Posts by John L. Jackson Jr.
December 20, 2008, 03:20 PM ET
What kind of college admissions office sends out rejection letters the week before the holiday break? I recently found out about one high-school student devastated by just such bad news — and only a few days before she was all set to celebrate Christmas. Something about the timing of that decision just seems heartless to me. I mean, how difficult would it be to have all your letters ready but to send them out in early January, after students have gotten a chance to enjoy the holidays? Is there really any strategic value for the students in getting the bad news now vs. next year? I can’t think of a particularly good one.
Now acceptance letters are a different story. Those could certainly go out before the holiday break — to be duly incorporated into the celebratory festivities. But even if the admissions office also has their rejection envelops all licked, stamped, and ready to go, ...Read More
December 17, 2008, 11:49 PM ET
I’m still addicted to Duke women’s basketball, and I’m not quite ready to give up the ghost on that yet.
It has been almost two and a half years since I left Durham, North Carolina, for Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I spent four years teaching cultural anthropology and African-American studies at Duke (2002-2006). During that stint, I occupied just about all of my spare time rabidly cheering for the Duke women’s basketball team, the Duke Blue Devils. This included season tickets at Cameron Indoor Stadium and even a few trips to check out the team on the road.
I’m a native New Yorker, and as a sports fan part of what that means is that I was raised to be a serious anti-Dukie. And I definitely didn’t watch women’s basketball at all before I moved to North Carolina. But when I first got to Duke, I wanted to check out some games in the school’s historic basketball facility, Cameron ...Read More
December 16, 2008, 10:55 AM ET
The election of Barack Obama is supposed to signal (according to some pundits) the beginning of the end for race talk (i.e., publicly expressed concerns about racial discrimination) in contemporary America. However, such predictions underestimate the continuing significance of “race” as a socially salient category that allows pseudo-science to bolster folk empiricism. They also misread the contemporary subtleties of racial discrimination by vulgarizing them. But one comedian’s anthropomorphic rendering of Death as a racist reaper helps to showcase the ridiculous nature of such positions.
David Alan Grier’s most recent episode of the comedy show Chocolate News lampoons a certain overly simplistic characterization of racial disparities in health outcomes. Grier’s opening rant reduces those race-based differences to the racist biases of a single personified figure, Death himself. ...Read More
December 12, 2008, 10:43 AM ET
I am in the Midwest this weekend helping to workshop a junior professor’s book manuscript. I don’t know how many colleges and universities have institutionalized such a program (maybe some readers can give me a sense), but I dare say that many more should.
The way this one works is simple. The junior faculty member identifies two or three scholars at other institutions who might be able to provide interesting (and differently pitched) feedback on their entire book manuscript. The university contacts those folks and asks if they might be inclined to read a work-in-progress and to provide feedback in preparation for the manuscript’s eventual publication.
The scholars who agree are then shipped a copy of the manuscript along with some of the author’s remaining questions and concerns.
But the feedback provided isn’t just a written reader’s report. The “outside readers” actually...Read More
December 10, 2008, 10:28 AM ET
I’m a little late to the party, but I have begun thinking seriously about joining the festivities anyway. It is a fleck of true genius really, this growing movement that has people declaring “e-mail bankruptcy.”
Over the last few years, many high-profile people have done it, including copyright/technology theorist and Stanford Law Professor Lawrence Lessig. But I just got reminded about the “reorganization” option from a linguistic anthropologist during a recent trip to an academic conference on the West Coast.
Many readers probably already know about this tactic (or have even employed it), but declaring e-mail bankruptcy usually entails some boldly public declaration (the cyber-equivalent of throwing your hands up in defeat) explaining that one is so swamped and behind on e-mails that the only way to dig out from under the huge backlog of unanswered messages is to expunge them...Read More
December 6, 2008, 10:43 AM ET
This was the final week of classes for an undergraduate course on Spike Lee that I co-taught with Professor Salamishah Tillet here at the University of Pennsylvania, and Spike Lee was gracious enough to cap off the semester by visiting the class a couple of days ago and answering the students’ questions.
The course, Race Films: Spike Lee and his Interlocutors, was an examination of Spike Lee’s films from a variety of critical perspectives. The syllabus tried to frame our approach:
“This course requires students to think critically about historical and contemporary cinematic representations of race, class, gender, sexuality, and the urban landscape. The class will examine various Spike Lee films for their aestheticization of broader social and cultural phenomena as well as their engagement with larger theoretical and political concerns. Students will be asked to watch the films...Read More
December 3, 2008, 11:13 PM ET
Jack Black plays Jesus Christ.
What more needs to be said about this three-minute comedic romp?
Everyone seems to have a role in this zany characterization of the fault-line between “yays” and “nays” on California’s recent same-sex marriage vote.
I don’t know how long it took them to put this little piece together, but it is online at Will Ferrell and Adam McKay’s new comedy Web site, Funny or Die, which was created to produce, promote, and publicize freestanding comedy videos. Most of the site’s videos seem to be relatively quickly concocted offerings that comment on contemporary social issues, the more controversial the better.
Marc Shaiman, Tony-award-winning composer of Hairspray, wrote the piece, which includes a song from Jesus himself, a shrimp cocktail in hand, who chides well-dressed Christians for cherry-picking the Bible — choosing to heed certain commands and...Read More
November 30, 2008, 01:57 PM ET
Kanye West has just released his latest CD, 808s and Heartbreak, an instrumentally pared-down and techno’d-up attempt to voice disillusionment about his recent breakup with his fiancée (several months ago) and the unexpected death of his mother during elective plastic surgery last year.
West if probably best known (especially to folks who aren’t big hip-hop fans) as the celebrity who blasted President Bush during a national telethon because of the government’s slow initial response to Hurricane Katrina. “George Bush doesn’t care about Black people,” he said. The comment caused quite a stir, and even compelled him to lampoon himself on a subsequent episode of Saturday Night Live.
Kanye’s newest offering is an introspective (some might say, solipsistic) attempt to articulate his sense of dissatisfaction with the spiritual/emotional vacuity of commercial success and ...Read More
November 26, 2008, 10:58 AM ET
The Rhodes Scholarships were announced this week, and one of Penn’s Anthropology students, Abigail Seldin, was among 32 Americans to receive the coveted award this year. Abigail is an amazing student (working on her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in anthropology at the exact same time), and she has conducted some powerful ethnographic and archival research among the Lenape nation in Pennsylvania.
Abigail has played a significant role helping to curate an exhibit on the Lenape at University of Pennsylvania’s Museum of Anthropology and Archeology. That exhibit, “Fulfilling a Prophecy: The Past and Present of the Lenape in Pennsylvania” will be up for display until Fall 2009. It is well worth checking out.
Congrats to Aligail! And enjoy Oxford’s Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology.
This year’s awards made me think about the kinds of debates we had about Rhodes when I ...Read More
November 25, 2008, 11:48 AM ET
Dear Search Committee:
Are you bleary-eyed and exhausted from all the applications you’ve received and read thus far? Hey, have you already decided on your choice for the position? Is there an inside candidate I don’t know about, somebody who effectively makes my reference letter a waste of everyone’s time?
I usually don’t ask such questions when I start recommendation letters for graduate students, but I’ve decided to cut to the chase this year. I want the skinny. There are so many credible candidates for your advertised post (I know of at least 10 folks, and I’m writing reference letters for three of them); I can’t imagine that the process will be easy.
First of all, we know that sometimes such letters are pitched at a level of gushingly celebratory support that they rival grade inflation in terms of rendering their measurements/benchmarks useless. We deploy terms like...Read More