[AAS21 Podcast] Episode #4: A Through Line for African American Studies

Wednesday, Mar 1, 2017

 

Podcast Transcript:

(0:00) [music plays]

Eddie: Hello, I'm Eddie Glaude and I'm the chair of the Department of Afro American Studies at Princeton University. And welcome to the African American Studies podcast. Today is a really special program. I'm joined by one of the towering intellectuals of our time and one of my dearest, dearest friends, Professor Imani Perry. Professor Perry is the Hughes Rogers' professor of African American Studies here at Princeton and the author of several path-breaking books, Prophets of the Hood, Politics and Poetics and Hip-hop. More beautiful and more terrible the embrace and transcendence of racial inequality in the United States and two forthcoming books, two amazing books, maybe forever stand a cultural history of lift every voice and sing and Vexy thing a book about gender, book and life.

Imani Perry: Thank you. 

Eddie: So let's talk about this amazing scholarship of yours. What's so striking to me when I think about your corpus and I've been so influenced by your work is its range, its scope. What's the through line? What's the connection moving from hip-hop to an analysis of kind of feminist? analytic?

Imani: Yeah. So I mean, I think of myself as, um, answering two different types of questions in all of my work, including the work in Article form. And those are the first question is about what happens after moments of radical social transformation? What we think is radical social transformation that leads us towards more inclusive societies? Um and I think about that in terms of kind of the imaginative work of white supremacy. Some people call it retrenchment, but the ways in which sort of structures of inequality are reconfigured in a post movement era or post reconstruction era. So I like to think about (2:00) how that happens, understanding how that happens, because of course, I'm committed to undoing it. And then the other question I am always pursuing is thinking about how, how sort of social and political questions work their way into African-American artistic production, whether it's music, which is, you know, what I primarily focus on, but also literature, um, visual arts. And, um, and so those two questions, you can really find one of the other in all of my work, although it varies pretty, pretty widely. 

Eddie: Yeah. So and, and you, you tend to reach for an expansive archive in pursuing those two questions.

Imani: Yeah.

Eddie: Talk a little bit about the way you approach your approach, um, a, kind of sourcing--

Imani: Right. 

Eddie: The, the materials that the materials that lead to answer these two questions.

Imani: Yeah, I mean, so I think you know, my approach and I was I'm someone who is trained in multiple disciplines. As an undergraduate, I studied literature and American Studies and literary theory. And then it's a graduate student, you know, American cultural history again, um but also studied law. And I-- my and what I've always thought is that, particularly with respect to what we try to do an African-American studies is that the disciplines are important for entering a conversation, for pursuing something in a kind of, you know, methodological coherent fashion, but they never quite get to everything that we're trying to answer. And so I try to start with the question and then think about all of the materials I need to answer the particular question. Um, and for me, that carries me through multiple branches of the social sciences and history and humanities and works of art, um, that I often think of as having kind of, um, political and philosophical messages embedded in them. So, um, I think of rigor not simply in terms of a particular method, but in terms of how one, um, (4:00)  tries to pursue a really thorough going, understanding of whatever problematic is presented before.

Eddie: So how do you think about the issue of rigor moving across so many different areas--

Imani: Right. 

Eddie: of concerned? So you move from law to, you know, to poetry to...

Imani: Yeah.

Eddie: To the social sciences. Um, How do you talk about you know, how do you think about enact it--

Imani: Right.

Eddie: moving across so many different things.

Imani: Yeah, I mean, I think, you know, it's so the dangerous always of being dilettante-ish about it. And so, for me, the question is always, how do-- I have to be sure that I know how, I'm-- how to read in the given field, which means I need to understand what are the conversations that are happening? What are the terms of art? What are the basis for establishing something as if not objectively true, but at least reliable or generalizable. Those types of questions and they vary and, you know, with, with the arts is understanding something about the conversation that's happened over time that intertexuality that almost all sort of at least literary work, but also a lot of visual arts are depending upon. And so I think of, you know, for me, sort of the rigor of reading across also requires some depth in, in each field. So it takes time, right? I-It's a commitment. [laughter]

Eddie: Yeah. It's, it's, it's really amazing, though, when you think about your dissertation, right? Most people don't know--

Imani: People don't know that, Eddie. My first book was not my dissertation. 

