It has come to be known in our family as the “juice box incident”. I was called to my youngest daughter’s kindergarten class at a local charter school because she was being suspended. Apparently, my daughter had been accused of purposely squeezing juice, from a juice box, into the eye of a classmate, a White girl. As I sat talking with her teacher, I wondered to myself about the dexterity it would take for a five-year-old to deliberately squeeze juice across the table into someone’s eye. What I did ask the teacher directly, was if he had ever handled a juice box before. As any rank and file parent will tell you, there’s nary a juice box occasion that doesn’t end with some amount of juice anywhere but in a child’s mouth.
I am reminded of the “juice box” incident reading the recent study “Girlhood Interrupted: The Erasure of Black Girls Childhood,” published by the Center on Poverty and Inequality at the Georgetown Law School and based on research from the team of Rebecca Epstein, Jamilia J. Blake and Thalia Gonzalez.
The gist of the report argues that adult educators, in their interactions with Black girls aged 5-19, believe that Black girls deserve less nurturing, protection, support, and comforting — dynamics that seemed to be grounded in perceptions of Black girl independence, though as the researchers note, that is rarely to their benefit. Though the scope of the research is admittedly limited — there were less than 400 respondents — I couldn’t help but read the report and think “this is my life.”
A critical component of the study highlights the “theory of adultification” of Black children where educators “associate Black girls’ behavior with stereotypes of adult Black women.” Adultification, in effect, creates a condition where Black children are treated as the babies of suspect stereotypes of Black women. As the researchers note, “adultification is a form of dehumanization, robbing Black children of the very essence of what makes childhood distinct from other developmental periods.”
The process of adultification has direct impact on the experiences of Black girls in school, particularly in the context of discipline with regards to in-school and out-of-school suspensions. Citing the work of Subini Annamma, the report highlights how Black girls are often disciplined for subjective reasons such as exhibiting defiance or as a school administrator said to me about my daughter “non-compliance,” which was her way of describing my daughter’s regular proclivity to ask followup questions or request explanations for directions that might not have made much sense to her.
As such, in comparison to their White female counterparts one study suggested that Black girls were twice as likely to be disciplined for minor infractions such as dress code violations or cell phone use. And they are two-and-a-half times more likely to be disciplined for “disobedience.” Remember the high school student who was assaulted by a school resource officer in South Carolina? These narratives overlay troubling examples of police shootings where Black victims failed to comply by running away.
Ironically the very attributes that encourage Black girls to speak back to power, if you will, was openly cited by respondents as evidence of the leadership skills of Black girls. Yet the tendencies of Black girls to “talk back” are viewed as disruptive in the classroom, and those energies are very rarely nurtured or redirected towards leadership development opportunities. As the report’s researchers observe, “the perception that Black girls do not merit nurturing or that their leadership qualities should be restricted could be associated with our finding that adults believe that Black girls do not need protection or nurturing, and could affect opportunities for success.”
The report suggests that as “early as 5 years of age, Black girls were more likely viewed as behaving and seeming older than their stated age.” The day that I sat with my daughter’s kindergarten teacher, I remember struggling for language to describe what I clearly viewed as a form of profiling; what the teacher heard was that I called him a racist. Unfortunately, as the report’s multiracial responders highlight, perceptions of Black girls transcend the race and the ethnicity of the adult educators. And as my own experience has shown ,with both of my daughters, now ages 14 and 18, very often adult educators believe that are helping Black children by encouraging, and even demanding, compliance and “good behavior” from them.
My daughter survived the “juice box incident” — and many such incidents. As she prepares for her first year in high school, she is also hyper-aware of the mechanisms of surveillance that exist, in ways that her White counterparts simply don’t have to be. In their conclusion, the researchers write, “all Black girls are entitled to, and deserve, equal treatment. Including equal access to the protections that are accepted as necessary and appropriate for children.” There’s a part of me that lives with the reality that my daughters, like so many Black girls, never fully had the freedom to simply be children.
Mark Anthony Neal is Professor of African + African American Studies and a English at Duke University, where he is Chair of the Department of African + African American Studies, and co-Director of the Duke Council on Race and Ethnicity (DCORE). Neal is the parent of two daughters, a rising college sophomore and a rising first-year high schooler.
