problematic stereotypes

Every iteration of Shang-Chi has a similar throughline: He’s always a spectacular martial artist, always playing tug-of-war with his former life as a fighter and always, always tormented by daddy issues. That blueprint was created by Englehart and Jim Starlin, the two-man team who brought the character to life (Englehart, perhaps best known for his dark, noir take on Batman, has also created characters like Star-Lord of “Guardians of the Galaxy,” and Starlin is responsible for MCU icons like its biggest villain, Thanos.)

In the early 1970s, Englehart and Starlin approached Detective Comics (DC) with an idea: a comic book take on the David Carradine series “Kung Fu.” (The series has been criticized for its use of “yellowface,” or casting White actors as Asian characters. Carradine is White but starred as a part-Chinese martial artist.)Starlin, an artist, loved the martial arts element of the story, while writer Englehart said he was interested in delving into Taoism and other philosophies to flesh out his protagonist. The two thought they’d found a match with “Kung Fu” — but DC thought the “kung fu craze was going to disappear,” Starlin said, and passed on the idea.

So the pair took it next to Marvel, whose executives agreed only after insisting that the pair inject some pre-existing intellectual property into their comic, both men told CNN.

In this case, the company had the rights to the character Fu Manchu, a racist caricature of a Chinese man created by British author Sax Rohmer in the early 20th century. The villain was then “grafted onto the series” as Shang-Chi’s father, Starlin told CNN in an August interview. (Racist depictions of Asian characters had appeared in comics before this, like the egg-shaped villain “Egg Fu” in a 1965 Wonder Woman issue and the 1940 character “Ebony White” in the early comic, “The Spirit,” said Grace Gipson, an assistant professor at Virginia Commonwealth University who studies race and gender within comics.)

Gipson, a pop culture scholar who studies race and gender within comics, said hiring writers of color like Yang to helm series about characters of color is an improvement, but it “is really not a hard task.” She said while comics creators have made great strides in deconstructing norms of who a comic book reader is and what storylines they want to see, the hiring of creators of color needs to happen consistently.”It’s about making sure the voices of those being represented always have a seat at the table as well as a microphone to speak,” she told CNN.

Still, she said, as a fan of comics herself, she’s enjoyed seeing more representative stories being told in mainstream comics. 

*Repost from CNN

Posted in A Professor's Thoughts...

Dr. G’s Upcoming Events…

In the great words of creator and music producer Timbaland, “It’s been a long time, we shouldn’t of left you…”

Been off the grid for a little bit, finding balance with school, work, life and navigating everything in-between. The Fall season is upon us and exciting times are ahead. And I wanted to make sure I shared with you all some upcoming events that I will be taking part in, check them out below:

  • September 13th: “It’s the Microaggressions For Me: Let’s Talk Pop Culture, Inclusion, Unmasking Privilege, Navigating Inequities, and Taking Action”, Having Tough Conversations Series, Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT

A conversation about confronting privilege, addressing microaggressions, equity, inclusiveness, and what it really means to be an ally through the lens of popular culture. 

  • September 15th (2pm/ET): Black Metropolis Research Consortium (BMRC) Summer Fellows Presentation Series-“Telling HER-story and Continuing a Legacy: Chicago’s Black Girl Magic in Comics” [To attend send an email with “Fellows” in the subject line to bmrcrsvp@lib.uchicago.edu ]

A presentation recounting my summer research fellowship experience on the legacy of Black women in comics in Chicago, IL.

  • September 22nd (7:15pm/ET): Making Our Stories Visible- Humanizing the Black Experience Through Television, Freedom School 3.0 Lecture Series (Department of African American Studies at Georgia State University & Auburn Avenue Research Library), [Register Here]

2019 and 2020 served as a period filled with sadness and pain, protest, laughter and excitement, creativity, and truth-telling particularly from the Black perspective. During this time, several new series entered the television landscape, which have contributed to ensuring that various Black voices are more visible and not minimized or forgotten. More specifically, television series such as HBO’s A Black Lady Sketch Show and Lovecraft Country and Starz’s P-Valley are effectively providing spaces to humanize the Black experience while engaging with the past, present, and future. Through this talk I will specifically engage with the abovementioned television series and how they each center Black voices, while serving as visual outlets of re-telling, re-sharing and remembering Black stories and experiences. 

To get additional information and keep up with what’s going on in Dr. G’s world make sure to check out my Events page!!

Happy Sunday!!

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com
Posted in A Professor's Thoughts...

Year 2!! The Journey Continues….New Semester, New Beginnings…

Well today is the day!! Year 2 as an Assistant Professor in African American Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU)!!

