In addition to examining pedagogy and learning in the arts as part of this Summer Session’s topic of Back to School, we are excited to provide resources for both teachers and students alike that could inform and enrich their art and pedagogical practices. Today we bring you a syllabus by scholar M. Shadee Malaklou from her Jesus Fucking Christ Blog. An assistant professor and Mellon Faculty Fellow at Beloit College, Malaklou’s open-source visual studies syllabus investigates whether, given the epistemological limits of Western philosophy, Black lives can ever matter. This syllabus was originally published on July 18, 2016.   

Left: WWI propoganda poster. Right: LeBron James and Gisele Bundchen on the April 2008 cover of Vogue Magazine.

Left: WWI propaganda poster. Right: LeBron James and Gisele Bundchen on the April 2008 cover of Vogue.

Course description: If the movement Black Lives Matter indexes the precarity of black life, then this course interrogates how and why Black lives don’t matter or, better yet, how and why Black lives, categorically excluded from human protections, can’t (epistemologically) matter. Course topics and themes examine how new media platforms like Facebook and Twitter and old media platforms like broadcast and print journalism reproduce racial spectacle and cultivate anti-Black viscera, gut, and instinct in viewer-consumers. Students will learn how to read for anti-Blackness in global contexts but the focus will be on media production and consumption in American contexts. Born at the hour of another Black Lives Matter movement—to abolish chattel slavery—and tasked with cohering the imagined community of a broken nation, American media in the 19th century made blackface minstrelsy the first mass-produced popular entertainment in the United States. In minstrel shows, Negroes are excluded from the species of Man; theirs is concurrently a genre of sub- and supra-humanity in which blacks are vulnerable like chattel but dangerous like demons, and regardless, gratuitously open to receive violence. Blackface caricatures evidence racial slavery as a social good and justify anti-Black violence at the precise moment in which Blacks might qualify as human, or at the precise moment in which Black lives might matter.

Students will consider how blackface, an alibi for routine anti-Black violence, survives today to inform American media production and consumption, including its new media variations, ensuring that, irrespective of advances by Black Twitter to “say her name” (and his name, and their names, and hir name), black bodies are counted in new media “without counting.”

Read the full syllabus here.