From PBS American Experience Collection, Songs of Summer:
By Mark Anthony Neal
His wife was supposed to sing it. George McCrae’s own music career had languished in Palm Beach clubs, in what might be thought of as an upscale chitlin’ circuit. At the time, he was about to go back to school to study law enforcement. But Gwen McCrae was late to the recording session at TK Records in Hialeah, Florida. Tired of waiting, engineer Richard Finch and record store employee Harry Wayne (KC) Casey asked George to stand in. The result was “Rock Your Baby,” which topped the Billboard Hot 100 and R&B Charts in late July of 1974.
For two weeks that summer, McCrae would rule the airwaves, backed by the futuristic rhythms of an affordable drum machine and propelled by two songwriters who would help define the sound of dance music throughout the 1970s and beyond.
To be sure, “Rock Your Baby” was not the first disco hit to top the pop charts. That distinction probably goes to the Hues Corporation and their song “Rock the Boat.” But there was something about McCrae’s “Rock Your Baby” that smacked of the new — namely, the Roland TR 77, an early-generation drum machine and harbinger of the future. Good dance music means the beat stays in the pocket; now anybody could catch the beat, paving the way for disco to democratize the dance floor.
From Duke Today:
Samuel Dubois Cook, the first African-American faculty member at Duke University whose career of scholarship and activism inspired numerous scholars and students of all backgrounds, died Tuesday. He was 88.
Through more than 60 years in higher education, Cook had a distinguished record as a political scientist, scholar, educator, author, teacher, administrator, civil and human rights activist and public servant.
“Samuel DuBois Cook was a devoted member of the Duke community who had a special place in Duke’s history,” said Duke President Richard H. Brodhead. “A scholar of political science who was intimately involved with the leadership of the civil rights movement, he was the bearer of the vision of the beloved community and, throughout his life, worked for a society based on inclusion, reconciliation, and mutual respect for all. We extend our deepest condolences to his wife and family and express our gratitude for all he did for Duke.”
From Duke Today:
Mark Anthony Neal, a professor in the departments of African & African American Studies and English, will give the inaugural Trinity Distinguished Lecture on Thursday, May 4, at 3 p.m. in Penn Pavilion. His talk is open to the public and will be followed by a reception.
Through his research and public outreach, Neal challenges audiences to engage with Black popular culture. He is the editor and curator of the NewBlackMan (in Exile) blog, he hosts and produces the Left of Black webcast and has a combined Twitter following for the two outlets of nearly 65,000 people. Neal seeks to understand how the music, television, film and literature of African diaspora culture influences the societal and cultural norms of the United States and around the world.
View lecture here.
DCORE Co-Director to Interview Hip-Hop Legend During Art of Cool Festival
By Micah English
One of hip-hop’s most revered legends, the Long Island-born emcee “The God MC” Rakim Allah will be in Durham this weekend for the 4th annual Art of Cool music festival. Rakim will participate in a fireside chat on the impact and creative process of his classic album “Paid in Full” with radio host Combat Jack and DCORE co-director Mark Anthony Neal, a professor of black popular culture.
The free conversation will take place at 2:10 p.m., Saturday, April 29, in the American Underground Bullpen.
A featured artist at this year’s festival alongside Common, the Revive Big Band and George Clinton, Rakim is widely regarded as one of the most influential emcees of all time. As one half of the hip-hop duo Eric B. & Rakim, he received mass acclaim after the release of “Eric B. Is President” in 1986. This year marks the 30th anniversary of the duo’s first album Paid in Full, which dropped the following year and continues to be regarded as a hip-hop standard for enthusiasts of the genre around the globe.
Rakim will honor the legacy of “Paid in Full” by performing the album in its entirety, backed by a local jazz band assembled by festival co-founder, Al Strong.
“Rakim is performing with a live band during the festival, and I’m excited to witness the energy and flow of that performance. Rakim has set a standard among hip-hop for his techniques and rhymes, and I think it’s interesting to see the influence he’s had in hip-hop today,” said Chelsey Bentley, the festival’s director of marketing and public relations.
