Wahneema Lubiano

Wahneema Lubiano


* Associate professor of Literature and African American Studies at Duke University
* Supporter of the Ebonics movement
* Says she is “at the mercy of racist, sexist, heterosexist, and global capitalist constructions of the meaning of skin color on a daily basis”
* Alleges that America’s “prison economy” disproportionately targets black males 
* Was one of the “Group of 88” Duke professors who publicly supported a local black stripper who had falsely accused three white student-athletes of rape.

A tenured associate professor of Literature and African American Studies at Duke University, Wahneema Lubiano earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Howard University in 1979, and a Ph.D. in Literature from Stanford University in 1987. She taught at Williams College in the spring of 1987; at the University of Texas at Austin from 1987-1990; at Princeton University from 1990-1996; and at Duke from 1996 to the present.

Lubiano identifies her research interests as: “Black nationalist discourse; Black intellectual history; Racialized Discourses / Race Theory; Feminist Theory and Women’s Studies; Black American modern and postmodern fiction; Black American literary history and theory; Black American women writers; Whiteness Studies; Black American popular culture and film; [and] Queer Theory.”

Since earning her Ph.D., Lubiano has edited one book (which contained papers from high-profile black authors presented at a 1994 conference at Princeton) and has published no scholarly monographs. Her current record of scholarly publications is confined to essays, most of which have appeared as chapters in books edited by others. (In contrast to journal articles, book chapters usually are solicited and do not go through a peer-review process.)

Lubiano has labeled herself a “post-structuralist teacher-critic leftist.” Recurring themes from her work include:

  • Hostility to the Western Intellectual Tradition: “Western rationality’s hegemony,” Lubiano complained in one essay, “marginalizes other ways of thinking about the world.” She has celebrated the Ebonics movement—or what she calls the “deconstructive relation to the dominant language whether by using the dialect and syntactical structure of ‘black English’ or by subverting standard English dialect.”
  • Victimization: In a 1996 essay, Lubiano described herself as being “at the mercy of racist, sexist, heterosexist, and global capitalist constructions of the meaning of skin color on a daily basis”; as someone who was constantly “attacked by the gemeonic social formation’s notions of racial being and the way those notions position me in the world”; and as someone “physically traumatized and psychologically assaulted … in the dark of a power that never admits to its own existence.” “Many whites,” she hypothesized, “… might not ever be persuaded by appeals to reason, to what we ‘know’ and agree to be ‘truth’—that all men/women were created equal, for example.”
  • Boundary stretching”: Lubiano frequently has claimed that her work (and work that she supports) offers dramatically new intellectual insights. “There are moments,” she says, “of epistemological excitement that recognize changes already ongoing, and then there are moments that at the same time both recognize and generate new ways of knowing. The creation of Black Queer Studies: A Critical Anthology is such a moment.” Moreover, she describes her work on black drill teams as “an incredibly cathected performance of anti-racist theory, counter-military aesthetics, group creativity, and certain kinds of aesthetic appropriations and reappropriations.”
  • Anti-capitalism: Lubiano believes that “once white working class people learn that corporate capitalism is using racism to manipulate them, they will want to join with racially oppressed people against capitalism.” She further asserts that the United States is oriented around a “prison economy” (or “a capital investment project that rests on the particular manipulation of a group of people”) that disproportionately affects Black (she always capitalizes “Black” and never capitalizes “white”) males—punishing them because of their participation in what she calls “illegal alternate economic activities.” Imprisonment, she argues, permits America to impose on black men its “warrior ethos, with its attendant homophobia and patriarchalism.”

In Lubiano’s view, “university intellectuals” work in “knowledge factories” that “produce engines of dominance.” She reasons, therefore, that “sabotage has to be the order of the day … a deliberate attempt on the part of the historically marginalized to reconstitute not simply particular curricula, but the academy itself.”

Considering herself entitled to use her job to advance her political agendas, Lubiano says: “Whether I’m thinking, teaching, or engaging in politics (including strategizing), I think that it is part of my privilege, my work, and my pleasure to insist that those three activities are not clearly demarcated.” This approach is justified, she writes, because “over the past 250 years, university scholars have created and legitimated the knowledge that has justified the particular oppression” she has devoted her career to exposing.

Blending pedagogy and activism, Lubiano has done the following: 

  • At a 1990s conference held at Hunter College, she declared that it was impossible “to draw whites into” the project of “strong multiculturalism,” since “white males are right not to feel good about it.”
  • She publicly opposed the 2001 U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, urging instead a “just peace” based on “dismantling the unquestioned commonsense of capitalism, and dismantling the unquestioned commonsense of market religiosity.”
  • She has advocated reparations for African-Americans, citing “activity of the state in the aid of theft” of free labor from slaves.
  • She walked out of class to protest the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq.
  • She participated in DRAGnet (Duke Radical Action Group), which, according to the Chronicle, featured professors “running around campus dressed from head to toe like drag queens” performing political skits.
  • She opposed increased campus security measures, lest Duke “produce students as the future gated community citizens of the nation and the world.”
  • She demanded that Duke divest from companies doing business in Israel.
  • She was the closing speaker at a 2001 conference titled “Black Queer Studies in the Millennium.”
  • She called for an international tribunal to explore the case of cop-killer Mumia Abu-Jamal.
  • She depicted the U.S. government’s failed response to Hurricane Katrina as “cover for other forms of class warfare on the part of the powerful and cover for the work of dismantling [the welfare state], one disaster or crisis at a time if necessary.”

Lubiano was one of the Group of 88 Duke professors who signed and published a full-page “listening statement” in the April 6, 2006 edition of the Duke Chronicle, in support of a local black stripper who had accused three white student-athletes of rape. Lubiano characterized the accused as “almost perfect offenders … the exemplars of the upper end of the class hierarchy, the politically dominant race and ethnicity, the dominant gender, the dominant sexuality, and the dominant social group on campus.” She promised to press forward “regardless of the ‘truth’ established in whatever period of time about the incident …”

The following month, Lubiano penned an op-ed for the News & Observer declaring that Duke needed immediately to begin “targeted teaching” to expose “the structures of racism and the not-so-hidden injuries of class entitlement in place at Duke and everywhere in this country, and without regard to banal and ordinary sexual harassment.” She added, “we don’t have to wait for working class or poorer students to be targeted by fraternity ‘theme’ parties or cross burnings on the quad or in dorm halls, or for sexual assaults to be attested by perfectly placed witnesses and indisputable evidence.”

This profile is derived largely from the article “Group Profile: Wahneema’s World,” written by KC Johnson and published by Durham-in-Wonderland on December 11, 2006.

© Copyright 2024, DiscoverTheNetworks.org