By Brian Boye, Staff Writer
Michelle Hite, assistant professor of English at Spelman College, gave a lecture at Fisher on Oct. 5 in the COP Conference Room. Titled “Until They Learned Better: Calling Black Boys to Shimmering Consciousness in All American Boys,” Hite grappled with the difficult experiences for young black males historically and in the novel “All American Boys.”
Hite applies the quote “Heavy eyebrows, thick baby lashes and the unmistakable love call that shimmered around children until they learned better” from Toni Morrison’s Beloved to the young adult novel “All American Boys.”
“All American Boys” tells the story of a black teenager named Rashad. He is wrongfully beaten and arrested by a police officer in a convenience store which is recorded on camera and shared on the Internet. The event causes a split among those who support Rashad and those who support the police. Hite attests that Rashad doesn’t fulfill Morrison’s quote due to his naivety.
Arlette Smith’s class, young adult literature, and Joellen Maples’ learning community, education and society, both read the novel and were in attendance at the lecture. The students of the education and society class opened the event by performing a reenactment of the plot of the novel for those in the audience who had not read the novel. Emily Smith of the young adult literature class then read her paper on “All American Boys.”
Hite provided background on the history of African Americans. The optimism among freed slaves during Reconstruction soon succumbed to the Jim Crow era. She sites the lynching of Emmett Till in 1955 as the start of the Civil Rights Movement. With the advent of new technology, it is much easier to catch crimes similar to the one committed against Till, which has brought the issue to the forefront of America for the past few years.
Historically African Americans have been portrayed negatively in stereotypes in the media.
“The myth of the black beast rapist portrays black men as brutal, vicious, and savage, while having a lust for white women,” Hite explained. Rashad isn’t aware of this myth, meaning he does not understand why the conflict surrounding his arrest accelerated.
The event ended with Hite answering some of the audience’s questions. In response to a question concerning how bystanders can make an impact, Hite said, “silence about discussions of race aren’t helpful.” Hite applauds the novel for recognizing that race is a cultural construct, and has no biologic basis.
The lecture was sponsored by the Office of Multicultural Affairs and Diversity Initiatives, African American Studies department, English department, First Year Programs and the Ralph C. Wilson School of Education.