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Seminar 3: Becoming Human in Anti-Racist Social Protest in Digital and Embodied Publics

Seminar Leaders: Kristan Poirot and Armond R. Towns

Seminar Leaders:

Kristan Poirot and Armond R. Towns 

Many social protest movements in the Western tradition have based their claims on the qualification of “personhood,” or the demand that members of a previously disenfranchised group (slaves, women, and so on) count as humans, or persons, before both the law and society. However, our seminar will engage a conversation about the potential problems with claiming the human for social protest. In this conversation we will bring to bear social protest movements of interest to participants, including, but not limited to, Black Lives Matter and March for Our Lives. 

At the same time, we propose to examine the limits to the concept of “the human” in conceptualizing and enacting social protest. We explore how Black subjects are dehumanized in racist and colonizing discourses, and how, in turn, rehumanization could be key to resistance and/or could replicate the human itself. Rather than treating the human as a given, we consider the human’s relationship to race, class, gender, and sexuality, and what these relations mean in our contemporary media economy. We will examine the process of becoming human in digital and embodied social movement settings. 

The relationship between humanization, rehumanizaiton, and dehumanization will be examined throughout this seminar, particularly in relation to groups like #SayHerName and #BlackLivesMatter. Are Black subjects dehumanized through racial violence? Are there processes that social protest can engage in that rehumanize Black subjects in contrast to that racial violence? Or is racial violence itself a central component of the humanization process, a necessity in the production of who and what is human? 

To investigate these questions requires examining different discussions of what the human is alongside an examination of the avenues that Black subjects have taken to remake their relationship to humanization through social protest and other means. This seminar, then, is concerned with the ways in which people produce their own conceptions of the human in contrast to Western articulations of the human and how media assists and/or complicates this relation in the process of making social change. 

Seminar Structure: 

  1. The Problem of the Human in Racialized Experience
    Frantz Fanon, from Black Skin, White Masks and Wretched of the Earth
    Katherine McKittrick, from anthology Sylvia Wynter: On Being Human as Praxis
    Frank Wilderson, from Inconegro, and “Gramsci's Black Marx: Whither the Slave in Civil Society?
    Gayatri Spivak, “Can the Subaltern Speak?”
    Discussion of examples of digital (in)humanity, led by Armond R. Towns
  2. Avenues of Re/humanization and Resistance: Social Protest and Beyond
    Afro-Futurism: selections from the novels of Samuel Delany and Octavia Butler; Anderson, Reynaldo.
           "Afrofuturism: The Digital Turn and the Visual Art of Kanye West"
    Black Nationalism: from Huey Newton, Revolutionary Suicide
    Marxism: Cedric Robinson, from Black Marxism
    Keeanga-Yahmatta Taylor, From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation
    Discussion of texts related to Civil Rights discourse and #BlackLivesMatter, led by Dana L. Cloud
  3. Revisiting the Category of the Human: a barrier to or prerequisite for justice? 

To Prepare:

Read: Fanon, McKittrick, Wilderson, Spivak, Anderson, Newton, Robinson, Taylor.

Think about: your interest and investment in social protest and the complicating role these authors might play as you move forward. 

What We’ll Do:

Group will discuss and clarify readings in smaller groups and in the whole.
We will view/listen to examples of social protest rhetoric to see how they might intersect with the readings.
Participants will present response papers.
Seminar leaders will make presentations related to their own research on social protest. 


Greater complexity in our thinking about race, social protest, and the category of “the human.”
Possible co-authorship of projects related to this theme 

Contact Information:

Armond Towns:

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