Colonialism

“Colonialism” shares its roots with the Latin terms colōnia and colonus. Colōnia is a colony or settlement of conquered or annexed lands by Roman citizens. Colonus designates someone who settles, cultivates, or farms land (Glare [1982] 2000). The terms refer, respectively, to a reorganization of space and to its peopling with foreigners, whose political loyalties remain external to the colonized space (Kohn 2014). Neither term, however, distinguishes among types of colonialism such as settler, administrative, or extractive. They elide the accompanying violence, administrative apparatuses, and displacements of the original inhabitants of colonized territories. Later definitions of “colony” encapsulate early Latin meanings when denoting a “settlement in a new country” or “a body of people who settle in a new locality” (Oxford English Dictionary, n.d.-­a). In a feeble attempt to account for the extant occupants of colonized space, a genealogical definition of the term, which dates its …

Criminal

The figure of “the criminal” permeates the symbolic, ideological, and militarized racial-­economic foundations of the U.S. nation-­building project. Gendered racial notions of criminality permeate the foundations of U.S. modernity, structuring the primary power relations of chattel enslavement, (conquest and settler) colonialism, global imperialism, and variations of domestic warfare (from Manifest Destiny to the War on Drugs).

While religious and (proto)juridical discourses of crime and the criminal can be traced to multiple points of civilizational origin, the U.S.—­and hemispheric “American”—­case furnishes a paradigmatic example of the structural interdependence between two methods of conceptualizing/inventing the criminal that guide its deployment across geographies and moments. First, the legal-­cultural creation of the criminal as an abstracted category of human social deviancy contextualizes the overlapping, interdisciplinary emergence of criminology, early-­twentieth-­century eugenics, and contemporary “racial profiling” (as both de facto forensic practice and police tactic). In this sense, historically specific conceptions of the criminal rely on …

Diversity

To speak of diversity today is to enter the traffic clustered around what has come, over the past four decades, to serve as one of our most powerful and pervasive languages of social betterment. Diversity, it would seem, has strayed well afield of its etymological vintage in Old French. In the twelfth century, diversité referred not so much to difference understood as a neutral fact of life but to difference decked out in suspect connotations: “oddness, wickedness, perversity.” In the contemporary United States, “diversity,” in its transits through the hegemonic lexicon—­that is, the institutionalized languages by which power both solicits consent and fashions itself as such—­no longer carries the sense of a difference that is threatening, dangerous, strange, or fearsome. Quite the contrary, we might say: in the dominant imaginary, diversity has come to enjoy a taken-­for-­granted equivalence with the concept of the good. To be or to become diverse …

Double-Consciousness

With roots in nineteenth-­century psychological and philosophical discourse, the concept of double-­consciousness was primarily popularized by W. E. B. Du Bois in his classic work The Souls of Black Folk (1903). He brought the term into twentieth-­century social, political, racial and cultural thought and innovatively used it to capture and convey African Americans’ feelings of dissonance and dividedness between their distant African ancestral homeland and their present American environment. Du Bois first used the term in an 1897 Atlantic Monthly article titled “Strivings of the Negro People.” It was subsequently revised and republished under the title “Of Our Spiritual Strivings” in 1903 in The Souls of Black Folk. Several of Du Bois’s key contributions to African American studies, if not American studies more generally speaking, arising out of The Souls of Black Folk, revolve around the dilemmas and dualities or, rather, the conundrums and complexities of what it means …

Feminism

While variously understood, “feminism,” in its Western contexts, usually means a belief that all human beings should enjoy the same political, economic, and social rights. As a “keyword,” feminism is a concept often misunderstood as signifying a genealogy solely of women’s rights and social, political, and economic advancement. This brief essay lays out the distortions that often attend initial or superficial engagements with feminism, specifically in African American studies, enabling a definition of feminism that ably skirts and negotiates those false avatars that seek to contain feminism to its least accurate meaning: a movement wholly about and for women.

