In order to interpret and analyze “race as a metalanguage” for intersectionality, I will begin by talking about identity. We will begin the year with self-reflection: the things that we already know to be true about ourselves. I will have students create a vision board with all the aspects that they love about themselves, all the parts of who they are. From the smells they love, the memories they have, to favorite pastimes, activities, and future aspirations.
In Chapter 1 of This Book Is Anti-Racist: 20 Lessons on How to Wake Up, Take Action, and Do the Work, Tiffany Jewell starts the book off with an activity talking about herself through an identity map. Each chapter of the book builds on this map to Social Identities, Race, Ethnicity, Racism, Prejudice, Knowing Our History, Actions and Responses to Racism, Working in Solidarity Against Racism. Sequentially, this order will allow students to deconstruct and open-up to identity being more about themselves than they imagined before. That many things make up an identity, that all of the parts of us should not be things that we are afraid of but are who we are, our histories, to be acknowledged, celebrated, and parts of us to allow us to grow and develop from.
This Book Is Anti-Racist: 20 Lessons on How to Wake Up, Take Action, and Do the Work is a great introduction activity for identity that gives youth a moment to reflect on all aspects about themselves and to consider all the parts of who they are. Tiffany Jewell activates youths' ability to be conscientious and an active participant for positive change for liberation.
After looking at the parts of identity, I will reintroduce the concept of social categories and how the social constructs have been defined and transformed in the past to where they exist within the context of today. We will examine how social constructs are mythical and a fantasy that is fluid and ever changing. Their creation from power relations and domination. And how in a post-racial society gender, class, and sexuality are all but just constructs. Something created like an illusion or delusion. For historical reference of how the metalanguage of race has influenced social constructs for African Americans, I suggest reading Higginbotham’s “African-American Women’s History and the Metalanguage of Race.” Higginbotham talks about how African American women experienced in the past homogenization within class, gender, race, and sexuality. This encompassing categorization is what makes conversations about sexism, feminism, womanism, and classism in context with past, present, and future different for all BIPOC. When beginning conversations about feminism it is important that this conversation not be absolute and universal. That experience for all BIPOC is different from white women. The conversations may have some common themes; however, the separation of experiences and experiences within the groups themselves in terms of class and sexuality is important to note as well. Further reading on the contributions for women that Evelyn references in her article, Sojourner Truth’s contributions for women’s identity and rights in Yona Zeldis McDonough’s book, “Who Was Sojourner Truth?” The story is very informative for both students and adults.
Another aspect of identity and understanding racism and liberation is by going to the root and foundation for its origins. Events that took place addressed with a linear and thorough timeline, seen through a multi-BIPOC lens, and spoken through the perspective of historically absent voices will be a helpful schematic approach when understanding race. Why this dual conflicting view arose in the first place: from racism, established through slavery, reinforced through religion, and again through politics. Countered and redefined by subgroups, abolitionists, theorists, activists, lawyers, politicians, all amounting to our present-day issues of systemic and institutional racism countered by today’s efforts of human rights activism. A book that is helpful for youth and adults when beginning to put these worldviews into perspective is Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds book, Stamped: Racism, Anti-racism, and You: A Remix of the National Book Award-winning Stamped from the Beginning. This writing is accessible for youth and offers relatable insight about the past, present, and future of African American history in the United States of America.
African American achievement and anti-racist activism are important because they strongly inform the context and content of this unit. These pre-activities will support students as they contextualize their critical consciousness. Inquiry based-learning, paired with social-emotional based-practices, and community building will allow critical consciousness to expand to collective consciousness that is supported, heard, and loved.
Activity One: New Narrative
1. Artist: Faith Ringgold, Who’s Afraid of Aunt Jemima?, 1983 Acrylic on canvas, dyed, painted, and pieced fabric
2. Objective: Create a new narrative for people represented in commercial advertising as profit and exploitation.
One way in which advertising reinforces derogatory narratives of BIPOC is by using their images for promoting slanderous stereotypes as their racist company branding. The images are defamatory and depict BIPOC as illegal representations of human rights within the United States of America and the globe.
In addition, this marketing practice compensates the individuals depicted with no monetary or apologetic form of reciprocity for the damaging effects of the imagery. The companies that use these derogatory branding methods are not owned by BIPOC. Therefore, the companies and advertisement corporations are making profits off of creating racist depictions of BIPOC.
