In the 1930s African Americans faced three distinct historical crises that impacted the lives of African Americans directly—the Great Depression, the existential-identity crisis, and the Italo-Ethiopian War, with its threat of a race war. A sizeable body of black poetry was produced in this decade, which captured the new modes of autonomy through which black Americans resisted these social calamities. Much of it, however, including the most influential protest poems, was dismissed as “romantic” by major, leftist critics and anthologists.
Anthems, Sonnets, and Chants: Recovering the African American Poetry of the 1930s, by Jon Woodson, uses social philology to unveil social discourse, self fashioning, and debates in poems gathered from anthologies, magazines, newspapers, and individual collections. The first chapter examines three long poems, finding overarching jeremiadic discourse that inaugurated a militant, politically aware agent. Chapter two examines self-fashioning in the numerous sonnets that responded to the new media of radio, newsreels, movies, and photo-magazines. The third chapter shows how new subjectivities were generated by poetry addressed to the threat of race war in which the white race was exterminated.
The black intellectuals who dominated the interpretative discourses of the 1930s fostered exteriority, while black culture as a whole plunged into interiority. Anthems, Sonnets, and Chants delineates the struggle between these inner and outer worlds, a study made difficult by a contemporary intellectual culture which recoils from a belief in a consistent, integrated self.
Black Celebrity examines representations of postbellum black athletes and artist-entertainers by novelists Caryl Phillips and Jeffery Renard Allen and poets Kevin Young, Frank X Walker, Adrian Matejka, and Tyehimba Jess. Inhabiting the perspectives of boxer Jack Johnson and musicians “Blind Tom” Wiggins and Sissieretta Jones, along with several others, these writers retrain readers’ attention away from athletes’ and entertainers’ overdetermined bodies and toward their complex inner lives. Phillips, Allen, Young, Walker, Matejka, and Jess especially plumb the emotional archive of desire, anxiety, pain, and defiance engendered by the racial hypervisibility and depersonalization that has long characterized black stardom. In the process, these novelists and poets and, in turn, the present book revise understandings of black celebrity history while evincing the through-lines between the postbellum era and our own time.
Black, White, and in Color offers a long-awaited collection of major essays by Hortense Spillers, one of the most influential and inspiring black critics of the past twenty years. Spanning her work from the early 1980s, in which she pioneered a broadly poststructuralist approach to African American literature, and extending through her turn to cultural studies in the 1990s, these essays display her passionate commitment to reading as a fundamentally political act-one pivotal to rewriting the humanist project.
Spillers is best known for her race-centered revision of psychoanalytic theory and for her subtle account of the relationships between race and gender. She has also given literary criticism some of its most powerful readings of individual authors, represented here in seminal essays on Ralph Ellison, Gwendolyn Brooks, and William Faulkner. Ultimately, the essays collected in Black, White, and in Color all share Spillers's signature style: heady, eclectic, and astonishingly productive of new ideas. Anyone interested in African American culture and literature will want to read them.
In Colonialism and Race in Luso-Hispanic Literature, Jerome C. Branche examines race naming and race making in the modern period (1415–1948). During this time, racism, a partner to both slavery and colonial exploitation, took myriad discursive forms, ranging from the reflections and treatises of philosophers and scientists to travel writing, novels, poetry, drama, and the grammar of everyday life. Branche’s main premise is that modern race making went hand in hand with European expansion, the colonial enterprise, and the international development of capitalism.
Branche looks at the racially partisan works of the Luso-Hispanic canon to document just how long lasting, widespread, and deep the feelings they expressed were. He also illustrates how important race as narrative has been and continues to be. Branche pays particular attention to the Portuguese travel writing of the mid-fifteenth century, Spanish drama of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Cuban and Brazilian antislavery texts of the nineteenth century, and the Afro-Antillean negrismo movement of the twentieth century.
While Colonialism and Race in Luso-Hispanic Literature complements important studies of the 1970s and 1990s that treat black identity in the Spanish literary tradition, at the same time its range is wider than many other works because of the inclusion of the Luso-Brazilian dimension, its examination of extraliterary texts, and its coverage of a broader time frame. Branche’s marriage of postcolonial and cultural theory with his own close readings of related texts leads to a provocative reconsideration of how the Negro was portrayed in Latin American cultural discourse.
