In honor of the holidays celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on January 18 and the National Day of Racial Healing on January 19, the Identity newsletter looks to Illinois State University scholars to share some of their works on racial and social justice.  

The following are abstracts to publications, presentations, performances, podcasts, and interviews from Illinois State faculty, with links to their larger works.  

Nathan Stephens, School of Social Work 

“Being Black, Being Male, in Social Work: Black men share their experiences in social work education and practice” 

This panel discussion is a collaboration of Black Men in Social Work Inc., and SWCares. The former is a new organization created with the mission to assist with the recruitment of Black men and the development, mentoring, promotion, and support of Black men currently in the field of social work. SWCares is a social work coalition for anti-racist social work educators.  

Because the field of Social Work is comprised of 83 percent women and is over 70 percent white, the panel discussion provides significant nuances of experience as Black men in social work education as well as the fields of practice. Additionally, the panel discusses the anti-Black misandry that sometimes feels pervasive in social work and the numerous ways that it manifests. Whether it occurs through subtle acts of racial micro and/or macroaggressions or overt incidents of discrimination. The panel discusses the “Black Unicorn” joke that exists among many within social work in that Black male social work educators are so rare, it’s like seeing not only a unicorn but a Black unicorn.   

Dr. Byron Craig, School of Communication 

Dr. Byron Craig
Dr. Byron Craig

“Visual Profiling as Biopolitics: Or, Notes on Policing in Post-Racial #AmeriKKKa”

Cultural Studies ↔ Critical Methodologies 

Abstract: This essay examines the crisis of American policing through a close reading and critique of the visual rhetoric that circulated in the aftermath of Michael Brown’s untimely death in Ferguson, Missouri. By drawing on recent work in visual and media criticism, Black Studies, and Foucault, we analyze and critique what we call “vernacular visuality” as a site in the unfolding politics of racial representation. Because practices of policing cannot be divided from visual culture and the politics of representation, we argue that the vernacular visuality of race can deepen our understanding of late capitalist policing because it illustrates how the racial logics of late capitalism operationalize it as a mode of biopolitical intervention on the racialized body. 

Dr. Shamaine Bertrand, School of Teaching and Learning  

“Black Educators Matter”

Black Gaze Podcast 

Dr. Shamaine Bertrand of Illinois State University and Dr. Kisha Porcher of the University of Delaware co-host an episode of Black Gaze Podcast, interviewing Black educators. Nita Creekmore, Dr. Kristopher Childs, and Crystal Watson discuss the importance of Black educators in K-12 schools and the history of Black excellence and genius (Muhammad, 2020). As Black educators, they offer next steps for Black children and educators to be free (physically, spiritually, and educationally) in schools.  

Dr. Kathryn Sampeck, Department of Anthropology 

Dr. Kathryn Sampeck

“From Cocoa Farms to Candy Chutes” 

Anthropology News 

Abstract: The research team of the Fine Cacao and Chocolate Institute (FCCI), which is headed by Dr. Carla Martin of Harvard University and includes Dr. Kathryn Sampeck of Illinois State University, is investigating the stark racial inequalities in world cocoa production and chocolate consumption that are exacerbated by COVID-19. During troubled times, people often comfort themselves by consuming favorite foods such as chocolate, but a racial divide exists between producers and consumers. About 75 percent of chocolate consumption takes place in Europe, the United States, and Canada, with Africa, Latin America, and South and Southeast Asia consuming only 25 percent of the world’s finished chocolate, with Africans consuming the least at 4 percent. In the United States, Americans consume approximately 5.3 kg of chocolate per capita each year as a way of expressing identity, remembering happy times, or as a moment of indulgence. At the same time, 100 percent of the world’s cocoa is produced by Black, Indigenous, Latin American, and Asian people (Africa, 75 percent; Latin America, 13 percent; South and Southeast Asia, 12 percent). The harsh realities of working life for cocoa producers create the relief that U.S. consumers enjoy. The chocolate industry has tried hard to strengthen the American fixation on the colorful and soothing end product during the COVID-19 pandemic rather than exposing and confronting how COVID-19 has intensified inequalities that characterize the cocoa-chocolate value chain. The FCCI research results provide a foundation for collective action and effective planning to support racial healing and equality in response to the pandemic’s impact. 

Dr. Touré Reed, Department of History 

headshot of Dr. Touré Reed
Dr. Touré Reed

“Between Obama and Coates”


Abstract: Historian Touré F. Reed’s “Between Obama and Coates” explores the conservative implications of President Barack Obama’s postracialism and public intellectual Ta-Nahesi Coates’ “The Case for Reparations.” To be sure, Obama and Coates articulate rhetorically dichotomous visions of race and inequality. While Obama’s post-racialism traces lingering inequities to the cultural deficiencies of the black and brown poor themselves, Coates attributes racial disparities to an inexorable white prejudice. Reed contends the superficial divide between Obama and Coates belies their shared commitment to conservative neoliberal orthodoxies that trace racial inequality to the misdeeds of “bad actors,” with little regard for the disproportionate effects on African Americans of issues like automation, deindustrialization, the decline of the union movement, depressed wages, public sector retrenchment, or trade policies. Because the former president and the public intellectual each divorce racial inequality from American political economy, Obama’s and Coates’ respective projects complement the rightward turn in American politics that began during the Cold War and culminated in the Reagan Revolution. Obama’s post-racialism and Coates’ case for reparations have, thus, aided and abetted a politics that is responsible for the widening gulf between the nation’s haves and have-nots— whatever their race. Reed ultimately contends that antidiscrimination policies, alone, are incapable of ending racial inequality. Instead, any serious attempt to redress the material problems that impact blacks disproportionately in late-capitalism—among them poverty, unemployment, the dearth of health care, and mass incarceration—will require the kinds of class-based, egalitarian policies civil rights activists like A. Philip Randolph, Bayard Rustin, and Martin Luther King Jr. demanded decades ago. 