Last year was one definitely to remember…I had just moved to Richmond in the middle of a pandemic, VCU had pretty much asked professors and instructors to change their formats for teaching, and my apartment became not a just a place of residence but also a work place. This year, while there is still a pandemic, people are getting vaccinated, students are returning to campus, and majority of the classes are in-person (with mask requirements). The in-person part is really exciting to me because I thrive off being able to see my students live and in living color, it just feeds the soul!!

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

So this semester, my teaching schedule has one new addition! I have the privilege of teaching the Capstone Seminar course for Africana Studies students and I will also teach the Theories and Foundations in Africana Studies course for the second year! The Capstone Seminar course is definitely going to be a new venture for me as I will be guiding students through a semester long research project. It’s more than just teaching but also serving as a guide for this major undertaking. I have always wanted the opportunity to serve as mentor and I feel like this will be great preparation. In addition to the teaching I have also been tasked with serving as the advisor for the “Black Excellence at VCU” organization for which I am pretty siked! All in all, I am very much looking forward to this Fall semester!!

Now as this new semester begins, I will be honest there are still butterflies in the stomach and a little nervousness, but it is to be expected. I strive to always give 110% to my work, my students, and myself so my daily prayer is that I find that balance with all three and just do my part in being the best person, scholar, and professor that I can be. My one main goal that I always have every semester is that my students leave my classes with at least one thing that they did not know prior to the course. It may seem simple and minimal, but major for me. That one new thing, idea, thought that a student leaves with can be a life-changer and to know that I may play a role in that is a huge accomplishment!

AUGUST 24th, 2021 the journey continues!!

And to all those who are starting today or have already started WELCOME BACK!! As the summer winds down and my favorite month comes to a close (SMILE), it is time to get back into the routine! Time to get those creative juices flowing again…Time to inspire, encourage, and motivate (teachers and students)…Time to make some new memories!!

So let’s blaze some trails and seek new horizons!!

Alright that’s enough for the first day, but make sure you stay tuned periodically for updates and check-ins, because trust me I GUARANTEE there will be some memorable moments shared!!

~Dr. G

Posted in A Professor's Thoughts...

Happy Birthday to Me!! Reflecting on 40!!

Another year around the sun, for the 40th time!! Wow time truly does fly when you are having fun!! I have been looking forward to this birthday, and here it is!! Today is a big deal, because (in the age of COVID-19) many have not had the privilege to turn 40 let alone have another birthday!! I get the opportunity to breathe life, run through the ocean, hug my mama, mentor a student, and be a better person!!

Leading up to today I had many thoughts of fear, excitement, joy, curiosity, amazement,… In many ways turning 40 actually feels easier than turning 30. Turning thirty was strange, it was emotional, it was supposed to be exciting, and it was another year of life (that I am thankful for)!! This birthday is one where I am not asking for much, just to be on someone’s beach reading a good summer book. Thankfully I get to do this twice, one on my actual Birthday and again in a few months. Reflecting on my last years of 30s, I realized how much I really enjoy the simple things in life. Don’t get me wrong I like the pomp and circumstance, but I can take it in moderation (lol). The small wins, the little joys that really does work for me.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

40 is one of those milestone birthdays where you either feel like you are getting old or you are re-evaluating life, and it definitely is the latter for me. So much has happened all before this birthday…I lived on both coasts of the U.S., traveled extensively throughout the world, bought a house, got my PhD, in a career that I love, watched my mom retire after 30+ years of work, move to a city that I love, and so much more!! When I think back on all those memories I have truly been blessed and continue to see those blessings!! Going into 40, I felt like I had to check off all these boxes, and grant it I did, but as the weeks and days got closer to August 16th I began to have this sense of clarity and ask myself a few questions. Are you happy Grace? What do you want to achieve that you have not? Is there room for flexibility? What have you let go? And are you putting in the work to make sure you are healthy and happy? These are questions that get answered, but sometimes are asked again, and I’m good with that. Talk about maturing!!

So what’s next…In this new year, new chapter, new book I am taking some sage advice that I got from a good friend of mine…be intentional in not just one aspect of life but in ALL parts!! I have learned that I put 100% (sometimes even more) in my professional work, but when it comes to my personal I will short change myself, and that is not fair. If I can give my all into my work, I should be able to do the same and more for my personal aspects of life. Sometimes you need those reminders, because I know I deserve the best so why not give and treat myself to the best!