In The Color of Sex Mason Stokes offers new ways of thinking about whiteness by exploring its surprisingly ambivalent partnership with heterosexuality. Stokes examines a wide range of white-supremacist American texts written and produced between 1852 and 1915—literary romances, dime novels, religious and scientific tracts, film—and exposes whiteness as a tangled network of racial and sexual desire. Stokes locates these white-supremacist texts amid the anti-racist efforts of African American writers and activists, deepening our understanding of both American and African American literary and cultural history. The Color of Sex reveals what happens when race and sexuality meet, when white desire encounters its own ambivalence. As Stokes argues, whiteness and heterosexuality exist in anxious relation to one another. Mutually invested in “the normal,” they support each other in their desperate insistence on the cultural logic of exclusion. At the same time, however, they threaten one another in their attempt to create and sustain a white future, since reproducing whiteness necessarily involves the risk of contamination Charting the curious movements of this “white heterosexuality,” The Color of Sex inaugurates a new moment in our ongoing attempt to understand the frenzied interplay of race and sexuality in America. As such, it will appeal to scholars interested in race theory, sexuality studies, and American history, culture, and literature.
Coloring Locals examines how the late nineteenth-century politics of gender, class, race, and ethnicity influenced Kate Chopin's writing for the major family periodical of her time.
Chopin's canonical status as a feminist rebel and reformer conflicts with the fact that one of her most supportive publishers throughout her life was the Youth's Companion, a juvenile periodical whose thoroughly orthodox “family values” contributed to its success as the longest-running and, at one time, most widely circulating periodical in nineteenth-century America. Not surprisingly, Chopin’s Youth’s Companion stories differ from her canonical texts in that they embrace and advance ideals of orthodox white femininity and masculinity. Rather than viewing these two representations as being at odds with each other, Bonnie Shaker asserts that Chopin's endorsement of conventional gender norms is done in the service of a second political agenda beyond her feminism, one that can help the reader appreciate nuances of identity construction previously misunderstood or overlooked in the body of her work.
Shaker articulates this second agenda as “the discursive act of coloring locals,” the narrative construction of racial difference for Louisiana peoples of African American, Native American, and French American ancestry. For Chopin, “coloring locals” meant transforming non-Louisianans’ general understanding of the Creole and Cajun as mixed-race people into “purely” white folks, this designation of whiteness being one that conferred not only social preferment but also political protections and enfranchisement in one of the most racially violent decades of U.S. history. Thus, when Chopin is concerned with coloring her beloved Louisiana Creoles and Cajuns “white,” she strategically deploys conventional femininity for the benefits it affords as a sign of middle-class respectability and belonging.
Making significant contributions both to the scholarship on Kate Chopin and on race and gender construction, this sophisticated study will be of great interest to scholars and students of nineteenth-century ethnic and cultural studies as well as Chopin scholars.
Deciphering Race engages with the complex and contested world of Victorian racial discourse. In the five central texts under consideration in this study—Harriet Martineau’s The Hour and the Man, Robert Knox’s The Races of Men, Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins’s “The Perils of Certain English Prisoners,” the transcript of the inquiry into the Governor Eyre Controversy, and James Grant’s First Love and Last Love—a white English author or character turns to the aesthetic in order to assuage a sense of anxiety produced by a confrontation with racial otherness. White characters or narrators confront the limitations of preconceived ideologies or the interlacing of oppressions, and subsequently falter.
In this manner these narratives confront the complexity, indeterminacy, and irrationality of both racial difference and the systems put in place to understand that difference. Deciphering Race unpacks this narrative turn to the aesthetic in writings by white English individuals and thus reveals the instability at the heart of cultural understanding of race and racial tropes at mid-century. This series of readings will help to see how figurative structures, while providing a bridge between different cultures and epistemologies, also reinforce a distance that keeps groups separate. Only by disentangling these structures, by addressing and unpacking our assumptions and narratives about those different from ourselves, and by understanding our deep cultural anxiety and investment in these ways of talking about one another, can we begin to create the conditions for productive, local understanding between different cultures, races, and communities.
If racially offensive epithets are banned on CNN air time and in the pages of USA Today, Jonathan Arac asks, shouldn’t a fair hearing be given to those who protest their use in an eighth-grade classroom? Placing Mark Twain’s comic masterpiece, Huckleberry Finn, in the context of long-standing American debates about race and culture, Jonathan Arac has written a work of scholarship in the service of citizenship. Huckleberry Finn, Arac points out, is America’s most beloved book, assigned in schools more than any other work because it is considered both the “quintessential American novel” and “an important weapon against racism.” But when some parents, students, and teachers have condemned the book’s repeated use of the word “nigger,” their protests have been vehemently and often snidely countered by cultural authorities, whether in the universities or in the New York Times and the Washington Post. The paradoxical result, Arac contends, is to reinforce racist structures in our society and to make a sacred text of an important book that deserves thoughtful reading and criticism. Arac does not want to ban Huckleberry Finn, but to provide a context for fairer, fuller, and better-informed debates.
