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Susquehanna Life

Racial Disposability and Cultures of Resistance

Jan 29, 2018 01:11PM ● By Erica Shames

 The Sawyer Seminar, "Racial Disposability and Cultures of Resistance," kicks off Feb. 8, and continues throughout the month of February. The Seminar is a project of Penn State’s Department of African American Studiesthe College of the Liberal Arts, and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

“Racial Disposability and Cultures of Resistance” focuses on regimes and relations of disposability and resistance in various sites, including Brazil, Nicaragua, Cuba, Mexico and the United States, from the 18th century forward. 

Racial disposability names a bundle of practices, institutions, and laws that demographically distributes and neglects civil rights, concentrating the use of force and threat of incarceration on particular communities with limited recourse to investigation and remedy. 

Similarly, our approach holds a range of institutions within the analytic frame of racial disposability to probe the functional connections between them. For instance, what is the relationship between the denial of public resources (education, clean water, etc.) to predominantly Black populations in some urban centers and the extraction of personal resources from other Black, urban populations through overpolicing practices that generate fines, compound debt, and wage garnishment? Disposability draws attention to the dual condition of value extraction and abandonment. 

The seminar equally attends to discarded citizens and non-citizens who are marked in ways that heighten vulnerability to violence with impunity—while situating these practices within the longue durée of racial terror and slavery throughout the Americas. 

African Diasporic Studies provides an analysis that questions the contours of the nation-state frame while producing alternatives. This Sawyer Seminar not only raises the question of whose lives count and to whom, as the Movement for Black Lives suggests, but also when and how particular lives count, and for how long and to what political ends.

Though these processes are produced, funded, and perpetuated at the level of state and corporate practices and policies, racially disposable populations never simply acquiesce. Be they Afro-Brazilian, Afro-Nicaraguan, or African-American, they respond in ways that are unpredictable—through real-time cell phone recordings, for instance—challenging the cultural logic, daily structures, and entrenched practices that reduce Black populations to targets for temporary use or permanent extermination. 

Those whose lives, bodies, and communities have historically been defined as disposable resist this characterization and its social effects through a variety of cultural and political strategies. Black communities, particularly youth, artists, and activists, have produced a rich repertoire of aesthetic practices, popular cultural movements, and activist traditions that refute the normalizing logic of racial disposability by asserting the creativity and resilience of Black life. This seminar takes seriously the multiple ways that marginalized racial subjects creatively, politically, and intellectually disrupt the logic of disposability with practices of organized resistance and an everyday politics of refusal.

Seminar Sponsors:


Seminar News:


Meet the Presenters:

February 8: Marcus Rediker and Tony Buba

A screening of “Ghosts of Amistad: In the Footsteps of Rebels” will take place at the State Theatre, on Thursday, February 8, at 8:00 p.m. A Q&A with Marcus Rediker and Tony Buba will follow. This event is made possible in partnership with State College Area School District and the Office of Educational Equity.

RSVP for your FREE seat HERE

Description: This documentary by Tony Buba is based on Marcus Rediker’s The Amistad Rebellion: An Atlantic Odyssey of Slavery and Freedom (Viking-Penguin, 2012). It chronicles a trip to Sierra Leone in 2013 to visit the home villages of the people who seized the slave schooner Amistad in 1839, to interview elders about local memory of the case, and to search for the long-lost ruins of Lomboko, the slave trading factory where their cruel transatlantic voyage began. The film uses the knowledge of villagers, fishermen, and truck drivers to recover a lost history from below in the struggle against slavery.

Documentary Trailer: 


 Marcus Rediker earned his Ph.D. in history from the University of Pennsylvania. He taught at Georgetown University from 1982 to 1994, lived in Moscow for a year (1984-5), and is currently Distinguished Professor of Atlantic History at the University of Pittsburgh. He is also Senior Research Fellow at the Collège d’études mondiales / Fondation Maison des sciences de l’homme in Paris.

He has, over the years, been active in a variety of social justice and peace movements, most recently in the worldwide campaign to abolish the death penalty. He is, by ancestry, Welsh, Scottish, Dutch, and Cherokee; he is, by upbringing, a Southerner; by generation, of the New Left; by choice, a citizen of the world.

