On Blackness, Liveliness, and What It Means to Be Human

Toward Black Specificity in Higher Education

Expected to ship: 2024-10-01

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Develops a theoretical and methodological focus on Blackness to rethink ideas about humanity underpinning the field of student development.


In "No Humans Involved: An Open Letter to My Colleagues," Jamaican writer and theorist Sylvia Wynter critiques the social and human sciences for perpetuating social hierarchies, particularly through the Western humanist framing of "Man" as the universal representation of humanity. Human development theories revolve around this concept, necessitating acquiescence to the category Man to claim humanity. But Blackness complicates and unsettles these terms in ways the fields of higher education and educational research are in many ways just beginning to confront.

On Blackness, Liveliness, and What It Means to Be Human extends Wynter's critique to human development and academic knowledge production, arguing that Black specificity can create new possibilities for Black being. Wilson Kwamogi Okello closely examines holistic development theory, aiming not to reform but to reimagine the "self" it presupposes. Taking what he describes as a multimodal and multisensory approach, Okello engages a chorus of writers, thinkers, and cultural workers—Baldwin, Bambara, Brand, Hartman, Lorde, Sharpe, Spillers, Wilderson, and more—to reframe Blackness as a social, political, and historical matrix, going beyond the study of Black experiences, biology, or culture. Punctuated throughout by stunning images from artist Mikael Owunna's "Infinite Essence" series, the book proposes and enacts a methodological attunement to Blackness that can guide theory, policy, and practice toward an alternative praxis for the benefit of Black living.

Wilson Kwamogi Okello is Assistant Professor of Education at the Pennsylvania State University.


"There are books that leave you feeling inspired, challenged, and wanting more. Okello's On Blackness, Liveliness, and What It Means to Be Human does that and more. As powerful as it is beautiful, the book deftly brings the reader on a journey through genres and masterfully weaves across disciplines. By centering Black Study and issuing a call to study 'liveliness,' Okello makes a profound and welcomed intervention; modeling an 'otherwise' that will forever change this thing we call student development theory." — Keon McGuire, North Carolina State University