Recently, a company decided to switch their name and remove their branding icon that depicted a black woman as a slave, illegal in the United States of America. This practice of profiting off of antiquated racist iconography still exists and needs to change.
One way to give hope, freedom, liberation, and justice to the BIPOC narrative and representation is to create a new narrative reflecting positivity, emergent strength, and autonomy. BIPOC in power of their own narrative.
One artist who creates a new narrative for BIPOC is Faith Ringgold. Through frustration, pain, and personal offense, Faith Ringgold created her first story quilt in 1983 called, “Who’s Afraid of Aunt Jemima?”
This narrative was to give Jemima a life she deserved.
One without prejudice, one without humiliation, one without demeaning representation.
One with truth, positivity, liberation, and freedom.
In this activity, students will look at images in media and advertising that portray BIPOC in offensive representation. Students will create a new story for them.
A new story of liberation, freedom, and justice. By creating a new narrative, students will be empowered to create the representation that BIPOC deserve every day to be seen within mass media. The stories that deserve to be shared. The ones that are not taken for money making, profit, exploitation, and injustice.
Students have an option and choice with their creative outlet. They can construct a book, a story quilt, a story map, a video, a graphic novel, a song, a poem. Students' options are endless. Their choice will be that which is best to meet their creative liberation and that of the liberation of the representation of BIPOC from advertising.
Activity Two: Reconstructing Social Constructions
1. Artists: Clotilde Jimenez, Derek Webster, Jae Jarrell, Zanele Muholi, Amy Sherald, Glenn Ligon
- Clotilde Jimenez, Toy Puncher, 2020
- Derek Webster, Bottle Creature, 1934-2009
- Jae Jarrell, Urban Wall Suit, 1969
- Zanele Muholi, Phila I, Parktown, 2016; Sebenzile, Parktown, 2016; Bakindile IV, The Square, Cape Town, 2017; Bester I, Mayotte, 2015; Bester V, Mayotte, 2015; Ntozakhe II, Parktown, 2016
- Amy Sherald, Sometimes the king is a woman, 2019; When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be (Self-imagined atlas), 2018
- Glenn Ligon, Coloring Book Paintings, 2000
Students will analyze and interpret artwork to determine how artists are redefining social categories.
This activity looks at how social constructs are challenged and contested by Contemporary Black Artists. Students will have their own opportunities to create and exhibit their own blending, blurring, deconstructing, and reconstructing of social categorizations and constructs.
This activity looks at how social constructs in the past separate physical and behavioral preference through a categorical lens of gender and sexuality and how race blurs the distinctions. Gender being a performance of actions that are created and decided by the individual allows for the removal of gender oppression and opens up all possibilities for exploration and expression. Laura Gehl and Joshua Heinsz book, Except When They Don’t, is a great way to begin the lesson on social constructs. The story illustrates and opens up dialogue about how there are things that we enjoy doing and there are things that our friends enjoy doing. Nothing holds us back from doing any of the activities. We can all enjoy doing these activities individually and together. Some activities may require adaptions and accommodations. If we can believe it, we can do it. Behavioral and physical choice frees social categories from the construction of their categorization and allows for the interweaving, blending, abstracting, and deconstructing of these conceived fabrications of delusion and division. We can choice how we act, how we feel, how we dress, and how we communicate. We are not defined by the constructs of the past. Our critical conscience allows for choice when deciding to keep certain aspects of our mutable selves and those that we choose to alter, explore, and transform. The critical conscience of knowing that one does not have to subscribe to oppressive narratives and relations of power creating constructs for domination and division. Thus, a harmonious blend of choice becomes a part of our identity and voice.
- Look at the book, Except When They Don’t, by Laura Gehl.
- Highlight ways gender labels are placed on certain colors, activities, decorative adornments, and clothing.
- Discuss social constructs.
- Discuss intersectionality.
- Discuss how race is a metalanguage for intersectionality.
- Define terms nonbinary, gender nonconforming.
- How does Except When They Don’t challenge labels within social categories?
- How do we challenge these constructs every day?
- What are some examples in our class, our school, our community, our homes, and the world today of people or images that break, deconstruct, and redefine—-blur, challenge, abstract, transform, and unite social categories?
