January 19, 2018, BY Beth Kaszuba

Oppression can take many shapes, from violence to enslavement to disenfranchisement, but one of the most pervasive and pernicious forms is "erasure," a process by which individuals or groups are made invisible.

This semester, Bucknell's Griot Institute for Africana Studies will explore the topic through the lenses of art, literature, music, film and religion during the semester-long, interdisciplinary series Erasure: Blackness and the Fight Against Invisibility.

"Erasure happens when someone is pigeonholed or erased because of his or her identity," said Professor Carmen GillespieEnglish, director of the Griot Institute. "This series sheds light on people, works and events that have been forgotten or disappeared."

The series is cosponsored by the departments of historymusic and religious studies; the film/media studies and Africana studies programs; the Office of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans* & Queer Resources; and the Campus Theatre. It is centered on Percival Everett's 2011 novel Erasure, about a black novelist who writes a book meant to parody a stereotype-ridden account of life in a ghetto. However, readers take the satire seriously and the novel becomes a best-seller.

Everett will discuss Erasure Wednesday, Feb. 14, at 7 p.m. in the Elaine Langone Center (ELC) Gallery Theatre. A campus map is available here.

Visiting scholars will also discuss the erasure of black history related to the 1978 Jonestown massacre and the 1921 Tulsa race riot, as well as the lack of visibility of the black transgender community. In addition, Ramona Africa, survivor of the 1985 police bombing of a Philadelphia row house occupied by members of the black liberation organization MOVE, will speak about seeking solutions to social and environmental issues outside of institutional frameworks. Artist Dread Scott, whose 1989 exhibit involving the American flag drew strong public criticism, will discuss efforts to suppress activist art.

A documentary about the 1970s punk rock band Death will be screened as part of the Erasure series. Image courtesy of the Griot Institute.

The series will feature two films, including the documentary A Band Called Death, about the pioneering black punk trio. The film will be shown Tuesday, Feb. 27, at 7 p.m. in the ELC Gallery Theatre. Two members of Death will be on campus the following evening to discuss their experiences as black rock musicians during the heyday of Motown.

"Until the documentary brought renewed interest in the group, their important work predating the punk movement had largely been ignored," said Professor Barry Long, music. "Erasure began almost from the moment they formed, owing in part to stereotypes relating to style and genre."

Long added that the concept of erasure remains relevant to popular music.

"Despite the proliferation of music online, stereotypes and cultural norms continue to shape our expectations of what music should sound like, and what the musicians making those sounds should look like," he said. "Innovative new work as well as historically important artists are somewhat erased as a consequence."

The second film, Let the Fire Burn, a documentary about the days leading up to the MOVE bombing, will be screened Tuesday, March 20, at 7 p.m. at the Campus Theatre. Director Jason Osder will introduce the film and take questions from the audience following the screening.

All events are free and open to the public. A complete schedule is available here.

"As educators, we have a responsibility to illuminate these artists, activists and historical events," Gillespie said. "The reality of black erasure resonates within our microcosm, and we want to create a public conversation about the realities of this powerful, but often misunderstood, form of oppression."