Celebrating and reflecting on the culture and experiences of Black Americans
February marks Black History Month, first conceived in 1925 as a weeklong commemoration of Black Americans’ oft-overlooked achievements. Today the month offers an opportunity to reflect on the experiences, history, lives, culture, and contributions of this historically marginalized group.
At the MIT Press, we welcome the chance to consider our own work in amplifying diverse voices and stories—where we have made strides and where we may still fall short. This year we pay tribute with the following selection of works that examine issues of importance to Black Americans nationwide.
A Black Gaze: Artists Changing How We See by Tina M. Campt
In A Black Gaze, Tina Campt examines Black contemporary artists who are shifting the very nature of our interactions with the visual through their creation and curation of a distinctively Black gaze. Their work—from Deana Lawson’s disarmingly intimate portraits to Arthur Jafa’s videos of the everyday beauty and grit of the Black experience, from Kahlil Joseph’s films and Dawoud Bey’s photographs to the embodied and multimedia artistic practice of Okwui Okpokwasili, Simone Leigh, and Luke Willis Thompson—requires viewers to do more than simply look; it solicits visceral responses to the visualization of Black precarity.
“Contemporary artists from all disciplines (Khalil Joseph, Deana Lawson, Dawoud Bey) reveal the shifting role of the viewer, from onlooker to participant — engaged, even implicated in the pain and wonder of Black life.” —New York Times Book Review
#HashtagActivism: Networks of Race and Gender Justice by Sarah J. Jackson, Moya Bailey and Brooke Foucault Welles
The power of hashtag activism became clear in 2011, when #IranElection served as an organizing tool for Iranians protesting a disputed election and offered a global audience a front-row seat to a nascent revolution. Since then, activists have used a variety of hashtags, including #JusticeForTrayvon, #BlackLivesMatter, #YesAllWomen, and #MeToo to advocate, mobilize, and communicate. In this book, Sarah Jackson, Moya Bailey, and Brooke Foucault Welles explore how and why Twitter has become an important platform for historically disenfranchised populations, including Black Americans, women, and transgender people. They show how marginalized groups, long excluded from elite media spaces, have used Twitter hashtags to advance counternarratives, preempt political spin, and build diverse networks of dissent.
“In this well-researched, nuanced text, the authors examine the rise of internet activism as evidenced by movements such as #SayHerName, #MeToo, #BlackLivesMatter, and #GirlsLikeUs and their effects on culture, climate and justice.” —Ms.
Technology and the African American Experience: Needs and Opportunities for Study edited by Bruce Sinclair
Race and technology are two of the most powerful motifs in American history, but until recently they have not often been considered in relation to each other. This collection of essays examines the intersection of the two in a variety of social and technological contexts, pointing out, as the subtitle (borrowed from Brooke Hindle’s classic 1966 work Early American Technology) puts it, the “needs and opportunities for study.” The essays challenge what editor Bruce Sinclair calls the “myth of black disingenuity”—the historical perception that black people were technically incompetent—and show that technologies and racialized thought are much more tightly connected than we have imagined.
“This enlightening collection of essays offers a wealth of insights into the relationship between race and technology in America, and opens the door to further research in this essential subject.” —John Morrow, University of Georgia
Carrie Mae Weems edited by Sarah Elizabeth Lewis
In this October Files volume, essays and interviews explore the work of the influential American artist Carrie Mae Weems—her invention and originality, the formal dimensions of her practice, and her importance to the history of photography and contemporary art. Since the 1980s, Weems (b. 1953) has challenged the status of the Black female body within the complex social fabric of American society. Her photographic work, film, and performance investigate spaces that range from the American kitchen table to the nineteenth-century world of historically Black Hampton University to the ancient landscapes of Rome.
“Thoughtful, thorough, and timely, this scholarly yet accessible survey reveals Weems as a foundational, influential, and prescient figure.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review
Black Mass by Aria Dean
Black Mass brings together a group of previously uncollected essays by critic, artist, and curator Aria Dean. Written over the past five years, these timely, wide-ranging texts deftly consider material culture’s intersections with race, technology, and politics. Spanning themes that range from trauma and necropolitics to memes and selfies, these essays offer frank, original assessments of the production and circulation of images in our accelerated media landscape.
Technology and the Dream: Reflections on the Black Experience at MIT, 1941–1999 by Clarence G. Williams
Born of the Blacks at MIT History Project—whose mission is to document the black presence at MIT—Technology and the Dream offers transcripts of more than seventy-five oral history interviews, in which the interviewees assess their MIT experience and reflect on the role of blacks at MIT and beyond. Each interviewee was asked to discuss family background; education; role models and mentors; experiences of racism and race-related issues; choice of field and career; goals; adjustment to the MIT environment; best and worst MIT experiences; experience with MIT support services; relationships with MIT students, faculty, and staff; advice to present or potential MIT students; and advice to the MIT administration. A recurrent theme is that MIT’s rigorous teaching instills the confidence to deal with just about any hurdle in professional life, and that an MIT degree opens many doors and supplies instant credibility.
“As one of the first major works to record the experience of black engineering students in North America, the text is a milestone.” —David C. K. Tay, Canadian Consulting Engineer
Read several of the interviews, as well as an introduction from the author, on the MIT Press Reader: Reflections on the Black Experience at MIT
The Black City: Glosses by Hubert Fichte
The Black City is a portrait of New York City written by Hubert Fichte between 1978 and 1980. One of Germany’s most important postwar authors, Fichte researched the city as the center of the African diaspora, conducting interviews and composing essays about syncretism in culture and the arts, material living conditions in the city, and political and individual struggles based on race, class, and sexuality. His interview partners include Michael Chisolm, arts educator and coordinator of the Black Emergency Cultural Coalition; German émigré and artist Lil Picard; photographer Richard Avedon; Léopold Joseph, publisher of the exile newspaper Haiti Observateur; and Teiji Ito, composer and Vodou initiate.
Forthcoming: In the Black Fantastic by Ekow Eshun
In the Black Fantastic assembles art and imagery from across the African diaspora that embraces the mythic and the speculative. Merging visual elements from folklore, science fiction and spiritual tradition, it brings vividly to life the forces that shape Afrofuturism, the cultural movement that conjures otherworldly visions out of everyday Black experience. In works that span photography, painting, sculpture, cinema, graphic arts, and architecture, In the Black Fantastic shows how speculative fictions in Black art and culture are boldly reimagining perspectives on race, gender, identity, and the body.