- Look at the artwork of Clotilde Jimenez, Derek Webster, and Zanele Muholi.
- Have students examine, analyze, and interpret ways that social categories are defined, blurred, and transformed.
- What do you see in the collage, sculpture, and photograph?
- What are the materials?
- What are the textures?
- What elements create contrast/unity? What is your interpretation of why the artist use these compositional artistic elements?
- What connections do you think the artists are making to the artistic choices and their connections to social constructs?
- What is the subject matter?
- What is the narrative?
- How do these elements contribute to the reconstruction of social constructions?
- How do these elements inform the viewer about the construction of race?
Glenn Ligon’s Coloring Book Paintings (Series) reflects interpretations and intentions of children and their creative drawing and coloring choices and methods. The paintings reflect the children’s open-minded, imaginative, and free-spirited interpretations of the images. The images came from coloring books drawn by black artists to educate black children about their history.
- Look at Glenn Ligon’s Coloring Book Paintings (Series).
- Give historical context to where the coloring books came from.
- Have students examine, identify, and make inquiry about the ways that the children made personal choices to color the images.
- Have students make connections to previous conversations about social constructs.
- Have students interpret children’s intentions.
- Discuss how youth are less biased and less effected by social constructs.
- Students will then watch Glenn Ligon discuss the inspiration, logic, and process for the art. Video (11:07-12:46)
- What are the choices, methods, and ways that the children added color to the images?
- What is your interpretation for how each child interpreted each image?
- What connections can you make to our previous conversations about social constructs?
Look at artwork Amy Sherald.
- Have students read the titles.
- Have students make connections between the titles and the artwork.
- Discuss how titles of art are as just as meaningful as the art.
- How do the titles break social constructs?
- How the titles challenge white, male, heteronormative patriarchy?
- Students will consider all that they have learned from previous lessons about social constructs (i.e.. redefining social constructs, liberated biases through aesthetic choice, challenging logic through narrative titles.)
- Students will create art that breaks social constructs of past and present and recreates a new dimension that reflects a multitude of behavioral and physical, aesthetic, and functional choices.
- Students will have choice for art production and process: collages, videos, drawings, sculptures, performance.
- Students will present their work and give an artist talk about their intent and how their choices inform their art.
Activity Three: Why race matters: Redefining Race
1. Artists: Kerry James Marshall, Amiri Baraka, Elizabeth Catlett, Nelson Stevens, Betty Saar, Amy Sherald, Bisa Butler, Glenn Ligon
- Kerry James Marshall, untitled (painter), 2009; A Portrait of the Artist as a Shadow of His Former Self, 1980
- Amy Sherald, Precious jewels by the sea, 2019
- Bisa Butler, The Storm, The Whirlwind, and the Earthquake, 2020
- Nelson Stevens, Primal Force, 1975
- Elizabeth Catlett, Homage to Young Black Sisters, 1968
- Betty Saar, Black Girl’s Window, 1969
- Glenn Ligon, Warm Broad Glow, 2005; Coloring Book Paintings, 2000
- Kehinde Wiley, Randerson Romualdo Cordeiro, 2008; Anthony of Padua, 2013
Students will reflect on what defines race; how they identify within categories of race; interpret how Contemporary Black Artists navigate, acknowledge, and celebrate race; and construct self-portraits that contextualize their identity including race.
Wanting to identify as an artist regardless of gender, class, race, sexuality is controversial. Even as these identifier categories are created from social constructions, it becomes impossible to remove the artist’s identity from the process and output of art itself. Whether understood by the artist and viewer or not, the artist's creative consciousness comes from experiences influenced by the constructions of our identity.
Sometimes there are misconceptions about race. To be “colorblind” is to ignore that anyone has a race, as if history and heritage have no implications to what makes a person. Race is part of our society and part of our identity. Race is celebrated and brings people together. Black artist and writers sometimes see individuals struggle with this concept as the construction of race has a rooted history in being harmful. Life has proven that it can overcome obstacles of hate and that the construction of race has become a unifying form of community, collectivity, and love. Higginbotham writes, “Race signified cultural identity and heritage, not biological inferiority.” 12 Even if one tries, one cannot separate race from the creative process as the creative process is as much a part of our identity.