Eddie: What was your dissertation?

Imani: My dissertation was on, um, late 19th-century long literature thinking of the post-reconstruction period. And I was interested in using what the literary work that appeared in that period to demonstrate as a way of thinking about how-- Jim Crow wasn't just about what we think of as public law like things like, you know, separate, separate, a cars on trains, but it was also an enacted through private law and meaning property laws and contract and so there's all this discourse in the literature that period (6:00)  about property and contracts that hadn't made it, at least at that point into a public conversation about Jim Crow. And so I was interested in mining that literature for talking about that the relationship to the economy was essential feature, not just of Jim Crow, but actually the entire history of black people in this country being excluded actually, from participation and capitalist markets. Um, it's been sort of a recurrent theme in one way or the other, right, beginning with being property, but then going into being essentially unfree labors. Again, we're having very limited ability to exchange one's labor. So, so, yeah, so that required, yeah--

Eddie: And then you moved to Prophets of the Hood.

Imani: And then yes.

Eddie: And, and it's a reflection of you insight, you- your participation in ciphers your ways. [cross-talk] [laughter] I mean, so--

Imani: Yeah. Well, I mean, I think that though, you know, I- I would also say and I didn't say this before, but that is another piece of my work is trying to- is always a kind of experimentation and so when I was a college student, a lot of what I was learning was, in some sense sort of supplemented or scaffolded by what I was experiencing in hip-hop. And so when I took linguistics courses, I could always think of all these examples in the music that I was listening to, or, and so I started writing about hip-hop when I was an undergrad. And then this project sort of blossomed at the same time I was in graduate school, but that wasn't what I was working on for my dissertation. So Prophets of the Hood is sort of a holdover from [chuckle] from my younger years. Um, yeah, and it was, you know, sort of making sense of what I was experiencing and feeling that at that moment in academia, there were not good accounts. There was only really two that I thought had really rigorous about hip-hop and some.

Eddie: Right, right.  And, but it seems to be consistent with those two questions and animate the program.

Imani: They absolutely. 

Eddie: And, you know, for me, you know, more beautiful, more terrible is so, so influential, I mean, democracy (8:00)  and black is you know so...

Imani: Thank you.

Eddie: So influenced by that text? And the way would you think the way in which you think about the cultural practice of racial inequality and how that kind of helps us kind of split the difference between structure? 

Imani: Yes. 

Eddie: Right. And, and individual agency, as it were kind of saying that this is not quite the way to think about this sort of more than that.

Imani: Right. Yeah. And I was, I mean, I would say, I think, you know, I would. I wish I had read democracy in black before writing more beautiful, more terrible [chuckle] because there's there is a sort of central question that it doesn't quite get to about, um, sort of what the structure of the nation-state actually is with respect to race. And so it was a sort of, you know, that desire sort of expose factor wishing you could think of that insight before writing the book. But yeah, um,  you know, for me, we, we talked so much about in academia about the difference between institutional or structural racism and individual actions, and there's a way in which it becomes so dispassionate and so detached from people lives that it's almost can see-- it almost looks as though it's impossible to apprehend or that our understanding of it or ability to apprehend it hinges upon policy decision making, which we know is in many ways already over-determined by, by wealth by sort of, um, you know, the manipulations of electoral politics. And so, I wanted to think about you know, institutions are always constituted by people. They have to people have to sustain them and they have to sustain them because they have certain kinds of ideological they say no, in particular, ways because they have certain ideological commitments, their cultures and, and for me, you know, it's having studied cultural theory that really provides a foundation for this right understanding how cultures operate, um, is essential to understanding how institutions and how structures function.

Eddie: So talk a little bit about those cultural theorists to inform how you read.

