2022 Imagining Community Symposium


Chicago Footwork: A Lesson on Language and Reclaiming Black Humanity

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This is the symposium's keynote address. In Ernest Gaines's A Lesson Before Dying, he seems to suggest that Black male humanity could not be denied on the basis of their mastery of standard American English and logocentric notions of literacy. Gaines locates the humanity of his death row protagonist, who is likened to a "hog" in the literal broken lines of his unintelligible journal reflections, among other attributes. Likewise, if Black youth in Chicago also exist in a state of "imminent death" and are also considered to be disposable, subhuman menaces to society, ShaDawn Battle reclaims their humanity in non-logocentric terms. Through the urban art form Chicago Footwork, which she argues is an embodied vernacular dance of Black liberation, Battle joins the chorus of post-humanist and disability scholars who challenge the argument that verbal language and conventional notions of literacy are preeminent markers of what it means to be human. She incorporates a short Footwork performance and interviews from her forthcoming docuseries on Chicago Footwork to illuminate Footwork as a language of the body in everyday communicative exchanges.

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