New faculty: David Ikard, professor of African American and diaspora studies

David Ikard, professor of African American and diaspora studies (Joe Howell/Vanderbilt)

While literary luminaries Toni Morrison and James Baldwin are among the top influencers on David Ikard’s research, he credits everything from political rhetoric to popular television series for sparking his scholarship.

Ikard’s new book, Lovable Racists, Magical Negroes, and White Messiahs, engages with issues of white blindness and white redemption narratives across literature, film, social media, politics, history and black human rights movements.

“One of the sparks for this research was watching HBO’s The Sopranos, an amazing show in which the writers convince us to empathize with the pathologically cruel and gangsterous character Tony Soprano,” Ikard said. “I was struck by how the writers seduce us into overlooking Tony’s very monstrous behavior, including his brash racist, sexist and homophobic mindset, by focusing on his complex humanity and possible weaknesses. I’ve observed a similar formulation at play with politicians, celebrities and athletes who routinely make bigoted comments with impunity.”

Ikard’s research often begins with a question about a current issue in the news. He co-authored Nation of Cowards: Black Activism in Barack Obama’s Post-Racial America with colleague Martell Teasley following their intense conversation the night Barack Obama was elected president.

“Sitting at the kitchen table, I made the argument that despite the euphoria sweeping the nation, the political ‘needle’ had moved only slightly to the left,” Ikard said. “I contended that there would continue to be a deep divide between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ in terms of social, political and economic realities, and that the next president could be a polar opposite.” Teasley, a college dean whose academic expertise is social work, responded that the two should write a book together, so they did.

Ikard, who comes to Vanderbilt as the new chair of African American and Diaspora Studies, was recruited from the University of Miami, where he was a professor of English and director of Africana studies. He also taught at Florida State University and the University of Tennessee–Knoxville after earning his doctorate at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

Ikard previously worked with Tracy Sharpley-Whiting, Distinguished Professor of French and African American and Diaspora Studies at Vanderbilt, on a collection of articles on black feminist criticism for Palimpsest: A Journal on Women, Gender, and the Black International. Sharpley-Whiting, who shares many of his research interests, wrote the forward for his new book.

Ikard, a native of the tiny town of Troutman, North Carolina, was excited to move from Miami to Nashville. “Music City has a lot of soul,” he said. “You can feel it in the architecture, the restaurants and even the way Nashvillians take pride in their city. While the ‘It City’ has its traffic challenges, it’s nothing like Miami rush hour.”

View the complete list of new Vanderbilt University faculty for 2017-18.