A Message from the Director

September 23, 2022

Hello and welcome back to UO’s Black students and Black Studies minors! 

May we enter this new year with an intention that is informed by the challenges and triumphs of the AY 2021-22. A fast and furious summer reminded us of the complicated relationship people of African descent continue to have with legacies of enslavement and colonization. On August 4, federal charges against four Louisville police officers were announced 874 days after Breonna Taylor’s murder. That same day a Russian court sentenced WNBA star Brittney Griner to 9 years of imprisonment. The relevance of the rallying cry “Black Lives Matter” is evidenced by the continuing water crisis in Jackson, Mississippi and in the aftermath of Hurricane Fiona. Climate change disproportionately effects Afro-Caribbeans in nations hit hard by the dual realities of capitalist extraction and divestment. On the other side of the Black Atlantic, Britain’s colonial past and present collided. In late August, the complicated relationship between Londoners of African-Caribbean and African descent was publicly exposed through media conflict over the inclusion of Afrobeats music at the annual Notting Hill Carnival. In the end, the “African Giant” Burna Boy united revelers as the celebration embraced the genre for the first time. The diversity of Black voices in England continued to be amplified after the death of Queen Elizabeth II on September 8. While some Black public officials expressed condolences, Black and brown publics refused the call to mourn and drew attention to British colonial violence against people of African, Indian, Caribbean, and Irish descent.  

Popular culture and social media influencers remind us that blackness is not solely defined by racial capitalism. Like Kendrick Lamar described in “Alright,” people who live on the margins of white supremacy, heteropatriarchy and other vectors of power consistently experience an (im)balance of pain and pleasure. This summer, Drake, Future and Tems’ collaboration on “Wait for You” proved that Black culture knows nor respects no national bounds. The massive mainstream popularity of work produced by Lizzo, Beyonce and Burna Boy proved it’s “About Damn Time.” Quinta Brunson, Lizzo, Zendaya and Sheryl Lee Ralph’s 2022 Emmy wins evidenced the undisputable diversity of Black women and the ties that bind us together. For as the latter sung: “I am an endangered species, but I sing no victim song.” That sentiment was visually translated throughout the powerful, epic historical rendering of the Dahomey warrior women who protected their land, people and culture against colonial forces in “The Woman King.” 

Black Studies at the UO invites students who are interested in learning more about the evolution of Blackness and its relationship to anti-blackness, as well as the heterogeneity and histories of Black people throughout the Diaspora. Black Studies courses are offered by faculty in IRES, English, History, Linguistics, Philosophy, Political Science, Sociology, WGSS, Global Studies and more. Last year, Black Studies faculty lost a valuable contributor with the departure of IRES Assistant Professor Courtney Cox. But we welcome with great excitement the addition of Linguistics Assistant Professor Rachel Weissler. Weissler also serves the Faculty Director of the Umoja Academic Residential Community. 

We celebrate the professional accomplishments of WGSS Associate Professor Ana Lara, whose publication Caribbean Women Healers: Decolonizing Knowledge within Afro-Indigenous Traditions received an Honorable Mention award from the Latin American Studies Association for the Best Public Project. She also serves on the Smithsonian Institute's Scholarly Advisory Committee for the National Museum of the American Latino. Congratulations Dr. Lara! 

Charise Cheney
Director, Black Studies Program
Associate Professor, Department of Indigenous, Race and Ethnic Studies

September 9, 2021

Welcome to the 2021-22 academic year! I am excited to begin this journey with you as the new Director of the Black Studies Program.

Over the next three years, my objective is to solidify the mission, vision, and curriculum of Black Studies. As an academic program, Black Studies draws upon instructional resources from units across the university. My first order of business as Director is to recruit core faculty and faculty affiliates and to expand Black Studies course offerings. There are several faculty at the UO whose pedagogy is grounded by Black Studies methodologies, but even more whose courses explore the histories, cultures and people of the African Diaspora. In CAS that includes professors in Anthropology, English, History, IRES, Philosophy, Political Science, Sociology and WGSS, to name a few. Outside of CAS, I will continue to work with faculty in the School of Law, College of Design, School of Music and Dance, College of Education, and the School of Journalism and Communication. Many of these faculty have already been instrumental in advocating on behalf of the Black Studies Program, especially those who are members of the Black Faculty Collective. I cannot wait to convene an intellectual community of faculty with scholarly interests in blackness/anti-blackness as well as African-descended peoples and culture. That includes being in conversation with African Studies, Native American Studies and Latinx Studies, academic programs whose work intersects with Black Studies in critical and meaningful ways. Perhaps most importantly, I look forward to partnering with Provost Patrick Phillips, CAS Dean Bruce Blonigan and DEI in their efforts to hire more Black faculty and Black Studies faculty to bolster our emergent Black Studies Program and to fulfill the promise of building an anti-racist University.

The Black Cultural Center, Umoja Academic Residential Community and the Black Studies Program share an origin story. In 2015, the Black Student Task Force mobilized around a shared phenomenology of anti-blackness and created a list of 12 demands. The BSTF and its allies inherited a legacy of Black student activism that began in the late 1960s as Black college and university students at PWIs and HBCUs pushed for protected spaces on campus, including academic sites that nurtured and developed transcendent forms of blackness. As a student and teacher, I am a product of that history.

As an undergraduate at Northwestern University in the 1900s, I was inspired by the Black Studies and Women’s Studies courses that introduced me to histories, methodologies and epistemologies that were absent in my secondary education. Like other Black students whose elementary, middle school and high school classes privileged whiteness, college courses that centered marginalized and minoritized Americans radically shifted my racial and gender subjectivity. In fact, those courses changed my life trajectory. Conservative rebranding of “Critical Race Theory” has effectively challenged the incorporation of more inclusive social studies curricula in classrooms across the nation. But white supremacy and white settler colonialism are integral parts of American history, the legacy of which is imprinted on our daily lived experiences. Black Studies is an academic field that should not be confused with identity politics, but the two are intimately related. My desire as the Director of Black Studies is to create an intellectual space that facilitates students’ personal growth and promotes social justice activism and advocacy.

These continue to be trying times for all. The global pandemic has exacted a devastating toll on Black communities. Fatal violence against Black people continues to be an epidemic within the pandemic, particularly that which targets Black transgender women and gender non-conforming people. There is still no justice for the murder of Breonna Taylor or other less publicized cases of anti-black police violence. The political disenfranchisement of Black Americans continues as states push through racially targeted voter suppression laws. Racialized responses to natural disaster relief and recovery efforts continues to disproportionately impact African-descended people in the U.S. and the Caribbean. The list of anti-black violations goes on and on. But so do examples of resistance, refusal and transcendence. Nowhere is that more apparent than in the realm of sports and entertainment. Misogynoir was on full display at the Summer Olympics, but so was Black Girl Magic as athletes set new records in gymnastics, swimming, freestyle wrestling and track and field. And rapper Lil Nas X continues to embody Black Boy Joy with his album “Montero,” providing audiences with alternative visions of black masculinity and gender non-conformity despite (or, perhaps, to spite) the homophobia of his haters.

Speaking truth to power is the collective inheritance of Black Studies faculty. And now more than ever, the curricular contributions of Black Studies and Black Studies-adjacent faculty are critical to facilitating broader understandings of the histories and legacies of anti-blackness in the U.S. and abroad that have shaped our communities, our politics, and our cultures.

Charise Cheney
Director, Black Studies Program

Associate Professor, Department of Indigenous, Race and Ethnic Studies