Racial Fictions Course

This fall semester of 2021, I took Dr. David Magill’s Literature of Diversity class where the topics vary each time it is taught. Last semester, the topic was on Racial Fictions. This topic was newly constructed and it was Magill’s first time teaching it. I interviewed him so I could inform Longwood University students on what the basis of the Racial Fictions course is all about. 

Racial discrimination has been an issue for a long time. When taking this course, Magill said “Students will learn how race functions in our culture across different racial groups. I did not want to just focus on one, like African American or Native American. I wanted to do a cross-racial view and also show how writers engage with race to help teach us about how to think differently about race, through their fictions, films, etc.” 

He went on to say, “A Racial Fictions class is going to teach students how to be critical readers of literature, but also of culture to understand race in a more significant way as a kind of social performance that has real world effects. We need to attend to and hopefully make changes in our culture to make things better for everyone.”

Magill defines race as, “A set of meetings and beliefs that are arbitrary, but strongly connected to a belief about a particular group of people. Race functions as a kind of marker of identity, also as a marker of the power that creates connections or lack of connections to resources and access to very important material means. So I see race as a social construct that functions to kind of group people in ways we may want to rethink.'' 

I was also able to talk to two former classmates: Austyn Mann and Javontae Pegram. Mann said “My biggest takeaway from this class is how vital literature is to learning and understanding different backgrounds. Some of those texts felt like they could've been biographical on account of how real they were and how naturally they were written. 

Mann also said, “It gives the opportunity for a reader to temporarily be in the shoes of someone who walks a completely different life, experiencing the outer troubles and inward turmoil they have to face. The experience of reading the novels may have only lasted about a week, but I will carry the perspectives they gave me for the rest of my life.” 

Mann added, “The texts that Magill chose for this class were written by authors who were very determined to communicate a message to readers. The texts challenged our notion of race and how we define it. As for Pegram, he said “I learned from the class the difference that social status also has on race, it's almost another divide that can exist in an already marginalized people.” 

Students gaining a new perspective is one of Magill’s goals by the end of the course. He said “I want students to take away that race is not something internal or fixed. It is something we as a society impose on everyone and form all around us. Therefore, there is a great opportunity for all of us to rewrite or to challenge these conceptions of race to kind of undercut racism to create a better world. One way we can do that is in literature. Writers write these books as a way of getting us to change our views of the world. Reading and thinking about these ideas are really important.” 

If you're interested in taking The Racial Fictions Course, Magill is hoping to teach it at the general education level, but if not, English 362 will be taught again in two years. 

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