On last week I posted a joke about how I was almost 40 but still felt like I’m 20, until I hang out with actual 20 year olds and then I realize, nope Grace you are not a spring chicken lol! But guess what I am totally fine with this realization. These days I treasure taking a nap, I listen to my body when it says it’s getting late time to turn in, I value sitting in my silence and clearing my thoughts, the simple things in life!

So as I walk, better yet stroll into this new year I continue to embrace this adage that my grandma always told me, “One Day at a Time!”

I am very much looking forward to what this year has in store!!

#Hello40 and Welcome to the Party!! Let’s have some fun!!

Photo by Ylanite Koppens on Pexels.com
Posted in A Professor's Thoughts..., Feature Spotlight

Chicago Humanities Festival Feature Q&A: “Dr. Grace D. Gipson’s Favorite Comic Book Characters”*

So your girl got a chance to share a few of her comic book faves with the Chicago Humanities Festival! Always love the chance to geek out and share!! Check it out below!!

*Original Post Feature from the Chicago Humanities Festival

Chicago Humanities Festival - Nonprofit Giving Platform | GiveGab

In May 2021 Black future feminist and pop culture scholar Dr. Grace D. Gipson was joined at Chicago Humanities Festival (CHF) by Bianca Xunise (Say Her Name) for a conversation about the past and future of comics.

After the program, we spoke to Dr. Gipson about some of her favorite comic book series, characters, and authors.

CHF: In your CHF program, you mentioned comic books and characters (like Dark Horse’s Martha Washington, who grew up in Chicago). Can you talk a little bit more about the history and significance of some of your favorite series, characters, and authors?

1) Storm (X-Men, Marvel Comics)

Gipson: When it comes to selecting my favorite comic book characters, I have a pretty solid line-up. While my introduction into comics was through the funny papers, there would be one character that truly drew me into the genre: Marvel Comics’s Storm from the X-Men.

As a Black woman who not only served as a leader of the X-Men, but also a goddess that controlled the weather elements, Storm as a fictional character provided an example of progressive representation and a fantastical escape.

Her presence in the comic book world made a significant impression on me as a young, Black girl from the Midwest. I was able to see myself, at the center and not on the fringes, within this popular medium that had been dominated primarily by white and male characters. Storm also opened the door for me to discover more Black female characters, as well as Black female comic book writers and artists.

2) Martha Washington (Dark Horse Comics)

Gipson: Another character who would have a significant impact on me personally and professionally is that of Dark Horse Comics’s Martha Washington. Created in the early 1990s, Martha Washington resonated with me in a very close way, considering her character was based in Chicago, IL. As a Champaign, IL native her story literally and figuratively felt close to home.

Martha Washington’s narrative as explored through The Life and Times of Martha Washington in the Twenty-First Century comic book series sought to showcase a “regular” relatable character that, despite her circumstances, becomes a heroine for her local community and ultimately the world.

Set in the urban space of the Cabrini-Green projects, Martha Washington’s beginnings (which are told in the first issue Give Me Liberty) explore, from a dystopian perspective, a current and relevant story of public housing, crime, poverty, Black youth, adulthood, womanhood, and even patriotism. Uniquely, her story offers a rare opportunity to explore American patriotism from a Black woman’s point of view. This is especially noteworthy considering the lack of Black female leads in comics, during the 1990s.

When it comes to comics, one can never underestimate the power of a diverse story and the impact it can have on all types of readers. These next two characters not only contribute diverse storylines but also have the impact of reaching a young audience. When looking at the landscape of comic book characters, most of them are adults, so it is refreshing to see a Black female youth presence.

3) Raquel “Rocket” Ervin (Milestone Comics)

Gipson: Raquel “Rocket” Ervin from Milestone Comics (a Black publishing company) is one of the earliest examples of a Black teen character that I have encountered. Also, Rocket’s storyline is one of the first comics to deal with complex and practical issues such as teen pregnancy, balancing motherhood, Black mentorship, and community access. And it was done in a way that avoided stereotypes, while providing hope.

As a character influenced by notable figures like Toni Morrison and W.E.B. Du Bois, Rocket provides an existing reality and a story of dedication and perseverance. Although she is deemed as a superhero, for Rocket her true superpower and strength is her ability to inspire.

4) RiRi “Ironheart” Williams (Marvel Comics)

Gipson: Another character that humanizes the Black girl experience is that of Marvel Comics RiRi “Ironheart” Williams. Through RiRi/Ironheart, as a fictional character, she personifies what it means to be a young, gifted, Black teen in today’s society. Her character also shares another look into the STEM world by encouraging Black girls to embrace one’s giftedness and intelligence.

