Black Lives Matter Syllabus Project

The Anthropoliteia #BlackLivesMatterSyllabus Project, Week 9: Dana Ain-Davis On Taylor’s “From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation”

The editors of Anthropoliteia are happy to present the latest entry in on ongoing series The Anthropoliteia #BlackLivesMatterSyllabus Project, which will mobilize anthropological work as a pedagogical exercise addressing the confluence of race, policing and justice. You can see a growing bibliography of resources via our Mendeley feed. In this entry, Dana-Ain Davis discusses using Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor’s From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation in a classroom exercise.

In mid-August, I receive an email request from my colleague:

Dana, can you do a lecture in my “Just City” course on Black Lives Matter?

 Me (to myself):  Why me? 

Me (to my colleague): Sure

My Colleague: I need a list of readings SOON.

What can I select as readings for a class of mostly adult students who have returned to school to get their MA – knowing that the readings should be narrow in scope?

I dream of what an ideal reading list would look like:  Nikki Giovanni’s Black Feeling Black Talk Black Judgment because of the way Giovanni makes politics matter/matter; because she imagines we can “build what we can become when we dream.” I want them to read both Left of Karl Marx: The Political Life of Black Communist Claudia Jones by Carole Boyce Davies and Thyra J. Edwards: Black Activist in the Global Freedom Struggle by Gregg Andrews, because even though this struggle is not the struggle of the past, we still need to remember. These two Black women engaged in activism that really speaks to the global connections and lessons that the contemporary BlackLivesMatter movement and the Movement for Black Lives embrace.  Placing these women in dialogue reaffirms the role women of color have had in movement building.  I want them to read Arundhati Roy’s An Ordinary Person’s Guide to Empire in part because she knows we cannot relax and because she hears change coming. And finally, in this dream, From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation by Keeanga Yamahtta Taylor is included because of Taylor’s nuanced discussion of the development of racism.  Taylor lays out the processes of racism as they are inextricably linked to political and economic exploitation. The present past.

I chose Taylor’s From #BlackLivesMatter, but hesitated to give a lecture. It didn’t seem reasonable to talk about a movement without having people move. Instead, a sort of workshop began to unfold.  I found a series of timelines on Black life in the United from the 1600s to 2000 and determined that in class we were going to generate a timeline. The selection of events are categorized to cover the following topics:

AR=    American Revolution           BP =    Black Power

CB =   Coalition Building                 CR =   Civil Rights

D =     Domination and Control     E =      Emancipation

EN =   Enslavement                          FB=     Free Blacks

O=      Organizing                               RR=    Racial Restrictions

R=       Resistance                               S =      Segregation

The timeline is divided into 50-year increments from 1600 to 2000 making the list about 10 pages long. Sample events with the appropriate code look like this:

1625    EN      The first enslaved Africans arrive in the New Amsterdam with the Dutch West India Company

1663    RR       In South Carolina every new white settler is granted twenty acres for each black male slave and ten acres for each black female slave he or she brings into the colony.

1774     R         A group of enslaved blacks petition the Massachusetts General Court (legislature) insisting they too have a natural right to their freedom.

I separate all the events and put them into an envelope.
On the day of the class, I walk around campus for 40 minutes in search of the classroom because my colleague had forgotten to tell me which room the class was being held. I enter the room after roaming up and down the hallway.  Staring at me are 50 faces; they are tired, hot and annoyed I am late. Taking the high road and refusing to give in to the malaise I draw a timeline on the board:

1600-1649       1650-1699       1700-1749       1750-1799, and so on.

I open with the following question: What do you think led to the emergence of #BlackLivesMatter?

3039705-inline-i-1-in-defense-of-i-cant-breathe-in-comic-sans“Trayvon Martin!” and “Freddie Gray!” students yell out.  Walking around the room, maneuvering between desks not the least bit in anything that can be called rows, students pick one event from the envelope.  “What do you think led up to the emergence of #BlackLivesMatter? In turn, each student reads their slip of paper aloud and then makes their way to the board to tape it in the appropriate period. After 30 minutes of this activity we have a timeline with close to 70 events reflecting the historical precedents of restrictions, domination, anti-black racism, gender related violence, resistance, activism, and political engagement that are linked and led to the emergence of the movement.

Then we start tracing the genealogy of Black Lives Matter, discussing the death of Trayvon Martin and the subsequent acquittal of George Zimmerman.  This genealogy focuses on Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi. We talk Black Lives Matter using Taylor’s analysis.  Everyone is animated: hands going up; people talking over people.

After nearly 35 minutes, a Black woman in her mid-to-late 40s sitting near the front of the class raises her hand. “I need to understand Black Lives Matter, because I want to do something. I want to do something because my grandson was shot by police in Florida. At close range while he was lying on the ground.”  She gives more details and there is silence; complete and painful, silence. There really is no emotional recovery from her story, but then we circle back around to the importance of organizing and movement building. We all need to do something.

We all breath. We all breath.


Dana-Ain Davis is Associate Professor of Urban Studies at Queens College in New York. Her areas of specialization include black studies, family and sexual violence, reproductive rights, poverty and welfare policy, and women’s studies. She is the author of Feminist Ethnography: Thinking Through Methodologies, Challenges and Possibilities with Christa Craven (Roman and Littlefield, 2016), Battered Black Women and Welfare Reform: Between a Rock and a Hard Place (SUNY Press, 2006). Recently, she co-edited Feminist Activist Ethnography: Counterpoints to Neoliberalism in North America (Lexington Books, 2013) with Christa Craven, and Black Genders and Sexualities (Palgrave MacMillan 2012) with Shaka McGlotten. She has also published numerous articles and chapters on women and welfare policy. She is the former co-editor of Transforming Anthropology, which is the journal of the Association of Black Anthropologists. Her past leadership experiences include Coordinator of the Global Black Studies Program at SUNY/Purchase; co-chair of NARAL-NY, President of the Association of Black Anthropologists, Executive Director of the ADCO Foundation, and former trustee of the New York Foundation.

3 thoughts on “The Anthropoliteia #BlackLivesMatterSyllabus Project, Week 9: Dana Ain-Davis On Taylor’s “From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation”

  1. Pingback: The Anthropoliteia #BlackLivesMatter Syllabus Project, Looking Back and Looking Ahead | Anthropoliteia

  2. Pingback: The Anthropoliteia #BlackLivesMatter Syllabus, Week 26: Sameena Mulla on Missing Black Girls and Women | Anthropoliteia

  3. Pingback: Year-End Reflections on The 2016-17 Anthropoliteia BlackLivesMatterSyllabus Project | Anthropoliteia

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