Thinking through Race | Terri Francis | TEDxIndianaUniversity


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In her TEDx talk “Thinking Through Race”, Professor Terri Francis delves into the fictions and hypocrisies that exist within the concept of race. Dr. Francis offers the audience a look into deeply formative personal experiences and her black film studies to provide a view of how to break through illogical — and damaging — racial boxes.  Terri Francis teaches film studies courses and directs the Black Film Center/Archive at Indiana University. A scholar of Black film and critical race theory, her work involves archival research, cultural history and attention to form, set within the vicissitudes of performance and representation. Francis is the author of “Josephine Baker’s Cinematic Prism”, forthcoming from Indiana University Press. Her interviews and essays appear in Film Quarterly, Transition, Black Camera, Another Gaze, and Film History. This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community. Learn more at <br> <h3>Auto Generated Captions</h3>

I’m going to talk about a very chill and
relaxing topic which is race and racism
so just starting the evening off with
some easy listening
I think it’s an essential topic a
crucial topic an urgent one and and
shockingly one that I actually didn’t
have a lot of experience and I’ve been
teaching for 10 years in all of the
subjects that you just heard about and
never really focused on the particular
operation of race so some of what I’m
going to do today is just kind of take
you through my own learning process from
thinking about race as something that’s
natural something that we’re born with
right we’re always sort of checking a
box that says we’re in one of four or
five different distinct categories but
in fact historians and cultural
theorists and scientists have long
challenged the tidiness of racial boxes
we think of these boxes actually as
framings decisions about how to
categorize people so the reality is that
we’re not so much born with the race as
we’re born into race and it’s the
fiction of race that leads to the fact
of racism sociologists like Joe feegan
explained that in the 18th century so
this is quite an old concept that has a
history in the 18th century race
generally came to mean how we sometimes
still use it today a category of human
beings with distinctive physical
characteristics transmitted by descent
and set in a clear hierarchy developed
in Europe to serve the needs of
enslavement and Empire it’s no surprise
really that that white people ended up
on the top and I’m black indigenous
people on the bottom
but the essential point is that race is
social a set of popular beliefs about
human differences and it is in itself
inherently racist it’s selfish it’s
hungry and it doesn’t share I first met
this idea in graduate school and it
didn’t really take hold for a variety of
reasons but it was through this debate
about taking race the word and putting
it into quotations and one of the
resistance to it I think was how do you
then form a sense of belonging would it
mean that you lost a sense of a people
when we start putting these quotations
around race so when the one hand we’re
trying to hold this idea of belonging
but then the reality is also really that
we’re 99.9 percent the same and yet we
live in a society that teaches us to
treat each other as the over 99.9
percent different from each other
sometimes it can feel convenient to say
something like well I don’t see race and
that’s a way to deal with racism but
actually we need to understand the
particular mechanisms and operations of
race the varieties of racism in order to
fully understand each other’s histories
our feelings about those histories in
order to address the problems that we
face together together what fascinates
me about race is the way that it’s like
this illusion that’s that we walk into
or that’s put upon us that has like a
tidy sort of category but then a super
messy to actually live with I think it’s
probably messy for white people I think
it’s super messy for those of us who are
racialized even just standing here
underneath all of these lights like I
can’t really see anyone so I feel quite
visible but also very vulnerable at the
same time
but this is basically how I live that is
that is my life
just kind of visible vulnerable trying
to catch up with with my own with my own
story I’ll share with you something that
actually I had forgotten about until we
started working on what would I bring to
my community here in Bloomington what
would I bring to the TEDx audience so I
was in graduate school University of
Chicago it’s cold whatever and I went
home you know as we know Midwest the
hawk was always out so I was home
I mean December you know jogging as you
know as one does minding my own business
you know looking at Oh Magnolia so palm
trees this person put in roses
reminiscing about when I was on the crew
team in college and how you know how my
coach would like be mad at me because I
wouldn’t train enough and I was always
kind of jogging in this super language
way and he wanted me to be more of a I
don’t know why Usain Bolt type or
whatever and I just wasn’t that person
you know I was just there because I like
water and getting up early so in
thinking about all of this I know which
sounds I know but I am I like the dog
whatever you know poet I was an English
major so I was just out there orange
blossoms so I’m having these kinds of
thoughts you know back home and jogging
and everything and then all of a sudden
I’m stopped dead in my tracks by a
snarling dog the next thing that I
remember is a sheriff at my door that’s
what we call them Florida the sheriff is
that my door and he’s telling me that
who’s ever dog that was sent there
animal after me because they said I was
running up their driveway and trying to
get into their garage and that’s really
all I remember about this sort of
jogging sidewalk dog sheriff I was blank
and racial trauma kind of filled in the
rest of it this feeling of suspension
kind of in a falling building kind of
waiting for it to hit this kind of
doubling of yourself where you’re
suddenly aware that who you think you
are any other people think that you are
actually two quite different entities
you couldn’t really say two different
people but just two different two
different entities and yet over time I
have reflected on this dynamic right
where you’re confronting other people’s
ideas about you and deciding that you
know either I can be stuck in this
running against myself or running away
from myself this image that is not at
all like me the kind of looks like me in
like a monstrous way or I can just get
out just we just stopped dealing with
these clowns and the kind of chaos that
they are bringing into my life and so
although it’s interesting like it was in
graduate school that I was introduced to
the chaos of race and kind of hid from
it in a certain way even though I was
having these racialized experiences and
then it was here actually teaching at IU
and teaching a course on race in media
that I was able to then get a hold of
these operations and to just kind of
find like my one sort of true religion
you know which is really simply learning
things inquiry right and with the
Liturgy of that being writing right I’m
a big believer in just doing what you
can control we can’t control these other
people in this religion of my
which you heard about the black Film
Center archive I have Saints I have
muses I have women of incredible
invention that I surround myself with
and they make a kind of force field of
our own kinds of messiness our own kind
of power our own kinds of fiction and
invention they show me that you can’t
really just chain yourself to the
opinion of somebody who’s trying to
murder you and racism is not about me
the tidiness of research and teaching
the preservation that we do the
programming is not actually enough
though it’s not enough to be right it’s
not enough to be respectable you do need
to get messy with the inquiry cascades
of questions about why this who this why
now right that really opened up our
understanding of the categories that
shape all of our lives and whenever
these dogs come barking I return to this
same liturgy to question from the Latin
meaning to to seek right to be on a
quest an amateur from the French more to
love and curate from the Latin to care
so to love to care to care for and to be
on a quest because race isn’t neutral
it’s hungry it’s fictional and it’s
messy but so am I

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