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During the fall 2021 semester, NC State will provide two special topics African Studies courses: AFS 442: Issues in African Diaspora, Birth of A Nation and The Red Record and AFS 442: Issues in African Diaspora, Black Intellectual History. Both courses can fulfill a humanities GEP course or elective, and neither require a prerequisite to enroll.

These classes are special topics classes that analyze and compare how racial history and protest is portrayed through various forms of media from the 20th century to modern times. 

Black Intellectual History will be taught by Stephen Ferguson, an associate professor of philosophy and religious studies, every Tuesday and Thursday from 11:45 a.m. - 1 p.m. 

Birth of a Nation and The Red Record will be taught by Natalie Bullock Brown, an assistant teaching professor in the interdisciplinary studies department, every Tuesday and Thursday from 10:15 - 11:30 a.m.

Ferguson said in Black Intellectual History, students will analyze protest media from the 1970s, such as “Blood in My Eye” by George Jackson, and compare it to forms of racial demonstrations in modern times.

“I just want to show students some connections, politically, [between] what’s going on now with what happened during the Black Power period,” Ferguson said.

Another topic Ferguson wants to discuss in Black Intellectual History is how to analyze how the racial movements have been appropriated by the media and corporations, which Ferguson dubs “Black capitalism.”

Brown said her class will focus on Ida B. Wells’ “The Red Record,” a book that discusses the lynchings of African Americans and contrast it with D.W. Griffith’s movie “Birth of a Nation,” a movie that promotes white supremacist ideologies.

“What I’m trying to do by juxtaposing her work with that of D.W. Griffith is to demonstrate how these two figures in history approached the issue of race,” Brown said. “Ida B. Wells’ efforts, in many ways, set a precedent for the type of work that Black people would do. D.W. Griffith, a good 30 years later after the work of “The Red Record,” was able to codify and really sort of ravage the work the Ida B. Wells had done.”

Brown said she thinks Wells is a very important historical figure that is not often discussed. She said Wells was a figure who reported on the unfair lynchings of Black men and women, challenging the white power structure that enabled this behavior to happen. 

“We still need Ida B. Wells types to speak to power, to call as they see it, to write about what is happening and break down why whiteness is terrorizing Black people,” Brown said.

Brown also acknowledges the importance of “Birth of a Nation.” She said though it did introduce some directorial techniques other filmmakers like Spike Lee would use, it also solidified a lot of racist and white supremacist ideas that are still prevalent in films today. She cites “The Help” as an example, a movie about a white journalist interviewing two Black maids about their jobs working for white families.

“It basically reinforces the caricature of the mammy by Viola Davis’ character and Octavia Spencer’s character,” Brown said. “What doesn’t get critiqued or analyzed is the fact that this young white woman is extracting stories from these Black women who are vulnerable. The way that the film sort of frames the young woman who writes the book is like she is a white savior. That sort of narrative has to change because that perpetuates the idea Black people don’t have agency.”

Ferguson says it is important for students to stop thinking of our society as a homogenous group.

“One of the biggest myths that is promoted about this country is that we’re one nation under God, and the reality is that we’re a multinational state, and that means we’re a country that’s composed of multiple national histories,” Ferguson said.

Brown says it is important for students to understand how those different histories all build together rather than being separate things.

“Black history is American history,” Brown said. “The more that students are able to see that, the less they will try and delineate between certain parts of history being a reflection of a certain history.”

Students who are interested in taking these AFS 442 courses can sign up for them through MyPack Portal.


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