Over the decades, getting profiled in the New York Times Magazine has tended to be a career peak for English Lit professors, such as Harold Bloom, Camille Paglia, Henry Louis Gates, and Stanley Fish. One thing you can say for that four is that they are pretty smart.
But now we are in the Age of Intersectionality, so we are getting more than acquainted with all the brilliant insights of black women academics, which turn out to be, you’ll be stunned to learn, largely about their feelings. From the New York Times Magazine:
Christina Sharpe is expanding the vocabulary of life in slavery’s long shadow—peeling back the meaning of familiar words and resurrecting neglected history.
By Jenna Wortham
April 26, 2023
…The book Sharpe is best known for, “In the Wake: On Blackness and Being,” landed in the fall of 2016, just as the final delusions of a post-racial America were disintegrating amid the rise of white nationalism. …
Sharpe is not the first academic, poet or artist to assert that the negation of Black humanity that began with the Middle Passage is still animating American life, but she offered a new metaphorical framework for understanding how. …
In the book, Sharpe lays out an exploded view of the word “wake.” One definition is the disturbance a boat leaves behind as it moves through water. What would it mean to understand all of American life as still caught in the wake, still caught in the undertow of the ships that carried the enslaved? Sharpe also put forth the metaphors of the ship (the processes by which Black people are still seen as property), the hold (the ways that captivity and punishment are still central to Black life) and the weather (the ambient anti-Blackness that is as pervasive as climate).
The word wake invokes the funereal, yet Sharpe also summons the celebratory nature of a wake, the ways Black people find “an insistence on existence” through family, music, dance, community and art. This she calls “wake work.” Her aim is not to suffuse people with a sense of despair, she told me, but to galvanize them to “turn our attention elsewhere.” “It doesn’t mean don’t mourn and don’t grieve,” she told me, but rather to stop expecting redemption, validation and justice from white society and institutions.
Sharpe never directly mentions the word “woke,” an idiom that has been used as far back as the 1930s to mean readiness and watchfulness. In recent years, the word has been weaponized as a rallying cry against progressive ideas and policies. Its inevitable perversion is implied in the book’s central premise. Woke is caught in the wake too, its fate a warning about just how powerful the churn behind those ships can be. …
In my daily life, I’ve been interrogating headlines, interactions, film, TV and visual art with a radar attuned to the frequency of Sharpe. The Kansas City Police not immediately taking Andrew Lester into custody after he shot Ralph Yarl in the head for ringing his doorbell—the wake; watching Justin Jones and Justin Pearson get pushed out of the Tennessee House of Representatives—the hold; Angel Reese, a Division 1 college basketball player for Louisiana State University, being villainized in the media for her behavior on the court, yet still pulling down 10 rebounds, carrying her team to victory in full lashes and polished nails—the hold, the ship and wake work; companies using artificial intelligence to create Black music and Black models for free labor—the ship, the hold and the wake....
Sharpe enrolled in the English Ph.D. program at Cornell University … “RACISM,” she announces, her contralto voice almost belting out the word to eject it more forcefully from her body. …
In academia at that time, personal experience and knowledge were viewed as inauthentic forms of scholarship, and those who tried to incorporate these elements into their work were deterred. It was disparagingly called “mesearch.”
But now we worship self-absorption as “lived experience.” This professor seems more like that young black girl whom Biden had read her self-obsessed poetry about her feelings at his inaugural than an actual scholar.
In comparison to the type of English Lit academics profiled in the NYT Mag before the Racial Reckoning, Professor Christine Sharpe doesn’t seem all that, well, sharp.
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