Black Visuality in the Digital Age
Dr. Jonathan Michael Square
Barker Center 122
12 Quincy Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
One of the defining characteristics of the African Diaspora is that its members are visually marked as othered. Digital storytelling of the black experience necessitates the visual, as opposed to the haptic (what can be touched and felt) or the audial (what is heard). In our current digital age, vision is, thus, a mechanism by which to understand and fully unpack the meaning of blackness. “Black Visuality in the Digital Age” will cover memes and mimetic communication, digital blackface, black Twitter, Worldstar Hip Hop, hair and makeup tutorials on YouTube, racist Snapchat filters, algorithmic biases, Beyoncé and Solange’s visual albums, among other topics. The syllabus will include the work of scholars of André L. Brock, Simone Browne, and Elizabeth Alexander, among others.
Policy on Academic Integrity
You are responsible for understanding Harvard Extension School policies on academic integrity (https://www.extension.harvard.edu/resources-policies/student-conduct/academic-integrity) and how to use sources responsibly. Not knowing the rules, misunderstanding the rules, running out of time, submitting the wrong draft, or being overwhelmed with multiple demands are not acceptable excuses. There are no excuses for failure to uphold academic integrity. To support your learning about academic citation rules, please visit the Harvard Extension School Tips to Avoid Plagiarism (https://www.extension.harvard.edu/resources-policies/resources/tips-avoid-plagiarism), where you'll find links to the Harvard Guide to Using Sources and two free online 15-minute tutorials to test your knowledge of academic citation policy. The tutorials are anonymous open-learning tools.
The Extension School is committed to providing an accessible academic community. The Accessibility Office offers a variety of accommodations and services to students with documented disabilities. Please visit https://www.extension.harvard.edu/resources-policies/resources/disability-services-accessibility for more information.
Expectations and Assignments
The grading of the course is broken into two major components:
Attendance and participation (60%)
a. Attendance (30%)
b. Paragraph-long reflections (30%)
Preparation and submission of a 10-page research paper
a. Paragraph-long proposal with an annotated bibliography (10%)
b. Final paper (30%)
The class will be a seminar with a high expectation of participation. Please come to class prepared to participate actively in class discussions and discuss the assigned readings. The Zoom link to our class is https://harvard-dce.zoom.us/j/9148816432. Your attendance at each class meeting will be recorded. Unexcused absences will count against your participation grade. A separate grade that falls under “Attendance and participation” are paragraph-long reflections on each week’s readings. Please email your reflections to me at least an hour before each meeting time.
You will be asked to write a final research paper that explores some aspect of black visuality. Strive to write clearly and persuasively. Your writing should make an argument with each sentence and paragraph supporting your central thesis. Be sure to support your claims and analysis with relevant secondary literature. When you quote or refer to specific information from a text, you should cite it using Chicago style. In preparation for final papers, you will also be asked to submit a paragraph-long proposal with an annotated bibliography of at least five primary and/or secondary sources that relevant to your chosen topic of study.
Week 1 / Pictures & Progress
Frederick Douglass, “Pictures & Progress,” in Picturing Frederick Douglass: An Illustrated Biography of the Nineteenth Century's Most Photographed American (New York: Liveright Publishing Corporation, 2015), 161-173.
Week 2 / A Dark Horse in Low Light
Week 3 / The Spectacle of Violence and the Persistence of Racial Terror
Kille, John, “Popular Memory, Racial Construction, and the Visual Illusion of Freedom: The Re-mediation of O.J. and Cinque,” in Performing American Masculinities: The 21st-Century Man in Popular Culture (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2011), 105-133.
Week 4 / Black YouTubers, IGers, and Bloggers and the Democratization of Beauty
Ellington, Tameka N. "Bloggers, Vloggers, and a Virtual Sorority: A Means of Support for African American Women Wearing Natural Hair," Journalism and Mass Communication," Vol. 4, No. 9 (September 2014), 552-564.
Steele, Catherine Knight. "Signifyin', Bitching, and Blogging: Black Women and Resistance Discourse Online," in The Intersectional Internet: Race, Sex, Class and Culture Online, edited by S.U. Noble and B. Tynes, 73-93. New York: Peter Lang, 2016.
Week 5 / Breaking the Internet and Going Viral
Week 6 / Algorithmic Bias, or When They Don’t See Us*
O’Neil, Cathy, “Chapter 5: Civilian Casualties: Justice in the Age of Big Data” and “Chapter 8: Collateral Damage: Landing Credit,” in Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy Hardcover (New York: Broadway Books, 2016), 84-104, 141-160.
Week 7 / Branding and the Surveillance of Blackness
Week 8 / Race Play and Reclaiming the Erotic
Jeremy O. Harris, Slave Play, 2018
Black Mirror, “Striking Vipers,” 2019
Week 9 / Computer Love
Hutson, Jevan, Jessie Taft, Solon Barocas, and Karen Levy. “Debiasing Desire: Addressing Bias and Discrimination on Intimate Platforms.” Proceedings of the ACM Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work 2(1): Article 73.
Rudder, Christian, “The Confounding Factor,” in Dataclysm (New York: Broadway Books, 2015), 99-113.
Week 10 / The Beyoncé Effect and The Rise of the Visual Album
Watch one of the following visual albums:
Solange, When I Get Home (including her Black Planet site)
Janelle Monáe, Dirty Computer
Jamila A. Cupid and Nicole Files-Thompson, “The Visual Album: Beyoncé, Feminism and Digital Spaces.” ed. Adrienne M. Trier-Bieniek, The Beyoncé Effect: Essays on Sexuality, Race and Feminism (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Publishers, 2016), 94-108.
Week 11 / Black Twitterati
Week 12 / Blackfishing and the Persistence of Blackface
Week 13 / Cracking the Code of Race
Nelson, Alondra, The Social Life of DNA: Race, Reparations, and Reconciliation After the Genome, page numbers to be announced
Selection of YouTube genetic test reveals
Week 14 / #BlackLivesMatter Beyond the Hashtag
Week 15 / Afro-futurism and Imagining Black Futures