Imani: So I'm at Stuart Hall is of course in enormous, um, influence, um, I mean particularly because I'm, I'm very (10:00)  I've always been interested in cultural artifacts and in ritual. And, um, you know the sort of day to day habits, but wanting to understand how they're connected to structures of power, how they're connected to, um, kind of historical conjuncture we know these, these sort of, um moments of transformation, and so, um he's always sort of an undercurrent in my work. Um, and actually, um, I'd say, in the last 10 years of my life, Oscar Dandy, Bozo communication scholar, um, who really challenged cultural studies scholars about our propensity to say things without having much evidentiary support in a way that I thought, um, was really brilliant, um, and incisive and I took that as a call to make sure that the things that I was reading and we like to read you know, um, everything right, but that I was reading in a way that was actually consistent with some evidence that could be measured and that's not to fetishize data but to understand there has to be some relationship between you know, knowing things that actually that we can record in the world and the way that we want to interpret the world around us.

Eddie: So now we have these two new books that are on the way. I have, I have been blessed to witness to the production of these two texts.

Imani: Thank you for reading so much. [laughter]

Eddie: Um No, they're both amazing and so many different ways but maybe forever stand I think you have-- Well I don't think, I know you have created an archive around lift every voice sing a, that will, that will transform how people actually understand the anthem and in some ways understand the social history that, that gave it life in some ways. Tell the story about, um, the, the unique way in which you've approached uh your, your-- this new book on, on Lift Every Voice and Sing.

Imani: Sure. So um, so it's interesting part of my approaches is (12:00)  actually rooted in one of the things that I think is really important for us to recuperate an African-American Studies, which is understanding that experiences in black communities can be fonts of knowledge. They don't stand in the stead of, you know, what we think of as conventional study, but they do point us in direction. So, for my work on Lift Every Voice and Sing, um, it was useful for me to know already a great deal about how the song existed in you know, in the period in which I was going up in the 70s in the context of Black Power movement in the context of black consciousness. It was important to understand how it existed for my mother and grandmother's generation for kind of institutional life in which the song you know, resided because it helps me have some sense of where to go right to look at, um, school records, to look at, um, civic organizations which you know, in some ways, and I don't-- there is an effort on my part to dis- dissenter the church I understand that it was significant but there's all these other kinds of social and civic institutions that played a really important role in particular and black seven life.

Eddie: Black Teacher's Association.

Imani: Right, Black Teachers Associations, um, you know the Elks clubs.

Eddie: Right, right.

Imani: And association of color when all these organizations and even the NWCPI is a local organization not just as a national organization um and so to look in tho-those archives, um, to look in you know, Carter G. Woodson, Negro History bulleted to understand that the song was not just sort of song every day though was was really important but to understand all the lessons that is surrounded the way that it was-- the way that in different, different generations saying it differently based upon the political moment. Um, understanding you know, how children learn vocabulary words to the song or the role of, of it in pageants and the 1920s and 30s so for me, um, the kind of the, the (14:00)  my sort of cultural roots gave me pointed me in directions for archives, um, as opposed to just sort of, um, looking at the author papers of the authors of the song, for example.

Eddie: Yeah, the, the book is an amazing kind of, um, illustration of your deepest story sensibilities, right? I mean, there's always this way in which you, you are contextualizing and pluralizing and historicizing at all time.

Imani: Although, I would say I mean, in many ways that's following the lead that you set an exodus, the kind of understanding of the, of the way in which a trope function has a kind of political function and social function, and institutional function. 

Eddie: So what about this, this, that-- now you got me that, thank you, um, [laughter] What about this, this think about black formalism? 

Imani: Oh, yes.

Eddie: 'Cuz it's so important to, to mainly forever, to understand that and I know at one point you wanted to write a complete monograph from black form and so--

Imani: Right. Which may happen one day. [laughter]

Eddie: So talk about--

Imani: Right.

Eddie: Your understanding of black formalism and how the anthem fits?

Imani: Right. So, um, I and this isn't it's interesting for me, as someone has written so much about black vernacular culture. Um, I- I began to feel as though in African-American cities, we focus so much on the vernacular that we forget the context in which it exists, and that there's this long tradition of black formalism. And that sort of has its real codification in the reconstruction period when people are building institutions are, um authoring themselves as citizens. Um, and in some ways deepens with the end of reconstruction when there's a turning into black community. So I'm thinking and, you know, when I talk about black formalism, I'm thinking of institutional forms, codes of conduct, rituals, modes of presentation, um, that are as central to black cultural practice as you know, the Juke, Joint, or the Club, right?