Arac shows how, as the Cold War began and the Civil Rights movement took hold, the American critics Lionel Trilling, Henry Nash Smith, and Leo Marx transformed the public image of Twain’s novel from a popular “boy’s book” to a central document of American culture. Huck’s feelings of brotherhood with the slave Jim, it was implied, represented all that was right and good in American culture and democracy. Drawing on writings by novelists, literary scholars, journalists, and historians, Arac revisits the era of the novel’s setting in the 1840s, the period in the 1880s when Twain wrote and published the book, and the post–World War II era, to refute many deeply entrenched assumptions about Huckleberry Finn and its place in cultural history, both nationally and globally. Encompassing discussion of Harriet Beecher Stowe, Frederick Douglass, Ralph Ellison, Archie Bunker, James Baldwin, Shelley Fisher Fishkin, and Mark Fuhrman, Arac’s book is trenchant, lucid, and timely.
"Both from the Right and from the Left, we are stymied in talking well with one another about race and racism, by intransigent beliefs in our own goodness as well as by our conviction that such talk is useless. . . . White antiracist epistemology needs to begin not with our beliefs, but with our individual and collective awakening to that which we do not know."
Drawing on scholarship across disciplines ranging from writing and rhetoric studies to critical race theory to philosophy, I Hope I Join the Band examines the limits and the possibilities for performative engagement in antiracist activism. Focusing particularly on the challenges posed by raced-white identity to performativity, and moving between narrative and theoretical engagement, thebook names and argues for critical shifts in the understandings and rhetorical practices that attend antiracist activism.
LatinAsian Cartographies examines how Latina/o and Asian American writers provide important counter-narratives to the stories of racial encroachment that have come to characterize twenty-first century dominant discourses on race. Susan Thananopavarn contends that the Asian American and Latina/o presence in the United States, although often considered marginal in discourses of American history and nationhood, is in fact crucial to understanding how national identity has been constructed historically and continues to be constructed in the present day.
Thananopavarn creates a new “LatinAsian” view of the United States that emphasizes previously suppressed aspects of national history, including imperialism, domestic racism during World War II, Cold War operations in Latin America and Asia, and the politics of borders in an age of globalization. LatinAsian Cartographies ultimately reimagines national narratives in a way that transforms dominant ideas of what it means to be American.
National Abjection explores the vexed relationship between "Asian Americanness" and "Americanness” through a focus on drama and performance art. Karen Shimakawa argues that the forms of Asian Americanness that appear in U.S. culture are a function of national abjection—a process that demands that Americanness be defined by the exclusion of Asian Americans, who are either cast as symbolic foreigners incapable of integration or Americanization or distorted into an “honorary” whiteness. She examines how Asian Americans become culturally visible on and off stage, revealing the ways Asian American theater companies and artists respond to the cultural implications of this abjection.
Shimakawa looks at the origins of Asian American theater, particularly through the memories of some of its pioneers. Her examination of the emergence of Asian American theater companies illuminates their strategies for countering the stereotypes of Asian Americans and the lack of visibility of Asian American performers within the theater world. She shows how some plays—Wakako Yamauchi’s 12-1-A, Frank Chin’s Chickencoop Chinaman, and The Year of the Dragon—have both directly and indirectly addressed the displacement of Asian Americans. She analyzes works attempting to negate the process of abjection—such as the 1988 Broadway production of M. Butterfly as well as Miss Saigon, a mainstream production that enacted the process of cultural displacement both onstage and off. Finally, Shimakawa considers Asian Americanness in the context of globalization by meditating on the work of Ping Chong, particularly his East-West Quartet.
One of the first books to examine representations of black vampires exclusively, The Paradox of Blackness in African American Vampire Fiction not only refutes the tacit assumption that there is a lack of quality African American vampire fiction worthy of study or reading but also proposes that the black vampires help to answer an important question: Is there more to being black than having a black body? As symbols of immortality, the black vampires in Jewelle Gomez’s The Gilda Stories, Tananarive Due’s My Soul to Keep, Brandon Massey’s Dark Corner, Octavia Butler’s Fledgling,and K. Murry Johnson’s Image of Emeralds and Chocolate help to identify not only the notions of blackness that should be kept alive or resurrected in the African American community for the twenty-first century but also the notions of blackness that should die or remain dead.
Boeckmann links character, literary genre, and science, revealing how major literary works both contributed to and disrupted the construction of race in turn-of-the-century America.
