Monthly Archives: March 2013

40 Million Dollar Slaves with Bomani Jones

This entry is cross-posted from the official Race Scholars at Rice Blog

Last week, Race Scholars at Rice held our bi-annual “Dialogue Partners” event, where we discussed William C. Rhoden’s 2006 book 40 Million Dollar Slaves: The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of the Black Athlete. This session of Dialogue Partners was unique, as we for the first time had an outside expert join in our discussion. Bomani Jones, a writer and media personality who frequently addresses issues of race and culture in the sporting world, was kind enough to video chat with the group as we addressed Rhoden’s argument and discussed the issues raised in the book.

In the book, Rhoden argues that from the time sports were introduced to plantations in the antebellum South through the present, black athletes have been exploited and denied a place within the power structure of American athletics. Whenever black athletes are perceived to have gained too much power or to pose a threat to white cultural values, the rules are changed to detriment of blacks. In essence, the rules of modern athletics are rigged against black athletes to ensure that they are barred from positions of power.

Much of our discussion focused on the collegiate athletics system, and how it functions to the detriment of black athletes. One participant asked Bomani if he could discuss how college athletics reflects the “plantation” model that Rhoden describes. Bomani argued that in addition to not being paid for their efforts, the playing field remains the only aspect of college athletics that have been integrated. Coaches, administrators, the press, and the fans, all remain largely dominated by whites.



One of the most interesting aspects of the conversation for me, was the idea that perhaps Rhoden adhered to strictly to a black-white binary. Major League Baseball, for instance, utilizes a “conveyor belt” system to cheaply cultivate Latin American talent in a manner largely similar to the way the NFL and NBA lure black players from the inner city, with a similar disregard for the well being of athletes (see, for example, <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2013/03/baseball-dominican-system-yewri-guillen?page=1"the death of Washington Nationals’ prospect Yewri Guillén)



An aspect of Rhoden’s book that I thought didn’t really get enough attention during our discussion (not that the discussion of athlete exploitation couldn’t have lasted far longer by itself) is the unwillingness of prominent black athletes to speak out about racism and other social issues. While Rhoden may be kinder to historical actors than he is to present-day athletes, I agree with Rhoden that it seems to be a problem that black athletes don’t use their prominent public roles to take stronger stances on issues of social justice.

Nevertheless, the conversation was extremely enlightening for both sports fans and non-sports fans, and was, at least to me, one of the most interesting and successful Dialogue Partners to date. You can find the full video of our discussion on YouTube here:

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Digital Humanities Grad Student Roundtable

This week at Rice, as part of our ongoing Digital History Masterclass, we did a Google Hangout with Cameron Blevins, Jeri Wieringa, and Annie Swofford, to discuss some of the limits and possibilities of doing digital humanities work as a graduate student, and where we see digital humanities going in the future. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to make it to class or check in to the hangout because I was attending my grandmother’s surprise 90th birthday party/family reunion (I swear to god that’s a real excuse), but Caleb thankfully has made the video of the hangout available here.

The conversation as a whole was really interesting, and it’s always nice to get perspectives from different people, and especially fellow graduate students. I thought the discussion of the future of publishing was particularly interesting. This has come up in previous classes, but I continue to be intrigued by the idea of a “digital dissertation,” and when/if/how such a project would gain the same type of acceptance (if that’s the right word) as a traditional dissertation. The project also made me think about the ways traditional presses could move into promoting these types of projects. It seems to me that if a project was hosted on the website of a university press, it would have a bit more cred than just hosting a digital project on my personal website.

I have also been thinking about the ways that adding a digital component to a traditional piece of scholarship can broaden the exposure it gets, particularly in the undergraduate classroom. For example, I would say that I would be far more likely to assign Emma Rothschild’s The Inner Life of Empire now that the Harvard Digital History Lab has created this fantastic digital project that can accompany it. Finding a way to pare down my dissertation or first book into a relatively accessible web project like this seems like a fantastic idea. Making something like that available for free I think increases the likelihood people will read and become interested in your work.

I also thought it was interesting, and pretty clear, the ways that greater institutional support for digital humanities makes a huge difference. All three of these students have resources available to them that are not available, or at least not in any centralized way, at Rice, and they all seem to have benefitted from them immensely. Outside of this class and twitter, it has been tough for me to remain as engaged with digital methods as I’d like to be, which of course is a problem with self-motivation. One of the great things about digital humanities though is the way it is collaborative in a way that more traditional humanities scholarship rarely is. In disciplines outside the humanities, co-authorship and collaboration is the norm, and hopefully digital humanities is a way of getting scholars to work together more often, both for traditional and non-traditional projects.

Hearing about the exciting projects that people are engaged in and the opportunities it opens for them has once again re-energized me, so hopefully that will bring me back to my blog more often, as I continue thinking about how DH can/will impact my own scholarship. But no promises.