John Jennings, University of California at Riverside.
Peter Fine, University of Wyoming
Stacey Robinson, University of Illinois
Marshall Shorts, ARTfluential and Creative Control Fest (CCF)
Intelligent Mischief, a creative action design lab

There will be white mythologies, invented Orients, invented Africas, invented Americas, with a correspondingly fabricated population, countries that never were, inhabited by people who never were— Calibans and Tontos, Man Fridays and Sambos— but who attain a virtual reality through their existence in travelers’ tales, folk myth , popular and highbrow ction, colonial reports, scholarly theory, Hollywood cinema, living in the white imagination and determinedly imposed on their alarmed real-life counterparts.

— Charles W. Mills, The Racial Contract

The recent events in our country around race have been extremely revealing. From the rise of Black Lives Matter to the tragic, racially motivated church shooting in South Carolina, these tumultuous instances have acted as flash-points around a systemic issue that many Americans have chosen to ignore. Race and its associated systems of oppression are still a major issue in our society. This fact has been part of the fabric of American society since the formation of our nation. It’s a mediated and highly designed cultural phenomenon that historically has been visualized via decades of readily consumable visual culture. is denial of the pervasiveness of racism, in part, is one of the most complex visual communication problems in the history of our country. In addition, negative visual communications have been partially responsible for the messages that have inflicted a legacy of suffering and lack upon black people while their white counterparts have basked in the light of the American Dream.

Professor Mark Anthony Neal’s ground-breaking book Looking For Leroy: Illegible Black Masculinities puts forth the thesis that American society has not been taught to read the alternative identities that are performed in the African American community and that the negatively stereotypical renderings from advertisements, cartoons, television and other designed imagery have caused a societal “illiteracy” when dealing with the Black body. Black subjectivity and person hood have been stripped away and re-inscribed as “demonic”, “wild”, and “scary”. This dissonance between the real and the constructed creates a litany of questions: If the black body can be read as a “text” then, historically, what have been the consequences when that text is misinterpreted? How does one disentangle the constructed fantasies and fears of the black body from the humanity of the Black subject? How can design possibly deal with some of these difficult problems?

Racism is a system and systems are imagined, designed and executed. Graphics, designed objects, and illustrations can function as indexes for these underlying structures and can therefore, possibly, be redesigned. This is one of the main theories around a new area of study and practice called critical race design studies. This aspect of design can be defined as: an interdisciplinary design practice that intersects critical race theory, speculative design, design history, and critical making to analyze and critique the effects of visual communication, graphic objects, and their associated systemic mediations of racial identity.

Design is always a future oriented space and it can be part of the key that unlocks the answer to one of the most pervasive issues in our society. The purpose of this panel will be to examine the problems at hand regarding race as a designed object and explore case studies of how some design educators are leading the charge in reconsidering race, design and the black subject.


John Jennings (panel chair) is a Professor of Media and Cultural Studies at the University of California at Riverside. His creative and academic work centers around intersectional narratives regarding identity politics and popular media. Jennings is co-editor of the Eisner Award winning collection The Blacker the Ink: Constructions of Black Identity in Comics and Sequential Art and co-founder/organizer of The Schomburg Center’s Black Comic Book Festival in Harlem. He is co-founder and organizer of the MLK NorCal’s Black Comix Arts Festival in San Francisco and also SOL-CON: The Brown and Black Comix Expo at the Ohio State University. Jennings is currently a Nasir Jones Hip Hop Studies Fellow with the Hutchins Center at Harvard University. Jennings’ current projects include the Hiphop adventure comic Kid Code: Channel Zero, the supernatural crime noir story Blue Hand Mojo, and the New York Times best-selling graphic novel adaptation of Octavia Butler’s classic dark fantasy novel Kindred.

Peter Fine (panelist) is the author of Sustainable Graphic Design: Principles and Practice, published by Bloomsbury Academic in 2016. He is a writer, curator, teacher and producer of creative work on the subject of race and representation. This interdisciplinary practice will culminate in his next single author book for Bloomsbury, The Design of Race: How Visual Culture Shaped America to be published in 2019. He is an Assistant Professor of Art and Graphic Design at the University of Wyoming. University of Wyoming Dept. of Art and Design.

Stacey Robinson (panelist) is an Assistant Professor of graphic design at the University of Illinois is an Arthur Schomburg fellow who completed his Masters of Fine Art at the University at Bu alo. His work discusses ideas of “Black Utopias” as spaces of peace away from co- lonial in uence by considering Black a uent self-sustaining communities, Black protest movements and the art movements that document(ed) them. As part of the collaborative team “Black Kirby” with artist John Jennings, he creates graphic novels, gallery exhibitions and lectures that deconstruct the work of artist Jack Kirby to re-imagine Black resistance spaces inspired by Hip Hop, religion, the arts, and sciences. His exhibition ‘Binary ConScience’ explores ideas of W.E. B. Du Bois’s “double consciousness” as a Black cultural adaptation and a means of colonial survival. Recent works appear in books: ‘Kid Code: Channel Zero’ from Rosarium Publishing, ‘Prison Industrial Complex For Beginners,’ from For Beginners Books, and upcoming ‘The Black Speculative Arts Movement: Afrofuturism, Art+Design’ (edited by Reynaldo Anderson) from Lexington Books.

Marshall Shorts (panelist) is an award winning entrepreneur, artist and designer. Shorts is Creative-N-Chief and founder of ARTfluential; a boutique creative agency made up of a collective of artisans, designers, developers and thinkers that live at the intersection of design, technology and culture. In an effort to engage the creative industries more comprehensively, Marshall co-founded Creative Control Fest (CCF) in 2012. CCF is an annual grassroots con-fest aimed at the mutual exchange of resources with creatives of color in the industries of art, design, activism, scholarship and entrepreneurship. The conference focuses on inclusion, exposure, education and opportunities for underrepresented groups in the growing creative and tech industries.

Intelligent Mischief (panelist) is a creative action design lab using culture, narrative and design to hack social change. It’s mission is to boost invention and imagination, realign action logic and experiment with new forms of civil society to create atmospheres of change. They believe in the power of culture. These cultural experiences inform our identities, communities, & politic, and impact how they see the world. IM curates transformative designed experiences and interventions that re-imagine the possibilities and shift the “common sense”. As afro-caribbean immigrants, veteran organizers, and creatives/cultural organizers they bring a unique perspective and range of skills to their broader social justice community and social justice values and vision to the creative sphere. Intelligent Mischief works at the nexus of arts, popular culture, social change and activism. Their networks allow them national reach with deep Boston roots. They are particularly committed to working with black and brown communities to o er solutions that are often fenced o from them due to expense or lack of cultural awareness of existing design and creative firms.