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A Public Intellectual Dressed in Hope: The Activism of Darnell L. Moore

I don’t recall exactly how his work first came to my attention, but I’ve been moved and deepened by his thinking many times. Darnell L. Moore (Photo Credit: Tamara Fleming) is a scholar whose work navigates the dangerous areas of class, race, sexuality, and religion. While he considers many topics within those volatile subjects, his thinking, expressed in clear and moving writing, always aims at activism. He aims to give others hope, to remove some of the harshness from the world, and to replace it with a more inclusive and gracious humanity. It seems he aims, as Robert F. Kennedy wrote quoting Aeschylus, “…to make gentle the life of this world.”

Darnell is an editor on the vibrant site, The Feminist Wire. He writes essays there on a wide variety of subjects and he occasionally brings in the work of others as well. He regularly co-authors an especially interesting column on The Huffington Post Gay Voices, with former NFL player Wade Davis, II. This column, titled “Tongues Untied,” explores queer politics and Black manhood, among others.  He was appointed by Newark Mayor Cory Booker as the Inaugural Chair of the City of Newark’s LGBT Concerns Advisory Committee and he has held appointments as a visiting scholar at NYU and Yale Divinity School and lecturer at Rutgers and City College (CUNY). His work is steadily becoming recognized for the hope and goodness it holds.

One of the most moving pieces he wrote recently, grabbed my attention as a poet and a teacher. In “A Letter to Mis(s)-Education*” Darnell composes an insightful letter to a teacher who once publicly scolded him with the cutting words, “Darnell, you can’t write.” In this letter/essay, he reflects on both the good and the damage which teachers can do. He considers the history of literacy (and illiteracy) among slaves in America. This essay also wrestles a bit with the difficult decision to self-identify as “a writer” or “a poet.” This self-identification became a true growth point in my own life.

Another essay of his that stays with me comes from the Huffington Post’s Gay Voices series called “Post Whiteness.” In this essay from May, 2012, he does some careful thinking about America’s current racial place. Darnell also conducts and then writes some fascinating interviews, such as this recent one with Professor Imani Perry from Princeton.

The notion of a “public intellectual” is a venerable one in America. When I think of people like Cornel West, Naomi Klein, Paul Krugman, and Atul Gawande, to name a few, I am reminded of how important some thinkers and writers can be in helping the rest of us sort through complex problems. They help us avoid simplifications. They help us keep an eye on history. What I admire most in Darnell L. Moore’s work is that he does more than help us think clearly. His insights, and the nuanced ways he expresses them, also offer a sense of hope, a way forward.

I think, and I hope, that we will be learning from Darnell L. Moore for a long time.

 

 

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