Robust Imaginaries
Informed Practice

Welcome to the Praxis Center, an online resource center for scholars, activists and artists hosted by the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership at Kalamazoo College. From action research and radical scholarship to engaged teaching and grassroots activism to community and cultural organizing, and revelatory art practice, we make visible imperative social justice work being done today.

Praxis is
the synergy between
theory and practice,
knowledge and relevance,
ideas, images, and the real.


Karla Aguilar
Program Coordinator
Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership

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Iggy Azalea and her “Race” to the Top of the Charts

By T.S. Leonard

Editor’s note: Since the second half of the twentieth century, music critics and scholars have talked about the “whitening of black music.”  This phenomenon is ever present on the airwaves and on music shows as African American musicians are receding to the background of mainstream entertainment, taking a backseat to the new generation of white R&B, pop, and hip hop artists.  Here, T.S. Leonard tackles the complex issue of race and immigration in US popular music by taking on the artist that has emerged at the top of the charts in 2014, Australian rapper Iggy Azalea.

Fans and critics will probably be shocked that after all the speculation and anticipation Iggy Azalea did not walk away with a single Moonman at last night’s MTV VMA Awards show. If you were anywhere near a radio this summer there is no doubt that the mere word “fancy” calls to mind the icy, incessant, staccato synths of Iggy’s breakout hit. Iggy Azalea was everywhere, and most notably at numbers one and two on the Billboard Hot 100, a major feat for a debut artist previously only claimed by the Beatles.

“Fancy” was the de facto Song of the Summer, an ambiguously ranked yet coveted claim for the pop industry. Azalea got everyone’s attention with many wondering “where on earth did she come from?” Her whiteness and her Australian nationality quickly became requisite identifiers of this 24-year old hip-hop artist who exploded on to the American music scene earlier this year. Continue reading →

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Environmental Justice is Racial Justice: A Neighborhood Perspective

By Antonio R. López, Ph.D.

Editor’s note: The police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and the epidemic of violence against Black and Brown youth in Chicago and nationally points to the urgent need for a more holistic understanding of environmental justice. Here, Antonio Lopez, Executive Director of the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization, offers a critical analysis of the intersection of race and environment in the Little Village community in Chicago.  

Little Village is a thriving barrio on the southwest side of Chicago. Children from this predominantly Mexican neighborhood are raised in a community saturated with beautiful histories of migration and resiliency. A hunger strike waged by local activists resulted in the construction of a social justice high school in Little Village. Elementary schools are named after Emiliano Zapata and a local Chicana activist, Maria Saucedo, and the main business avenue, 26th street, was even dedicated to Los Tigres Del Norte, a a norteño-band ensemble based out of San Jose, California, with origins in Mexico.

Complex and colorful murals in Little Village capture oppositional histories and showcase the artistic talent of the neighborhood. The streets are always alive with vendors and the shrieking sounds of kids playing on the tightly packed sidewalks.  Working in the community I am reminded of Segundo Barrio and other historic barrios where border crossers somehow survived Amerika and managed to build communities that nurtured several generations. Though far from the Mexico of their ancestors, children raised in Little Village are in touch with their roots – there is a beauty in the lack of confusion. Continue reading →

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Rhetorical Bow Ties Won’t Protect Them

By Mark Anthony Neal | NewBlackMan (in Exile)

Following the election of the first Black President, I recall there was the sudden push—largely among young Black college educated types—for Black youth to wear the part of the constituency that had helped elect Barack Obama. The impulse didn’t strike me as odd—a desire for respectability that is as old as the plantations that raised us—but the investment in a pathology about Blackness did.

These were bright and ambitious young Black folk who believed that their intellect and talents were suspect if their pants sagged, they had gold in their mouth, or wore skirts didn’t cover enough thigh—as if such things have ever mattered to White peers, who regularly show up to classes at elite institutions wearing pajama bottoms, flip-flops and baseball caps.

The sentiments of these young folks seemed to align with those of Academy Award winning screen writer John Ridley (12 Years A Slave), who in a 2006 essay for Esquire Magazine, wrote “In the forty years since the Deal was brokered, since the Voting Rights Act was signed, there have been successes for blacks. But there are still too many blacks in prison, too many kids aggrandizing the thug life, and way too many African-Americans doing far too little with the opportunities others earned for them.” Continue reading →

Comments on Rhetorical Bow Ties Won’t Protect Them

Willie Williamson says:

The time has come for us to view the events in today’s world with a special focus on “Neoliberalism”. Under the neoliberal banner, the contradictions and outright lies about democracy are there for us all to see. A neoliberal will not consider an alternative economic system of government. They will say that capitalism is the best system. However, as most of us know, capitalism came on the scene with the blood of others dripping from its hands as imperial powers developed and conquered other nations. There is very little wiggle room for the believers in the capitalist system to put forward an argument for its maintenance. In the majority of capitalist countries there is widespread unemployment, cities falling apart, the education system going to ruin, gridlocked seats of government that tends to target its citizens to shoulder the burden of holding the system together. At the heart of this present crisis is a blame game put forth by neoliberals with fingers pointed squarely at black and brown people, who are, for the most part, considered the “other”. Banking heavily on racism and “rugged individualism”, segregation is being renewed in “up” and “down” south.
The policing of black and brown people, especially young men, gets an extra boost from the talking heads of right-wing radio and television. Black and brown youth are constantly presented as worthless criminals with no purpose in life and therefore the police seem to feel that they don’t have to respect their rights as citizens.

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