One small yet nevertheless crucial part of decolonisation is to foster constant vigilance concerning racism’s long global history, with particular attention to how this history has shaped the theories, methods, and cultural artefacts at the centre of our research and pedagogy. While there has been no shortage of online bibliographies dedicated precisely to the task of consciousness-raising, the breadth of geographical and historical expertise within MLAC creates a unique opportunity to expand existing lists across a significantly wider scope of space and time. This, in turn, can further highlight the complexity of racism’s transnational entanglements and regional variations, in addition to adumbrating hidden lines of solidarity, the resurrection of which should aid in our commitment to anti-racism.
To this end, we feature here ongoing recommendations from MLAC staff of scholarly literature on the topic of race, and of resistance. From Ottoman slave narratives to Afro-Japanese activists – from the medicalization of race in the Anglo-Caribbean to the role of colonialism in climate change – these works serve as an armoury of ideas with which to equip ourselves as we resist racism. Clicking on each title will bring you to a short description, as well as information concerning modules that further explore the themes in question; where available, a link to a digital edition (Durham account required) has been provided.
Happy critical reading!
Black liberation movements in the United States may appear at first to have little to do with the study of Japan. Yuichiro Onishi’s book, however, proves the two to be all but intertwined. A mutual concern with imperialism and colonialism sustained ‘Afro-Asian’ resistance networks that spanned the Pacific, starting from the time of the Russo-Japanese War down through the Vietnam era. Some of these alliances had a questionable side: Onishi does not shy away from open discussion of Du Bois’ ambiguous stance on the Japanese empire even as the latter amplified its aggressions throughout the 1930s. Yet, ultimately, the histories Onishi rescues -- whether of Okinawan activists allying with African-American servicemen, or the “colored internationalism” that flourished in 1950s Osaka -- testify both to the continual possibility of, and imperative need for, unexpected forms of solidarity that might serve as the basis of a genuinely multiracial coalitional politics.
Recommender: Hansun Hsiung
Module: Introduction to Japanese Culture
Read it through Durham here
Race defined understandings of international relations — explicitly in the first half of the twentieth century, and arguably still today in the guise of a “clash of civilizations.” This classic study by John Dower examines how the Pacific War and more broadly WWII were in their own time explicitly framed as “race wars.” For Allied and Axis alike, entrenched ideas of racial hierarchy, as well as the need to either maintain or revise the world order to fit these hierarchies, motivated policy and cultural production. When first published, Dower’s book stirred controversy for its adamant refusal of narratives which spoke of a “good war” -- a drama of heroes against villains. U.S. mobilization, for instance, occurred just as much on grounds of protecting “whiteness” as it did on grounds of a struggle of “freedom” against “fascism.” In 2020, the monograph remains a worthy read. As Dower reminds us in his conclusion, “Race hates did not go away; rather, they went elsewhere.” A schema of “dominant Western powers against peoples in the Middle East, Latin America, and Africa” continues to shape geopolitical decisions and discourses, whether in trade wars, developmental programs — or, more recently, pandemics.
Modules: Introduction to Japanese Culture and Science and Technology in Modern Japan
Black-Arab political and cultural solidarity has had a long and rich history in the United States. That alliance is once again exerting a powerful influence on American society as Black American and Arab American activists and cultural workers are joining forces in formations like the Movement for Black Lives and Black for Palestine to address social justice issues. In Breaking Broken English, Hartman explores the historical and current manifestations of this relationship through language and literature, with a specific focus on Arab American literary works that use the English language creatively to put into practice many of the theories and ideas advanced by Black American thinkers.
Breaking Broken English shows how language is the location where literary and poetic beauty meet the political in creative work. Hartman draws out thematic connections between Arabs/Arab Americans and Black Americans around politics and culture and also highlights the many artistic ways these links are built. She shows how political and cultural ideas of solidarity are written in creative texts and emphasizes their potential to mobilize social justice activists in the United States and abroad in the ongoing struggle for the liberation of Palestine.