Ama Oforiwaa Aduonum, School of Music 

“Walking With My Ancestors: A Journey from Slave Dungeons in Ghana to America” 


ISU Professor of Music and Ethnomusicology Ama Oforiwaa Aduonum takes audiences on a journey to show how kinesthetic empathy and music is useful for deepened dialogue about the effects of slavery, moving us towards compassion and emotional justice. This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by Aduonum and directed by School of Theatre and Dance Prof. Kim Pereira. Walking with My Ancestors: A Reflection, tracks Aduonum’s immersive visitations through former slave dungeons in Ghana. Aduonum investigated the magnitude of the crime that was committed by turning human beings into a commodity, and offers perspectives on the experiences of the nameless women, men, and children who once lingered in the dungeons. At the same time, it addresses how today’s racial and cultural problems connect with truths of our shared and painful pasts, the “ghosts of slavery.” It begs us to have difficult conversations about trauma, diversity, equity, multi-centricity, and “emotional justice,” moving us towards compassion and the healing of our hurting communities. Walking with My Ancestors is poignant, timely, and necessary for our society’s racial reckoning. 

Dr. Nobuko Adachi, Department of Sociology and Anthropology   

Nobuko Adachi on Quad
Dr. Nobuko Adachi

“Yellow Peril Redux: How the COVID-19 Pandemic is Fostering Racial Discrimination Toward Asian Americans” (Read the presentation transcript here.) 

Racialisation and Social Boundary Making in Times of COVID-19 Workshop, University of Amsterdam, Holland 

Abstract: In this presentation Adachi examined the currently increasing incidents of xenophobia and racial hatred demonstrated against people of Asian descent in the United States due to the COVID-19 pandemic. She argued that these incidents are not unique to the present crisis, but are deeply related to a perpetual-foreigner stereotype that is still prevalent in the United States. To do so, Adachi looked at the language and metaphors used toward the Asian American community regarding the pandemic. Ever since this emergency began, the media have made comparisons of the pandemic to “Pearl Harbor,”—with the country being at “war”— and described it using racially-loaded terms like “the Chinese virus.” This careless scapegoating language—used by high government officials like the President down to local county board members—carelessly stokes fear, bias, and blame, whether intended or not. However, in the already tender racial climate of the country, these metaphors and labels contribute to the dissemination of widespread misinformation through social networking, as well as false news stories of the most preposterous kind (such as the coronavirus was intentionally developed in a Chinese laboratory for nefarious purposes, or that the Communist Chinese are stealing American vaccine secrets). “China” and “Communist” have become the new replacements for the “Yellow Peril” warnings heard at the beginning of the 20th century. Under such a social, political, and linguistic environment, Asian Americans, and Asians living in the United States, are subject to no end of verbal abuse in the media and daily life. 

Dr. Kantara Souffrant and Archana Shekara, Wonsook Kim School of Art  

“Appropriation + Adaptation + Allyship”  

At the Table series from University Galleries of Illinois State University 

A conversation between artist Archana Shekara, associate professor of graphic design, and creative director of Design Streak Studios at Illinois State University and Dr. Kantara Souffrant, assistant professor of global/non-western art history and visual culture at Illinois State. Shekara shared research about transnational identity adopting new cultural values while preserving heritage, appropriation, and seeking allyship through Indian cuisine. 

Dr. Jason Whitesel, Department of Sociology and Anthropology; Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program 

headshot of Jason Whitesel
Dr. Jason Whitesel

“Intersections of Multiple Oppressions: Racism, Sizeism, Ableism, and the ‘Illimitable Etceteras’  in Encounters With Law Enforcement” 

Sociological Forum 

Abstract: This think piece on the intersectionality of multiple oppressive markers incorporates critical race feminism, fat studies, body/embodiment studies, and disability studies. It discusses the cases of two African Americans deemed irresolvable nuisances, treated as threats to police and dealt with undue force, resulting in their untimely deaths. Eleanor Bumpurs, 66, was a Black female of older age, ample size, with physical and mental disabilities; she was arthritic, fighting off hallucinations, and was economically disadvantaged. Eric Garner, 43, was a Black male of ample size, with physical disabilities; he was diabetic, asthmatic, with sleep apnea and a heart condition, all of which made employment difficult for him. Intersectional identities determined what happened when each crossed paths with law enforcement. Intersecting oppressions of racism/classism/fat hatred/ageism/ableism/healthism resulted in the murder of Bumpurs in 1984 and Garner in 2014. Following Garner’s execution, police supporters used multiple, intersecting forms of discrimination to sidestep the brutality: “Garner would’ve died going up a flight of stairs—he died because of preexisting medical conditions.” This article argues that besides perpetuating the long history of portraying African American men as hulking brutes or as genetically inferior, such justifications aim to divert attention away from structural racism, cloaking it in sizeism/ableism/healthism.