Sonifying Race, Surveilling Space: The Sonic Color Line & the Listening Ear

Vancouver, BC - The SpokenWeb Symposium 2019 - David Mowafaghian World Arts Centre

SpokenWeb Symposium 2019
Opening Plenary – Dr. Jennifer Lynn Stoever (SUNY Binghamton)

Sonifying Race, Surveilling Space: The Sonic Color Line and the Listening Ear

Date: May 30, 2019, 9:30am
Location: David Mowafaghian World Arts Centre (G 2555, Goldcorp Centre for the Arts)
149 W Hastings St, Vancouver, BC V6B 1H4

For a very long time now, the United States has—audaciously and impossibly—labored under the illusion that it is a “colorblind” nation: that skin color simply “doesn’t matter” when it comes to employment, or schooling, or opportunity of any sort.  That it is possible to “not see color” when it comes to intimate relationships, to hiring or firing, to renting a home, to policing a neighborhood.  And, more cynically, that, in a market-driven nation, it our nation is only possible—and profitable—when everyone sees only “green,” the color of dollars earned toward that American Dream, open to all, equally, provided of course you can afford it.

But money and class have proven time and again not to be the great colorblind equalizer for people of color, for whom success often means living and working in predominately white spaces, contending with invisible racial protocols that deem their voices, speech, music and other cultural expressions of blackness to be hyperaudible noise: too loud, too inappropriate, too unprofessional, too different, too much, too ratchet, too urban, too [insert white euphemism for “black” here]. Indeed, that’s exactly how these sonic signs of not-belonging operate for the white people—as codes that allow them to politely surveille and legally police for blackness, to continue to objectify and mark blackness as such and quiet it, or segregate the people who make it out of their soundscapes at will. And all this without using overt racial designations, doing the work of racism while evading the title.

In “Sonifying Race, Surveilling Space: The Sonic Color Line and the Listening Ear” scholar Jennifer Stoever will unsettle the exclusive relationship between race and looking that colorblind racism depends upon and show how listening works to police racial boundaries in everyday life. explain the findings of her research on race, sound, and listening in the United States,  first by introducing the concept of the sonic color line—my term for the racial boundaries anyone who grows up or spends much time in this country is socialized to hear and amplify—and then by using this concept to listen to racism in the US, showing why sound matters in our contemporary struggles against racism, systematically in our classroom, courtrooms, and archives, and in our everyday interactions in public places. Interweaving theory, archival research, analysis of court cases and viral videos, and representations in popular culture, Stoever argues that that the only way that colorblindness could ever have taken root as a functioning ideology in a nation so riven with unrepaired and deeply historical racial hierarchies is because we hear America’s color lines as well as we see them, maybe even more so in a nation so stubbornly insistent it is possible—or even desirable—for everyone to “overlook” race.

This event is part of The SpokenWeb Symposium 2019 hosted by Simon Fraser University. For more information and to view the rest of the symposium events, click here.

About Jennifer Lynn Stoever

Jennifer Lynn Stoever received her PhD in American Studies and Ethnicity from USC. She serves on the editorial boards of Sound Studies, Senses and Society, and Social Text. She has published in Social Text, Social Identities, Sound Effects, Modernist Cultures, American Quarterly and Radical History Review among others; her most recent research, “Crate Digging Begins at Home: Black and Latinx Women Collecting and Selecting Records in the 1960s and 1970s Bronx” was published in The Oxford Handbook of Hip Hop Studies.  Currently Editor in Chief of Sounding Out! and Associate Professor at SUNY Binghamton, Jennifer teaches courses on African American literature and race and gender representation in popular music.  During 2011-2012, she was a fellow at The Society for the Humanities at Cornell University, participating in the research group on Sound: Culture, Theory, Politics. In 2016, she published her first book, The Sonic Color Line: Race and the Cultural Politics of Listening (NYU Press).

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