Recommender: Adam Talib
In the late nineteenth century, an active slave trade sustained social and economic networks across the Ottoman Empire and throughout Egypt, Sudan, the Caucasus, and Western Europe. Unlike the Atlantic trade, slavery in this region crossed and mixed racial and ethnic lines. Fair-skinned Circassian men and women were as vulnerable to enslavement in the Nile Valley as were teenagers from Sudan or Ethiopia.
Tell This in My Memory opens up a new window in the study of slavery in the modern Middle East, taking up personal narratives of slaves and slave owners to shed light on the anxieties and intimacies of personal experience. The framework of racial identity constructed through these stories proves instrumental in explaining how countries later confronted—or not—the legacy of the slave trade. Today, these vocabularies of slavery live on for contemporary refugees whose forced migrations often replicate the journeys and stigmas faced by slaves in the nineteenth century.
Michel-Rolph Trouillot places the West’s failure to acknowledge the most successful slave revolt in history, the Haitian Revolution, alongside denials of the Holocaust and the debate over the Alamo and Christopher Columbus in this moving and thought-provoking meditation on how power operates in the making and recording of history. Silencing the Past analyzes the silences in our historical narratives, what is left out and what is recorded, what is remembered and what is forgotten, and what these silences reveal about inequalities of power. Weaving personal recollections from his lifetime as a student and teacher of history, Trouillot exposes forces less visible—but no less powerful—than gunfire, property, and political crusades. This twentieth-anniversary edition of Trouillot’s pioneering work features a new foreword from renowned scholar Hazel V. Carby that speaks to the continuing influence of Silencing the Past on the fields of anthropology, history, and African American, Caribbean, and postcolonial studies—as well as to the book’s unique pedagogical value as an introduction to historical analysis.
Insurgent Empire shows how Britain’s enslaved and colonial subjects were active agents in their own liberation. What is more, they shaped British ideas of freedom and emancipation back in the United Kingdom.
A passionately urgent call for all of us to unlearn imperialism and repair the violent world we share. In this theoretical tour-de-force, renowned scholar Ariella Aïsha Azoulay calls on us to recognize the imperial foundations of knowledge and to refuse its strictures and its many violences.
A classic of cultural criticism, "Race," Writing, and Difference provides a broad introduction to the idea of "race" as a meaningful category in the study of literature and the shaping of critical theory. This collection demonstrates the variety of critical approaches through which one may discuss the complexities of racial "otherness" in various modes of discourse. Now, fifteen years after their first publication, these essays have managed to escape the cliches associated with the race-class-gender trinity of ’80s criticism, and remain a provocative overview of the complex interplay between race, writing, and difference.
The anthology includes Homi Bhabha’s classic essay, “Signs Taken for Wonders,” a seminal discussion of hybridity––a key concept in race and postcolonial studies.
Recommender: William Schaefer
Read it through Durham here*
* Note that the essays collected in this volume are also available online in two issues of Critical Inquiry: Autumn 1985 (vol. 12, no. 1) and Autumn 1986 (vol. 13, no. 1)
Afrocentrism. Eurocentrism. Caribbean Studies. British Studies. To the forces of cultural nationalism hunkered down in their camps, this bold book sounds a liberating call. There is, Paul Gilroy tells us, a culture that is not specifically African, American, Caribbean, or British, but all of these at once, a black Atlantic culture whose themes and techniques transcend ethnicity and nationality to produce something new and, until now, unremarked. Challenging the practices and assumptions of cultural studies, The Black Atlantic also complicates and enriches our understanding of modernism.
