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AMERICAN_STUDIES

Racialized State Violence and the Movement for Black Lives

In a free, public event, Damon Williams ’14 will present “Bigger Than the Cops: Racialized State Violence and the Movement for Black Lives” at 4 p.m. Thursday, April 28, in ARH Auditorium, Room 302.

After a brief presentation, Williams will join in a one-on-one conversation with Shanna Benjamin, associate professor of English. Alexandra Odom ’17 will introduce participants and set the stage for the discussion.

At 5 p.m., there will be a break for refreshments. Attendees will return at 5:15 p.m. for a workshop with Williams and Kesho Scott, associate professor of American studies and sociology.

Event sponsors include Alumni in the Classroom Program, Office of Diversity and Inclusion, Center for the Humanities, Peace and Conflict Studies, the Departments of Sociology, American Studies, and Economics, and the Rosenfield Program in Public Affairs, International Relations, and Human Rights.

Grinnell welcomes and encourages the participation of people with disabilities. You can request accommodations through Conference Operations and Events.

About Damon Williams ’14

After a brief presentation, Williams will join in a one-on-one conversation with Shanna Benjamin, associate professor of English at Grinnell College. Senior Alexandra Odom will introduce participants and set the stage for the discussion.

At 5 p.m., there will be a break for refreshments. Attendees will return at 5:15 p.m. for a workshop with Williams and Kesho Scott, associate professor of American studies and sociology at Grinnell.

Williams is a community producer, organizer, radio host, hip-hop performance artist, actor, teacher and public speaker from the south side of Chicago. He has performed across the country with his sister, Kristiana Colón, as the poetic duo April Fools. He also co-hosts "AirGo Radio," a weekly show on WHPK, Chicago Community Radio.

In addition, Williams co-chairs the Chicago chapter of Black Youth Project 100, a national political organization comprised of black youth ages 18-35. He co-edits the #LetUsBreathe Collective, an artistic activist organization that serves underprivileged people and creatively disrupts the anti-black racist status quo.

Committed to addressing economic inequality, Williams also serves as the co-director of the Ujamaa Jr. Investment Club, which promotes financial literacy and investment strategies.

Why Americans Love the Welfare State

Spencer Piston '01Spencer Piston ’01 — an assistant professor of political science at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University — will present “Why Americans Love the Welfare State in an Age of Economic Inequality” at noon, Tuesday, Feb. 16, in ARH 102.

All are welcome to the free public event. Lunch will be provided.

Piston's research examines the influence of attitudes about social groups — with particular attention to racial and class groups — on public opinion and political behavior.

His work has been published or accepted for publication in leading political science journals, including The Journal of Politics, Public Opinion Quarterly, Political Behavior, Political Communication, and Political Psychology. He has been named a Distinguished Junior Scholar by the Political Psychology Section of the American Political Science Association.

Piston's visit is sponsored by the College's Alumni in the Classroom Program.

Grinnell welcomes and encourages the participation of people with disabilities. ARH is wheelchair accessible. Automatic door operators are located on the southeast and southwest sides. Accessible parking is available along Park Street. You can request accommodations from the event sponsor or Conference Operations and Events.

Celebrating Anna May Wong: A Tribute to the First Chinese American Film Star

On Saturday, February 13, the Cultural Film Committee, with support from American Studies; Student Affairs; Asian and Asian-American Association; the Department of Gender, Women's, and Sexuality Studies; and Burling Library presented “Celebrating Anna May Wong: A Tribute to the First Chinese-American Film Star.”  The tribute began with a screening of the 1932 film Shanghai Express, directed by Josef von Sternberg and starring Marlene Dietrich opposite Anna May Wong. Following a light buffet, the tribute continued with a screening of Anna May Wong: In Her Own Words, a 2013 documentary from filmmaker Yunah Hong that explores Ms. Wong’s life and career. Actress Doan Ly narrates in Wong’s own words, gleaned from various interviews with the actress.

