Racial Conflicts Discussed at UK

By Gail Hairston

(Nov. 16, 2015) — Two films highlighting America’s racial conflicts will be shown on the University of Kentucky campus this week, with time scheduled for discussion afterward.

At 6 p.m. today, the documentary “Let the Fire Burn,” will be shown at the UK Athletics Auditorium in William T. Young Library, followed by a panel discussion hosted by the UK Martin Luther King Center and the College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Gender and Women’s Studies and the African American and Africana Studies Program. 

“Let the Fire Burn” recounts the 1985 tragedy when Philadelphia police, with authorization from the mayor, responded to a stand-off with a black liberation group the city was trying to evict from its communal house in West Philadelphia by dropping a firebomb on the roof, burning the house to the ground and killing 11 MOVE members, five of them children. In the process, they also burned down an entire block of the predominantly African-American neighborhood, leaving 61 houses destroyed and 250 people homeless.

In addition, a poster session analyzing the contemporary Black Lives Matter movement is slated concurrently in the adjacent Alumni Gallery. The poster presentations focus on recent killings of unarmed black people in the United States. The posters were researched and created by students enrolled in Melissa Stein’s class, "Crime & Punishment: Race & Ferguson in Historical Context."

Stein, an assistant professor in Gender and Women’s Studies, recently published her first book, “Measuring Manhood: Race and the Science of Masculinity, 1830-1934” (University of Minnesota Press, 2015), a gendered analysis of scientific racism in 19th and early 20th century America including an examination of scientists’ attempts to offer medical solutions to the nation’s “race problems.”

Stein has begun work on a second book, tentatively titled “(Dis)Membering MOVE: Race, Memory, and the Meaning of Disaster,” an account of the Philadelphia tragedy. Though often called a “cult” by the media, the story of MOVE is not nearly as well known today as Ruby Ridge or Waco, and when it is recalled in the national media or consciousness at all, it is typically dis-remembered as a racial event--not unlike Hurricane Katrina more recently.

This erasure extends to academia as well; while the 30th anniversary of the MOVE disaster is approaching, there has been surprisingly little scholarship about it, despite recent interest in race and the police state. Stein’s project, then, interrogates the dissonance between national and local memory of MOVE, the ways in which the story was covered then and now, and how media coverage and the incident’s imprint in the popular imaginary conform to and disrupt common racial — and gendered — tropes.

On Wednesday, Nov. 18, “Dear White People” is presented by the Late Night Film Series. The film is a satirical drama about four African-American students and their experience attending a predominately white Ivy League college. It will be shown at 7 p.m. in Memorial Hall.

The Martin Luther King Center’s Soup & Substance: Real Talk, Real Issues, & Real People Series features a discussion of the film “Dear White People” at 5:30 p.m. Thursday in 208 White Hall Classroom Building. Guests for the dialogue will be Tina Bryant of the UK Counseling Center, Kenneth Tyler of UK Educational Psychology, Julie Naviaux of the UK Department of English and WRD, and Joe Ferrare of the UK Department of Sociology.

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