Neal, a professor of African & African American Studies and English, and host of the weekly webcast, Left of Black, teaches courses on black masculinity, popular culture and digital humanities. He co-teaches The History of Hip Hop with Grammy Award-winning producer Patrick Douthit, aka 9th Wonder. This semester the course highlights the anniversary of “Paid in Full.”
The festival aims to provide a remixed experience of the Black American Music Festival, featuring forward thinking jazz, alternative soul and mature hip hop in its mission to expand the audience of jazz as well as innovative thought.
Last year’s festival drew over 8,200 spectators, and 60 bands and presenters in 10 venues with an economic impact projection of $1.9 million for the city of Durham.
Those who didn’t purchase festival tickets can still participate in the public events. For more information about the Art of Cool and its programming and events, visit www.aocfestival.org.
Mark Anthony Neal, a professor of African and African American Studies at Duke, will deliver the first Trinity College Distinguished Lecture, titled, “My Mother Gave Me This Big-Ass Name: A Black Scholar in the Mix.”
The lecture will be held at 3 p.m. in Penn Pavilion on the university’s West Campus. A reception will follow.
By delving into such topics as hip-hop music and gender relations within African American culture, urban sociology, black masculinity, and queer theory, Neal challenges audiences to engage with the ideologies of black popular culture. He seeks to understand how the music, television, film and literature of African diaspora cultures impact the societal and cultural norms of the United States and around the world. Neal is the founder and managing editor of the blog NewBlackMan and he hosts the weekly webcast Left of Black.
The lecture is part of a celebration of 50 years of black faculty scholarship in Duke’s Trinity College of Arts and Sciences.
Attendees are asked to RSVP at https://duke.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_eWF3J0fzCiPnAA5.
A Conversation About Access and Mentoring
April 19, 2017
Ahmadieh Family Conference Hall (Room 240)
John Hope Franklin Center
Free and open to the public. Light lunch served.
Rochelle Newton, Ed.D.
Senior Manager, IT
Duke Law School
Mark Anthony Neal, Ph.D.
African and African American Studies
- Women and people of color are underrepresented in many areas in public and private education, especially in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fields.
- According to the National Girls Collaborative Project, “Women make up half of the total U.S. college-educated workforce, but only 29% of the science and engineering workforce.”
- Minority women comprise fewer than 1 in 10 employed scientists and engineers.
My Mother Gave Me This Big-Ass Name: A Black Scholar in the Mix
Professor Mark Anthony Neal
3:00 p.m., May 4, 2017
Reception immediately afterward
Mark Anthony Neal holds appointments in the departments of African & African American Studies, and English. He is the founding director of the Center for Arts, Digital Culture and Entrepreneurship and co-directs the Duke Council on Race and Ethnicity.
Through his research and public scholarship, Mark challenges audiences to engage with the ideologies of black popular culture. He seeks to understand how the music, television, film and literature of African diaspora cultures impact the societal and cultural norms of the United States and around the world. Mark hosts the phenomenally successful video webcast Left of Black, which is produced in collaboration with the John Hope Franklin Center at Duke, and authors the NewBlackMan (in Exile) blog.
MEDIA INTERVIEWS IN THE LAST 12 MONTHS
NEWBLACKMAN (IN EXILE) BLOG
LEFT OF BLACK WEEKLY WEBCAST
By Micah English, T ’17
Award-winning author Emily Raboteau visited Duke and Durham this week as part of the Duke School of Medicine’s ongoing series, A Conversation about Race.
She was interviewed by Mark Anthony Neal, a professor of black popular culture in the Department of African and African American studies. Neal, is also the co-director of the Duke Council on Race and Ethnicity and the host of the weekly webcast, Left of Black. The event was recorded live for a future episode of Left of Black.
The event, “Race, Place and Community,” free and open to the public, was held at 8 a.m., Thursday, March 30 at the Trent Semans Center. Dean Nancy Andrews provided opening remarks.
Raboteau, an English professor at the City College of New York, answered questions from staffers and signed copies of her latest book, Searching for Zion, following the talk. Her book is an exploration of her biracial identity and a longing for an accepting homeland.