For further exploration of Anna May Wong’s remarkable legacy and influence, please see our online bibliography.  You might also enjoy a visit to Burling Library, where materials related to the actress’s life and career are displayed (in Burling Lounge, near the Smith Memorial Collection).

Born in 1905 to a laundryman and his wife, Anna May Wong was a third generation Chinese-American raised in Los Angeles. It was an era of intense prejudice and restrictive and discriminatory laws against Chinese immigrants and Chinese Americans, and this racist environment seriously limited Wong’s opportunities in life, in love, and especially in her career as a film actress in Hollywood.

Despite these challenges, Anna May Wong was cast in 50 films between 1919 and 1960, beginning with her role as an extra in the silent film The Red Lantern (Leibfried 13). She soon earned “a reputation for a high level of professionalism, personal grace and charm, and an unmatched film presence.” However, even as she became internationally known for her remarkable talent, in Hollywood she was only cast in supporting roles and portrayed as a “caricature of the Chinese woman.” Many people, including members of the Chinese Nationalist movement, harshly criticized Wong for accepting roles that perpetuated negative stereotypes, claiming she was the pawn of a Hollywood that wished to denigrate and oppress the Chinese people (Hodges xviii).

By all accounts, although it pained her deeply, Anna May Wong met this criticism as well as frequent instances of racism with poise and determination. For example, tired of being typecast in Hollywood as a dragon lady, a china doll, or a butterfly, Wong moved to Europe in 1928, acting in plays, an operetta, and in films in a less prejudiced setting. She tackled her lines in French, German, and English, and learned to speak with a British accent. Wong socialized with artists and intellectuals, and among her many companions were actor Marlene Dietrich, singer and actor Paul Robeson, photographer and museum curator Edward Steichen, opera singer Mei Lanfang, philosopher and cultural critic Walter Benjamin, and actor Butterfly Wu (Hodges 110).

When Wong returned to the United States after three years, she had achieved stardom in Europe (Hodges 109). However, she found that in Hollywood prejudice continued to negatively impact her career; for example, in 1936, she was turned down for a role in The Good Earth because she was purportedly too Asian. Although deeply disappointed with the typecasting, she continued to pursue roles on Broadway and in Hollywood films and television shows, while frequently traveling internationally, exploring her art in Australia, China, England, Germany, and elsewhere. She also worked to raise the image of China in the United States, writing articles and giving many interviews over the course of her career (183).

In 1961, at the age of 56, Anna May Wong died of a heart attack at her home in Santa Monica (Hodges 227).

 

Works Consulted:

“Asian American Cinema.” Schirmer Encyclopedia of Film. Ed. Barry Keith Grant. New York: Schirmer Reference, 2007. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 5 Feb. 2016.

Hodges, Graham Russell Gao. Anna May Wong: From Laundryman’s Daughter to Hollywood Legend. New York: Palgrave, 2004. Print.

Leibfried, Philip, and Chei Mi Lane. Anna May Wong: A Complete Guide to Her Film, Stage, Radio and Television Work. London: McFarland, 2004. Print.

Bound: Film Screening and Discussion

The College will present Bound: African versus African Americans (AVAA) — a hard-hitting documentary that addresses the tension that exists between Africans and African-Americans — at noon Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016. The film screening will be followed by a highly interactive discussion opportunity; refreshments provided.

AVAA uses personal testimonials to expose the rift between Africans and African-Americans, then it takes us on a journey through the corridors of their historical experiences as it illuminates the moments that divide and bind them.

The event is sponsored by the Cultural Films Committee, Department of American Studies, and Office of Student Affairs.

Grinnell welcomes and encourages the participation of people with disabilities. Rosenfield Center has accessible parking in the lot to the east. Room 101 is equipped with an induction hearing loop system. You can request accommodations from the event sponsor or Conference Operations and Events.

