This unit was written for an African American and Latinx History course, and therefore looks at Black and Latinx freedom struggles of the 20th century in concert. While there are many shared struggles, as well as shared approaches to resistance, across these groups, they are also undoubtedly distinct. This unit begins with bomba, a centuries-old Afro-Boricuan tradition, that has flourished for hundreds of years, and which inspired other 20th century traditions such as plena. This is an essential starting point for this curricular unit, not only because it showcases culture as a tool of resistance, but also because it reminds us that we must not think of Black and Latinx histories and cultures as necessarily separate. Rather, we must teach about Afro-Latinx histories, cultures, and people. Next this unit moves into the Blues, examining this form through the lens of Black feminism, a framework that is still relevant and necessary today when analyzing contemporary music across genres. Following the Blues, zoot suits remind us that our everyday choices, our fashion, how we present ourselves to the world can also be an art and an expression of freedom. From Los Angeles to Boston, zoot suits display how forms of resistance were often shared among Black and Latinx youth, even across great distances. The following lesson moves into the second half of the 20th century and is the first to delve into visual art as a tool of resistance, focusing on Emory Douglas, the Minister of Culture for the Black Panther Party. Next, the unit moves both back and forward in time, examining the drag balls of the early 20th century, and their resurgence in the 1970s and 1980s alongside the explosion of disco on the radio and on the dance floor, powerful forms of queer resistance whose Black and Latinx foremothers deserve their due. The final lesson focuses on hip-hop, a culture of resistance created by Black and Latinx Bronx youth, and undoubtedly still relevant and on the rise today.
This unit is by no means exhaustive. In fact, an entire course could be taught on cultural histories of 20th century Black and Latinx freedom struggles. Absent from this unit are poetry and other literary traditions of which there are too many to count; their addition would expand the variety of genres this unit covers. Although films and documentaries are recommended resources throughout this unit, a study of film as a culture of resistance is missing and would add new dimensions to the unit. Also, more visual arts, namely realism and surrealism, would be a powerful addition. Finally, while this curricular unit ends in the 1980s, the electronic music of the 1990s and its connection to Afro-futurism, not to mention speculative fiction more generally, would be another compelling extension.
Across the six topics analyzed in this unit, several themes emerged. The first is the role these various forms of cultural production played in confronting racism, but also the ways they were intersectional, responding to classism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia as well. The second major theme is the ways that most of these cultures of resistance were also resisting respectability, pushing boundaries and insisting on new ways of being—and of being more free—and embracing radical politics. The third theme is centered on the role that young people played in forming and spreading nearly all of these cultures of resistance, still true today. These three themes are at the heart of this unit and are also precisely what will make this unit particularly engaging for young people.