Friday, June 1, 2012

Guides to Consciousness: Tricia Rose & Alondra Nelson

Tricia Rose at the Missouri History Museum signing books
In the spring of 1998, I participated in an exchange program between my home institution Tougaloo College and New York University (NYU). That semester at NYU, I took a course entitled "Race, Gender, and Sexuality in U.S. History" that was team taught by Professors Lisa Duggan and Tricia Rose. The lead assistant for the course was a graduate student named Alondra Nelson.

[Related: Tricia Rose at the Missouri History Museum in St. Louis]

Even back then, I felt like the accidental recipient of some special prize. I heard these wonderful weekly lectures given by Tricia Rose; I was a member of Alondra's break-out session for the class. At no charge? For Free!? Clearly, there was a glitch in the system. I was getting over.

[Related: Tricia Rose and the Rise of Hip Hop Scholarship]

These days, it's fashionable for apparent smart African American artists and intellect-types to identify themselves as "black nerds" as a way of explaining their interest in reading and ideas. So, I could say that my status as a black nerd is why I enjoyed Professor Rose's lectures about race, gender, sexuality, politics, culture, history, and struggles for justice so much. But back then, the term I preferred over being a "black nerd" was the process of "becoming conscious." I wanted to become and be conscious, and out of nowhere it seems, these two amazing guides, one named Tricia Rose and another one named Alondra Nelson had somehow appeared in my life.

At one point during the semester, I met with Professor Rose during her office hours and told her about my interests in attending graduate school. She was encouraging and offered an idea on why I should pursue graduate study that was different than what I had previously heard from others. The real reason to attend graduate school, she said, was for the opportunity to think and read.

She did not mention earning a Ph.D., becoming a professor, or directing black studies. She said that a quality graduate education would provide me with opportunities to think and read. That was it. Around this time, whenever I was at events and Alondra was there, she would introduce me as "a Wright scholar" to her friends. This was years before I published scholarly articles and curated exhibits on Richard Wright and a decade before I went on a journey to find the Wright bench in Brooklyn.

Professor Rose's recent presentation in St. Louis sent my mind back to her and Alondra's guiding influences on my early processes of becoming conscious.

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