This is a comic that I wish existed when I was a teenager, but nonetheless grateful that young Black girls and the world are able to appreciate it now. What is also significant about the Ironheart story is that it is written by a Black woman and Chicago-native, Eve L. Ewing, this is key as most stories in past comic book history have been written and drawn by white men (thankfully there is a growing landscape of representation).

To know that I am represented on the page and behind the panel inspires and further confirms that Black women and girls deserve to take up space in this popular medium. Ultimately, both Rocket and Ironheart are perfect examples of how comics can rewrite the script regarding Black girlhood and the importance of why “Representation Matters!!”

5) Torchy Brown (created by Jackie Ormes)

Gipson: Lastly, I felt it was important to not just recognize the importance of some of my favorite characters, but also one of my favorite writers/artists. Before there was even a Storm, Martha Washington, Rocket, or Ironheart there was a Black female lead named Torchy Brown created by cartoonist and writer Jackie Ormes. Similar to the Martha Washington character, Jackie Ormes legacy and work would find a home in Chicago.

As the first Black female cartoonist, Ormes was instrumental in resetting the standard in cartooning and comic strips. She did this by creating her own lane of telling stories that primarily featured Black voices, while also challenging the stereotypes and caricatures often presented in mainstream press. With readers from coast-to-coast, Ormes used her comic strip series and panels to discuss unapologetic commentary on such issues as racism, labor and taxes, U.S. Foreign policy, violence against women, unfair housing, segregated schools, and environmental injustice. She was able to use her talents to not only inform but also showcase (while entertain), in full color, the existence of intelligent, stylish and fashionable Black characters (particularly Black women). With Chicago as an honorary character, much of Ormes cartoon and comic strip work mirrored her real life as she was a community advocate and mentor, fundraiser, and trendsetter.

(Snapshot of a few of my faves!! Image Credit: Grace D. Gipson)

To check out the full feature, see here!!

Posted in A Professor's Thoughts...

The South really does have something to say folks…

The Dirty South: Contemporary Art, Material Culture, and the Sonic Impulse “is an immersive multimedia art exhibition that traces 100 years of African American cultural influence and artistic expression.” This statement really does sum up so eloquently what visitors will see and hear when visiting this exhibition at the VMFA.

So upon walking through the doors, I am greeted with smiles and hello’s by a few VMFA workers, I pick up a brochure and I immediately see a thing of beauty… SLAB, 2021 (1990 Cadillac Brougham d’Elegance with custom accessories) [see below]…before you even walk into the actual exhibition one has to take a drive-by (rather walk-by lol) this classic vehicle, which in many ways sets the tone.

(“SLAB, 2021”-By: Richard FIEND Jones [aka International Jones] at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA) in Richmond, VA, Picture Courtesy of Grace D. Gipson)

This clean ride brings some joy into my heart and definitely made me smile. But what would come next stops me in my tracks. In the distance, I hear this faint but “chill up your spine” sound reminiscent of “Strange Fruit” sung by Billie Holiday. And as i get closer of course my ears do not deceive me at all, it’s this one lyric “Black bodies swingin’ in the southern breeze” on loop… One moment you hear and see Billie Holiday and then the next you hear and see Jill Scott, while simultaneously you see this video of a little Black girl on a swing enjoying the simple pleasures in life! I was like WOW, I’m just getting started and they GOT me!!

The Dirty South in so many ways is about identity, preservation, labor, expression, pain, joy, faith, tradition, and so much more. There were many moments when I would either get goosebumps or this tingle of my spine ( a couple of times I felt both) after hearing a jarring sonic sound, or gazing at an image that left me speechless. With each room I never knew what to expect, which made the exhibition like this exploratory adventure. But it was also like a Southern scavenger hunt, where I had this internal list of artists and themes that I knew I would have to find. Some of these artists/creatives that I would find included Bisa Butler, Romare Bearden, Kara Walker, Nick Cave, Clementine Hunter, Fahamu Pecou, Sun Ra, Deborah Roberts, among many others!!

(A collage of various works [Fahamu Pecou, Kara Walker, Renee Stout, Clementine Hunter and Bisa Butler] that are part of “The Dirty South…” exhibition at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA) in Richmond, VA, Picture Courtesy of Grace D. Gipson)

The Southern Black experience and culture was truly present so much so that I definitely had a few out of body moments where my spirit momentarily left, eventually making its way back to my body. So often the south gets placed into a singular box, but this exhibition made it very clear that is definitely not the case. As I always say #RepresentationMatters and that message was loud and clearly (literally and figuratively)!! Your thinking of the South will definitely be transformed. Blackness is unapologetically centered, but is enhanced by a spiritual conjuring, the regional inclusions, the Black queer voice, the labor, the children, the sonic vibrations, and the persistence of Black folks from the past all the way to the future!! So many stories, so many voices, so many points of view, just so much to take in…this was a time where I welcomed the feeling of being overwhelmed….My cup runneth over!!

