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Herman C. Hudson Symposium and Horizons of Knowledge Lecture

Theme:
"Start the Healing: Multidisciplinary Solutions to Issues in the African Diaspora"

Keynote Speaker:
William C. Rhoden, sports columnist for the New York Times

March 31, 2007

The fourth annual Herman C. Hudson Symposium focused on the theme "Start the Healing: Multidisciplinary Solutions to Issues in the African Diaspora." The annual event is produced by graduate students in the department under the aegis of a faculty member (AAADS Professor John McCluskey), and brings together students from a variety of disciplines at Indiana and other universities to present scholarly papers. Professor Valerie Grim, chair of the department, gave the opening session talk, and Professor A.B. Assensoh, director of graduate studies, closed the symposium.

During the closing ceremony, the participating graduate students honored Grim with an award in appreciation for outstanding leadership and McCluskey with an award in appreciation for outstanding service. The faculty will announce the student winner of the Best Paper Award at the Graduate Award Reception on April 20.

Lunch was served between the morning and afternoon panel sessions, with the Horizons of Knowledge keynote speech being given by New York Times sports columnist William C. Rhoden, who writes the "Sports of the Times" column. Rhoden is the author of Forty Million Dollar Slaves: The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of the Black Athlete and winner of a Peabody Award in Broadcasting for writing the HBO documentary Journey of the African-American Athlete.

Here are some highlights of the symposium:

 

Opening Session:

Professor and chair Valerie Grim opened the symposium by noting the pertinence of the theme "starting the healing," which suggests that "healing has fallen by the wayside" and still needs to happen. She pointed to three current topics of wide concern that illustrate the need for healing:

Recent studies show African American children choosing white dolls over black ones in defiance of the expectation of physical identification with a doll. The children explained that the white doll is the "best" or "good."

A large part of the discussion about Barack Obama is whether he is "black enough" to be "able to speak to African American issues."

A "code of blackness" is constructed into many ideas of race in America.

It seems that a kind of self-loathing is going on, said Grim, which needs to be studied. Cultural analysis is necessarily a part of healing a culture. This country is still struggling with issues of race. She urged the audience to "look within" and to appreciate one's self and take that forward to appreciate others. Being black, she noted, is not to be homogeneous. African Americans are not all alike, and a "healed person" can appreciate that.

Grim offered several ideas to start the healing at the personal level:

She told the audience of how Herman Hudson, the founder of the department for whom the symposium was named, tried to make those things possible for black students, faculty, and staff at IU. He envisioned an intellectual kind of healing that would cure the negative representations of African Americans. In concluding, she said that, because of Hudson, "We have space to help the healing process and to engage in healing practices."

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Horizons of Knowledge keynote:

Times columnist William C. Rhoden entertained the symposium and Horizons of Knowledge attendees with tales of athletes over two centuries and enlightened them by putting the athletes into a historical and sociological context to be understood anew by modern-day admirers. His book Forty Million Dollar Slaves: The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of the Black Athlete is not about exploitation, he noted, but about power. If someone is paying an athlete $20 million, and paying another 15 athletes similarly, what are they making? To put it in perspective, he said, whatever they are paying an athlete is a bargain for them. Athletes may be paid well to be used, but the power remains with the owners. It was with that initial assessment that Rhoden merged the theme of his book with the healing theme of the symposium.

"Start the healing," said Rhoden, gave him pause to consider that the problems and the solutions are enormous
"just for African Americans, forget the diaspora!" But in athletics, some solutions can be found. Early on, athletes were "just there"
paper tigers who didn't say much. Folks like Jesse Owens could be used by all as symbols. Jackie Robinson was used for integration, his photo showing that a black man could play on a white team, while few wanted to see him in a higher position. Yet the "paper tigers" acted on their principles and performed small acts of resistance.

It was only when Muhammad Ali refused to step forward for an award and then refused to go to the unjust war in Vietnam that the athlete found public voice for active protest and large acts of resistance. During the World War II era, segregation was the spirit and, often, the letter of the law in America, yet black men were sent to fight and die for democracy. Rhoden told of his own father-in-law serving with Joe Lewis during that war.

He also spoke of how the "N-word" was in common usage then and now. "The N-word," Rhoden said, "was wretched in the 17th century, in the 18th, the 19th, and the 20th centuries, and it is wretched now." He suggested that the audience try an experiment: "Go one month without saying it. After that, when you hear it, it'll sound like somebody talking about your mother!"