Debates about postmodernism have cast an unfashionable pall over questions of historical periodization. Gilroy bucks this trend by arguing that the development of black culture in the Americas and Europe is a historical experience which can be called modern for a number of clear and specific reasons. For Hegel, the dialectic of master and slave was integral to modernity, and Gilroy considers the implications of this idea for a transatlantic culture. In search of a poetics reflecting the politics and history of this culture, he takes us on a transatlantic tour of the music that, for centuries, has transmitted racial messages and feeling around the world, from the Jubilee Singers in the nineteenth century to Jimi Hendrix to rap. He also explores this internationalism as it is manifested in black writing from the “double consciousness” of W. E. B. Du Bois to the “double vision” of Richard Wright to the compelling voice of Toni Morrison.
This monograph defamiliarizes a canon of visual culture familiar to most students, revealing how slavery functioned to shape well-known works. In addition, Fracchia makes a strong case for why looking at the early modern period is helpful when thinking about present-day ideas on race.
Recommender: Yarí Pérez Marín
Modules: Representing Women: Sex and Power in Colonial Latin America
(Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 2017)
Hogarth offers a close reading of what happens during that specific period in the context of the Anglo Caribbean. However, the topic is part of a much longer story, going well beyond that place and time, back into the modern Hispanic world, for example, which I explore in my own research. Students & colleagues interested in the history of medicine, or indeed in the return of "race science" may find it worthwhile, and it is a good example of how these debates are being staged in early modern studies today.
(London: 4th Estate, 2019)
While ostensibly focused on a topic similar to Rana Hogarth’s Medicalizing Blackness,Saini’s Superior offers a broader entry point that is not directed at an academic audience per se. This difference has pluses and minuses. The breadth of contexts being looked at sometimes gives way to oversimplifications and omissions. However, Superior is worth looking at more closely given its undeniable success in the general mass market (featured in “Book of the Year” lists by a number of English-language outlets, and about to be re-issued in paperback later this summer), strengthening the case for incorporating the history of science and medicine in present-day conversations on structural racism.
(New York: Fordham UP, 2015)
An excellent recent re-evaluation of Fanon’s work that endeavors to establish a link between his ideas and current postcolonial thought in a global context. As is the case with several key thinkers from the previous century whose work remains highly relevant to present-day understandings about race (Audre Lorde, José Carlos Mariátegui, Édouard Glissant, for example), at times it can be challenging to engage with older primary sources outside of the context of a module, and the opportunities for peer discussion and expert instructor guidance on the historical & cultural background that a classroom setting creates. I recommend Gordon’s book with this in mind because he opens a gateway into Fanon whilst fully aware of that difficulty, and for the benefit of readers who do not necessarily specialize in French Studies, or are well-versed in Caribbean culture just yet, but whose own thought processes on issues of race would benefit immensely from engaging with Fanon’s writing, and who may appreciate that gesture of mediation. NB: if you are interested in this topic, keep an eye out for Gordon’s upcoming Fear of a Black Consciousness (due out with Farrar, Straus & Giroux in USA, Penguin in UK).
An essential pedagogical resource for the study of the Atlantic Slave Trade.
Interactive, and regularly updated.
Access here https://www.slavevoyages.org/
(Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2008)
A searching assessment of the French slave trade and its implications for French and Francophone culture (esp. the literature and cinema of France and its former colonies in Africa and the Caribbean). Highly recommended.