Another moment worth mentioning that really made a huge impact was the way in which children were represented. I appreciated that not only did I see the pain and trauma, but also the way in which many of the images of the children were so innocent, simple and carefree. Some of the photographs like the one below took me back to my childhood days of going to church with mama and grandma and dozing off into a brief slumber on their lap, or flipping through the hymnals and singing along with the choir….ohhhh the memories.

(Top-“Ali and Quentin in Church” [1988]; Bottom l-r- “Ali” and “Ali and Quentin on Avenue S” [1988] By: Marilyn Nance at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA) in Richmond, VA, Picture Courtesy of Grace D. Gipson)

Nothing was off limits in The Dirty South, trust you will get it all and some!! Valerie Cassel Oliver, who serves as the exhibition curator creates a playing field that hits several home runs!! You will leave having many definitions of what the south represents. And without spoiling the last feature of the exhibition, I will say this just make sure you are prepared for every emotion to seep out of your body, just make sure to release and let it go…

Mississippi, Georgia (Atlanta), Alabama, Tennessee (Memphis), Texas (Houston), Louisiana (New Orleans), Florida (Miami) even parts of Africa and the galaxy have space in the The Dirty South exhibition. So if you have a chance, or you will be in the Richmond area it would be worth your while to stop by and check out this amazing aesthetic, cultural, and sonic experience!!

(“Strange Fruit” [1989] By: David Hammons at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, VA, Picture Courtesy of Grace D. Gipson)
(“DJ Screw in Heaven 2 [2016] By: El Franco Lee II at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts Richmond, VA, Picture Courtesy of Grace D. Gipson)

The Dirty South: Contemporary Art, Material Culture, and the Sonic Impulse will be at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts through September 6th, 2021.

#VMFADirtySouth

~Dr. G “An Honorary Southerner”

Posted in A Professor's Thoughts..., On the Desk...

Happy Juneteenth 2021!!

“Freeing yourself was one thing, claiming ownership of that freed self was another.” ~Toni Morrison

Today marks the 156th year since the message of freedom was delivered to those enslaved in Texas, also known as Juneteenth (portmanteau of June and nineteenth)!! A celebration of emancipation, liberation, and Black Joy!!

And what is Juneteenth? Juneteenth refers to June 19th, 1865 the day when Union troops arrived in Galveston Bay, Texas to inform the 250,000 enslaved Black people that they were free. Keep in mind the Emancipation Proclamation (which ended slavery) had went into effect January 1st, 1863 (also the start of watch night services), so Texas would not get this memo for almost two and half years later. And people wonder why Black people cannot wait for change! Why we are persistent about consistent upward and forward movement! Why are Black people not quick to trust, because of past failures and screw ups like what happened in Galveston, TX. Nevertheless, the chains are breaking and the truth is being revealed.

In a way there has been this sudden awakening regarding the Juneteenth holiday. Much like how the message of freedom was delayed in its delivery to those enslaved in Texas, one could say there is a delayed recognition (on a larger scale) of the Juneteenth holiday. With all of the the national protests, police violence, and continuous murder of Black and Brown bodies of last year the U.S. would be reminded of past moments of resistance and endurance. This acknowledgement rebirth is what I like to think of as a memory survival. As Isabel Wilkerson writes in her amazing book, The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration, “The people from Texas took Juneteenth Day to Los Angeles, Oakland, Seattle, and other places they went.” And thank goodness the memory of Juneteenth will always be present, because we cannot afford to have any more delays, these are moments that we need right now and always!

So when did I learn about Juneteenth, I remember it being brought up during one of my summer classes as an Upward Bound student, and in passing from one of my aunts who lives in Texas. But I would really learn about Juneteenth while attending Clark Atlanta University (Atlanta, GA) and while out grocery shopping and a young man handed me a flyer for a Juneteenth celebration that was set to take place. Outside of the above-mentioned instances, I did not have any previous knowledge. Now I am not surprised by this, nor am I surprised that many other Black folks are only just now aware of what Juneteenth is and its significance. Even though I may not be from Texas, I take Juneteenth as my Independence Day/Emancipation Day, because clearly July 4th is not!!

