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Social Justice

The Physics of Blackness

Michelle M. Wright visits the College and discusses her recently published book (Van Forsman / The Index)

On Thursday March 31, Michelle M. Wright, a professor of African American Studies and Comparative Literary studies at Northwestern University, spoke about her new book entitled “The Physics of Blackness:Beyond the Middle Passage Epistemology,” to an audience of students, faculty, and members of the public in the Dalton Theater.

She is also the co-editor of “Critical Insurgencies,” a new book series in collaboration with the Critical Ethnic Studies Association and Northwestern University Press.

Her new book deals with the construction of Black racial identity in America which descends from what she calls the “Middle Passage Epistemology,” which refers to the naval journey taken by slave ships arriving in North America. Under this construction, Wright argues that other black identities such as recent African immigrants, queer black people and black women are not represented.

As the title suggests, her book includes her critique Newtonian Physics and the construction of race though a singular narrative of historical circumstances. During her talk, she gave an alternative method of thinking about blackness through the lens of “epiphenomenal time” as opposed to linear time.

To understand the concepts that she introduced more clearly, readers will have to find out for themselves from her book. However, from the engaged discussion with the audience that followed after the talk itself shows that it resonates with the concerns of this campus community as well.

“We come to the struggles from different access points so you cannot identify who is a member of the oppressed and the oppressor by their placement on this linear historical narrative because we are all entering the narrative at different points in history, from different perspectives, challenges and prejudices,” Dr. Justin Berry, Assistant Professor of Political Science, explained.

There was a student and faculty led panel discussion following the talk on Friday to continue the conversation on how this new way of seeing impacts social activism and justice, especially how it applies to this campus in particular.

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The Physics of Blackness