In this activity, students will explore their own perceptions of race, the ineffectiveness of ignoring race, and how artists represent the construction of race representationally and conceptually in their artwork.
- Students will watch the Art 21 video, Being an Artist, Kerry James Marshall. Here Marshall refers to an excerpt of Langston Hughs. This is the initial topic for conversation.
- Students will discuss what it means to be an artist identified by race: Black artist, Afro-Latinidad artist, Indigenous artist.
- Students will watch Sherald talk about being a black artist. Discuss and build upon her perceptions and Marshalls.
- Watch Bisa Butler video. What aesthetic choices does Butler use to connect to race?
- Read except from Baraka & Catlett on defining Black Art and being a black artist. Students will discuss why and how Baraka and Catlett define the role of the Black Artist.
- Students will look, analyze, and discuss how race connects to the artwork listed above.
- What is your perspective about race’s connection to identity, creating art, and being an artist?
- How do the artists reflect race as a metalanguage for intersectionality by social categories of gender, class, and sexuality?
- What is the role of the Black Artist?
- How does discussing race contribute to the Black Arts Movement?
- Students will create self-portraits. The material, medium, and media they use is their choice.
- Students will exhibit their work and discuss their creative choices: how their art relates to being an artist defined by race, how their art relates to identity, how their art relates to social constructs and interpretations of society.
Activity Four: Emotive: Process and Conceptualism
1. Artist: Melvin Edwards, Jack Wittman, Zanele Muholi
- Melvin Edwards, Curtain for Williams and Peter, 1969-1970
- Jack Whitten, Prime Mover, 1974
- Zanele Muholi, Kwanele, Parktown, 2016
- Glenn Ligon, Double America, 2012; Ruckenfigur, 2009; Warm Broad Glow, 2005; Stranger #20, 2004; Stranger #43, 2011
3. Objective: Students will interpret and relate to art through a social-emotional lens. Students will create emotive conceptual art that connects experience to process.
- Talk about the relevance of emotion in art. Use Elizabeth Catlett quote and AfriCOBRA quote.
- Look at the art of Melvin Edwards and Jack Whitten.
- Discuss how the artworks make you feel, emotions that surface, empathy of what the artist might be feeling.
- Talk about how the materials, composition, process, and exhibition creates emotion and feelings for the viewer. Students can talk about the process and what emotions come from the thought processes.
- Have students relate how these feelings, emotions, and connections relate to the artist’s possible intent relating to the time period and the history of African Americans and art.
- What elements of the art make you have this reaction: material, composition, process?
- How can material convey emotion?
- How can the process reflect feeling and experience?
- How can composition make the viewer feel emotions towards the subject?
- Knowing these are created by black artists, how do you think their art speaks about being Black in America?
- Look at Kwanele, Parktown, by Zanele Muholi.
- Have students examine the work using DeBono’s thinking hats.
- Have students talk about the feelings and emotions that surface for them when they look at this photograph.
- Students will analyze what their meaning of the art is through their interpretive lens.
- Share the story that relates to the photograph. *This is a good example for when to give a warning before the story as it might be something similar someone has experienced and may stir similar feelings.
- How do the compositional elements create emotion?
- How does art allow us to say what we want to say?
- How does art allow us to feel what we want to feel?
- Have students come up with a nonrepresentational, metaphorical, conceptual art piece to relate to a personal experience that created emotion for them.
- What is their background story?
- How does their process and material inform the emotions of their experience?
- This Project is designed as a Social-Emotional Lesson to give students more opportunities to connecting with their social-emotional side on topics of race and identity.
Activity Five: New Art: Black Art: Black Arts Movement
1. Artists: Nelson Stevens, James Phillips, Alma Thomas, Bisa Butler, Mary Lee Bendolph, Loretta Pettway
- Nelson Stevens, Primal Force, 1975
- James Phillips, Homage to Murry DePillars, 2010
- Alma Thomas, Untitled (Music Series), 1978
- Bisa Butler, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, 2019; The Storm, The Whirlwind, and the Earthquake, 2020
- Mary Lee Bendolph, Workclothes Quilt; Housetop Variation; Mama’s Song
- Loretta Pettway, Bricklayer; Blocks and Strips
3. Objective: Students will make personal connections to artist text. Students will create artwork from analysis and connections. Students will look at the AfriCOBRA Manifesto, connect philosophies to Contemporary Black Art, and create art using the principles that inspire them.
