Hunter and Lui discuss intersectionality in final speaker series event

Lucy Peck, Staff Writer

Historians Tera Hunter and Mary Lui discussed topics including intersectionality, research sources, Critical Race Theory (CRT), activist movements and myths about African Americans and Asian Americans in this year’s final installation of the Upper Division (UD) Race and Ethnicity Speaker Series last Thursday. The event was moderated by UD history teacher Dr. Lauren Meyer, UD history teacher David Berenson, Louise Kim (11), and Destiney Green (12).

Hunter is a Professor of History and African-American Studies at Princeton University, where she has taught multiple courses on African-American history and gender. Her research examines African-American women and labor in Southern states during the 19th and 20th centuries. 

Lui is a Professor of History and American Studies at Yale University. Her research focuses on Asian American history, urban history, women and gender studies, and public history. Lui is also affiliated with Yale’s Ethnicity, Race, and Migration program and Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies program. 

Hunter and Lui began by addressing how intersectionality is relevant to their research. Hunter explained how the relationships between race, gender, and class are crucial in understanding American history. “Intersectionality is not new — the concept was central to Black women and anything we call feminism,” she said. 

Lui believes that race, gender, and class are important factors to consider when researching the formation of Asian American communities like Chinatown, she said. 

Hunter and Lui also discussed how they each use archival sources in their research. In her work, Hunter often uses unconventional sources. When writing about domestic workers, Hunter referenced sources from the perspectives of the workers’ employers. Looking at the employers’ checkbooks allowed Hunter to see how much the domestic workers were paid, she said. Lui uses a mix of all types of sources in her research but often relies on baptism records, census records and maps, she said.

Meyer enjoyed hearing about how the speakers work to uncover voices that might not have been central to the source or voices of people who were marginalized throughout history, she said. This sometimes requires “reading against the grain.”

Daphne Tsai (10) enjoyed thinking about the connections between this section of the seminar related to her US history class, she said. When reading “Wake: The Hidden History of Women-Led Slave Revolts” by Rebecca Hall, the class discussed the difficulty of finding information on women led slave revolts because they were rarely written about, Tsai said. The author had to comb through sources and look carefully for the hidden voices of women, Tsai said. 

Hunter also addressed the debate over CRT and the extent to which gender and race should be taught in a classroom. Hunter and Lui both aim to create classrooms in which they can have open conversations with students, they said. 

Meyer enjoyed listening to the speakers’ thoughts about current events, specifically CRT, she said. “It was interesting to see how they elevated classrooms as productive spaces to engage in dialogue and disagreement, rather than spaces that need to be policed or where disagreements need to be avoided.” 

Lui then spoke about how activist movements are most likely to succeed when they establish a common goal which they keep front and center, she said. 

Hunter and Lui then spoke about common myths about African and Asian Americans. Hunter discussed the common stereotype of African American women being sexually permiscuous. She used the example of the recent questioning of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, the first African American woman elected to the Supreme Court, Hunter said.

Lui spoke about the harms of the Asian American ‘model minority’ myth. This myth is often used against Asians if they do not succeed or used as a critique of other nationalities, she said. 

Tsai agreed that the ‘model minority myth’ is harmful, she said. “The myth is often used against other groups like African Americans to critique them and claim they are not trying as hard as Asian Americans,” she said. “By doing this, people are effectively weaponizing Asian Americans to perpetuate racism.”

Aamri Sareen (10) thinks that discussing these common yet harmful myths is especially important, she said. “These myths are so common and pervasive that people can come to believe them without understanding the harms and potential repercussions.”

Kim originally applied to moderate the event because of their personal interest in history, they said. “I also wanted to be a point of communication between the school and the guest speakers,” she said. “I felt like my personal identity as an Asian American was relevant because I’m able to acutely understand the histories that navigate race and ethnicity.”  

When deciding which questions they would pose for the speakers, Kim looked for two qualities, she said. “First was relevance to the specific intersection we were discussing — race, ethnicity and gender,” they said. “Second was relevance to the present and to the student body.” 

Kim was able to talk with both professors during and after the event, she said. “It felt really inspiring to see two women of color succeeding in academia,” she said. “I feel more called to continue to pursue my own passions and interests as I see the professors as role models for my studies.” 

Meyer hopes the series helped students consider the relevance of historical work when trying to understand the present moment, she said.“History can be empowering to those who want to create positive social change,” she said. “Having a better understanding of history helps us do better in the present.”