Letter from the Faculty Director – December 2017 Newsletter

By Imagining America | December 11, 2017

Dear Imagining America community,

It is clearly a critical time to (re) imagine the United States of America. Shortly after the 2017 Imagining America national conference, journalist Ta-Nahesi Coates joined Krista Tippet, producer of On Being, at the 2017 Chicago Humanities Festival to discuss the necessity of “Imagining a New America.” Echoing the kind of ‘critical patriotism’ debated in the IA network, Coates reflected on histories of slavery, lynching, and police violence and wondered if we will ever get to a place where people of all political persuasions will love their country enough to see its past and present critically. Coates proposes that critical love, not unlike marriage where one promises to not give up while constantly improving the relationship, is a necessary element of patriotically imagining and making a new country.

More radically, in a public talk on November 30 at the Manetti Shrem Museum at UC Davis, multimedia artist and activist Dread Scott asked us to imagine a world without America. ‘Can you imagine a world without colonialism, exploitation, imperialism, selfishness, hate, or vast inequality?’ Scott provoked. Proposing that we will never create what we cannot imagine, Scott’s 30+ years of public art making invites audiences to become actors in the work of rethinking, critically engaging, and getting unstuck from seemingly entrenched political contexts. The moving stories from his most recent “Slave Rebellion Reenactment”—where 500 intergenerational Black Louisianans will march 26 miles to reenact an 1811 revolt by enslaved people—show how collectively embodied historical theater enables younger generations to know, feel, and be moved by the spirit of resistance and insurrection The project links histories of slavery to fascism through the ‘Never Again’ rallying cry of the Holocaust. This connects European allies who sheltered Jews from Nazi Germany with the leaders of the underground railroad and Freedom Riders of the 1960s. Scott’s radical provocations are softened by his romantic dreams of a better world and belief that we can create it together. Dread Scott closed by reminding an audience full of University of California, Davis students: “History is changed by below, by people like you.”

At the grassroots level, Dr. G.T. Reyes, Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership at California State University, East Bay, started a cross-campus movement to envision and build a better world through his #CrossThisOut campaign.  On December 1, Dr. Reyes arrived at his office to find his Black Lives Matter, Brown and Proud, immigrant rights, and personal nameplate signs all crossed out with markered Xs. In a Facebook post the next morning, Dr. Reyes shared his story and a photograph of his transformed office door, now covered  in a quilt of words that he would rather cross out (homophobia, islamophobia, ableism) and words that represent the work and world he is committed to (love, critical hope, community).

Within hours of posting the photo of his door on Facebook, #CrossThisOut quilts appeared on university and high school campuses across Northern California. Like Coates and Scott, Reyes asks us to name that which we will not tolerate on our campuses and communities, and he encourages others to creatively pronounce what we aim to build and create.

From the “Imagining America Anew: Ethnic Studies at UC Davis” exhibition at the Shields Library to commemorate the almost 50 year anniversary of the struggle for ethnic studies, to the UC Davis Humanities Institute Mellon Public Scholars and Research Initiative in Racial Capitalism, to student-organized protests about tax reform and student debt, to allied New York City public intellectuals and activists calling for the removal of prominent monuments across the country, to our first Happening at the IA headquarters in Davis, artists and scholars in public life are asking us all to re-imagine America in multiple forums and venues. We share some of these stories in this edition of the IA newsletter.

I leave you with one such imagining. During this year’s IA conference, we collaborated with UC Davis Global Affairs to support a cohort of Creative Documentation Fellows. All UC Davis students, these fellows participated in the conference with the task of looking, listening, and then producing a creative product that “Re-imagines America in the Global Context.” Fellow Jasmine Wade’s “Imagine Nation” includes a poem that brilliantly imagines the index of the final volume of the fictional tome The Rise and Fall of the American Empire. In closing, I hope you enjoy an excerpt from her creative documentation project below.

As always, never hesitate to reach out to us with a question, idea, or comment at Have a peaceful holiday season.



Erica Kohl-Arenas, Faculty Director, Imagining America
Associate Professor, American Studies



 View: Index Poster – The Rise and Fall of the American Empire, by Jasmine Wade, Creative Documentation Fellow:


Continue reading Imagining America’s December 2017 Newsletter, here.

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