Eddie: And it's not just simply black middle class people. 

Imani: No, it's in fact, I think (16:00)  black formalism has its, its deepest roots in black working class culture. And I think oftentimes we sort of over- partly it's because of the archives we use, but we over determine black middle class when really it's the black working class who sustained institutions in black communities. And it's and we look at the sort of loss of so many institutions, a lot of it has to do with what happened to the black working class in the 80s, right. The consequences of that the economic devastation at the working class is really where we see the loss of so much so powerful institutional formation.

Eddie: And I've heard you use that kind of formulation as a way to kind of trouble invocations of the politics of respectability before.

Imani: Yes, yeah, I mean, so I think, you know, one of the difficulties with a critique of the politics of respectability is that it doesn't often account for, there being different types of expectations in different contexts, right? So there are times and places, where you have to perform in particular ways because of black formulas and that, doesn't necessarily mean that one has to always be quote unquote respectable. I also think it's not, you know, it's a miss, it's a mischaracterization to say that the politics of respectability are simply middle class, or middle class aspirational. Well, in fact, much of it is, um,  I think, when you look historically, as a kind of self-definition, not an approximation of whiteness, but against the, the way in which black people are characterized by the larger society, right? It is a --  it their rituals that bolster the self, that, that, um, that are self affirming, not withstanding the degradation that exists in a corner, so you know.

Eddie: Yeah, and the cultural and social history of the anthem actually becomes real, illustrates that point and, and in really, really powerful way.

Imani: Right. So, I mean, I think it's really relevant that you don't really have, um, improvisation of the anthem until you know, the late 60s right. So we have such-- we have this extraordinary history of improvisation but we have a, we have it a particular song which we don't improvise on, right? That has a very (18:00)  particular form. 

Eddie: You're not gonna get a Marvin Gaye version, of the voice? [laughter]

Imani: No, no. [laughter] yeah.

Eddie: But now, now you know there's it's interesting, right? 'Cause you have this kind of materialists undercurrent--

Imani: Always.

Eddie: To your and it's, the book isn't a declension story necessarily.

Imani: No.

Eddie: 'Cause you don't narrate in that way. But there is something about that moment at the White House with President Obama [laughter] when Smokey Robinson and everyone and they didn't know the words to the song and arc of the book is, in some ways to account for that moment in, in impart. Let's talk a little bit about that.

Imani: Right. So, I mean, part of I think the way that you trace, um, maybe the word is in decline, but the sort of the diminished significance of the song and the day to day lives of most African-Americans has everything to do with the loss of institutional culture, the kind of institution. And that some of that is, um, you know, the impact of, um, Reaganism some of that is impact of desegregation. There's a lot of different forces that are at play some of it is transiency that we don't have the same kind of tight-knit communities anymore. Um, the diminished significance of the church, the fact that black schools are not run by black communities any longer all these sorts of things, um--

Eddie: Kinda the collapse of black institutional life...

Imani: Yeah it's a collapse of black institutional life and so as a consequence, you know how one would learn the song, right? Um, is no longer-- they're necessarily their places. And I think and again I mean it was always most heavily concentrated in the south. Um, and it continues to whatever extent that it continues to exist. It's still most heavily con- um,  in the south and in black institutions, historically, black institutions. HBC use for example, people still I mean, so the ritual, ah, is different, um, but I also think and, you know, sort of why end up is, um, that we need those types of rituals. They're important the feeling of singing alongside (20:00)  Someone else who you don't necessarily know. But you through, you know, the vocalization you, um, express a shared commitment, a set of shared values is really important, um--

Eddie: Right. I mean, there's a sense in which every time I read your work, whether it's one of your main there's a book, or, or one of the articles, there's always this kind of political arc to it. It's gonna have a kind of cash value to use an old William James in metaphor, right. That it's, it's payoff is precisely to kind of orient us to the political world in a particular sort of way, even at the end of going back to more beautiful and more terrible where you kind of talk about shifting narratives, talking building capacity, right? You're trying to give us a toolkit.

Imani: Right.

