Download and listen to audio recordings of select panels from The University of Texas at Austin’s first international Black Studies Conference, Black Matters: The Futures of Black Scholarship and Activism. The inaugural conference explored the role of activism in scholarship throughout the Black Diasporas.


“The Role of Quantitative Research in Black Studies”
Yasmiyn Irazarry
Panelists: Tukufu Zuberi, Abigail Sewell, Kevin Cokley
This panel will focus on the role of quantitative research in Black Studies. Panelists will highlight recent scholarship by quantitative scholars and discuss how these bodies of research not only enrich our current understandings of race and racial inequality but also contribute to justice/social change. The panelists would be well-known scholars representing multiple disciplines.


“Thinking Blackness and Futurity Through the Caribbean”
Minkah Makalani
Panelists: Millery Polyné, Kelly Baker Josephs, Aaron Kamugisha
This panel will address the question of the future of black studies and blackness through alternating perspectives drawn from scholarship centered on the Caribbean. By taking the Caribbean as the starting point for thinking through the themes of this conference, black scholarship and activism, these presentations will consider what other kinds of questions arise when you take seriously the alternative concerns that arise with thinking through the Caribbean as a region of thought and theorizing. Rather than suggest a need to shift away from the U.S. to claim a more profound region of thought, or imply a uniquely Caribbean perspective for thought, these presenters all contemplate questions of blackness, futurity, scholarship, and politics (activism) with an attention to the lessons available when alternating the geopolitical frame of reference available for such a discussion.


“Art, Activism, Action”
Cherise Smith
Panelists: Rebecca Giordano, Rose Salseda, Eddie Chambers, Shellyne Rodriguez
From heroic images of Black Lives Matter protestors to Emory Douglas’ drawings as Minister of Culture for the Black Panther Party, visual art and culture has been and continues to operate at the intersection of political action and activism. Not afterthought nor decoration, visual representations are, instead, integral to social and political movements. This panel explores how artists employ a variety of strategies–from depicting individual demonstrators as possessing (supposed) superhuman power to portraying police officers as monolithic aggressors–to provoke viewers to act.


“Black Women and the Carceral State from Slavery to Black Lives Matter”
Daina R. Berry
Panelists: Ashley Farmer, Peniel E. Joseph, Brenda Stevenson, Kaye Wise Whitehead
From slavery to the present, people of African descent in the United States have argued that their lives matter, despite attempts to deny, destroy, and disfigure their humanity. By staking claim to their personhood, black women’s stories throughout the historical record highlight how resistance to subjugation has been a key component of the black experience in America. Centering black women at the forefront of this resistance reconceptualizes the black freedom movement within a longer history of the development of the American criminal justice system. Karsonya (Kaye) Wise Whitehead, Ashley Farmer, and Brenda Stevenson each consider how black women have been criminalized at different moments in American history, drawing parallels to contemporary discussions of Black Lives Matter activism in the age of Obama. Focusing on black women’s voices and stories, these scholars link criminalization as a social response to historical black activism with present-day police brutality, emphasizing the place of gender in recent media coverage of BLM. From punishments on plantations during slavery and lynching brutalities plus convict leasing in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, to political exile and abusive imprisonment during the long Civil Rights Movement and beyond, black women’s literal and figurative being in America has been under constant attack. Many of today’s BLM activists are the next generation in a long lineage of black mothers, sisters, and daughters who have fought against oppression and criminalization to carve out an indefatigable space for black female identity in America. Although this identity itself is full of contradictions, problematic definitions, and exclusionary rhetoric at times, the fact remains that black women’s historical persistence to speak for themselves is necessarily at the front of the BLM movement. By tracing this legacy of self-determination and activism, these scholars offer a temporal lens to analyze black women’s participation in defining freedom for themselves and their communities.


“Black Studies at UT: A Showcase of Transdisciplinary Scholarship” Chantaneice Kitt
Panelists: Traci-Ann Wint, Peace and Love El Henson, Melanie White, Paul Joseph López Oro
What is the future of black studies at UT Austin? This panel intends to provide a glimpse into the scholarship being developed by graduate students in the African and African Diaspora Studies program here at UT Austin. With an emphasis on engaging critical questions within the field of black studies through innovative research methods, the graduate panelist will traverse disciplines and geographic regions to address the urgency of centering the lives of black people, specifically black women and girls, as they resist the effects of state-sanctioned anti-blackness.