Recommender: Richard Scholar
Modules: The Francophone Imaginary: Legacies of Colonialism in Literature and Culture; Migrations in Cultures of the French-Speaking World
Current Writing 6 (1994): 151-60
I’d like to add a less-known voice from the Caribbean to those more celebrated and important Caribbean thinkers from the francophone islands (such as Frantz Fanon, Aimé Césaire, Edouard Glissant, Patrick Chamoiseau, and Maryse Condé) that I teach to Durham students. I am thinking of Rex Nettleford. Nettleford (1933-2010) was a Jamaican scholar, social and cultural critic, dancer, and choreographer, and the author of Identity, Race, and Protest in Jamaica (1972) and Inward Stretch, Outward Reach: A Voice from the Caribbean (1993). He was described by one contemporary as someone who, ‘cradled by the eclectic cultural traditions of an Afro-creolized rural folklore and possessed by the indomitable spirit of the black community responding to and resisting the vestiges of colonial influence’, had ‘embraced with distinction his calling to shape West Indian intellectual tradition and cultural identity through the exercise of his artistic creative imagination and intellect.’ An excellent brief introduction to his work is Nettleford’s ‘Multiculturalism, the Arts, and Nationâ€Building: The New South Africa’, a paper first delivered in Johannesburg in 1994, published in Current Writing 6 (1994): 151-60 and available here:
Scholarly recommendations about on this list. But as a remarkable musical exercise of ‘artistic creative imagination and intellect’ in relation to race and resistance, it’s worth also attending to Bob Dylan’s 1975 protest song ‘Hurricane’, about the imprisonment of Rubin "Hurricane" Carter.
Listen on YouTube here
(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994), 371-396
In light of the recent toppling of the statue of slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol, this essay on race, representation, struggles over the meanings of images, the work art does outside of the museum, and the toppling of statues from China to the United States––written in the wake of the release of Spike Lee’s film, Do the Right Thing (1989)––is well worth returning to, particularly in light of reflections by the Jamaican poet, Kei Miller, on the Bristol statue.
* Also available online as originally published in Critical Inquiry 16, no. 4 (Summer, 1990): 880-899.
(San Francisco: Aunt Lute Books, 1987)
Rooted in Gloria Anzaldúa’s experience as a Chicana, a lesbian, and activist and a writer, the essays and poems in this volume profoundly challenged, and continue to challenge, how we think about identity. Borderlands/La Frontera remaps our understanding of what a ‘border’ is, presenting it not as a simple divide between here and there, us and them, but as a psychic, social, and cultural terrain that we inhabit, and that inhabits all of us.
Recommender: Axel Pérez Trujillo
Modules: Conflict and Violence in the Spanish-Speaking World
Read it through Durham here and here
(Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2017 )
In Critique of Black Reason eminent critic Achille Mbembe offers a capacious genealogy of the category of Blackness—from the Atlantic slave trade to the present—to critically reevaluate history, racism, and the future of humanity. Mbembe teases out the intellectual consequences of the reality that Europe is no longer the world's center of gravity while mapping the relations among colonialism, slavery, and contemporary financial and extractive capital. Tracing the conjunction of Blackness with the biological fiction of race, he theorizes Black reason as the collection of discourses and practices that equated Blackness with the nonhuman in order to uphold forms of oppression.
(Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2018)
No geology is neutral, writes Kathryn Yusoff. Tracing the color line of the Anthropocene, A Billion Black Anthropocenes or None examines how the grammar of geology is foundational to establishing the extractive economies of subjective life and the earth under colonialism and slavery. Yusoff initiates a transdisciplinary conversation between feminist black theory, geography, and the earth sciences, addressing the politics of the Anthropocene within the context of race, materiality, deep time, and the afterlives of geology.
Modules: Conflict and Violence in the Spanish-Speaking World; Latin American Texts
(Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013)
Anthropologist Bruce Albert captures the poetic voice of Davi Kopenawa, shaman and spokesman for the Yanomami of the Brazilian Amazon, in this unique reading experience--a coming-of-age story, historical account, and shamanic philosophy, but most of all an impassioned plea to respect native rights and preserve the Amazon rainforest.
(Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2014)
The iconoclastic Brazilian anthropologist and theoretician Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, well known in his discipline for helping initiate its “ontological turn,” offers a vision of anthropology as “the practice of the permanent decolonization of thought.” Bold, unexpected, and profound, Cannibal Metaphysics is one of the chief works marking anthropology’s current return to the theoretical center stage.