Juneteenth is not only a day to celebrate, but also another day to inform the masses, continue speaking out on injustices, and always a day to remember! It’s also another excuse for me to celebrate my Blackness and create more ways to express Black joy and agency. This holiday is also an opportunity to instill values of self-improvement, racial uplift, and reclamation of the family unit. These values were personified through religious sermons and the singing of negro spirituals, reading of the Emancipation Proclamation, rodeos, and the preservation of slave food traditions and delicacies (ex. BBQ and soul food). Juneteenth is another holiday that allows Black folks to commune and fellowship and just be free with ourselves!! This freedom has been further expressed with the creation of various websites and the Juneteenth flag:

Created in 1997 by activist and founder of the National Juneteenth Celebration Foundation (NJCF) Ben Haith, the flag consists of a star, burst, arc, and the colors red, white, and blue. According to the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation (NJOF) the star is a nod to the Lone Star State (where Juneteenth was first celebrated in 1865), but also stands for the freedom of every Black American in all 50 states, the burst represents an outline surrounding the star meant to reflect a nova— or new star—this represents a new beginning for all, and the arc represents a new horizon, fresh opportunities and promising futures for Black Americans. The colors are also reminiscent of the United States flag, this was intentional to show that the enslaved African Americans and their descendants are also free Americans. Even in our symbols there is always a deep, layered meaning attached.

In 2021, Juneteenth has become more than just a holiday, but in many ways a movement!! Not only are school curriculums slowly changing, but we are also becoming more informed about the holiday through popular media. A few examples include:

  • High on the Hog: How African American Cuisine Transformed America [Netflix]: Episode 4, ‘Freedom’
  • Atlanta (FX Network): Season 1, Episode 9, ‘Juneteenth’ [Television]
  • Black-ish (ABC): Season 4, Episode 1, ‘Juneteenth’ [Television]
  • Miss Juneteenth (2020) [Film]
  • Juneteenth Jamboree [Austin PBS]

And as of 2020, according to the Congressional Research Service all states, except Hawaii, North Dakota and South Dakota, recognize/celebrate Juneteenth in some sort of fashion. This personally became significant for me because upon moving to Virginia on last year Juneteenth became a permanent statewide holiday (following in the footsteps of Texas, New York, and Pennsylvania). The fact that Virginia made this a statewide holiday is truly significant considering the states past history and the fact that the state is known as being the capital of the Confederacy…Interesting how tides are beginning to change!!

In the end when I think about Juneteenth I am optimistic…I am hopeful…I am excited. Optimistic that one day it will become a national holiday, and that it will truly get the recognition that it deserves. Juneteenth is a holiday even worthy of being acknowledged internationally. Hopeful that the celebration of this holiday is not just for a moment or season, but for an infinity of lifetimes. Excited because with each passing day more and more people are learning about the importance and significance of Juneteenth!! Even if this is your first year, make sure it is not your last!!

And just in case you need a few references for later reading and viewing check out the following link!!

Happy Juneteenth!!

~Dr. G

Posted in A Professor's Thoughts...

A Professor’s Thoughts…

“Outkast and the Rise of the Hip-Hop South” (Book Review)*

“The South got something to say!” This call to arms from Outkast member André Benjamin (better known as André 3000) best summarizes the frustration, the need to self-validate, and the opportunity to make Outkast’s presence known within the hip-hop landscape and the South. These words also resonate as a proclamation of resilience as well as another approach to how we understand the southern narrative. 

In Chronicling Stankonia: The Rise of the Hip-Hop South, African American literature and southern hip-hop scholar Regina N. Bradley offers an intersectional examination of the contemporary southern Black and hip-hop identity via the Atlanta hip-hop rap duo Outkast. Bradley centers the musical and cultural work of Outkast (an acronym for “Operating under the Krooked American System Too Long”)** and highlights their relevance to hip-hop and Southern (specifically Atlanta) culture. Coming from a post-Civil Rights lens, Bradley provides a multi-layered approach to the various southern experiences of obtaining the American Dream while Black.

Big Boi and André 3000 perform as OutKast, October 18, 2014 (Sterling Munksgard / Shutterstock.com)

As a southern text, Chronicling Stankonia blends music, literature, film, and southern history while simultaneously giving voice to the Black American South and a musical culture that has often been ignored and sidelined by Northern/East Coast contemporaries. Additionally, Bradley makes southern Black musical storytelling very legible by weaving in her own personal narratives as well as using Outkast as a focal point. 

