Behind The Whirlwind

Director’s note:

A colleague in anthropology recently directed me to a new graduate zine, The Whirlwind, on race and geography and I was instantly struck by its remarkable content and innovative format. I knew or knew of many of the publication’s contributors, most who have attended or expressed interest in IAAR events. And I have also been hearing much buzz about the critical mass of UNC graduate students from geography to sociology who have been meeting regularly and having vibrant conversations and presentations around race. Add to this my recent involvement in an effort to form a possible concentration on race in UNC’s Anthropology Department and, then, my excitement over The Whirlwind —as yet another marker of a mounting campus interest in interrogating race — becomes clearer.

And so, I invited The Whirlwind’s editor, Willie Wright, to author a guest blog post for us about how the publication came into being and what it’s all about. As you will see, Willie wants to make sure that credit for the publication is shared. His post, therefore, does represent his take on how the zine came together but it stresses that, in the final analysis and throughout his vision for the publication, it was a collective effort involving other students and inspired by his collaborators and faculty mentors. I think it’s an exciting development demonstrating the critical and forward thinking of emerging scholars on race. Enjoy Willie’s post and see for yourself. Continue reading

“Let’s Talk About HIV”: Middle Class Black Women’s Self-Advocacy in Patient-Provider Communication

Allison Mathews, our guest blogger, is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Sociology and Humphreys Fellow with the Graduate School at UNC-Chapel Hill. Her dissertation research focuses on the role that Black and gay identity play in Black gay men’s religious choice and participation. Her research interests include race and ethnicity, masculinity and sexuality, religion, and health disparities.

A recent article in The New Yorker entitled, “HIV’s Grip on the American South,” highlighted the devastating and long-term effects that high rates of HIV prevalence have on the American south, and specifically Black Americans. Despite recent findings in HIV/AIDS research that boast medical advances leading to a possible cure, the risk for contracting and dying from the disease is still a heavy burden for Black southerners to bear. In their recent presentation for the IAAR spring 2014 talk series, Kia Lilly Caldwell (Associate Professor, Dept of African, African American and Diaspora Studies, UNC-Chapel Hill) and Niasha Fray (doctoral student, Dept of Health Behavior, UNC-Chapel Hill) take on a new and refreshing perspective to this public health issue by examining the experiences of middle class Black women, who are an often understudied population. They seek to understand how the experiences of middle class Black women living in the southeastern United States engage in conversations with their health care providers around risk and preventive methods for contracting HIV/AIDS. Caldwell and Fray find that participants’ perceptions of their need to self-advocate for HIV/AIDS and STD testing in patient-provider interactions served as a potential pathway to increase testing. However, patients’ self-advocacy was also a reaction to the providers’ hesitance in offering the test. Participants in the study had a perception that their healthcare providers assumed they were not at risk for contracting HIV/AIDS or other STDs because of their middle class status. Thus, they believed health care providers were not as willing to offer Black middle class women HIV/AIDS or STD tests. Importantly, all participants in the study had been tested at one point in their lives and most were likely to get tested while visiting a healthcare provider.

Continue reading

Centralizing the Griot in Space and Time: The Practice of Spatial Literacy

Tanya Shields, our featured IAAR blogger, is an assistant professor in UNC’s Department of Women’s and Gender Studies.  Dr. Shields’s first book, Bodies and Bones: Feminist Rehearsal and Imagining Caribbean Belonging, is forthcoming with the University of Virginia Press and examines the ways in which rehearsing historical events and archetypal characters shapes belonging to the Caribbean region.  Dr. Shields has been working with several Caribbean artists in an effort to engage in “real time” conversations on change and rehearsal. She teaches classes on Caribbean women, the arts of activism, growing up as a girl globally, and the continuing influence of plantation economics and politics. 

Folashade Alao’s recent IAAR talk, “‘I Remember, I Believe:’ Griots, Migrants, and the Textures of Southern Space,” uses Lizz Wright’s version of Sweet Honey’s “I Remember, I Believe” as a structuring device to illuminate not only the griot tradition, but also the import of space in helping us “read a black diasporic past that we cannot see.” Continue reading

African American English and Embracing Linguistic Diversity in the Classroom

Jen Griffin, our featured guest blogger for February, is a doctoral candidate in the Linguistics Department at UNC.