Eddie: To deal with the various ways in which structures of inequality are being reconfigured in these various domains. And it kind of orient you in the, in your, in your work, at least from my advantage point in this kind of trouble making kind of way. 

Imani: Yeah.

Eddie: And Vexy thing is my goodness.

Imani: Lot of trouble making. [laughter]

Eddie: Lot of-- So there's this liberation feminist, analytic.

Imani: Yes. 

Eddie: That you're putting for. Talk a little bit about Vexy and, and, and what you are doing-- you're in a lot of trouble [chuckle]

Imani: Sure. So, I know I'm gonna get in lot of trouble. So there's two pieces. So the book has two major moves. The first is to try to author- to provide an account of what patriarchy is because it's a word that has bandied about often with the sort of incoherent. It's not clear what anybody means by it. So I offer an account that has to do with the age of empire and conquest that, that the category of the patriarch, um, ah, is, is firmly established in that period. It's at the intersection of the sort of the law of property, um, of person-hood and sovereignty. And sovereignty, I mean, both in terms of who's recognized as a member of a sovereign nation, but also in terms of their relationship with other lands that are being conquered, right. And so that architecture is important for me because it's there. I, (22:00)  I think it's incredibly, I think is critical to understand that patriarchy has ideas of race and Empire embedded into it. The idea who can be a patriarch and the sort of various forms of partial person hood or partial recognition and then absolute non-recognition where we can think of in terms of enslaved people. So the first part of the book is really sort of setting that out and providing something of the history of that. And the second part of the book is actually focused on how do we think in terms of the particular challenges of the Neo liberal era.

Eddie: Right

Imani: For thinking about how to and I'm focused not a sort of feminism as doctrine but as a reading practice interpreting the world around you having a critical gaze towards unjust forms of domination that are rooted in sort of conventions of patriarchy right and so it it's sort of this sort there's a past and there's a present to the book but even in the present the past informs it so I mean that's so today the basic.

Eddie: I mean it poses it presents an interesting challenge to what the choice feminism. 

Imani: Yes. 

Eddie: Neo liberal feminism 

Imani: Right.

Eddie: It is really really a strident critique of...

Imani: Yeah.

Eddie: Certain ways in which feminism has been way.

Imani: Right and I think you know, Dordogne Lavaux new way of the world which we we read together is so influential for me because it's I think it's the one account of Neo liberalism that really captures how it gets inside us. And so one of the things that I've observed is that the logic's of market competition even shape sort of many feminists or- or racial justice initiatives such that people are concerned about who wins in the in the discourse of protest, right.

Eddie: Competition in life where...

Imani: It's such competition and rivalry as opposed to you know we think about a second wave feminist moment right of (24:00)  the ideas sort of community and connection to others and a rejection of individualism we've moved pretty far away from that and so much of what is is counted as feminism I think today is often actually a kind of market competition logic right so that either it's I have to be included because I'm a feminist so it becomes something I can trade upon and I and I and I should also say I don't think there's any clean hands so the book is not even so much an attack on others it's a sort of critical interrogation of all of us. 

Eddie: Absolutely. Absolutely, yeah.

Imani: I even say you know I am I have a marketed value as a black feminist who is right in terms of I traded a right in so. But what how do we think about developing politics that are not bound up and that's really the priority you know.

Eddie: So, in, in this aspiration even in the context of our liberation efforts right that this aspiration to- to- to a kind of patriarchy and it's benefits.

Imani: Yes.

Eddie: That in some ways undermines the liberatory efforts...

Imani: Right.

Eddie: of our effort- of our practice right It seems to me that you you really say we have to keep it because a track of this at all times if we could be arguing for a liberation a liberation practice in this instance but it's predicated upon something that's happening in India that's something happening, So , so...

Imani: That's right, that's right.

Eddie: So let's talk a little bit.

Imani: No I mean I think you know there's so many ways to think about it if we think about historically you know Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria should let us know that woman on top is not the end of...