(New York: NYU Press, 2012)
Social Death tackles one of the core paradoxes of social justice struggles and scholarship—that the battle to end oppression shares the moral grammar that structures exploitation and sanctions state violence. Cacho illustrates that our very understanding of personhood is premised upon the unchallenged devaluation of criminalized populations of color. Hence, the reliance of rights-based politics on notions of who is and is not a deserving member of society inadvertently replicates the logic that creates and normalizes states of social and literal death.
Recommender: H. Rosi Song
(Bristol, Chicago: Intellect, 2015)
This book examines a variety of films from the early 1990s that depict and address the lives and identities of both first-generation immigrants and children of the diaspora in Europe. It also theorizes immigration cinema in relation to notions such as gender, hybridity, transculturation, border crossing, transnationalism and translation.
Recommender: Santiago Fouz Hernández
Modules: Identity in the Spanish-Speaking World; Icons and Myths of the Hispanic World; Contemporary Spanish Cinema
A short documentary film offering a fascinating examination of black masculinities in the USA. As indicated in the title, the work proposes to contrast manhood as exhibited in Barack Obama, on the one hand, and the rapper Curtis Jackson, better known as 50 Cent.
Watch it on YouTube here
(New York: Norton, 2019)
A deeply testimonial, but reflexive and highly original narrative on waywardness and non-normativity in its multiple, imbricated forms (race, gender, sexuality, age and more), from the North American experience of racial segregation. A recording of the book launch, with Hartman’s own comments, is available on YouTube.
Recommender: Dušan Radunović
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016)
In this book, Ingrid Piller discusses a wide range of linguistic diversity and social (in)justice-related case studies, demonstrating that language is part and parcel of structural disadvantages. Piller highlights ways in which to sensitize ourselves to linguistic injustices, stalling their formation from the very outset.
Recommender: Marcela Cazzoli
Sociolinguistic Studies 1, no. 2 (2000): 25-45
Blackledge offers an analysis of everyday discourse practices in Britain, demonstrating how minority languages are written out of public discourse as part of the ideology of “monolingual” nation.
(London: Lawrence & Wishart, 2019)
Mark Sealy, Director of Autograph ABP (Association of Black Photographers) completed his MA and PhD at Durham. His 2015 doctoral thesis focused on photography and cultural violence. In 2019 it was published as a book (only £15 to buy new if you’d like to own a copy). The book examines the racial politics at work within photography, in the context of heated discussions around race and representation, the legacies of colonialism and the importance of decolonising the university. Photographers featured include Joy Gregory, Wayne Miller, Rotimi Fani-Kayode and Alice Seeley Harris. The author analyses a series of images within and against the violent political reality of imperialism and extracts new meanings, develops new ways of seeing and builds different knowledges. At the book launch in Newcastle, thinking of the images of women and black people that circulate in visual culture, the author said, “Look at the consequences of not caring, we know where that leads, we have to act”. You can watch the talk online here, with features a conversation with Dr Hannabiell Sanders (musician and activist) and Professor Jonathan Long (Head of MLaC) alongside Mark Sealy.
Recommender: Hazel Donkin
Read the doctoral thesis through Durham here
ed.Gaye Theresa Johnson and Alex Lubin (London: Verso, 2017)
This is a crucial intervention into debates around the Anthropocene, which have been (correctly!) criticised for their flattening-out of the category of the human, obscuring the crux of the problem. If we want to approach the question of environmental racism, we need to think beyond these generalisations and, as Vergès writes, listen to the “voices of the South and of minorities — the prime victims of these phenomena’s consequences — [who] have developed an analysis that brings together race, capitalism, imperialism, and gender.”
Recommender: Kerstin Oloff
Modules: Latin American Texts
New Yorker, 4 June 2012
What does the climate emergency have to do with racism? Who is most affected by it? In what ways does genre fiction and form allow us to see these connections most clearly? These are all questions that are posed by Díaz’s short in a compelling, accessible and probably uncomfortable fashion.
Read it through the New Yorkerhere