Talkin’ Shit: The History of African-American Culture (Plus Bonus)

This course examines the origins and ascendancy of the most loved, hated, and powerful popular culture in American history.


Talkin’ Shit: The History of African-American Culture

Bonus Course Included — Talkin’ Shit: The History of Hip-Hop

Instructors: Kamasi Hill and Thaddeus Russell
Each session will run between 2 and 2.5 hours

This course examines the origins and ascendancy of the most loved, hated, and powerful popular culture in American history.

Over the last two centuries the cultural forms created by American slaves and their descendants have been welcomed and often worshipped in nearly every country in the world. Outside the United States the most famous and popular Americans have always been black. No president or general has commanded more international attention and admiration than black minstrel and vaudeville performers of the 19th century. No American politician has been more influential or beloved globally than Louis Armstrong, Aretha Franklin, Muhammad Ali, Michael Jackson, or Beyoncé. Authoritarian regimes in Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, and the Middle East outlawed African-American culture because its libidinal and liberating nature was often more popular among their populations than the repression required by fascism, communism, and sharia law.

In the United States, black culture has been simultaneously derided by elites—including black elites—who often see it as a threat to foundational, puritanical American norms, and envied and emulated by masses of ordinary Americans of all colors. The music and comedy of slaves became the most popular form of entertainment in the world. Black fashion became American fashion. Black dialect became American slang. In lower-class saloons in early America, in the jazz clubs of the 20th century, and at the hip-hop concert arenas of the 21st century, black popular culture has integrated more people through voluntary desire than the coercive measures of affirmative action or school bussing ever could.

This is a course other universities wouldn’t dare to offer: a politically incorrect, renegade history of black America. 

Course Schedule

Session 1: Tuesday, November 3, 8:30 PM Eastern
The World the Slaves Made

  1. West African origins of American slave culture
  2. Slaves’ attitudes toward work, sex, relationships, and their enslavement
  3. Origins of black Christianity
  4. Paternalism and everyday resistance
  5. The popularity of slave culture and blackface minstrels

Session 2: Tuesday, November 10, 8:30 PM Eastern
Reconstruction, Jim Crow, Armed Resistance, Mutual Aid

  1. The anti-blackness assimilationism of Reconstruction
  2. Armed resistance: from anti-Klan self-defense to the Tulsa race war of 1921
  3. Black mutual aid societies
  4. The W.E.B. DuBois-Booker T. Washington debate
  5. “Respectability” politic

Session 3: Tuesday, November 17, 8:30 PM Eastern
The Great Migration and the Making of Urban America

  1. Black culture as popular culture: from “jungle” jazz to the mainstream
  2. Black dialect becomes American English
  3. Jews and Italians: the “other Negroes”
  4. Harlem Renaissance: artists, intellectuals, and gangsters
  5. Marcus Garvey, black nationalism, and pan-Africanis

Session 4: Tuesday, November 24, 8:30 PM Eastern
Racial Liberalism and “Blackness”

  1. Gunnar Myrdal’s An American Dilemma: antiracism and anti-blackness
  2. King and the Civil Rights Movement: desegregation, integration, assimilation
  3. Armed resistance under Jim Crow: Deacons for Defense, the C.O. Chinn militia, violent resistance to police and the Klan
  4. Black Power and black nationalism: Malcolm X, Nation of Islam, the Black Panther Party
  5. The global ascendancy of black popular culture
  6. The black origins of Rock-and-Roll
  7. Hip-hop: party music, “conscious” music, gangsta music, anarchist music
  8. African-Americans and the rise of the carceral state
  9. The meaning of Barack Obama
  10. Black Lives Matter, Ta-Nehisi Coates and “afro-pessimism

Meet the Instructor

Kamasi Hill


Kamasi C. Hill is a historian, theologian, educator, art curator, and filmmaker. Born and raised in Detroit, Michigan, he attended Detroit public schools, graduated from Howard University, and received his PhD in religion from Northwestern University, where he specialized in the history of African-American religion and culture. He lives in Chicago and teaches U.S. and African-American history at Evanston Township High School. He has curated more than 300 pieces of original African and African American art, and work from his collection has been exhibited at the Museum of Science and Industry, DuSable Museum, and the University of Chicago. Kamasi also wrote, produced, and directed the documentary film Born in the Struggle, on the lives of children of black radical activists from the 1960s and 1970s.

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Video course

Full access to high quality video courses.

Office Hours

Speak one-on-one with the instructor via phone or video call

Social Learning

Participate in a course related social media network with others taking the course.