NOLIWE ROOKS: Hi, my name is Noliwe Rooks, and I'm a professor of Africana studies at Cornell University.
How has the pandemic changed my perspective as a scholar? What COVID has done is opened up an entirely new kind of area for me in that regard about how we stylize ourselves, how we represent ourselves in this digital space.
I had done-- I'd been beginning to do some work about how Instagram, in particular, is a space where people curate identity for different, you know, depending on if you're trying to get a date, if you want an advertiser to pick you to sell things, if you're trying to get a job. Like, there's all kinds of ways on Instagram as a very visual medium.
I had been looking at younger people, people not in my demographic, but have really used it to make a visual conversation. I think that research for me has really been heightened here when I look at and see and covet some of the backgrounds that people have. People are curating their home space. They're curating-- sometimes they just put a screen up in the back so you can't see anything about their home.
But I'm already hearing conversations with students where they'll say, I got the sense that so-and-so is really rich. I was looking at their house-- I could recognize how much some of those figurines that they were standing in front of cost. Or students who say, I don't know where to go in my house that will make it look like-- that will not let my classmates who may, when I was living in the dorm, may not have had a real sense of my socioeconomic background. It's not possible for me to curate a space on Zoom that doesn't make that more visible.
So I can see some of the studies, some of the research that I've done previously about how we present ourselves, for what reasons in public spaces around race and gender, thinking about, though, how, when you have the opportunity to more specifically curate that presentation, what it is that we do, who we want to be, the self that we get to present to the world in this space.
How do I think the COVID pandemic will change this country going forward? For both this country and the world, I believe-- so I've always believed myself to be fairly self-contained. I wouldn't say I'm an introvert, but I'm an only child and have always been comfortable with my own company. I've always been fine, in some ways not in big crowds.
I think, though, that for me, for the country, and for the world, we are all coming to understand the necessity for human contact and the necessity of freedom of movement. And some of how if we did believe-- I mean, I'm having conversations with people on Zoom about this regularly-- if we did believe that electronic conversation and interaction substituted for in human, in kind, in person socializing and touch, that is one of the first things that I'm hearing from everyone that they miss the most.
It's the handshake. It's the hug. It's the kiss on the cheek. It's the time lingering over a meal together closer than six feet. Those things about humanity and just contact, I think we are all coming to value those very small things much more. And to wonder what the world is going to look like on the other side of this. Is it really possible that we'll go back to just sort of unfettered handshaking and cheek kissing and hugs for a total stranger.
So I think the plus is it has made many of us recognize, even if we think of ourselves as introverts or loners or comfortable with our own company, realize but how what a fiction that is, how much time we, in fact, do spend around other people. And we value the freedom to make a choice to be an introvert versus having no choice but to be in your house, or your trade-off being be in your house or be alone or get sick. And I think that that's a lesson that will stay with us for some time.
I want to thank you for the opportunity to answer these questions, and I wish you all good health.
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Interdisciplinary scholar Noliwe Rooks discusses how people curate their home spaces, now that much of work and school is conducted from home via video conferencing. The pandemic has also underlined our need for human contact, she says. Rooks is the W.E.B. Du Bois Professor of Literature in the College of Arts and Sciences at Cornell University. Her work looks at how race and gender impact – and are impacted by – popular culture, social history, and political life in the United States.