“The Sporting Diaspora”
Ben Carrington
Panelists: Amira Rose Davis, Frank Guridy, Sean Jacobs
In this panel we address two interrelated questions, namely, should sport be a more significant concern for Black Studies and secondly, how should we theorize the relationship between black athletes and black politics? Whilst Black Studies has centered popular culture as key to its broader intellectual and political mission, it remains the case that, beyond tokenistic forays into the subject, sport has been marginalized by most Black Studies scholars and intellectuals. Is this because sports are peripheral to the lives and interests of black communities, or does this neglect represent a (classed) hierarchy of academic interests among black intellectuals themselves that privilege certain cultural forms (such as music) over others (like sport)? Related, if we are to “take sports seriously”, do black athletes themselves have a moral responsibility to use their public platforms to engage the political? With the death of Muhammad Ali in June 2016 the role of the black athlete as an icon of social change and protest has once again emerged as an important question for Black Studies. Does the Black Athlete Matter, if so, in what ways and how? This panel of leading scholars addresses these urgent questions head-on by providing a historical framework to understand the contemporary moment, by situating gender and the role of black female athletes as axiomatic concerns, and by contextualizing the often-times American-centric framing of The Black Athlete within the broader black diaspora.


“Black Studies, Public Policy, and Addressing Real World Problems”
Kevin Cokley
Panelists: Karen Jackson, Shetal Vohra-Gupta, Leonie Jones, Victor Obaseki, Naomi Reed, Amanda Woog
This panel focuses on the Institute for Urban Policy Research and Analysis as a unique feature of Black Studies given its policy focus. The panelists will discuss some of our most significant achievements including (1) an evaluation projects assessing the needs of low-income Georgetown residents, (2) a statewide poll of registered voters using Black voters as the point of comparison on public opinion, (3) a database project examining police shootings and death in police custody, (4) a study examining whether Texas textbooks are making cops trigger happy, and (5) a analysis of the Spirit of East Austin’s equitable economic development project.


“Black Art Matters: The Role of Artist Activists in the New Millennium”
Lisa B. Thompson
Panelists: Pierre Bennu, Guthrie P. Ramsey, Radha Blank
This panel will explore the interventions, practices, and concerns of politically engaged artists in the #BlackLivesMatter era. Some of the questions the panel will explore are: What role should black art and black artists play during this social and political moment? How has the #BlackLivesMatter movement influenced contemporary cultural producers? In what ways are contemporary artists engaging with community activists in the US and throughout the African Diaspora?


“The Austin School: Diasporic Black Studies Past and Future”
Edmond Gordon
Panelists: Keisha Khan Perry, Courtney Morris, Jafari Allen
Over the course of 25 years scholars of African descent and allies at The University of Texas have pursued a collective intellectual and political project. For much of this time the project was centered in the graduate program in Anthropology of the African Diaspora, a collaborative effort of UT’s Anthropology Department and the Warfield Center for African and African American Studies. This program emerged out of the intellectual work and activism of what Allen refers to as the Decolonizing Generation of African diaspora anthropologists. Over the years this project has overflowed the boundaries of Anthropology and The University of Texas. It has become increasingly international and interdisciplinary, transformed and invigorated by the politico-intellectual forces of Cultural Studies, Diaspora Studies, racial formation, black political and performance theories, and most especially Black Feminist and Black Queer theories. This panel seeks to explore the Austin school. The first presentation probes its origins in the work of the Decolonizing Generation and explores its contemporary relevance. The second presents the ways in which activist scholarship and Black Feminist theory galvanized the work of those of us working within the loose parameters of the school. The final presentation looks to the future from the perspective of the school’s positionality chiefly within Black Studies settings here at UT and elsewhere. Overall the panel seeks to stake out an approach to Black intellectual-political work that contributes to the future of Black Studies.