Two weeks ago St. Catherine University and the St. Kate’s chapter of Phi Beta Kappa were proud to welcome Yale instructor and scholar Professor Hazel V. Carby to campus through the Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Scholar series. This prestigious program, implemented in 1956, allows universities and colleges across the country to expose undergraduate students to well-known scholars in an informal setting. According to the Phi Beta Kappa website, “Over the past 59 years, 636 Visiting Scholars have made 5,188 visits to Phi Beta Kappa sheltering institutions.” The hand-picked participants in the program spend two days at each of their designated campuses interacting with students and faculty, offering advice and sharing their experiences. They also give a public lecture on a topic relating to their individual areas of expertise.
On the evening of Oct. 8, Carby presented a lecture in Jeanne d’Arc Auditorium to the St. Kate’s community titled “Black Futurities: Shape Shifting Beyond the Limits of the Human.” Through a rather poetic narrative in conjunction with a multimedia presentation, Professor Carby discussed and critiqued the artistic genre of Afrofuturism, repeatedly coming back to the point of what Carby called the “unfinished project of freedom.”
Afrofuturism is a genre which ties together aspects of science-fiction and those of the culture which emerged from the African American Diaspora. In her lecture Professor Carby used depictions of artwork, music and even a pop-up book to discuss how this genre often deals with the idea of emancipation for African Americans both in a historical sense and with regard to the future. Carby critiqued the genre for being far too androcentric, or focused on men, and compensated for this by presenting the artwork and writing created by women about the African American woman experience.
“Too often Black Emancipation is the emancipation of men,” Carby said in response to a query posed following the lecture.
Though her lecture was rooted in a discussion of the Afrofuturism genre, Carby ultimately brought her argument back to the African American experience in the past, present and especially the future. Carby argued that just as freed slaves in the nineteenth century were promised a future and denied one, so are African Americans still denied a future of freedom.
“The massive incarceration of Black bodies in the U.S. demonstrates that the places in which we imagine our futures, the places to which we fled seeking freedom, now reproduce the colonial conditions from which we fled,” Carby said.
In order for such freedom to be gained, a paradigm shift is required within society and an environment must be created where what Carby terms “impossible stories,” those which cannot exist within the current system, can thrive.
When asked to elaborate on the idea of “impossible stories” and futures Carby returned to a point made earlier and said, “That’s why I use the phrase ‘unfinished’ project of freedom because, it has not, it was promised but never came.”
She explained further, “It’s impossible within the paradigm of the Enlightenment and within the paradigm of capitalism for the promise of progress.”
Ultimately Carby’s point is that within the system society is currently built on, it is impossible for African Americans to gain the freedom and future they were promised because society’s system is built supporting white futures only.
Following the formal lecture, students and faculty represented St. Kate’s well in participating in an intellectual and dynamic dialogue with Carby, showing that Katies know how to engage in discussing topics on a highly logical level.
The morning following her lecture, Carby made an appearance in several history and sociology classes, including one of my own, allowing for more personal interaction with the students here at St. Kate’s. In my class students were able to engage in a discussion with Carby regarding her research, gaining a more in-depth understanding of her focus. Carby also offered generous advice on how to complete research as an undergraduate student and how to prepare at this level for a career in the history field.
Special thanks to Phi Beta Kappa and Professor Carby for bringing such a wonderful experience to the St. Kate’s community.