“When you’re somebody like me who doesn’t easily fit into a racial category, it doesn’t satisfy. We show that these terms are myths and make some people uncomfortable. If you cannot easily say you belong to a race, then how can you say you are American,” she said.
The concept of a promised land, or Zion, she said, created a sense of shared cohesive identity among enslaved Africans in America united in the struggle for freedom.
“For those who made it North and didn’t get the full citizenship they expected, Zion became heaven,” Raboteau said. “The idea of a homeland really unified enslaved Africans and brought them into the religion of Christianity, because they were coming from different tribes, different languages. That’s what made them a people.”
When I think of Zion and talking to people looking for that place and asking whether they found it the answer is of course no. There’s always somebody on the other side of the wall who is less free than we are. As long as somebody is still at war, still struggling, none of us is free.”
Organized by the Duke Clinical Research Institute, the event co-sponsors include the Duke School of Medicine, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, the Center on Arts, Digital Culture and Entrepreneurship, and Left of Black.
Searching for Zion is a work of creative nonfiction that chronicles Raboteau’s search for a place to call “home,” as a biracial woman who never felt at home in America. Recently DCORE was able to speak with Raboteau about being of mixed race, blackness and the racial color line.
As someone who is considered ethnically ambiguous, how, if so, do you think this complicates the search for identity many African Americans struggle with?
I think my experiences being racially ambiguous contributed to a feeling in my youth of not belonging. But, this also was a result of growing up in a place where there weren’t very many people looking like me or my siblings. Which is to say, my experiences growing up mixed race were very different than someone who grew up in a different context. The feelings of not belonging that drove me personally to search the globe definitely drove the narrative in my book.
It’s of course a different experience of blackness, and a different one from people who look identifiably black, but I also felt a sense of kinship with people who had left home to search for a place elsewhere, who felt a sense of disillusionment with their experiences in the United States, who didn’t feel at home here and who felt a sense of homelessness that would drive them to look for home elsewhere.
Is that feeling related to the title of your new book, Searching for Zion?
Searching for Zion comes from the idea in the Hebrew bible that Zion is a place, the promised land to be exact. It’s an idea that there is a utopian sort of homeland for displaced people. I was borrowing from the tradition of African Americans in this country, that just as there is a place for Israelites outside of Egypt, there is also a place for those who were enslaved in this country, that would be a place of freedom and full citizenship.
Have you always felt accepted as “black,” or is this something that has been challenged?
I think there are, to quote a poet friend of mine, a lot of crayons in the box of blackness. And he’s talking about not only color and colorism, but also tone in a grander sense. There is no one such thing as what it means to be black… That said, to be a person who doesn’t look identifiably black, changes how you move through the world. I experience light-skin or white-skin privilege, depending on the context, so I had a different experience from people who are darker skinned.
I had a lot of people, particularly those who were not black, who were baffled by my identification with blackness. To them, they didn’t understand why I would want to identity as black. But I think most black people I have met have a range of colors in their family, so they have less trouble identifying me as black.
As a woman of color, how are you responding and reacting to the current political situation, specifically the election of Donald Trump?
For me, it’s exciting to see many people who I perceived as “sleeping on the job”, becoming more active in ways that I think are necessary to ensure the freedom and liberation of everyone in the nation. I hope the kind of mobilization we saw around the Women’s March will continue, and not flag as we progress.
As the U.S. population continues to become more mixed, how will the perception of being a mixed person change? How will this influence the ways we continue to view race?
I don’t really have a prediction, except that because this nation is so based on systems of white supremacy, it’s hard for me to see the racial conversation being dismantled. It’s hard for me to imagine this post-racial society that we were supposed to have entered to with the election of Barack Obama, which is to say we will be talking in the same way a couple generations from now using the same terminology about race that we do, which was already outdated from the start. These statistics being raised are important to think about. In the year 2043, which is when we become a no longer white majority nation, it begs the question what it will look like to look like a typical American… which means we have to think in more broad terms about who is American, what it means to be of this place, who this place belongs to.