Complicit Freedom

In conjunction with our current exhibition Stamped, Claudia Rankine, Jonathan Gray, Jennifer Uleman, and Julia Elena will discuss the ways in which blondness (as a marker of whiteness) has developed mobility across racial and class lines. What do we attribute to blondness? Where do we think it will take us? Stamped will be on view before and after the conversation.

Claudia Rankine is the author of five collections of poetry, including Citizen: An American Lyric and Don’t Let Me Be Lonely; two plays including Provenance of Beauty: A South Bronx Travelogue; numerous video collaborations, and is the editor of several anthologies including The Racial Imaginary: Writers on Race in the Life of the Mind. For Citizen, Rankine won the Forward Prize for Poetry, the National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry, the Los Angeles Times Book Award, the PEN Open Book Award, and the NAACP Image Award. Among her numerous awards and honors, Rankine is the recipient of the Bobbitt National Prize for Poetry, Poets & Writers’ Jackson Poetry Prize and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Lannan Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, United States Artists, and the National Endowment of the Arts. With filmmaker John Lucas, she co-produces “The Situation,” an interdisciplinary video series. In 2016, Rankine co-founded The Racial Imaginary Institute (TRII). She is a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets and teaches at Yale University as the Frederick Iseman Professor of Poetry.

Jonathan W. Gray, Associate Professor of English at the CUNY Graduate Center and John Jay College, works on post-WWII American culture, African American literary production, popular culture, comic books, graphic novels, and others narratives of visual culture. His first book, Civil Rights in the White Literary Imagination (Mississippi) traces the white literary responses to the period between the Brown case and the death of Martin Luther King. His forthcoming project, Illustrating the Race(Columbia), investigates how the twin understandings of illustration—the creative act of depiction and the political act of bringing forth for public consideration—function in the representation of African Americans in comics and graphic narratives published since 1966. Gray co-edited the essay collection Disability in Comics and Graphic Novels for Palgrave McMillian and served as founding editor of the Journal of Comics and Culture (Pace). Gray’s journalism on popular culture has appeared in The New Republic, Entertainment Weekly,, Medium, and the New Inquiry.

Jennifer Uleman teaches philosophy at Purchase College (SUNY). A member of The Racial Imaginary Institute and a Kant scholar (author of Cambridge University Press’s 2010 An Introduction to Kant’s Moral Philosophy), she also writes and teaches about gender, photography, classical logic, politics, performance, and Hegel. She is currently at work on a book about whiteness. Her work has received support from the NEH and the DAAD; she is the recipient of a SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching; and is Purchase College’s 2018-2020 Doris and Carl Kempner Distinguished Professor. She lives in Jackson Heights, Queens.

Julia Elena was born and raised in Louisiana and trained at Aveda Cosmetology School. Color has always been a valued part of her life; she has been fascinated by the color spectrum since she could pick up a crayon. Julia moved to New York four years ago to pursue her career as a hair colorist; Refinery29 named her as one of “NYC Colorists Who Will Give you the Best Hair of Your Life.” Her mission is an important one, she helps her clients realize their true identity through hair color. She is thankful to be able to empower them and to be a part of their journey.