Athletes used to be merely athletes, living fragile lives under the oversight of white owners and authorities. On plantations, '"the enslaved lived moment to moment, week to week, and year to year." Even in Jackie Robinson's time, life lived under Jim Crow took its toll, so that even athletes like Robinson were old at 50. That has been the African American experience, said Rhoden.

Athletes of principle and conscience began speaking out after Ali's stand. In the summer Olympics of '68, at a time when more black athletes than ever were competing in the Olympics, the world's two top sprinters, Tommy Smith and John Carlos, took such a stand. To many at the time, they were "just kids," but, said Rhoden, "principle knows no age." As Ali once said, "Some decades are like a year; some years are like a decade. That's what 1968 was."

Start the healing, Rhoden advised, by not ignoring the situation. Do what you can to make life better by having principles and speaking up. Use your power in your industry or field, whatever it is.

There are other athletes who do not speak out and whose principles are not so righteous, Rhoden noted. For instance, at the '92 Barcelona Olympics, Michael Jordan, a member of the U.S. basketball "dream team," which wore Reeboks for the games, chose to put a U.S. flag over the Reebok label on his shoes to maintain his loyalty to Nike. That commercial loyalty has been Jordan's hallmark ever since. "For Jordan," said Rhoden, "it's about the money, and so too for too many others."

The powerbrokers, he said, fear the awakening of black athletes, who, once roused, "could do anything: have their own teams, build hospitals." But greed and status keeps them enslaved.

In the 1880s, black horse jockeys enjoyed wealth and fame as athletes until races became more popular and white jockeys competed for the jobs. Black jockeys were phased out. That could happen in the NBA, said Rhoden. "You have to own something," not just be owned.

The motif of white-run integration, said Rhoden, is to take the best for the already rich institutions and leave the rest. "Wealth and power are hard to fight, but principle and character must take a stand." (See an interview with William Rhoden by a student roundtable in the IU School of Journalism at http://journalism.indiana.edu/news/20070402rhoden/.)

 

 

Panels:

Four panels, each with a faculty chair and student panelists, addressed topics pertaining to the theme of the symposium. They were, in order of presentation:

"Cultural Healing: Artistic Interpretations in the African Diaspora"

Michael Martin (chair)
Professor, African American and African Diaspora Studies; Director, Black Film Center/Archive

Alyssa Liles-Amponsah
"Contemporary African American Artists: Protest and Exploitation"

Langston Wilkins
"Conceptions of Death in Gangsta Rap"

Sara Mandel
"Intersections of Narrative in Charles Johnson's Middle Passage"

Regina Nacole Barnett
"Lady Liberty Needs Glasses: Social Representation and Commentary in Rap Music and the Poetry of Tupac Shakar"

"Healing Through Education and Community"

Audrey McCluskey (chair)
Professor, African American and African Diaspora Studies

Evelyn Hamilton
"It Takes a Village: Community-based Organizations as Providers of Corrective Education for African American Youth"

James Farmer
"The Effects of Primary Sources and Field Trip Experience on the Knowledge Retention and Impact of Multicultural Content"

Moses Kelly
"NCLB: A Problem Not a Solution for Multicultural Achievement"

"Healing Hierarchies in the Diaspora"

Frederick McElroy (chair)
Professor, African American and African Diaspora Studies

Katie Dieter
"Light Versus Dark: Skin Tone Variations Among Women in the African American Community and Abroad"

Sara Bagby
"Fratastic and SuperSorority: The University Greek System, Privilege, and Its Implications for Racial Healing"

Hassan Wahab
"Ghana Leads the Way Again: Understanding Ghana's National Insurance Scheme Law of 2003"

"Healing Through Historical Influences and Exchanges in the Diaspora"

Stephen Berry (chair)
Visiting Professor, African American and African Diaspora Studies

David Amponsah
"The Future of Black Theology in the 21st Century"

Clark Whitlow
"David Walker's Appeal Revisited"

Damien Strecker
"The Politics of Harry Haywood During the Interwar Years"

"Healing in the Diaspora Through Social Policy and Action"

Vernon Williams (chair)
Professor, African American and African Diaspora Studies

Enya Hargett
"The Real Deal"

Femina Ajayi
"Acculturation and Programming for Refugees in the United States"

Phillip Wagner
"Locke's The New Negro and Paulo Freire's Pedogogy of the Oppressed: Social Structural Coupling/Responses to the Violence of Monocultural Dominance in a Multicultural Society"