Her research interests include the documentation of dialect variation and evaluating models of variation. Her dissertation project seeks to document the various dialects of Sgaw Karen, which is an understudied language spoken by members of the Karen refugee community here in Chapel Hill.

In recent years, universities and other academic institutions nationwide have sought to promote diversity. In faculty training, course syllabi, and university policies, tolerance of diversity is emphasized in regards to race, gender, nationality, religion, and sexual orientation. However, as sociolinguist Walt Wolfram of North Carolina State University noted at the recent IAAR panel on African American English, one type of diversity that has largely been ignored is linguistic diversity. Little attention has been given to increasing tolerance for or understanding of the many distinct dialects of English that are spoken throughout the nation. Continue reading

Mentorship and Professional Development for Researchers of African Americans and the African Diaspora

No one disputes that mentorship and network-building are the stuff of professional development for young scholars and students. Arguably, mentoring is especially important in interdisciplinary fields such as African American and African diaspora studies, an area of scholarship that some consider less legitimate than “traditional” disciplines (see Robin Kelley’s recent article on this) and that others discredit as yet another “studies” field. Creating structures and opportunities for students and emerging scholars, then, becomes critical for their ability to find and build community and support for their scholarly interests and production as well as gain and acquire access to vital knowledge and strategies for navigating the profession successfully and productively.  Continue reading

Fat Babies

Our featured guest blogger today is Taylor Livingston, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Anthropology at UNC-CH. Taylor’s dissertation project examines whether, how and why African-American women choose to breastfeed. She is particularly interested in the ways that public health discourses and the legacy of slavery and racism in the South shape African-American women’s infant caregiving decisions and practices.

On Thursday afternoon, Dr. Margaret (Peggy) Bentley kicked off IAAR’s Spring semester talks. Dr. Bentley discussed the importance of maternal beliefs and perceptions for understanding infant feeding practices. Dr. Bentley presented the findings from the “Infant Care” study conducted with her colleagues, Dr. Amanda Thompson, Dr. Heather Wasser, and Ms. Kenitra Williams. “Infant Care,” a longitudinal study from 2003-2010, is a descriptive project undertaken with African-American first-time mothers in North Carolina to understand infant feeding. The main focus of the study was to assess if there is a connection between early infant feeding practices and childhood obesity. Continue reading

Warm up with the IAAR Spring Events

As you try to wrap your mind around how the temperatures can go from 10 to 70 degrees all in the first week of classes, take a look at the more comprehensible and balanced roster of events that we have lined up for spring 2014. Our focus continues to be currency in research on African Americans and the African diaspora. Three of our spring talks draw on big or emerging questions for studies of Black American women in different fields. Anthropologist and Global Nutrition professor, Margaret Bentley will discuss mothering and child health. Literature scholar, Folashadé Alao (University of South Carolina), will talk about themes of spatial literacy and diaspora among African American women writers in the post-1970s period. And, Kia Caldwell, UNC associate professor of African, African American and African Diaspora Studies, will present with Niasha Fray (doctoral candidate, Dept of Health Behavior) to address self-advocacy among middle class black women undergoing HIV testing. Continue reading

Research Insights, Emotions and the Case of Trayvon Martin

When I pulled together a panel of speakers to discuss the case of Trayvon Martin for IAAR’s second fall program, I hadn’t banked on the event being as intense and rich as it turned out to be. I wanted scholars who may never have written analytically on Martin to bring their research insights on a variety of substantive issues and theoretical questions to bear on the case. But, the take away was that research insights are not decoupled from visceral reaction and emotion. As a cultural anthropologist I knew this truism all too well thanks to work by people like Ruth Behar who talks of an anthropology that “breaks your heart.” But, I had never seen that truism play out in an event space, certainly not as intensively as it did on this particular Thursday evening. And so, as we heard about and discussed complex theoretical categories like social structure, historical process, constructions of race and discrimination, it became clear that the panelists and audience members in the room (students and faculty alike) felt the weightiness of applying those categories to the fraught case of Trayvon Martin’s death. Performing the analytical work and critical thinking together – in what a friend termed an “honest space” – was arduous, productive and riveting. Continue reading