Bradley’s introduction, “The Mountaintop Ain’t Flat,” is a personal introduction to her background as a product of the American South. More specifically, her entry point to southern hip-hop via Outkast suggests another entry point for how we examine American southern hip hop beyond just being culture producers. Influenced by such post-Civil Rights Black cultural texts as Nelson George’s Post-Soul Nation, Mark Anthony Neal’s Soul Babies, and Zandria Robinson’s This Ain’t Chicago, Bradley inserts a specific southern experience, which had not been done previously. Also, through her personal interests and professional engagement with Outkast, Bradley acknowledges how they function as architects of the Atlanta hip-hop scene by using rap as a tool of “signifying their existence as young Black men” along with how they push against the dominant hip-hop scripts (p. 7). As Black southerners, Outkast redefine what it means to be Black and southern.  

In the first chapter, “The Demo Tape Ain’t Nobody Wanna,” Bradley further argues why Outkast should be taken seriously academically, socially, musically, culturally, and globally. As contemporary post-Civil Rights icons, Bradley engages with Outkast’s unapologetic nature to contribute regular sonic commentary on the South, the nation, Black manhood, class, socioeconomic status, and racial displacement. Through Black futuristic imaginings of the hip-hop South, Outkast’s earlier semi-autobiographical work Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik (1994) followed by ATLiens (1996), Bradley examines their ability to be metaphorical wordsmiths and lyricists who resituate the gaze on how the Black south is perceived and acknowledged. Furthermore, their lyrics create a space to make certain communities (local and regional) that have been marginalized feel visible and seen.

In the second and third chapters, Bradley incorporates the blending of literature, film, and television with hip-hop to discuss storytelling, hip-hop aesthetics, and the preservation of southern culture and traditions. Chapter 2, “Spelling Out the Work,” reflects on Kiese Laymon’s book, Long Division (2013), and the complexity of southern Black culture. Both Outkast’s and Laymon’s ability to not sanitize trauma and southern Black culture and how they exist in the past, present, and future speaks to how they both use hip-hop aesthetics as a form of storytelling to connect readers to universal truths about ourselves that transcend generations. Drawing on Mississippi’s history of trauma and racial terror, Bradley brings Laymon’s work into the discussion of southern Black culture and how he also features Outkast’s 1998 track “Aquemini” in the context of the Mississippi Freedom Summer and Hurricane Katrina. Through Laymon’s text, Bradley also examines the legitimacy of hip-hop masculinity, acknowledging the multiple southern Black experiences and even tapping into the need to center southern Black women’s and girl’s experiences. Chapter 3, “Reimagining Slavery in the Hip Hop Imagination,” takes a similar approach to explore storytelling with alternate realities through the relationship of hip-hop aesthetics, the American South, collective memory, and slavery. This reimagining of slavery in hip-hop imagination troubles the idea of what slavery looks like in popular culture. Here, Bradley explores the blending of sonic hip-hop sounds with southern slave narrative visuals such as Kanye West in the opening scene of the WGN series Underground and Tupac Shakur and Rick Ross in the 2012 film Django Unchained. From these relational interpretations, Bradley argues that each of the above sonically and visually reclaim a southern Black identity while remaking the plantation and slave narrative.

The final chapter, “Still Ain’t Forgave Myself,” questions the southern hip-hop space via the lens of “the trap” through the sonic sounds of Clifford “T.I.” Harris and Mississippi author Jesmyn Ward’s books, Where the Line Bleeds and Men We ReapedT.I.’s lyrics and complicated personal and rap life coupled with Ward’s narration of socioeconomic disparities speak to the pressures of hypervisibility and the consequences attached. Like Laymon, Bradley points out the way Ward weaves the experiences of Black men and boys and southern hip hop as a “unifying thread.”  Ultimately, both works as described by Bradley, also situate “the trap” as a space for southern Black men to grieve, to mourn, and to be legible. 

Bradley argues that the South, much like Blackness, is not monolithic and it should be read the same way. Chronicling Stankonia serves as a successful investigation on how and why we should expand our thoughts about how southern Blackness and hip-hop operate. She not only takes a deep dive into Outkast and southern hip-hop but manages to celebrate their longevity and create larger conversations surrounding Black masculinity, regional legacies, and identity formations/politics. Bradley’s ability to go back and forth between her own personal/social encounters and intellectual experiences provides a captivating example of what it means to be a fan-scholar. 

Moreover, Chronicling Stankonia contributes to the growing legacy of southern hip-hop studies, which includes Darren Grem’s essay, “The South Got Something” (2006), Ali Colleen Neff’s book, Let the World Listen Right (2009), Maco Faniel’s book, Hip Hop in Houston (2013), and the upcoming edited volume, An Outkast Reader: Essays on Race, Gender, and Postmodern South. Bradley’s ability to bring more attention to the dearth of academic representation on southern hip hop (particularly in Atlanta) speaks to how André 3000’s earlier statement continues to reign supreme: “the South still got something to say.” 

