Duke on Gender
THE NECESSITY OF SPEAKING OUT: GENDER, RACE, AND LABOR IN THE ACADEMY
The Duke on Gender Colloquium hosted a panel on “Gender, Race, and Labor in the Academy” in the East Duke Parlors on October 22, 2018. Grace Kyungwon Hong (UCLA Gender Studies and Asian American Studies) and Jasmine Nicole Cobb (Duke African & African American Studies and Art, Art History and Visual Studies) presented papers that inquired into the ways archives may be interpreted and mobilized against persisting violence, the contours of which depend on forgetting or erasing the past.
Cobb shared her work in progress on Black hair culture, which considers the materiality, aesthetics, and politics of Frederick Douglass’s hair in his lifetime but also as a material and symbolic archive that emerges in iconic deployments of hair by Black men in the US through the early twenty-first century. She showed differences in hair embodiment that relate to the shifting dynamics of regulation and emancipatory struggle.
Working from a chapter of her book Death Beyond Disavowal: The Impossible Politics of Difference, Hong invoked Black feminist scholarship both as an analytic and a rejoinder to the neoliberal perpetuation and exacerbation of gendered, sexual, and racialized precarity in the US academy. She defined neoliberalism “foremost as an epistemological structure of disavowal, a means of claiming that racial and gendered violence are things of the past. It does so by affirming certain modes of racialized, gendered, and sexualized life, particularly through invitation into reproductive respectability so as to disavow its exacerbated production of premature death.” She used the archives of the first generation of Black women feminist scholars in the academy and particularly the works of Barbara Christian to consider how neoliberalism unequally distributes life and death.
The vacuous slogans of neoliberal multiculturalism and diversity often serve to obfuscate the exploitation, marginalization, and violence that persist in the relationship between protectable life and ungrievable death. Hong argues that we should strive to re-imagine and re-constitute the university as an alternative site of futurity based on a politics of self-critique rather than self- interest, one that never loses sight of Audre Lorde’s question “In what way do I contribute to the subjugation of any part of those who I call my people?”
In the discussant comments, Sally Deutsch (Duke History) considered LatinX precarity and circled back to the notion of “difference” that marks the uniqueness of anti-Black violence in the US and insists on connecting it to violence experienced by all racialized, gendered, devalued peoples. Frances Hasso (Duke GSF, History and Sociology) used Hong’s work to point to the transnational “uneven but connected dispersion of death and devaluation.” An energetic Q&A period also considered adjunct precarity, unionization, the value of teaching and cultivating imagination, and the necessity of speaking out.