Summer 2020 Undergraduate English Courses

358:275 The Cultural History of Now

B1   5/26-7/3  06525  MTWTH  10:30A-12:20P   JONES   SC-206

“But Stay Woke!”: Activism and Conspiracy in African American Satire 

In Childish Gambino’s “Redbone,” a scratchy falsetto warns its listeners to remain vigilant concerning infidelity, both one’s own and her or his partner’s. Although its lyrics are about trust in romantic relationships, “Redbone” became popular as the opening anthem to Jordan Peele’s racial thriller Get Out (2017). The song’s chorus culminates in a rousing plea to “Stay Woke!,” and, in the context of the film, it becomes a call for African Americans to see the exploitative and violent ruses that the niceties of a racially liberal, post-Obama United States conceals. American cultural producers have used sleep and wake as metaphors for varying degrees of knowledge of what’s really going on in society since at least the early nineteenth century, with Washington Irving’s “Rip Van Winkle” as the most famous early example. This course examines how black satirists have attempted to awaken their audiences to the messy realities of race. Specifically, we will study how these artists critique, draw from, and elaborate on the genres, narratives, and rhetoric of abolitionism, the Civil Rights Movement, and other forms of racial activism. We will also consider how easily “being woke” can pull one into the depths of a conspiracy theory. Our reading list might include George Schuyler, Percival Everett, Fran Ross, Suzan-Lori Parks, and Paul Beatty, among others; we will watch The Landlord, Drop Squad, Get Out, and Sorry to Bother You, among other films and web series.