  • *Previously posted in Black Perspectives
  • **This moniker also operated initially as a way to address their (initial) displacement in the hip hop landscape (based on the dominant northeastern aesthetics).

~Dr. G

Posted in A Professor's Thoughts...

A Professor’s Thoughts: “I Made It! First Year Down…A lifetime to go!!”

So as of last week Tuesday, I officially made it through my first year on the tenure-track at Virginia Commonwealth University (Richmond, VA), [ALL GRADES ARE IN] and what a roller coaster ride!! As we all know this was an “interesting” time to be a student, parent, and teacher as it relates to the academic world. And this year was one I will never forget! For example, as noted above this was my first year on the tenure-track, which means not only did I start a new job in these unique circumstances, but I also moved to a whole new state and city in the middle of a pandemic! Many have asked, how have I coped and managed the move during these time? Well my answer to that is…I really did not have a choice, you kind of have to ride the wave or it will take you out. Needless to say, I have had a great deal of support professionally and personally, so that has made this transition a lot easier to navigate (Thank goodness for my many villages!!). Also, the fact that I am in a place that I am loving and doing what I love makes this roller coaster ride a fun one!

Now mind you, I have been teaching pretty much since I was in my doctoral program, so thankfully this academic year was not my first rodeo. However, it was my first experience with teaching full-time virtually. For many people like me, their places of sanctuary were quickly transformed into places of work and everything that came with it. I must admit, teaching virtually this academic year further confirmed that my preference for learning and teaching will ALWAYS be physically in the classroom. Not being in the classroom, physically, made me miss a lot things that I truly value. The presence of the students, literally seeing their faces, the interactions, the energy that permeates in a room, actually going into my office and seeing other faculty and staff, meeting other colleagues for coffee/tea, participating in on-campus activities, and so much more. During and after this school year, I would be more in tune with the long and short-term effects of teaching and learning in a virtual space. For some it worked, others not so much…This past year I witnessed not only students struggling, but faculty and staff as well. To be expected to essentially turn “water into fine wine” within days and weeks was quite the feat. Now in a way we accomplished what was asked of us, but that is not to say we did not come out without some bruises and wounds. I have come to realize that it is ok, and necessary, to acknowledge the stressful moments, but it is what you do to move past the stress that also counts. Lots of lessons learned! All in all, we survived and in many ways thrived!

Part of moving forward for me was participating in my first commencement post-PhD graduation, and recognizing our students in the Department of African American Studies! Seeing the excitement as our students proudly wore their cap and gowns get recognized and cross the finish line was a moment I will never forget and always cherish (You can see a snap shot below)!!

(Top image- 2021 VCU African American Studies undergraduates; Bottom images-Dr. G reading/recognizing our AFAM students during the commencement ceremony for VCU College of Humanities)

So what’s next for Dr. G??!! Well for the first time in 5 years I will not be teaching in the summer. It took a minute to digest that I would not be teaching this summer, but I will say that I do have this sense of relief. In past years, it just became a part of my norm/routine, but as priorities change so does the routine. So, instead of teaching I will be in the archives full-time starting next month in Chicago! I was fortunate to receive a summer fellowship through the Black Metropolis Research Consortium (BMRC), where I will be able to dive into the crates and examine the presence and importance (past and present) of Black female creatives and characters in comics and cartoons specifically within Chicago. I am really excited to have this opportunity, as it will play a huge role in my upcoming book project.

Evening Chicago Skyline

And after spending some time in the Chi’ I will come back to Richmond and tackle the archives on my own campus (VCU) and dive into the Comic Arts Collection! Let’s just say it will definitely be a productive summer, and I am very excited to get to work!

Giant Size X-Men #1 (1975) Photo courtesy of VCU Libraries

In addition to the work, you gotta make sure you get a chance to leisurely play a little bit! And with certain places returning back to some sense of normalcy, I will definitely continue exploring my new city (and other cities) while also squeezing in some R&R. Some of that R&R will be me getting my read on!! And I already have a few books that I cannot wait to read (a few you can find on my monthly book recommendations list). My balcony is going to get a lot of attention!!

Plus, this summer is going to be all about discovery and re-discovery. As I quickly approach ’40’ in a few months, I am continuing to learn more and more about myself (professionally and personally). The summer is a perfect time to recharge, recalibrate, and rejuvenate!!

Now that the school year is finished, what is on your agenda? How will you spend your time this summer?

~Dr. G