Joy James visits Griot Institute’s “Legacy” series

Michael Taromina, Assistant News Editor

Joy James spoke about race and legacy on Feb. 22, in the ELC Gallery Theatre for the Griot Institute’s “Legacy” series. James is an author, political theorist, and the Ebenezer Fitch Professor of Humanities at Williams College. Her presentation is titled “The 1969 ‘United Front Against Fascism’ Conference and Current U.S. Society.”

Before the speech, James was introduced by Carol Wainwright by highlighting her accolades as an author, political theorist, and the Ebenezer Fitch Professor of Humanities at Williams College. She also mentioned her books and accounts, including Seeking the Beloved Community: A Feminist-Race Theory Reader; Shadowboxing: Representations of Black Feminist Politics; Transcending the Talented Tenth: Black Leaders and American Intellectuals; and Resisting State Violence: Radicalism, Gender and Race in U.S. Culture. 

James has been featured on websites such as Verso for her article titled “‘New Bones’ Abolitionism, Communism, and Captive Maternals,” and has written on many topics such as political theory, prison abolitionism, diasporic anti-black racism, and political imprisonment. She is a Williams College Co-Principal Investigator on the “Just Futures” Mellon grant with Williams-Mystic and Brown University’s Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice.

James began her preach by highlighting the contents of her speech, which revolved around  expanding the timeline of a “decaying democracy” that has been festering in this country because of the remnants of fascism from World War II. She discussed the teachings of Mao Zedong and his specific influence on a prominent anti-racism group called the Black Panthers.

Her overall gist throughout the night was to compare the struggle that African-Americans have faced in history and their conquest for freedom to be a repetitive war that makes black people act as warriors against government resistance. The constant pattern of “coherence and reconciliation” was echoed by James citing King’s “I Have a Dream Speech” and the nomination of Barack Obama in 2008.

While generalizing her message, she talked about specific experiences that made her emotional as a young girl to become interested in partaking within this sort of fight. A story she recalled was the debacle at Kent State University overshadows what occurred at Jackson State, where black students were killed protesting the deaths of white students.

Her message, while many could have perceived it as a call to action or matter of urgency, was a mixture of the hopefulness and pride in being African-American and the honor it is to carry on the legacies of the past generations in fighting for a better future. She called the Black Panthers “aspirational” above all adjectives, because Martin Luther King Jr, they had a dream and aspired to make it real.

James ended her speech by playing a short 10-minute video interview by the Black Power Media, where a woman named Kalonji Jama discussed the experiences, and the legal obstacles she faced fighting for justice. 

James ended the event with a brief Q&A session where she discussed the relationship between democracy and fascism, the consciousness of the black community, and the role the current generation plays in confronting the problems of today.

The event also sold James’ book, “In Pursuit of Revolutionary Love: Precarity, Power, Communities,” with autographs.

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