- Students will get copies of the AfriCOBRA Manifesto (a)-(z).
- Students will highlight words, phrases, sentences, sections that stand out to them.
- Students will get into groups and share what stood out to them.
- When reading AfriCOBRA Manifesto, what words, phrases, sentences, parts stood out to you?
- What parts of the text did you connect with?
- What parts of the text did you find confusing?
- Why do you think Jeff Donaldson chose these elements to represent AfriCOBRA and the Black Arts Movement?
- How do you think these principles relate to the Black Arts Movement?
- How do these elements connect to Emancipation, Civil Rights Movement, Black Lives Matter, and African American liberation?
When sharing artwork, paying attention to the date is necessary. Some of these artists are directly influenced and involved in the AfriCOBRA Black Art Movement.
- Students will look at slides of the Contemporary Black Artist’s artwork.
- Students will make connections to the aesthetic ideas within the AfriCOBRA Manifesto to the contemporary black artwork.
- What artistic and aesthetic elements within the AfriCOBRA Manifesto are present within these artist’s artwork?
- Do you think that these artists read, heard, and were influence by the AfriCOBRA Manifesto?
- How do you think these artists were influenced, interpreted, and connected the text within their own art practice?
- How do these connections create a Black Arts Movement?
- Bisa Butler was a student of Jeff Donaldson. Watch her video and talk about her connection to AfriCOBRA; and the process she chooses to connect art influences of the past, present, and future.
- The quilts of the Gee’s Bend Quiltmakers are also included in the artworks. This is an opportunity to talk about quilting in African American history. These quilters had no connection through academic education or institutional exposure to art history. The Gee’s Bend Quilters artistry is instinctual, personal, and created through their own traditions, ancestry, and philosophy. Compare the artistry of the Gee’s Bend Quiltmakers to the philosophies in the AfriCOBRA Manifesto Conversations on art aesthetic, composition, and their connection to liberation. Access to a list of Gee’s Bend Quiltmakers and their quilts are found on the website, Souls Grown Deep.org.
- Students will create artwork that reflects and connects their new learning. The art can be figurative, representational, or abstract: however, students interpret AfriCOBRA Manifesto; however, they respond creatively.
- Students will then share their work and discuss their relationship to the text.
Activity Six: New Narrative II
1. Artists: Elizabeth Catlett, Wadsworth Jarrell, Emory Douglas, Faith Ringgold, Kerry James Marshall, Amy Sherald, Bisa Butler
- Gerald Williams, I am Somebody, 1969
- Elizabeth Catlett, Homage to Young Black Sisters, 1968
- Wadsworth Jarrell, Boss Couple, 1970
- Emory Douglas, (ink drawing of person sitting reading paper), September 15, 1973
- Faith Ringgold, Woman on a Bridge #1 of 5: Tar Beach, 1988
- Kerry James Marshall, School of Beauty, School of Culture, 2012
- Amy Sherald, Precious jewels by the sea, 2019; A Midsummer Afternoon Dream, 2020; An Ocean Away, 2020; There is no charm equal to tenderness of heart, 2019
- Bisa Butler, The Safety Patrol, 2018; Black Star Family, First Class Tickets to Liberia, 2018
3. Objective: Students will use interpretation skills to decode narrative.
- Look at the artworks of these artists.
- Discuss what narratives are present in each artwork.
- Using the De Bono’s Six Talking Hats, students will respond to the art.
- How do the images define social constructs?
- What do the images say about race as a metalanguage?
- What are the narratives in these paintings?
- What do you see, who do you see, what is happening?
- As Jeff Donaldson writes in AfriCOBRA Manifesto, how do these images offer “positive and feasible solutions to our individual, local, national, international, and cosmic problems?”13
- Gaiter writes about how the Black Panthers “revolutionary activity was visualizing alternative aspirational standards for African Americans in the United States after the Civil Rights Movement.” Gaiter continues that the Black Panther newspaper “provided detailed and unprecedented visual instructions for Black people in the United States on constructing a liberated life.” How do these images create “alternative aspirational standards for African Americans” and “unprecedented visual instructions for” “constructing a liberated life?”14
- If you were to create your own narrative painting, what would it be of? Who would be in it? What would they be doing?
