Who's Watching?: The White Gaze & the Reclamation of Black Performance

A conversation between Doug Kearney (Sho), Mateo Askaripour (Black Buck), and Hanif Abdurraqib (A Little Devil in America: Notes in Praise of Black Performance). The Loft's Virtual Wordplay is presented by St. Catherine University and Star Tribune. This event is a St. Kate's Critical Conversation. 

"If you are a Black man," Mateo Askaripour writes in his satirical novel Black Buck, "the key to any white person’s heart is the ability to shuck, jive, or freestyle. But use it wisely and sparingly." 

With a keen eye for performances both grandiose and subtle, these authors demonstrate how inextricably Black performance is woven into the fabric of American culture—by artists on stage, but also at the park, around the office, or at the grocery store. Hanif Abdurraqib's essays weave memoir into a meditation on Black performance throughout American history; Mateo Askaripour's novel takes a dig at racism in the modern workplace; and Douglas Kearney's poems demand to be seen without spectacle. Black performance, for these writers, can be a triumph—or a costly concession. It depends who's watching.

Hanif Abdurraqib is a poet, essayist, and cultural critic from Columbus, Ohio. His poetry has been published in PEN AmericanMuzzleVinyl, and other journals, and his essays and criticism have been published in the New YorkerPitchfork, the New York Times, and Fader. His first full-length poetry collection, The Crown Ain't Worth Much, was named a finalist for the Eric Hoffer book award and nominated for a Hurston-Wright Legacy Award. His first collection of essays, They Can't Kill Us Until They Kill Us, was named a book of the year by NPR, EsquireBuzzFeedO: The Oprah MagazinePitchfork, and Chicago Tribune, among others. Go Ahead in the Rain: Notes to a Tribe Called Quest was a New York Times bestseller and a National Book Critics Circle Award and Kirkus Prize finalist and was longlisted for the National Book Award. His second collection of poems, A Fortune for Your Disaster, won the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize. He is a graduate of Beechcroft High School.

Mateo Askaripour was a 2018 Rhode Island Writers Colony writer-in-residence, and his writing has appeared in EntrepreneurLit HubCatapult, the RumpusMedium, and elsewhere. He lives in Brooklyn, and his favorite pastimes include bingeing music videos and movie trailers, drinking yerba mate, and dancing in his apartment. Black Buck is his debut novel. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @AskMateo. 

Douglas Kearney has published six books, including the award-winning poetry collection Buck Studies (Fence Books, 2016); libretti Someone Took They Tongues. (Subito, 2016); and criticism Mess and Mess and (Noemi Press, 2015). His newest collection of poems, Sho, will be out in 2021 (Wave). A live album, Fodder, featuring Kearney and frequent collaborator Val Inc. will be out in 2021 (Fonograf Editions). A Whiting Writer’s and Foundation for Contemporary Arts Cy Twombly awardee with residencies/fellowships from Cave Canem, the Rauschenberg Foundation, and others, Kearney teaches creative writing at the University of Minnesota–Twin Cities.