Eddie: Margaret Thatcher. [laughter]

Imani: Right, Thatcher...Thatcher the recent example right. But also you know we all participate in relations of domination that are gendered by virtue of the clothes that we wear the computers that we work on right and so and so I think that so in terms of sort of understanding ourselves in a global relation I think we have to interrogate that which in some ways like more beautiful more terrible for me is another call and it's a call that (26:00)  each issued was issued from Baldwin and others right to just try to let go of this these claims to innocence understand how we're implicated and operate from that position instead of so I could operate from a position that begins with you know I have a chronic disease disability I'm a black woman right. And sort of function out as opposed to also thinking of the ways in which I necessarily as you know an upper middle class person in an elite nation right. I'm implicated in the suffering of others and I think the latter is essential.

Eddie: To the end of the book is, is an amazing um reflection on the power of imagination right, um, Its insistence on kind of the importance of the Interior I mean there's so much going on that follows from your reading of the passionate utterance from the ways in which you you insist on a more expansive understanding of who we are as we engage the world that's fraught with so much evil so a little bit more about for our listeners about this insistence on the power of your imagination that the end effects.

Imani: Yeah. I mean, you know we, and you talk about this so much I mean I think there's a way in which we in the conversation before we begin it so frequently now we talk about so political will and expediency and existing structures all of those things shut down conversations frequently and I think about you know previous generations had they operated in that way none of the radical transformations that a 20th century could have happened or the 19th century and so for me the reason and I think this is in some ways you know my my attention to the interior my attention to being moved by another is about (28:00)  sort of getting to the heart of how we try to have more ethical relations with other people that it's not just at the at the abstraction it's about the face to face encounters and trying to sort of disrupt the habits that actually keep domination intact, right. Um So yes, so...

Eddie: So it gives content to this notion of standing in a right relation.

Imani: Yes.

Eddie: with one fellows, right.

Imani: Right.

Eddie: Gives it gives depth to it. It's not just kind of reducible to some notion of deliberative democracy something else is going on.

Imani: Yeah. 'cause I think it requires our transformation and it requires the possible so when you know using Stanley Cavell's work on a passion utterance where he talks about being in the invitation to the disorders of desire it's you know can we hear when when someone whether it's someone we actually encountered physically or something that we hear says wait a minute right the positions that we are relative to each other don't you know aren't right or don't capture what could be right that would be better I want I want us to heed that...

Eddie: You know I'm trying to be really disciplined because when we have these sorts of conversations with things we can just go on and on and on...

Imani: Right...Yes. Yes.

Eddie: But you know I just I just have to say this that reading Vexy and thinking about the other books as well the canvas that you work on it is so expansive is so large. From reading literature you put border. Extraordinary exquisite reading of Song of Solomon in in Vexy you read it you're reading poetry, I mean you're you're you're reading John Locke yeah I mean from Locke to....

Imani: Right. 

Eddie: I mean, Song of Solomon I mean it's just or you know from, from Locke to you know popular cultural song that will show up to be the illustrate it was...

Imani: Chaka Khan

Eddie: Chaka Khan right illustrative of your point this is reflective of a kind of habit of reading (30:00)  that I've said to you before that that's Amazonian in its scope right. you you don't just kind of read to show competency write whatever book you're reading kind of gets absorbed in the kind of broader question that's occupying you talk a little bit about your habit. The habits of read It's really interesting. [laughter]

Imani: Right. [laughter] I mean yeah I, I am, I mean I think of you know reading is is perhaps sort of the most important habit I have beyond you know care taking of my children I mean it's I think you know it's a lifelong commitment It's one that not just helps you understand the world but that changes you I mean it's it it's such an incredible activity because you read and everything you read you're transformed in the process it's in the process of reading I mean I just and in multiple ways I mean sometimes you read something terrible and it actually causes you to attend to something terrible in the world It's not all happy you know reading is not and I saw I think of it as a daily commitment. It's yeah.

Eddie: And there's a curiosity to I mean you know we read together all that time.

Imani: Right.

Eddie: And khalifa's you know you introduce me to this Paris- Palestinian novelist that you that you that you actually engage in Vexy. And when I was my landscape was transformed and then I don't read poetry very you know kind of closet reader poetry as I often say I don't know how to read poetry but there's a way in which you  all you know...

Imani: Right.

Eddie: The poems show up to illustrate an argument because you're making a claim.

