Posts by Author: Austin C. McCoy

Teaching in an Era of Black Lives Matter

One of the functions of social movements is to raise consciousness around a particular problem or issue. The Black Lives Matter movement is no different. Activists have successfully used disruptive protest, policymaking, and social media to influence public debates around structural racism, state violence, policing, and mass incarceration. The movement, as well as my experiences… Read more →

Lessons from the Funky Diabetic: Phife Dawg as Reluctant Health Rap Pioneer

Often being a hip-hop fan means learning how to deal with the sudden loss of beloved artists. It always feels like they’re taken away too soon. Boogie Down Productions’s DJ, Scott LaRock, was shot and killed in 1987 at the age of 25. Eazy-E succumbed to complications of the AIDS virus in 1993. He was… Read more →

“Serving the People”: A Review of The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution

As singer Beyoncé and her team of black beret and leather-sporting background dancers reminded viewers during the Super Bowl halftime show, this year marks the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Black Panther Party. In October 1966, Party co-founders Bobby Seale and Huey P. Newton began working on building an armed self-defense organization to… Read more →

An Interview with Historian Heather Ann Thompson (Part 2)

The second in a two-part interview with historian Heather Ann Thompson, whose seminal article on mass incarceration, “Why Mass Incarceration Matters: Rethinking Crisis, Decline, and Transformation in Postwar American History” appeared in the December issue of the Journal of American History. In this interview, Thompson talks with Austin McCoy about her scholarly trajectory, the impact… Read more →

An Interview with Historian Heather Ann Thompson (Part 1)

2010 was an important year for scholarship documenting the history of the carceral state. In January, legal scholar Michelle Alexander published The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. Historian Khalil Gibran Muhammad’s The Condemnation of Blackness: Race, Crime, and the Making of Modern Urban America arrived the next month. Heather Ann… Read more →

Surviving While Black in America: A Review of Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me

One of the products of Americans’ growing consciousness around racism and the police killings of African Americans is the conversation about the “talk” that African American parents conduct with their sons and daughters. I do not recall my mother and father engaging me in a specific conversation, but rather a series of conversations about navigating… Read more →

Police Brutality, Mental Illness, and Race in the Age of Mass Incarceration

On November 9, 2014, two Ann Arbor police officers shot and killed Aura Rosser, a 40-year-old black woman, after responding to a domestic violence call. In the 911 call, Rosser’s partner, 54-year-old Victor Stephens, claimed Rosser had attacked him with a kitchen knife. According to the Washtenaw County Prosecutor’s report, Officers Mark Raab and David… Read more →

Clio Goes to the Movies: “Selma” in History

By Austin McCoy

Ava DuVernay’s Selma has sparked a robust discussion about the civil rights movement, memory, and the filmmaker’s role in creating “accurate” and teachable history. The film has garnered much pointed criticism for “artful falsehood,” “distorting” history, and “villainizing” Lyndon Johnson. The problems with these assertions are threefold. First, deploying terms like distortion and villainizing does not reflect a willingness to engage issues of history, memory, and mythmaking in good faith; those are words that seek to discredit the film and the director’s interpretation of the event. Second, as the New Yorker’s Amy Davidson illustrates, these critiques of the film belie the historical record. Finally, the ballyhoo around Lyndon Johnson misses the point, and it pushes us away from analyzing the film in a manner that accounts for the broader historical context and historiography.

In Between Cultural Appropriation, Racism, and Sexism: Azealia Banks and the Erasure of Black Women in Rap

By Austin McCoy

Rap artist Azealia Banks, who released her debut album, Broke with Expensive Taste, in November, made the news with her appearance on Hot 97’s radio show, Ebro in the Morning, in December. In her 47 minute interview, Banks railed against white Australian-born pop singer-turned rap artist, Iggy Azalea, Azalea’s boss, rapper, T.I., and against capitalism, slavery, and the appropriation of black culture. Azalea released her debut album, The New Classic in April, which shot up to #1 on Billboard’s R&B/Hip Hop Album and Rap charts. Her song “Fancy” dominated the airwaves. The positive reception even led Forbes to initially declare that Azalea “ran” rap.[1] This declaration, which Forbes eventually dialed back, underscored Banks’s critique about appropriation and black women’s exclusion and erasure in the corporate rap industry. Banks declared, “At the very fucking least, you owe me the right to my fucking identity. And not to exploit that shit. That’s all we’re holding onto with hip-hop and rap.”

“This is our Freedom Summer”:  My Reflections on #FergusonOctober

By Austin McCoy

My decision to participate in Ferguson October was spur of the moment. I did not plan to attend, but my partner and her roommate convinced me to go. My interconnected multiple selves — black man, job-seeking graduate student, and activist committed to social justice — waged a battle for my conscience and time. My multiple deadlines and obligations as a graduate student made such a trip inconvenient. Yet, I recalled my reaction to the George Zimmerman verdict. I remembered crying to express my helplessness and grief. I told myself that night, I would not be caught on the sidelines in the fight for racial justice again. I promised that I would do anything in my power to be present the next time, because, unfortunately, I knew there would be a next time.