- Have students plan, organize, and create a narrative artwork.
- While considering the narratives of the art examined and the Jeff Donaldson quote, have students create their own narrative concept for a painting, photograph, drawing, or collage. These can be completed in a series.
- Give students time to take notes, draw sketches, talk with a peer to strategize their visual representation.
Activity Seven: The Future of Race
1. Artists: Wanuri Kahiu, Wangechi Mutu, Fabrice Monteiro, Jah Gal, Alitha E. Martinez, Roxane Gay
- African Folktale, A Man Who Could Transform Himself
- Wangechi Mutu, Once upon a time she said, I’m not afraid and her enemies began to fear her The End, 2013
- Wanuri Kahiu, Pumzi, video, 2020
- Toni Morrison, Rootedness: The Ancestor as Foundation, 1984
- Fabrice Monteiro & Jah Gal, The Prophecy, photography & documentary, 2013-2015
- Alitha E. Martinez & Roxane Gay, Black Panther: World of Wakanda, 2017
Students will observe and interpret elements of Afrofuturism through text, two-dimensional, and three-dimensional art: film, video, sculpture, installation, drawing, graphic novels, and photography. Students will create art reflective of their own creative perceptions of the future and race.
Question: What would the world look like in a post-racial society?
This activity on Afrofuturism will take place over a course of three classes.
- Students will focus on Afrofuturism, make connections to science-fiction within African tradition, relate the role of the future as an oracle for talking about the present, and examine the metaphor of transformations, the mother, and ancestors.
- Students will discuss science fiction, the role of the future, the relationship to the present.
- Students will look at the African Folktale, The Man Who Could Transform. Students will look at the artwork of Wangenchi Mutu. Students will make connections to The Man Who Could Transform. Students will make connections to the text and art that relate to Afrofuturism.
- Students will look at the film short, Pumzi. Students will use the six thinking hats to reflect, discuss, and interpret the film. Students make connections to Afrofuturism. Students will discuss the role of the ancestor, the mother, the seed, and the future.
- Students will read an excerpt from the text by Toni Morrison, Rootedness: The Ancestor as Foundation. Students will compare the text of Toni Morrison to the film short, Pumzi.
- Students will analyze and discuss Kahiu’s depiction of social constructs of the future: race, class, gender, sexuality.
- What elements make up Afrofuturism?
- How did Kahiu compare Afrofuturism, science fiction, to African folktale traditions?
- Students will look at the film, The Prophecy.
- Students will talk about the relationship between the future and the environment.
- Students will brainstorm ideas in groups of how our environment shapes our identity, how our identity shapes our environment, how our environment is a reflection of our identity, and defines how we perceive constructions of our reality.
- What is the relationship between the environment and our identity?
- What is the relationship between the environment and the future?
- Students will look at the graphic novel, World of Wakanda.
- Students will analyze how the author and illustrator create Afrofuturism.
- Students will talk about the future and how the world will redefine social constructions.
- To conclude, we will also look at the film, Black Panther. Students will analyze how race is created within Afrofuturism. Students will compare their analysis to Pumzi and The Prophecy.
- What would the world look like in a post-racial society?
- If you were to create your own graphic novel based in the future, what would it look like, how would you create it?
- Gaiter writes that the Black Panther, Huey Newton, “believed that people would be motivated to action by seeing images more than by reading words.”15 If activism can be in the form of images, what would you show for active change for today, tomorrow, and the future? How are graphic novels an effective form of educating and disseminating information.
- Students will collect all of their insights from previous artists, discussions, and analysis of Afrofuturism.
- Students will create art that depicts their perceptions, ideas, and fantasies about the future for race, class, gender, and sexuality.
Activity Eight: Field Trip to the Studio Museum in Harlem
Students will examine, connect, analyze, and interpret artwork at the Studio Museum in Harlem. As a conclusion to our extensive analysis of Contemporary Black Art, students will have the dimensionality, vocabulary, multi-perspective layers, and empowered voice to articulate their connections and interpretations of art with content and context to African American History and Contemporary Black Art. A final project will comprise of students choosing an artist or art from the museum and creating a presentation. Students will have the opportunity to make art inspired by the artist and artwork, curate their own exhibit, or create a video or animation documenting an artist and their motivations and connections to all they have learned throughout the unit.