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So what do 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, the Michael Richards debacle, and the election of Barak Obama all have in common? They are all momentous events in our country that can be understood by the metric of race? They each constitute seismic shifts in the telling of what it means to be black in the US?? They each possess contested narratives negotiated by various racial groups??? Yes, but what they also all have in common is that they all provide great material for comedic routines! (Say what?) For this session, linguistic anthropologist Lanita Jacobs will show us how humor functions as political language and as a linguistic mediator of African American culture and identity. Jacobs researches humor as a revelatory space where Black comics can talk about painful events like 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina and celebratory events such as the election of Obama through empowered racial positioning and experience. Professor Jacobs brilliantly and polymathically, through her study of Black comedy, will decenter us, reorient us, and reveal to us whole new ways to hear a joke. This session will be a serious hoot.
Lanita Jacobs, Associate Professor of Anthropology and American Studies and Ethnicity
Lanita Jacobs researches language as a mediator of African American culture and identity, and ethnography as a dynamic way of seeing and being in the world. As a linguistic anthropologist, she has conducted multi-sited ethnographies of African American women’s hair care, producing From the Kitchen to the Parlor: Language and African American Women’s Hair Care (Oxford U. Press, 2006). Her polymathic interests also include African American children coping with Acquired or Traumatic Brain Injury (ABI/TBI), and African American standup comedy. Her fieldwork across sites of hair care, hospitals, and humor has focused on the complex ways in which speakers socialize and construct identity, expertise, and other stances that are essential to their everyday lives. In each of these studies, she has employed longitudinal fieldwork and discourse analysis to examine the verbal and nonverbal “work” speakers do to negotiate how they see the world and their place in it, as well as the stakes embedded in their engagements. Jacobs has also won numerous awards for teaching and mentoring.