Scholar to offer Black Male Body lecture
SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - George Yancy, critical race studies and philosophy professor at Duquesne University, will discuss stereotypes about black men in a society where white privilege is normalized and sometimes imposed violently when he presents "The Black Male Body and the Problem of White Perception" at 7 p.m., March 18, in SRU's Advanced Technology and Science Hall Auditorium.
Yancy studies the philosophy of race as a social construct and analyzes how racism impacts black men's bodies and behavior, a factor which some believe contribute to incidents of violence against men of color, as in the Ferguson, Mo., shooting death of teenager Michael Brown by a white police officer.
YANCY"My talk will explore how the black body is deemed 'dangerous' and 'criminal' within a white supremacist society that sees black bodies and constructs black bodies as 'dangerous' and 'criminal,'" Yancy said.
Yancy said he would provide an historical framework for this so that those in attendance can see that such racist stereotypical perceptions have been around for centuries and continue to inform our cultural values.
"As a philosopher who writes about embodiment, especially racial embodiment, I will be concerned with how such stereotypes help to contribute to the ways in which black people think about themselves in negative ways, perceive their own bodies as negative and how poisonous such stereotypes can be, especially in terms of how such perceptions can influence how white people interact negatively with black people," he said.
"My argument is that white people must hold each other accountable, to begin to re-educate themselves about black people and to begin to critique their own white perceptions and white privilege that they obtain in a society that tries to see itself as post-racial," he said. "At the end of the day, my claim is white people must come to terms with their racism before we can really begin to heal in this country as a collective."
SRU organizers said his appearance comes at an important time.
"His presentation is timely because of the recent media attention to a long-standing phenomenon: the targeting of and violence against black male bodies for perceived acts of violation," said Cindy LaCom, SRU English professor and Gender Studies director. "Dr. Yancy will talk about some of the stereotypes - black male as violent, as hypersexual ¬- that foster violence against black men."
Yancy's presentation shines the spotlight on an emerging field for research and social activism - body politics. Body theory argues that stereotypes about body appearance, such as the jolly fat man, are socially constructed and not grounded in reality.
"As to whether or not I think white people still have inaccurate perceptions of black men: absolutely," LaCom said. "What I want people ¬- students, yes, but everyone else, too - to learn is that bodies are always cultural texts, with myriad ideological meanings that adhere in and inhabit them."
LaCom said she hopes attendees gain a better understanding of how body stereotypes contribute to systems of power. Like the environmentalist that cares about global conservation but acts locally, LaCom said she hopes Yancy's talk compels people to realize that change must be made at both the individual and social level.
"My hope is that people walk out with the understanding that racism is still pervasive and that we can be agents of change to make our society more equitable," she said.
Embodiment theory is claiming its place in the academic and social fabric of SRU. The President's Commission on Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation works to promote inclusion.
SRU offers women studies and gender studies classes. The Slippery Rock University Pride Center and RockOUT provide resources for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, intersex or ally community.
Earlier this week, a Women's History Month Event included a women's empowerment photo program with a cutout of Laverne Cox, an American transgender.
LaCom said SRU is moving beyond traditional constructs of gender to show that gender can include multiple identity markers.
"As a scholar in disability studies, I'm glad to see the critical lens move beyond gender," LaCom said. "My own sense is that we need to think of identity as intersectional and to analyze systems of oppression - and power - rather than focus too narrowly on one system of oppression."
"Gender doesn't exist by itself but instead in the context of other identity markers. Our curriculum and our programming have to include not just women but also men, not just straight but also LGBTQA sexual identities," LaCom said. "We have to consider race, ethnicity, class, disability and the ways in which all of them are caught up in mechanisms of power. Dr. Yancy's work compels us to re-think identity but also how oppression occurs, how historical racism continues to inform and shape modern cultural attitudes. He asks us to examine the role white privilege plays in black oppression."
Gender Studies, the Office of Multicultural Development, the departments of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Philosophy, Political Science, Psi Chi, the Honors Program and the Frederick Douglass Institute are sponsoring Yancy's lecture.