Du Bois Visiting Scholars Series: Jennifer Williams
May 3, 2018
11:00 am-2:00 pm
Library, W.E.B. Du Bois
UMass Amherst Campus
Jennifer Williams speaks on "Du Bois is a Father to a Black Woman: Sexual Justice, Sexual Freedom, and the Patriarch(y)."
Williams earned her Ph.D. in African American studies with a certificate in gender, sexuality and women's studies from Temple University. Her research and teaching interests include African American women's history, black queer studies, Africana nerd culture, and Afrofuturism. Williams's current research explores understudied political expressions of African American women, such as in their digital media footprints, fashion and sexual activities. Her research on Du Bois interrogates his progressive stance on sexuality in his writings, compared to how he interacted with his daughter, Yolande Du Bois Williams, and his colleague, Augustus Granville Dill. Williams was a 2017-18 UMass Amherst W.E.B. Du Bois Postdoctoral Fellow.
In many of his writings, such as "The Damnation of Women" and "The Souls of White Folk," W.E.B. Du Bois condemned white men's raping of enslaved African women. He demanded black women have the right to bear children at their own discretion, as well as having the right to vote and to work. In these same essays, Du Bois argues that black women not only should be protected from sexual violence, but they should have sexual freedom - to be able to pursue pleasure without social shame. Du Bois advocated the upliftment of the race with his chivalrous practice of illuminating and condemning the sexual exploitation of black women; and yet, he also supported an African American future that did not cage women in dependent marriages or chastise their need for passion. In the classic argument of Du Bois's feminism, from looking at his writings, he is both feminist and patriarchal. In this complex narrative of Du Bois, his most personal relationships also show insight into his politics surrounding women; as the father of Nina Yolande Du Bois, he imagined her to be the quintessential modern black woman, but he did not, and possibly could not, raise her to be.