In A Question of Character, Cathy Boeckmann establishes a strong link between racial questions and the development of literary traditions at the end of the 19th century in America. This period saw the rise of "scientific racism," which claimed that the races were distinguished not solely by exterior appearance but also by a set of inherited character traits. As Boeckmann explains, this emphasis on character meant that race was not only a thematic concern in the literature of the period but also a generic or formal one as well.
Boeckmann explores the intersections between race and literary history by tracing the language of character through both scientific and literary writing. Nineteenth-century pseudo-sciences such as phrenology and physiognomy had a vocabulary for discussing racial character that overlapped conceptually with the conventions for portraying race in literature. Through close readings of novels by Thomas Dixon, Mark Twain, William Dean Howells, Charles Chesnutt, and James Weldon Johnson—each of which deals with a black character "passing" as white—Boeckmann shows how this emphasis on character relates to the shift from romantic and sentimental fiction to realism. Because each of these genres had very specific conventions regarding the representation of character, genres often dictated how races could be depicted.
"Race," Writing, and Difference
Edited by Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Kwame Anthony Appiah University of Chicago Press, 1987 Library of Congress PN56.R18R3 1986 | Dewey Decimal 809.9335203
A classic of cultural criticism, "Race," Writing, and Difference provides a broad introduction to the idea of "race" as a meaningful category in the study of literature and the shaping of critical theory. This collection demonstrates the variety of critical approaches through which one may discuss the complexities of racial "otherness" in various modes of discourse. Now, fifteen years after their first publication, these essays have managed to escape the cliches associated with the race-class-gender trinity of '80s criticism, and remain a provocative overview of the complex interplay between race, writing, and difference.
In the global convulsions in the aftermath of World War II, one dominant world racial order broke apart and a new one emerged. This is the story Jodi Melamed tells in Represent and Destroy, portraying the postwar racial break as a transition from white supremacist modernity to a formally antiracist liberal capitalist modernity in which racial violence works normatively by policing representations of difference.
Following the institutionalization of literature as a privileged domain for Americans to get to know difference—to describe, teach, and situate themselves with respect to race—Melamed focuses on literary studies as a cultural technology for transmitting liberal racial orders. She examines official antiracism in the United States and finds that these were key to ratifying the country’s global ascendancy. She shows how racial liberalism, liberal multiculturalism, and neoliberal multiculturalism made racism appear to be disappearing, even as they incorporated the assumptions of global capitalism into accepted notions of racial equality.
Yet Represent and Destroy also recovers an anticapitalist “race radical” tradition that provides a materialist opposition to official antiracisms in the postwar United States—a literature that sounds out the violence of liberal racial orders, relinks racial inequality to material conditions, and compels desire for something better than U.S. multiculturalism.
Though one of America’s best known and loved novels, Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has often been the object of fierce controversy because of its racist language and reliance on racial stereotypes. This collection of fifteen essays by prominent African American scholars and critics examines the novel’s racist elements and assesses the degree to which Twain’s ironies succeed or fail to turn those elements into a satirical attack on racism. Ranging from the laudatory to the openly hostile, these essays include personal impressions of Huckleberry Finn, descriptions of classroom experience with the book, evaluations of its ironic and allegorical aspects, explorations of its nineteenth-century context, and appraisal of its effects on twentieth-century African American writers. Among the issues the authors contend with are Twain’s pervasive use of the word “nigger,” his portrayal of the slave Jim according to the conventions of the minstrel show “darky,” and the thematic chaos created by the “evasion” depicted in the novel’s final chapters. Sure to provoke thought and stir debate, Satire or Evasion? provides a variety of new perspectives on one of this country’s most troubling classics.
Contributors. Richard K. Barksdale, Bernard W. Bell, Mary Kemp Davis, Peaches M. Henry, Betty Harris Jones, Rhett S. Jones, Julius Lester, Donnarae MacCann, Charles H. Nichols, Charles H. Nilon, Arnold Rampersad, David L. Smith, Carmen Dubryan, John H. Wallace, Kenny Jackson Williams, Fredrick Woodard
Searching for Jim is the untold story of Sam Clemens and the world of slavery that produced him. Despite Clemens’s remarks to the contrary in his autobiography, slavery was very much a part of his life. Dempsey has uncovered a wealth of newspaper accounts and archival material revealing that Clemens’s life, from the ages of twelve to seventeen, was intertwined with the lives of the slaves around him.
During Sam’s earliest years, his father, John Marshall Clemens, had significant interaction with slaves. Newly discovered court records show the senior Clemens in his role as justice of the peace in Hannibal enforcing the slave ordinances. With the death of his father, young Sam was apprenticed to learn the printing and newspaper trade. It was in the newspaper that slaves were bought and sold, masters sought runaways, and life insurance was sold on slaves. Stories the young apprentice typeset helped Clemens learn to write in black dialect, a skill he would use throughout his writing, most notably in Huckleberry Finn.
