Abolition

Abolition is most narrowly defined as the end of slavery. But in African American studies, abolition is a keyword that raises a complex set of questions about when, and whether, slavery actually ended. As a concept, then, abolition raises critical questions about black temporality—­what shifts in relations of power constitute freedom’s beginning and captivity’s end? Scholars within African American studies have considered the complexity of abolition as a process; while recognizing the dramatic transformations that emancipation wrought, theorists have challenged its interpretation as grand event, questioned its completeness, and demanded abolition’s continued salience for challenging regimes of antiblack captivity. For black studies, abolition means far more than an end but rather a struggle over the terms of the future. From the perspective of the enslaved, abolition meant, at least in part, the reconstitution of relations of property. Abolition is tethered to political and social arrangements outside of regimes of racial …

Apartheid

The word “apartheid,” translated literally from Afrikaans as “apartness,” has often existed in a dynamic tension between its ability to describe a particular sociohistorical experience in South Africa and its usefulness as an organizing concept that describes the convergence of settler colonialism and global capital. As a method of inquiry, black studies has been at the forefront of rethinking the notion of apartheid as exceptional, drawing parallels between the formation of racial capitalism in South Africa and elsewhere throughout the African diaspora (Bunche 1992; Vinson 2012; P. Andrews 2014).

Apartheid did not emerge suddenly with the election of the National Party government in South Africa in 1948. Instead, it was a culmination of a number of policies of colonial capitalism that emerged from the very founding of South Africa as a Dutch colonial outpost in 1652. Forms of residential segregation, land expropriation, and labor manipulation were a prominent feature of …

Black Arts Movement

If one is going to think about the Black Arts Movement (BAM) as a set of keywords, it is important to consider the component words separately, as well as how they work together in describing the black radical cultural movement of the 1960s and 1970s that was inextricably linked to Black Power. That is not simply a question of defining the denotative meanings of “Black,” “Arts,” and “Movement” but also of the qualities of those words in how they combine during the Black Power / Black Arts moment.

No doubt “black” is defined elsewhere in this volume and does not need extended treatment here. However, it is worth noting, as John Bracey Jr. does (2014), that when “black” as a term of identification and solidarity was increasingly deployed, largely through the influence of Malcolm X, it was to a considerable extent a gesture of opposition, of rejection, of rebellion, that …

Black Freedom Movement

The Black Freedom Movement is a distinct era in the African American struggle for civil and human rights that began in the mid-­1940s with a surge in public protest and ended in the mid-­1970s with a shift in emphasis toward electoral politics. It encompasses two of the most unique and enduring periods of black activism. The first is the civil rights movement, which resulted in the elimination of Jim Crow laws in the South and the upending of Jim Crow customs in the North. The second is the Black Power movement, which not only expanded on the gains of the civil rights movement but also elevated African American racial consciousness, forever changing what it meant to be black.

The three words that compose the phrase “Black Freedom Movement” reflect the term’s core characteristics. “Black” speaks not only to the racial identity of the vast majority of the Black Freedom Movement’s …

Blackness

Blackness is enthusiastic social vision, given in (non)performance, as the surrealization of space and time, the inseparability of gravity and matter, fabric’s fabrication, field’s feel, rub’s rub, plain’s chant, an endlessly ante-­inaugural endlessness of means, an empillowed, haptically ham-­boned coinstrumentality of care, in caressive sound and anachoreographic sounding. Anticipating originary correction with self-­defensive division and (re)collection, it goes way back, long before the violent norm, as an impure informality to come. Its open and initiatory counterpleasures reveal the internal, public resource of our common sense/s, where flavorful touch is all bound up with falling into the general antagonistic embrace. That autonomous song and dance is our intellectual descent; it neither opposes nor follows from dissent but, rather, gives it a chance. Consent to that submergence is terrible and beautiful. Moreover, the apparent (racial) exclusivity of the (under)privilege of claiming this dis/ability serially impairs—­though it can never foreclose—­the discovery that the …

Body

We often take our bodies for granted, as if they were self-­evident and as if to think or talk about them was a matter of obvious description. But there is nothing “natural” about the ways we perceive our bodies, and there are many ways to approach the term. What a body means in relation to other bodies and to the world around it has taken shape and shifted meaning through the languages of science, philosophy, politics, and history. Nowhere is this more graphically illustrated than in the ways we understand race, sex, and gender, terms that determine who we are and where we rank in the social structures of the modern world. In African American studies, the term “body” takes on a particular resonance as it is used to draw attention to the visceral nature of racism as well as the physical forms of African Americans’ resilience and resistance.

Scientific …

Cinema

The word “cinema” refers to an art and industrial practice; it names a craft, a business, an enactment of cultural production, and an object of disciplinary study. African American studies is an interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary field devoted to the study of history, philosophic traditions, gender, sexuality, culture, the arts, social life, and political thought as these issues relate to African Americans. The field’s appreciation of the idea of race and how this idea is manifest in innumerable facets of American life crucially informs the study of the art of blackness. Therefore, to map out “cinema” as a keyword for African American studies requires us to address several interrelated questions. How might the methodologies and critical tendencies of African American studies inform an understanding of cinema, and subsequently, how might cinema inform an understanding of African American studies? Second, what are the terms of engagement that are most generative for considering …

City

A city is a geographic region that consists of large numbers of people. Most dictionaries refer to it as a “large town,” but cities are more than that. Cities are living organisms. They are not stable; they change over time. The urban planner Lewis Mumford called the city a “theater of social action” ([1937] 2011, 93). And as theaters of social action, cities bring different kinds of bodies into close contact. The feminist geographer Elizabeth Grosz argues that the city is a kind of network that “links otherwise unrelated bodies” (1998, 32). The city is not simply an external thing outside of us; cities “seep into and effect all other elements that go into the constitution of” bodies (Grosz 1998, 35). The French social theorist and spatial thinker Henri Lefebvre described the city as a place where there are “relations of immediacy . . . between people and groups that …

Civil Rights

The civil rights movement looms large in twentieth-­century African American studies. Regardless of one’s politics or the dearth of course material on race in American primary schools, the struggle for integration, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., and the March on Washington (sans the “for Jobs and Freedom” part of the march’s title) have come to stand in for civil rights. The heroic icons and damning imagery naturalizes civil rights as a corrective to American democracy. Yet “civil rights” is a rather vague term. Do noncitizens have civil rights? If not, where can they turn for protection? Do political actors decide the boundaries of civil rights? And does the “civil” in “civil rights” account for the exigencies of humanity or the demands of everyday human existence?

“Civil rights” defines the protected rights and privileges of citizens. As a keyword used to articulate the quest for equality, it tends to rest …

Coalition

“Coalition” is a critical keyword in modern political organizing, denoting the practice of connecting various political groups of differing cultural, social, and/or ideological identities through a common goal or struggle. In the U.S. and internationally, coalition work is now a staple tactic for rallying institutions—­and sometimes electorates—­for specific policy changes whose interests cut across various economic, cultural, and political lines. In the academy, organization theory, or social organization theory—­a branch of sociology and sometimes psychology—­became increasingly interested in coalition organizing as a dominant mode of politics in the wake of civil rights and feminist organizing in the 1960s and ’70s U.S., as well as global student, anticolonial / Third Worldist, and antiwar movements in the same time period. Coalition’s key historical emergence as what we might think of as a social justice practice was then born of and around the time that African American studies—­as well as Chicano/a studies and …

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