Mellon Fellows discuss "color line

By Emma Gallegos

Last Tuesday three Mellon Fellows met in the Weyerhaeuser Memorial Chapel to discuss their research and the topic of “21st Century Black Progression in America.”

Alessandra Williams ’07 analyzed hip-hop from a transnational feminist perspective. She explored the implications of hip-hop on African-American women, since hip-hop is virtually the only image of African-American culture known globally. Williams went on to explore how the two movements could learn from each other in order to transform stereotypes of African-American culture.

Carmen Phillips ’08 also discussed hip-hop, but her work compared the unique and sometimes clashing perspectives of what she calls the “hip-hop generation” and the “civil rights generation.” She suggested that the differences in the two generations’ values have historical divisions that go back to the ghettoization of the inner cities, Reagononomics, the crack-cocaine epidemic and the increased incarceration of African-Americans.
Rather than present his research on genre fiction which he said is too “niche,” Will Clarke ’07 opted to compare what he called two “bookmarks” in black American history a century apart: the publication of W.E.B. Du Bois’ in “The Soul of Black Folk” in 1903 and Spike Lee’s “When the Levees Broke” in 2006. Clarke said that the government’s inaction when Katrina hit New Orleans supports Du Bois’ assertion that the “color line” defined the 20th century.

Clarke’s presentation segued into a broader discussion about the place and image of “black” in the United States. Kemi Adeyemi ’07, who moderated the discussion, posed the question “Would Barack cause a nation to redefine blackness?”
Panelists entertained audience questions and debated whether presidential candidate Barack Obama or anyone could be post-ethnic and transcend race or even whether that was a noble goal.

The Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship is a national program that sponsors minority students who are interested in eradicating racial disparities and who are seeking to get Ph.D.’s in the humanities, arts and social sciences. Macalester’s program is under the direction of history professor Peter Rachleff and Ellen Guyer, dean of Academic Programs.