The Deep Roots of Afro-Asia

W.E.B. Du Bois meets Mao Zedong (Source:

W.E.B. Du Bois meets Mao Zedong

This post is the first of a short series on Afro-Asia—the cultural and political exchanges and historical connections between people of African and of Asian descent. In subsequent installments, I sit down with Yuichiro Onishi and Robeson Taj Frazier to discuss their recent books on the subject. Guest blogger Crystal Anderson will also share some of her recent work on the cultural representations of Afro-Asia.

More often than not, when my students hear the terms “Afro-Asian solidarity,” they usually point to the Rush Hour movies, featuring the talented duo Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker. When I taught a group of high school students last summer, their faces lit up when they suspected I might show a clip from one of the movies. They were wrong. I showed a video clip of Fred Ho and his Afro Asian Musical Ensemble instead. I wanted my students to think about Afro-Asia as part of our ongoing conversation about the meanings and functions of black internationalism. Since none of them had heard of Fred Ho (1957-2014), I was also excited to introduce them to this musical genius, writer, and activist. [Continue Reading…]

Died of a theory

It’s been interesting to read the recent controversy over the existence and prevalence of “black Confederates” during the Civil War. Short version: Harvard’s John Stauffer recently published a piece at The Root (which reprises a 2011 Harvard talk) asserting that “Yes, there were black Confederates,” and was taken to task by Kevin Levin, Brooks Simpson, and others.

I must say that I’m particularly unconvinced by Jim Downs’s defense of Stauffer, which seems to suggest that those who find little evidence of black Confederates have approached “the archive” uncritically and uncreatively. According to Downs, “the very construction of the archive . . . reflect[s] the same racist dynamics and oppression of black people that caused the war in the first place.”

Sure, but how does this apply in the present case? Downs seems to be arguing that historians’ trouble locating black Confederates in the archive owes to a history of “oppression.” How did those who led the Confederate state, as “purveyors of epistemic violence,” wittingly or unwittingly supress the presence of black troops in the archive? What is the evidence for this? And how exactly does it explain the general paucity of black Confederates in the historical record? [Continue Reading…]

Slavery, Freedom, Citizenship, and Teaching

  What does freedom mean?   This week, I'll start teaching a senior seminar titled Slavery, Freedom, and Citizenship, and I'll open by posing that question to my students. It's one of my not-yet-old standbys, in part because it … [Continue reading]

The Cost of Death in the 19th Century


While researching death certificates in the Baltimore City archives one spring day two years or so ago, I uncovered the following two documents.  The first, pictured below, was to the Commissioners of Health for costs associated with burial.  Dated … [Continue reading]

“My Will” A Poem by Dr. Margaret Burroughs OR Intellectualizing Vodka

"My Will" by Margaret Burroughs

This January Term, I am teaching a class titled "Queer Bronzeville: Intersectional Identities in 20th Century Black Chicago" which I was inspired to develop because of the exhibit on Queer Bronzeville by Tristan Cabello, who is working … [Continue reading]

“Black Messiah” and the (Re)Surgence of Black Love

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I spent the latter portion of 2014 feeling like I was waking up in a veritable Groundhog Day (1993) remake, where the senseless loss of black lives was something that I could not stop. I found it difficult to articulate any sense of feeling, and when … [Continue reading]

Between Latin America and the African Diaspora?

"Well obviously we need another Latin Americanist, because when 'X' leaves, we won't have anybody who does Latin America anymore." This is what was said last year during a committee meeting I was a part of to discuss possible replacements for another … [Continue reading]

“Dr. Martin Luther King’s Mother is Slain” and Lessons from Gendered History


On June 30th, 1974 an armed gunman strode into the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia. The church, located in the heart of the black neighborhood of Auburn Avenue, employed both Martin Luther King Sr. and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as … [Continue reading]

Brooklyn Stands With Selma

The following excerpt comes from the conclusion of my book, Fighting Jim Crow in the County of Kings: The Congress of Racial Equality in Brooklyn (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2013). Given how much attention the movie Selma has received … [Continue reading]

Reflecting on the U.S. Occupation of Haiti, One Hundred Years Later


This year marks the anniversary of two cataclysmic events in Haitian history: the U.S. occupation of Haiti in 1915 and the earthquake of 2010. While the latter deserves (and is receiving) ample attention, I plan on devoting my posts this year to the … [Continue reading]