Missourians at that time feared abolitionists across the border in Illinois and Iowa. Slave owners suspected every traveling salesman, itinerant preacher, or immigrant of being an abolition agent sent to steal slaves. This was the world in which Sam Clemens grew up. Dempsey also discusses the stories of Hannibal’s slaves: their treatment, condition, and escapes. He uncovers new information about the Underground Railroad, particularly about the role free blacks played in northeast Missouri.
Carefully reconstructed from letters, newspaper articles, sermons, speeches, books, and court records, Searching for Jim offers a new perspective on Clemens’s writings, especially regarding his use of race in the portrayal of individual characters, their attitudes, and worldviews. This fascinating volume will be valuable to anyone trying to measure the extent to which Clemens transcended the slave culture he lived in during his formative years and the struggles he later faced in dealing with race and guilt. It will forever alter the way we view Sam Clemens, Hannibal, and Mark Twain.
Staging Black Fugitivity
Stacie Selmon McCormick The Ohio State University Press, 2019 Library of Congress PS338.N4M33 2019 | Dewey Decimal 812.5409896073
Staging Black Fugitivity asks: How does drama constitute an important site for ongoing conversations about slavery’s resonance and its legacies? To answer this question, Stacie Selmon McCormick charts the historical turn toward slavery in black drama that began in the last quarter of the twentieth century. This movement, spearheaded by August Wilson and Suzan-Lori Parks, has been largely under-theorized, yet it participates in and advances the neo-slave narrative genre—with contemporary black dramas enhancing the neo-slave narrative’s capacity to represent the visual, corporal, and affective dimensions of the black body and slavery as an institution.
McCormick traces the innovative ways that artists render slavery for present-day audiences. The dramas assembled in this book approach slavery from myriad perspectives—afrofuturist, feminist, and queer—in order to produce new imaginaries that offer more complex depictions of black experience. Through subverting notions of time, race, gender, and familiar histories of slavery themselves, the dramas under discussion produce performances of fugitivity—subversive, radical, and experimental performances of black artistic and political freedom at the site of slavery.
The importance of blacks for Jews and Jews for blacks in conceiving of themselves as Americans, when both remained outsiders to the privileges of full citizenship, is a matter of voluminous but perplexing record. A monumental work of literary criticism and cultural history, Strangers in the Land draws upon politics, sociology, law, religion, and popular culture to illuminate a vital, highly conflicted interethnic partnership over the course of a century.
In American literature, a traumatic scene of racial and sexual awakening - frequently involving photographs, mirrors, or acts of witnessing - often precipitates a character's "discovery" of racial identity. Similarly, in the annals of psychoanalysis, notions of self and sexual identity often arise from visual trauma such as the mirror stage and primal scene. Noting this parallel between specular births of racial and sexual subjectivity, Gwen Bergner uses a comparative analysis of psychoanalytic theory and American literature to develop a theory of racialization - the process through which individuals assume an identity as black or white. Examining the primal scenes of double consciousness in works by Frederick Douglass, William Faulkner, and Toni Morrison, among others, alongside the formative visual traumas of psychoanalytic theory of Lacan and Freud, Taboo Subjects reveals how literature disrupts psychoanalysis's conventional models of race and gender identification, forcing a reconfiguration of many foundational psychoanalytic texts. And from psychoanalysis Bergner derives a critical vocabulary for theorizing racialization as it intersects with sex and gender, for both black and white Americans.
Detective fiction featuring white women and people of colorsuch as Barbara Neelys Blanche White and Walter Mosleys Easy Rawlinshas become tremendously popular. Although they are considered "light reading," mysteries also hold important cultural and social "clues." Much recent scholarly work has demonstrated that race is both a cultural fictionnot a biological realityand a central organizing principle of experience. Popular writers are likely to reflect the conventions of their own historical situations.
In Traces, Codes, and Clues: Reading Race in Crime Fiction, Maureen T. Reddy explores the ways in which crime fiction manipulates cultural constructions such as race and gender to inscribe dominant cultural discourses. She notes that even those writers who appear to set out to revise outdated conventions repeatedly reproduce the genres most conservative elements. The greatest obstacle to transforming crime fiction, Reddy states, is the fact that the genre itself is deeply embedded in the discourse of white (and male) superiority. There is, therefore, an absolute necessity to break away from that discoursethrough reversal or other strategiesin order to produce work that defies, and thus helps readers to defy, the dominant ideology of race.