Boone brings together the past, present of race issues

Students put down their coffees and picked up their pens as William Boone began his talk titled “Race for Prophets: A Critical Conversation.”

“One of my issues with academics, particularly at my institution, is that we tend to mystify all these conversations,” said Boone, an associate professor of English and Africana studies at Winston-Salem State University. “I’m not trying to talk over your head; I’m going to speak directly to you.”

Boone covered a wide range of issues relevant to race in his discussion with students and faculty in the Leak Room on March 12. He encouraged students to speak their minds on diverse topics from President Barack Obama to hip-hop mix tapes.

“I’m so thrilled that we have (Boone) here from WSSU, which is a historically black college and university,” said Associate Professor of English Heather Hayton. “Guilford needs to do more work to create conversations with other campuses.”

At WSSU, Boone teaches classes on gender, African-American culture and popular culture. He is also the founder of Afro Blew Media Inc., which promotes local hip-hop artists.

To open the discussion, Boone shared some of his experiences with race from growing up in Orange, N.J.

“I was with my mom and a bunch of my first cousins at a supermarket,” Boone told the audience. “A group of white young men who were across the railroad tracks yelled across the tracks, ‘Hey n—-s,’ pardon my French. I asked my mom, ‘Mom, can we curse?’ and she said, ‘Yeah, sure.’

“These are my introductions to race.”

Throughout his talk, Boone brought up contemporary issues to hold a mirror to America’s racial divide. He asked students for their thoughts about the 2014 Grammy Awards, when the black artist Kendrick Lamar was passed over in favor of the white rapper Macklemore. Macklemore’s later acknowledgment on social media that Lamar should have won the award prompted even more controversy.

“For me, it’s a question of how do we wrestle with this because clearly Macklemore has issues with it,” said Boone. “So, how do we destabilize the powers that be that make these decisions?”

Boone also included a plethora of historical references. He shared quotes from prominent figures such as Harriet Tubman, showed timelines of the history of race in education and discussed the wording of historical advertisements for slaves.

“The problem is when we have these talks, we talk about the present when the past has so much more to do with it than the present,” said senior C.J. Green. “Sculptures are not made overnight; it takes the artist a lot of time to rub it, touch it and put different aspects on it.”

Towards the end of the talk, Boone asked for questions from the students. This spurred a lively discussion about the role of young people in activism and themes in contemporary hip-hop.

“It was unique because for me, I had never really honestly thought about hip-hop,” said junior Jared Gasaway. “The hip-hop culture and underground counter culture that is going on with Ferguson and whatnot is a reflection of that divide (between races and classes).”

Boone focused on students throughout the conversation. He moved throughout the room and several times stopped to ask students for their thoughts. During the discussion about hip-hop, when students were not taking notes on him, he took notes on the students’ comments.

When asked about the role of the audience in bringing about change, he emphasized it would be the young people, not his generation, who would make the biggest difference.

“I tell my students when they make all these complaints, ‘Let’s leave class and go talk to the chancellor; I guarantee this s— will change,’” said Boone. “But they don’t want to. When they get serious about that, in the same way the Greensboro Four were serious and the same way that the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in Charlotte (was serious), all this s— is going to change.”