He has written, co-written, or edited ten books: Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea (1987); Who Built America? (1989), volume one; The Many-Headed Hydra (2000, with Peter Linebaugh); Villains of All Nations (2004); The Slave Ship (2007); Many Middle Passages (2007); The Amistad Rebellion (2012); Mutiny and Maritime Radicalism in the Age of Revolution (2013); and Outlaws of the Atlantic (2014). He recently completed The Fearless Benjamin Lay: The Quaker Dwarf who Became the First Revolutionary Abolitionist, published by Beacon Press in September 2017. Learn more about Rediker and his work at


Selected books by Marcus Rediker:


 Tony Buba has been producing documentaries since 1972 in both long and short formats. Since getting his M.F.A from Ohio University in 1976, Tony has worked on several feature films, including George Romero’s Martin and Dawn of the Dead.

In addition to his behind-the-scenes roles, Tony has appeared onscreen as well. In Dawn of the Dead, he is a featured motorcycle raider who gets his arm torn off at a blood pressure machine. He also has a cameo in the Sundance hit, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.

Tony incorporated Braddock Films in 1992, and beyond producing personal work, has been involved in creating award-winning documentaries in the Pittsburgh area.

His films have been screened at Sundance, Toronto, Berlin, and other major international film festivals. He has had one-person exhibitions at more than 100 universities and museums, including The Museum of Modern Art, Whitney Museum of American Art, and The Carnegie Museum of Art.

Tony and Braddock Films have also been featured on NPR. His awards include fellowships from the NEA, AFI, and the Rockefeller and Guggenheim Foundations, as well as grants from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts and the Pennsylvania Humanities Council. Learn more about Tony and Braddock films at


Selected films by Tony Buba:


February 14: Jessica Luther

Jessica Luther’s presentation, “Unsportsmanlike Conduct: The Intersections of Sport and Sexual Violence” will take place in 101 Chambers, on Wednesday, February 14, at 3:30 p.m. Presented by the Department of Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies with co-sponsorship from the Gender Equity Center, The John Curley Center for Sports Journalism, and the 

Department of African American Studies' Sawyer Seminar Series on Racial Disposability and Cultures of Resistance.

Description: Luther will discuss the systemic ways sports, as particular microcosm of our culture, minimizes and ignores issues of gendered violence. Her work most often touches on the particular intersection of college football and sexual violence, but the way that money, institutional hierarchy on campuses, compliance with Title IX, and sports culture and fandom come together is applicable well beyond that. Her talk will touch on all of these issues and provide some ideas for how to begin to fix them.

 Jessica Luther is an award-winning freelance journalist in Austin, Texas. She is the author ofUnsportsmanlike Conduct: College Football and the Politics of Rape. Her work has appeared in ESPN MagazineNew York Times Magazine, and the Texas Observer, and at Sports Illustratedand BuzzFeed. Her work gained national attention in 2015 when Dan Solomon and she broke open the story about a Baylor football player on trial for sexual assault. Luther is also the co-host of the feminist sports podcast Burn it All Down.


By Jessica Luther:

February 22: Roger Reeves and Yogita Goyal

“Runaway Genres: Global Afterlives of Slavery”—Roger Reeves in Conversation with Yogita Goyal will take place in 160 Willard Building, on Thursday, February 22, at 6:00 p.m.


 Roger Reeves received an M.F.A. in creative writing and a Ph.D. in English from the University of Texas, Austin. His poems have appeared in PoetryPloughsharesAmerican Poetry ReviewBoston ReviewTin HouseBest American Poetry, and the Indiana Review, among other publications, and he was included in Best New Poets 2009. Reeves was awarded a Ruth Lilly Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation in 2008; he is also the recipient of two Bread Loaf Scholarships and a Cave Canem Fellowship. In 2012, Reeves received a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship and a Pushcart Prize for his poem “The Field Museum.” He is an Associate Professor of English at the University of Texas, Austin, and he was a 2014–2015 Hodder Fellow at the Lewis Center for the Arts, Princeton University. King Me (Copper Canyon Press, 2013) is Reeves’s first book.


By Roger Reeves:

Yogita Goyal

“Runaway Genres: Global Afterlives of Slavery”—Roger Reeves in Conversation with Yogita Goyal will take place in 160 Willard Building, on Thursday, February 22, at 6:00 p.m.


 Yogita Goyal is Associate Professor of African American Studies and English at UCLA, editor of the journal, Contemporary Literature, and Vice-President of the Association for the Study of the Arts of the Present (A.S.A.P.). She is the author of Romance, Diaspora, and Black Atlantic Literature (Cambridge University Press, 2010), guest editor of a special issue of Research in African Literatures (Fall 2014) and editor of the Cambridge Companion to Transnational American Literature (2017). She is currently writing a book on the revival of the slave narrative as a new world literary genre, titled “Runaway Genres: Global Afterlives of Slavery.”


By Yogita Goyal:


Featured image credit: Courtney Desiree Morris. “Crossing,” Soil. (

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