Blackness in Public: Reading and Righting Vulnerability across Generations, Geographies, and Genres

Ifeoma Kiddoe Nwankwo
Vanderbilt University

Necessity is the mother of invention.

— English language proverb

And the mind that has conceived a plan of living must never lose sight of the chaos against which that pattern was conceived. That goes for societies as well as for individuals.
― Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man

This symposium’s guiding question is “How do conditions of vulnerability prompt meaningful change in a mode that engages in thoughts, actions, and processes beyond critique? The idea that conditions of vulnerability prompt meaningful change that go beyond critique is a very thought-provoking one.

Black people in the United States’ orbit are constantly navigating between vulnerability and violence (physical, psychic, and spiritual)—between having our life (and death) options and possibilities be pre-determined by structural and individual forces outside of us and having our daily lives be filled with violations of our minds, bodies, and/or spirits, whether through micro aggressions or through more overt or obvious aggressions.

Drawing on and delving into primary sources, including especially interviews, song lyrics, and autobiographies, “Blackness in Public: Reading and Righting Vulnerability across Generations, Geographies, and Genres” indexes the way finding and weapon-making tools with which Black people navigate a way forward among and despite the threats in the always already treacherous waters that constitute Black life in these United States. In order to survive and endure, Black people fashion and utilize a variety of navigation technologies including particular understandings of privacy and personal space as well distinctive approaches to weaponizing being underestimated and being treated paternalistically.

“Blackness in Public” concludes with a delineation of how critically engaging and contextualizing these technologies can lead to change, to transformation, to the resolution of the Humanities’ ‘crisis’ and more.