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Ethnic American Literature Syllabus

Every semester, I post my syllabi here. This fall semester the class may look a little different, but the main goals remain. I’m teaching an ethnic American literature class this fall, and the texts that I have chosen to teach this semester come, as usual, from partly my own desire to expand my own knowledge and understanding of different ethnicities, nationalities, and cultures. As such, I selected a wide variety of texts that I have discovered over the past couple of years by or about Arab-American, Chinese-Cubans, Afro-Asians, and more.

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“You must do something”: The Violence of Silence

On the day of his funeral, The New York Times and the Atlanta Journal Constitution published John Lewis’ final message. In it, Lewis spoke about his life, his work during the Civil Rights Movement, the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless others, and about the hope for the future, the hope had in the generation today speaking up and marching for equity. He wrote about hearing Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on the radio and King’s “philosophy and discipline of nonviolence.” Continuing, Lewis wrote, King “said we are all complicit if we tolerate injustice. He said each of us has a moral obligation to stand up, speak up and speak out. When you see something that is not right, you must say something. You must do something.”

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The Construction of History in Guy Delisle’s “Jerusalem”

“History is written by the victors.” Only a few weeks ago, this aphorism appeared on national television when Attorney General William Barr responded to a question from CBS’s Catherine Herridge about the dismissing of charges against Michael Flynn by asking, “When history looks back on this decision, how do you think it will be written?” Barr answered his own question with the following, “Well history is written by the winners, so it largely depends on who’s writing the history.” He did say more, claiming that “fair history would say that it was a good decision because it upheld the rule of law. It … upheld the standards of the Department of Justice, and it undid what was an injustice.” In this post, I don’t want to look at the dismissal of charges against Flynn or whether or not Barr’s statement basically said, “We’re the victors and we write the history.” Rather, I just want to look at the phrase in relation to Guy Delisle’s Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City.

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Barriers in Guy Delisle’s “Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City”

Connections lead to understanding. Connections lead to a break down in the beliefs and myths that keep us separates. Connection bridge the chasms that exist between us. However, one must be open to these connections. If one is not open, then no matter what connections a person makes, they will always succumb to the myths and fears that reside within one’s brain. In Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City, Guy Delisle details the year he spent in Jerusalem and Israel with his family. Throughout, Delisle highlights the diversity of Jerusalem and shines a light on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. At its core, Delisle’s graphic memoir points out that connections must be made in order for barriers to crumble.

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False Narratives in “Profile”

Last post I wrote about Bettina Love’s “No Black Child Left Behind: Schools Policing Students of Color” and education. Today, I want to look at another piece in Bill Campbell, Jason Rodriguez, and John Ira Jennings’ APB: Artist Against Police Brutality. In “Profile,” Jennings, along with Damian Duffy and Robert Love, highlight the ways that society labels Black individuals, specifically men in this case, as threatening, dangerous, and violent. We need to look at “Profile” in connection with Love’s essay and other works. Specifically, when I read “Profile,” I thought about Jefferson in Ernest Gaines’ A Lesson before Dying and Bigger Thomas in Richard Wright’s Native Son.

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Leaving Children Behind: The Policing of Black Students

Recently, I picked up a copy of APB: Artists against Police Brutality, an anthology of comics and essays edited by Bill Campbell, Jason Rodrguez, and John Ira Jennings. In the introduction to the collection, Campbell points out that the “project was borne out of anger,” specifically the anger that he felt the night that a grand jury in Staten Island decided not to put the officers who murdered Eric Garner on trial. It’s a collection that will not cause “the justice machine” to suddenly recognize its errors and change, but it’s a collection to “further the dialogue, make some people see this debate in a different light, perhaps change a mind or two, and, most importantly, exercise our freedom of speech in honor of all those who have had their voices silenced.” Today, I want to look at a couple of the pieces in APB, focusing on the ways that society, from birth, places Blacks under constant surveillance.

