Special Topics: Race in Islamic Civilization
Prof. Wendell Marsh
Tuesday and Thursday, 11:30a-12:50p
This course considers the problem of race in Islamic civilization. Students will approach this subject as a problem because the terms “race” and “civilization” are historical, and thus have meanings that have changed over time and varied according to geographical and linguistic context. Indeed, the major goal of the class is to disrupt conventional modern notions of difference through the inquiry of pre-modern and non-western contexts. In particular, topics such as oral poetry of late antique Arabia, the emergence of Islam in the 7th century, the Zanj rebellion during the Abbasid Caliphate, and Mansa Musa’s gilded trip through the Middle East will be approached from interdisciplinary and critical perspectives.
Black-ish and the Black Middle Class
Mondays and Wednesdays 4-5:20p
Prof. James Jones
Since 2014, Black-ish, the popular ABC sitcom about a Black suburban family, has entertained and educated millions of viewers about the complexities of race and racism in American society. The Johnson Family has used humor to wade through complex racial topics related to identity, the workplace, school, childrearing, emotional trauma, sexism, and class issues. As a weekly viewer myself I have enthusiastically watched the show and admired how they approach vexing issues with thoughtful consideration and often sociological insights. But occasionally I have thought that the topics they engage only scratch the surface
of much more complex issues and that we as an audience could benefit from reading more extensively research from sociology and African American studies. This course is an answer to that problem- it expands on the sociology of the Black middle class present in the show and provides a more complete profile of the Black middle class today.
This course explores one main question: what does it mean to be a Black middle-class person today? The answer(s) to this question is complex and we as a class will take a dual approach to answer it. First, each week we will engage readings from sociology and African American studies that investigate issues confronted on the show. Second, we will watch selected episodes of Black-ish that are related to what we are reading and critically analyze how the show presents the Johnson family. We will discuss the opportunities and obstacles the family encounters and analyze how the show depicts its characters. In this way, we will have multiple discussions in class that center around the Black middle class broadly and
the Johnson family specifically. This dual approach is meant to spur students to critically think about the sociological gaps present in the show and critique academic scholarship and its applicability to the real-world situations.
The course begins with a brief review of Black middle-class families on television to understand the evolution of their depiction, contextualize the series within this canon, and build a toolkit for cultural criticism and analysis. Next, we approach the Black middle class as an intellectual field and consider how scholars have studied Black elites. We study foundational texts about Black elites from pioneering scholars such as W.E.B. Du Bois and E. Franklin Frazier and pair this historical perspective with present day demographic data and theory on the “Black middle class.” The remainder of the course is dedicated to gaining an intimate knowledge of who the Johnsons are and the experiences of the Black middle class
today. We will follow the Johnsons across four seasons as they traverse white spaces in suburbia, professional workplaces, schools, and the global racial world. Their lives will serve as a portal to the Black American middle class(es).
What does it mean to be a Black middle person in America? We answer that important question by uncovering how the Black middle class approach the construction of their identities as parents, children, professionals, romantic partners, neighbors, and as Black racial subjects.