Courses > 2020 Fall

Graduate Courses


ARTH 792
401 | SEM | Karen Redrobe | F 9-11am | TBA

This course of weekly reading, reflection, and discussion takes as its starting point Audre Lorde’s 1981 Keynote presentation at the National Women’s Studies Association Conference, “The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism.” Lorde, critiquing white feminists, states, “I cannot hide my anger to spare you guilt, nor hurt feelings, nor answering anger; for to do so insults and trivializes all our efforts. Guilt is not a response to anger; it is a response to one’s own actions or lack of action. If it leads to change then it can be useful, since it is then no longer guilt but the beginning of knowledge. Yet all too often, guilt is just another name for impotence, for defensiveness destructive of communication; it becomes a device to protect ignorance and the continuation of things the way they are, the ultimate protection for changelessness.”

Eschewing defensiveness, ignorance, and innocence, and opening to meaningful change by engaging the writings of anti-racist and anti-imperialist thinkers, including those focused on the transformation of higher education, this course examines the responsibilities scholars take on when we affirm that “Black Lives Matter,” and acknowledges that higher education, including the humanities, is actively implicated in the structures and operations of white privilege and anti-black racism as well as in other intersectional modes of exclusion, including all forms of discrimination based on race, ethnicity, national original, ability, class, sexuality, gender, and beliefs. More specifically, this course starts out recognizing that the University of Pennsylvania’s history is entangled with the history of slavery, as is beginning to be documented in the Penn & Slavery Project ( It also recognizes that Penn was founded on Lenni-Lenape land to the exclusion and erasure of their people, and acknowledges the Lenni-Lenape community past and present and generations to come. It also acknowledges that a simple assertion of allyship from within our implicated structure is deeply inadequate to our moment and goes in search of “the beginnings of knowledge” and structural change. The course aims to approach these urgent but longstanding issues in ways that help us to understand some of the complexities, practicalities, and temporalities of the work of change; to grapple with what Rosalyn Deutsche in Hiroshima After Iraq (2011) describes as “the inseparability of the social and the psychic”; and to seek out effective alternatives to the tendency of politicized academic writing in time of conflict to regress to what Deutsche calls “heroic masculinism.”

"Reading Against Racism" is imagined as a way of catalyzing active, collective, and long-term anti-racist, anti-imperialist intellectual work. It seeks to participate in the development of more just and inclusive academic modes and spaces by fostering time and structure for thought and self-reflection, by generating ideas for implementation, and by learning from our readings as well as from each other.

All students, white and BIPOC, are welcome to participate. We will begin this course by working together to establish a community agreement that takes account of the different ways in which such a course is likely to be experienced by white and BIPOC people. For example, recognizing that discussions about race and racism require immense emotional labor from BIPOC people in particular, BIPOC students should not be asked to use their personal experiences to frame questions under discussion or to represent any group. We will establish together other guidelines we would like to put in place to try to create as safe and supportive a space (or spaces) for reading, thinking, and acting against racism as we can muster, including deciding how we would like to include in our process trigger warnings, mechanisms for opting out of discussion, and opportunities for discussions in smaller subgroups that can occur with or without the instructor, as is most helpful. Throughout the course, we will be reflecting on what is and is not helpful and for whom, and the syllabus will evolve in dialogue with those reflections.

This course is Pass/Fail only.

Requirements: Weekly reading; weekly journal for self-reflection (required, but not for submission); participation in discussion; design a syllabus for an introductory course in your field.

Acknowledgements: Thank you very much to all the students who have generously participated in the work in progress of this course—and to all the scholars who have dedicated research and writing time to make the materials we will read available to us all.

Course time: Friday 9-11am. Graduate students only.