Sameness and Difference

Paul Vanouse at microscope

 As 21st century racism unfolds and recedes under scientific scrutiny of human sameness and differences, the American studies concentration in collaboration with the art & art history and biology departments, have invited Bio-Artist Prof Paul Vanouse. 
 
 Over the last decade, Vanouse's work has been specifically concerned with forcing the arcane codes of scientific  communication into a broader cultural language. 
 
 In "The Relative Velocity Inscription Device" (2002), he literally races DNA from his Jamaican-American family members, in a DNA sequencing gel, an installation/scientific experiment that explores the relationship between early 20th Century Eugenics and late 20th Century Human Genomics. The double entendre of race highlights the obsession with “genetic fitness” within these historical endeavors. Similarly, his recent projects, “Latent Figure Protocol”, “Ocular Revision” and “Suspect Inversion Center” use molecular biology techniques to challenge “genome-hype” and to confront issues surrounding DNA fingerprinting.  
 
Vanouse will present "Sameness and Difference," at 4 p.m. Thursday, September 17, in Joe Rosenfield '25 Center, Room 101. The talk is free and open to the public. Refreshments will be available.
 

 

When the Wolves Came In

Kyle Abraham/Abraham.In.Motion will perform “When the Wolves Came In,” at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 12, in Roberts Theatre in the Bucksbaum Center for the Arts.

This stand-alone repertory-based program explores the historical legacy of two triumphs in the international history of civil rights: the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation and the 20th anniversary of the abolishment of apartheid in South Africa.

Abraham was inspired by Max Roach’s iconic 1960 protest album “We Insist: Max Roach’s Freedom Now Suite,” which celebrated the centennial of the Emancipation Proclamation and shed a powerful light on the growing civil rights movements in South Africa and the United States.

The potent themes inherent in these historical milestones are evident in Abraham’s choreography, evocative scenery by visual artist Glenn Ligon, the visceral power of Roach’s masterwork and original compositions of Grammy Award-winning jazz musician Robert Glasper.

In addition to the performance, Abraham will give a free, public talk titled "Dance Repertory as Creative Collaboration" at 4 p.m. Friday, Sept. 11, in the Joe Rosenfield ’25 Center, Room 101. The Center for the Humanities and the Public Events Committee are sponsoring the talk and the performance.

About Kyle Abraham

A 2013 MacArthur Fellow, Abraham began his dance training at the Civic Light Opera Academy. He later studied dance at State University of New York at Purchase, where he received a Bachelor of Fine Arts, and at New York University, where he earned a Master of Fine Arts in the Tisch School of the Arts.

Abraham’s choreography has been presented throughout the United States and abroad in countries including Canada, Ecuador, Germany, Ireland, Japan, and Jordan. In November 2012, Abraham was named New York Live Arts Resident Commissioned Artist for 2012-14. One month later, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater premiered his work, “Another Night at New York’s City Center,” to rave reviews.

Tickets

“When the Wolves Came In” is free and open to the public, although tickets are required.

Ticket distribution will begin at noon Tuesday, Sept. 8, in the box office of the Bucksbaum Center for the Arts. A limited number of tickets are also available at the Pioneer Bookshop located at 823 Fourth Ave.

Any tickets not distributed by the box office will be available the night of the show beginning one half hour before show time. For more information, call 641-269-3236.

No tickets are needed for Friday's talk.

Decoding Diversity

Lester Alemán ’07 became an advocate and a leader while a Posse Scholar at Grinnell College. He also worked as a program director for nearly four years at the Posse Foundation in Los Angeles. So it’s only fitting he had a chance showcase those skills while discussing the often controversial topic of diversity at the first-ever TEDxGrinnell event.

We talked with Lester about his TEDxGrinnell experience and time as a Grinnell student.  

What was it like giving a TEDxGrinnell talk?