Like all other ideologies and movement, the history of feminism is most often structured and analyzed as a linear progress narrative; in the white Western context, twentieth-­century white feminist history has been organized as a series of generations, defined as “waves” (we are currently in “third wave” feminism). White U.S. feminism …

Hip-Hop

The word “hip-­hop” has various uses and overlapping meanings. People who most identify with hip-­hop recognize it as a culture, and this meaning was developed and is advocated in explicit contrast with the more mainstream understanding of the term as a musical genre. When understood as a genre, it is most often thought to be synonymous with “rap music.” The term is also used to reference a dance style, and—­in my experience—­this is the word’s primary association for those who are least familiar with it. Related to its historical association with Blackness and social critique, hip-­hop is also sometimes characterized as a cultural or social movement. As KRS-­ONE rhymes, hip-­hop is “more than music, hip is the knowledge, hop is the movement” (2007).

The term began as a wordless vocable in scat singing that interspersed the rhymes of early rappers in the late 1970s. Keith Cowboy is …

Incarceration

The term “incarceration” often conjures up a familiar motif. Popular television and digital media programming such as Oz, Prison Break, and Orange Is the New Black rely on a commonsense understanding of prison as being a place that holds the vile and immoral. According to narratives drawn from these shows, prison is not a place that is violent because people are locked in cages for more hours than they are not, denied basic human rights, and forcibly removed from their communities; rather, the programs reinforce the notion that people housed within prison are some of the most violent creatures on the planet and thus create an environment of extreme violence. While the entertainment version of incarceration is filled with drama and a clear sense of hero and villain, the reality of incarceration is quite the opposite: mundane and layered in nuance that very often blurs the distinctions between …

Intersectionality

The term “intersectionality” has come to stand for a body of feminist racial analyses, a set of organizing strategies, and a political-­ethical standpoint for activists, articles, and intellectuals. The critical race theorist and black feminist legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw first wrote on intersectionality in her essay on workplace discrimination, “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics” (1989). First presented as a talk at and then subsequently published by the University of Chicago Legal Forum, Crenshaw coined and introduced the term “intersectionality” as both an experience and an analytic. For Crenshaw, intersectionality is a revision of theories of discrimination and subordination in law, race, labor, and gender studies and a naming of black women’s embodied knowledge, historical positioning, and exploited labor. While originating from and foundational to the fields of critical race theory and the revision of legal …

Jazz

“Jazz” and early variants “jaz” and “jas” have uncertain and contested roots. The term may or may not have origins in Chicago, New Orleans, Africa, baseball, or sex, although all would make sense given subsequent associations. We do know that the word “jazz” was, during the 1910s, increasingly used to describe a musical orientation (if not quite a genre) being developed by composers, solo pianists, and ensembles of various size. This music was hybrid, incorporating elements of African American blues and religious song, Caribbean dance genres, U.S. popular dance and folk music, marching band music, European classical music, ragtime piano, and the transplanted, modified West African rhythms that shaped some of these and other constituent forms. The music’s hybridity plotted its emergence at a particular set of coordinates in Black diasporic time and space. It sounded a contradictory postemancipation experience defined by movement across regions, from country to city and …

Linked Fate

Historically, Black racial-­group members experienced racial discrimination, regardless of their social status or class. Thus, their historical political orientations centered on advancing the entire racial group, often irrespective of subgroups’ (e.g., class, gender, sexuality) political preferences and self-­interest (McAdam 1982; K. Tate 1993; and Dawson 1994). Whether racial-­group interests or class interests structure Black Americans’ contemporary political preferences is a critical debate in the political science literature. As this debate has been premised on mostly a “racial” identity, political scientists have expanded this research query to question whether Black Americans’ racial interests (as racial-­group members) supersede their class interests (as individuals) and whether other intersecting identities such as gender, sexuality, and ethnicity also play a role in Blacks’ political consciousness, policy preferences, and political behavior.

The political scientists Katherine Tate (1993) and Michael Dawson (1994) offer seminal studies on Black Americans’ political behavior in the late twentieth century. They document …

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