Imani: Yes. Right.

Eddie: In these moments.

Imani: And I and I think for me it's connected to my belief that sort of the divisions that we make and we've talked about this between sort of the recent reason and emotion right but to or reason and the passions are are not just overstated but they're they actually misrepresent what went what we do what happens um (32:00)  and in all kinds of decision making and you know I guess I think it's also the particularly read I mean I like to read studies and all sorts but reading fiction is so important for understanding places so every time I travel someplace I tried to take a book that's about that place to get us a feel for the for the space and that's another. so when I was in Japan every night I read a Japanese novel I mean they just see it because it enriches your encounter you know so.

Eddie: I mean it's really you know this is you know we're talking about two new books that are coming out maybe Forever Stand and Vexy but you're also working on a biography of Lorraine Hansberry.

Imani: Yes I am. [laughter]

Eddie: And and you know...

Imani: You can have to take a break soon.

Eddie: And you know it's the biography comes to mind and biography might be a little too limited.

Imani: Right. 

Eddie: Because of who she was.

Imani: Right I mean I think you know it's interesting because so much of of the work that we decide to do is related to who we take ourselves to be right and part of the way for me I have such a sense of connection to her is because she's a passionate intellectual she's a voracious reader she's trying to figure things out things out she's not afraid to be wrong which is a lot of what if there is um you know if I can be sort of self complimentary and for a moment I mean I think those are some of my best characteristics I'm not afraid to be wrong I'm not afraid to make mistakes I just want to go in and pursue things passionately and so understanding that about her but also understanding in some ways how that the very traits that made her so extraordinary are part of how she was obscured and submerged historically there's such a limited critical work about her relative to her significance in the 20th century , yeah.

Eddie: And you know Lorraine Hansberry was (34:00)  an intellectual.

Imani: She was an intellectual, she, she self-identified as you know variously socialist communist and she.

Eddie: Right, into politics 

Imani: Right right and feminism. She really and also had a sort of black nationalist streak to her as well so not one that was so familiar [laughter] yeah and so I think it's an important story hers is an important story to tell for thinking through how we live our politics in a multiplicity of ways, right. Not just in sort of the particular stances but in the way we think about the creation of art and the way we think about you know um the major questions that are posed to us in life of all sorts.

Eddie: Well you know I think that's a wonderful transition to, to perhaps our current moment I mean we're working under different conditions now.

Imani: Yeah.

Eddie: Donald Trump is the 45th president of the United States and you know we can revel in our ideas we can do what we do because in some ways as you as you've told me you say to me all the time we're writing we're not writing for the moment only right we're writing for the future generations to come and it kind of gives us a sense of understanding our practice. As not being limited to the constraints of the curve but we have to be mindful we have to remain so talk about what you see in front of us with Donald J. Trump here in the White House and what might we do from the perch of African-American studies. To respond to the nonsense that is this moment.

Imani: Yeah I mean it's funny because I was I was in the Hansberry archives the other day and I'm thinking about how 1953 she goes to a peace conference in Uruguay and then that that initiates her being followed by the FBI every action (36:00)  I mean um and so I'm thinking a lot about McCarthyism and, and what I think it suggests to us is that we have to be really sophisticated about the moment we have to understand these are not this is not time to play with being provocative we have to understand the stakes of what we're doing so we have to be very deliberate because it is risky at this point because there's so many of the features both of fascism but also the sort of McCarthyism that are coming into view we have to be willing to to ask ourselves the question how much am I willing to stick my neck out how much am I willing to risk I think in African-American studies you know our understanding of history and our understanding domination our understanding of how domination can coexist with sort of narratives of inclusion and democracy is really important insight right now right because there's a lot of doublespeak. 

Eddie: Yes, there is in some ways it requires of us a different mode of thinking you know to invoke the tradition is important but it seems to me that one of the things that has happened one of the consequences of this moment is the, the bank the bankruptcy of the current political black political class has been revealed.

Imani: Well yes.

Eddie: Which clear space.

Imani: Right.

Eddie: For imagining right a different kind of politics a kind of reassertion of of the radical black radical imagination as you've talked about a lot.