Lester Alemen, left, talks to TEDx attendeesDelivering a TED Talk is, by far, one of the most challenging things I’ve done in my career. I’m honored that Grinnell College thought of me as someone who is a subject-matter expert in the field of diversity initiatives. My speech delivered a dose of obvious. But what’s more striking to me is that no matter how obvious diversity is in this country, we — as a nation— still resist it. I wrote my talk not only for the sociology majors of the country, but for people who need a reminder of what truly shapes this nation, and how we continuously perpetuate our lack of acceptance. “It’s not okay” somehow became my tag line. So when I think of how many people kept repeating that after my talk, I think I drove a message home. Now the work rests in the hands of those who listened.

Thinking back as a student, what is the most striking way you were affected by the culture shift from your home in Los Angeles to Grinnell?

Attending Grinnell College allowed me to understand the fabric of our social landscape. It also taught me to be very vocal and persuasive in the pursuit of social change. Going from an urban environment to a rural setting taught me to be adaptable. Those four years really shaped my vision for how I live my professional life.

What’s the most important piece of advice you would share with prospective Grinnellians?

The biggest piece of advice I can offer any prospective student is that Grinnell College is not the college for just anyone. Grinnell not only offers the unique opportunity to learn about the unique world we are all a part of, it offers the opportunity for you to truly become an agent of change. If change isn’t what you were made to do — then this isn’t the school for you. If change is what you live for, then welcome.

What’s the most important way Grinnell College assisted you in becoming the leader you are today?

There were caring adults who wanted nothing more than to see me thrive — and knew exactly how to help facilitate that growth. That was new for me. They taught me the most important thing a leader needs in this world: true and active compassion. 

  • Taking a course with Kesho Scott, associate professor of sociology and American studies, is a must for anyone that appreciates witty, insightful banter — the kind that gives you an eye-opening dose of what we are doing to each other in this world.
  • Karla Erickson, associate professor of sociology, taught me that only I could dictate my path and pushed me to make tough decisions as my major adviser.
  • Kara Lycke was a soundboard for the frustration I felt the more I learned about the injustices in our education system.
  • Judy Hunter had the patience to really teach me how to put my feelings and thoughts into words at the Writing Lab.
  • Katherine McClelland helped me overcome my fear of math so I could pass my statistics class.
  • The late Howard Burkle indulged all my life questions — and my appetite, I should add — as my Posse Mentor.
  • Charlie Duke gave my Posse a home away from home when Howard could no longer do that.

Alemán currently works at NBCUniversal in the Page Program, Talent Development Group.

A History of the Noose

Jack ShulerJack Shuler will present a free public lecture, “The Thirteenth Turn:  A History of the Noose,” at 4:15 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 25, in ARH Room 102 - Kallaus Lecture Hall.

Shuler is an associate professor & John and Christine Warner Professor of English and the author of a new book of the same name. His other works include Blood and Bone:  Truth and Reconciliation in a Southern Town. Assistant Professor of History Albert Lacson saysShuler's interest in race, violence, and historical memory animate both books.”

Shuler’s lecture is co-sponsored by the American studies and history departments.

Grinnell welcomes and encourages the participation of people with disabilities. You can request accommodations from the event sponsor or Conference Operations.

The Life and Times of J.B. Grinnell

Josiah Bushnell Grinnell was a congressman, a minister, the founder of Grinnell College and a radical.  On the April 23, 2013 Talk of Iowa radio show, Charity Nebbe talked with a group of students at Grinnell College, who spent the semester exploring the life and beliefs of JB Grinnell.  She talked with them about what they uncovered on the life, works, and legacy of a complicated man.

Media Source:
 Iowa Public Radio

Race in the 21st Century

In her introductory elective, Race in the 21st Century: Color, Culture, National Identities, Katya Gibel Mevorach’s students examine ideas about race and how racial meanings are produced, transformed, and circulated within the US and abroad.

Students are exploring critical race theory and cultural anthropology. They are considering the historical contexts which inform thinking about difference and racial classifications as well as the cultural dynamics which racialize debates over topics including immigration, affirmative action, and biomedical research.