This curriculum recognizes the inter-relatedness of concepts race and nature as they present themselves in art, literature, race, history, law, science, and politics. It is not an attempt to simplify or prioritize intersectionality of the respective concepts. It does seek to make transparent the inter-relatedness and the diverse complexities of the concepts of race and nature as they apply to African Americans particularly and people of color in general. The curriculum strives to assist students develop a methodology to garner a better understanding of how to critically examine visual and written texts. Through dynamic and interactive styled analysis, students will be asked to deconstruct and construct text in relation to individual and community placement, develop an appreciation of the mutuality and connectiveness between subordinated and dispossessed groups.58
The curriculum will attempt to use a “transscalar critique” approach whereby “both big and small matters of concerns (for the student) may be discussed” without reference to a scale in either size or value while simultaneously adjusting the dimensionality of matters of concern by “zooming in and out.” 59 This approach offers students a way “think about questions of ontology and planetary responsibility while not foregoing identity politics and literary critique.” It is a methodology that will allow student to discuss concepts and their associative values as they are presented in visual and written presentations of nature, ecology, race, and writing in both fictional and nonfictional formats.
The use of an English/Language Arts or literature approach instead of a scientific approach to discuss the African American presence in nature “may seem superfluous in the hierarchy of ecological needs” but allows for the inclusion of myth according to Kimberley Ruffin in Black on Earth.60 The inclusion of myths within the natural world, she contends is a powerful vehicle in the reconciliation of conflicts, contradictions and descriptions of both the individual and community reality and their respective history and behavior.
Based on a review of the literature, nature writing by African Americans does not seem to exist as a separate genre for African Americans to the extent that it does for European Americans.61 Fortunately, there are some collections reflecting nature and environmental writings from the African American lens.62 If the writer is a writer of color, then their writing is classified under the canon of X-American writing, where it is up to the reader to discover and categorize if the writing falls under “nature/environment-related” writing. As a result of cultural valuation of African American writings,63 recent European American nature anthologies and edited older “traditional” anthologies now reflect a few African American and other writers of the Black diaspora.64 In anthologies of African American writers, writings about nature and the environment may be found within such collections.65 The format of the writings generally reflects the themes or writing formats featured by the anthology.
For purposes of this curriculum, I have defined African American literature and visual arts as works produced by those who identify as African Americans. I have used the literature and periods presented in The Norton Anthology of African American Literature66 and African American Art and Artists67 with some modifications (to include Black Arts Movement) to mark time periods when a work is said to have originated or the time period from which it provides commentary. Having fixed markers (even if arbitrarily created) provides a structure to begin a conversation about the temporality of literary and visual texts and the critiques about our present, past and implications for the future.
I am aware that this “broad stroke” characterization of literary works by African American, black, or Negro writers may conflict with other historicizing of such literary works but for purposes of this curriculum the locating of the works was more important than a present or past classification.68 By doing so I believe the curriculum assists the reader locate literary text and the reader is able to determine using their respective lens whether the nomenclature is relevant for the work. It is also a way to contextualize text by examining the environment in which it was created and published.