Imani: Absolutely. Absolutely and for me that actually sort of goes along with it with going into the archive with sort of reinvigorating that tradition to understand you know I mean particularly the narrative of the civil rights movement which has been troubled over the last couple of years but it hasn't been completely troubled right so that it hasn't been troubled (38:00)  sufficiently enough to talk about sort of the radical tradition within it and how it actually makes that make space for even sort of more liberal sort of politics to emerge around right that that and I guess I-. I'm feeling like it's important to say those things about um the radical tradition because they you know they I think they give us important models about how to conduct ourselves and how to make decisions that aren't necessarily in line with what everybody else is doing. So for Lorraine to say I'm giving my money to snake I'm not giving my money to SCLC is really an important decision in that in that moment right. 

Eddie: Its Huge, right.

Imani: Yeah. For someone that famous or for her to reject you know Robert F. Kennedy's call to quell activism protests in Birmingham to say no we need a commitment from you we need to have the FB- we need to- you to interrogate why the FBI is actually hindering and not helping civil rights struggle and that kind of witness is not, It's rare today.

Eddie: Especially coming out of the Obama era right.

Imani: Right.

Eddie: And so many. 

Imani: Yeah well because I mean so when Hansberry says things like I know I keep talking about and we're talking more [laughter] generally but she says you know we don't care about coffee at the White House you know she says those exact words. It's not about access. It's about commitment to the people in the streets in Birmingham that kind of politic I think has to be recuperated.

Eddie: So as we get close to the end of our time together we know what I want to ask you this what would you have to say to the young scholar who's listening to us right we've talked about you know that through line.

Imani: Right.

Eddie: Of your corpus we've talked about the particulars of your books um (40:00)  the kind of habits of reading that kind of political under curb the undertow to- to the work its arc how would you what would you say to them as they kind of imagine as they engage in the work of imagining of who they are who they take themselves to be. As scholars as intellectual.

Imani: I will say it's hard to answer that question because academia has changed so much since the time we came into it but part of me what and I keep saying this and scholars do your work, do it rigorously, you don't get caught up in cycles of attention, have a commitment to it that exceeds what particular job you get and when right. Because it really is you know nothing is promised by virtue of PHD anymore and so there has to be something more than a particular material outcome that drives you when you do this kind of work.

Eddie: Yeah. So I want to go back to that love that you said that evidenced itself in an undergrad that led to the writing of Prophets of the Hood. So you know when during the inauguration I was on Facebook and I had you know I had written that I wasn't going to watch it I got it and so I said let's make a soundtrack to this moment. What are some of the songs some of the tracks that come to mind when you think about this moment.

Imani: Oh um, It's interesting I keep going back to the 70's which is perhaps appropriate.

Eddie: Its interesting the 70's.

Imani: The 70's yeah so you know I go back to people get ready Curtis Mayfield's we are the people are darker than blue, um, I even listen a lot to McFadden Whitehead's Ain't no stopping us now, just because in terms of like what how do you  (42:00) bolster your energy for this struggle listen to a lot of meanness among which I've lost I mean I've lived my whole life you always listen to listening [laughter] but I mean take there's a new sense of urgency that you can hear what you hear in her voice as both there's grief and urgency and sense of possibility which I think those are all the emotions that we have to account for now right there is a sadness we can't right and there's also a sense of urgency there's also sense of possibility, right. We have to possess all of those at once we can't sort of fall victim to to any of them.

Eddie: Yeah. You know that reminds me of this line that I came across and Baldwin's corpus you know we've made the world we're living in and we have to make it over. So it's as like Tony says in her token Toni Morrison says in a Nobel lecture it's in our hands whatever it is you're right. 

Imani: Yeah 

Eddie: It's in our hands Thank you Imani for joining us.

Imani: Thank you for having me.

Eddie: Additionally I want to give a special thanks to Courtney Brian for providing the music to this podcast to the staff of the Department of Afro-American studies here at Princeton our office manager April Peters our event coordinator Diane Worthy our social media specialist Alison Bland and our technical specialists an audio engineer Elio Leo remember you can find this podcast and more by visiting our website aas.princeton.edu and thank you again until next time.

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[END]

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