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Christianity, Ross Barnett, and White Supremacy: Part II

Note: This is the second part of “Christianity, Ross Barnett, and White Supremacy.”

Let’s look back at Romans 13, you know, the chapter that enslavers and the current administration have used to justify slavery and separating families at the border. What gets left out, of course, are verses 8-10 where Paul tells the Roman Christians “to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law” and that everything can be summed up by one command, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Paul concludes by writing, “Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” Biblically speaking, then, does the earthly authority or Jesus’ spiritual command hold more precedent? When a policy causes you not to love your neighbor, whether consciously or unconsciously, should it be challenged?  

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Christianity, Ross Barnett, and White Supremacy: Part I

About halfway through Take this Hammer, James Baldwin stands outside of a burned-out St. Mary’s Cathedral in San Francisco in 1963. Baldwin’s guide tells him about the fire that burned the building, and he tells Baldwin that as a result of the fire “the Catholic Church was able to raise fifteen million dollars to build another cathedral” in only nine months. Baldwin laughs and replies, “Some people know how to make it.” This moment leads Baldwin, a former preacher in his younger years, to comment on Christianity’s and organized religion’s failures in regard to suturing the wounds of America’s sinful past.

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Top Five Frank Yerby Novels: Part II

Last post, I wrote about three of my favorite Frank Yerby novels. Today, I want to talk about two more of my favorite novels plus mu favorite Yerby short story. Choosing my top three Yerby novels was fairly simple. They are ones I go back to, again and again, for various reasons. However, when I started to think about the last two novels that I wanted to highlight, it became tougher. I thought about Benton’s Row because of generational scope, its exploration of the flattening of whiteness after the Civil War, and my reading of it as a response to Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom!. I thought about Griffin’s Way, mainly for Candace Trevor’s discussion of the “visceral feelings” of racism. I thought about The Saracen Blade because of the way that Yerby uses thirteenth century Italy to comment on twentieth century America. I thought about Tobias and the Angel, still a favorite, for its postmodernism and its commentary on religion. Yerby’s work impacts me in different ways at different moments, and that is why I think it was hard for me to choose these final two novels. I chose these two, partly, because they speak to me at this moment.

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Top Five Frank Yerby Novels: Part I

At this moment, I am almost exactly halfway through Frank Yerby’s oeuvre. During his career, he published thirty-three novels, and at the time of this writing, I am reading my seventeenth, Devilseed (1984). I’ve been reading Yerby for about five years now, working, in my spare time, to complete his works. I have twenty-four of his novels on my shelf, so I still need to get seven more. Yerby began as an enigmatic figure for me, someone who was known yet not known. He didn’t fit neatly into the mold of the Black literary canon that arose in the academy in the late 1960s, but his work spoke directly to that moment, historical moments, and future moments. Today, I want to take a moment and share with you my five favorite Yerby novels, in no particular order.

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Lillian E. Smith Reading Group: Part II

Last post, I wrote about the LES Reading Group that we are conducting this July. When I read Smith, her voices echoes through the years, speaking to this moment both nationally and internationally. I often wonder, and I hope this will be part of the reading group conversation, how she would react to this moment. How she would engage with social media. How she would fight. Of course, I can’t answer these questions definitively. I can say, though, that we need her voice. We need her fire. We need her action. We need her insight. Today, I’m looking at why I chose the final two pieces for the reading group.

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Lillian E. Smith Reading Group: Part I

The more I read Lillian Smith, the more her voice resonates with the current moment. I do searches through the journal she edited with her life-long partner Paula Snelling, and each issues contains articles that, while published in the 1930s or 1940s, As well, the more I speak with people about Smith, I realize that people do not know her, at least they do not know the extent of her work and legacy. This, of course, is to be expected. Unless someone works extensively on an individual author, then people will not know a lot of what that author wrote. With that in mind, I decided to host a Lillian E. Smith reading group this July where participants will read five articles/speeches by Smith and meet to discuss there later in the month. Today, I want to talk about the reading group and why I chose the selections that I did.

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