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Embodying Black Experience

Stillness, Critical Memory, and the Black Body

Harvey Young

Publication Year: 2010

Young's linkage between critical race theory, historical inquiry, and performance studies is a necessary intersection. Innovative, creative, and provocative. ---Davarian Baldwin, Paul E. Raether Distinguished Professor of American Studies, Trinity College In 1901, George Ward, a lynching victim, was attacked, murdered, and dismembered by a mob of white men, women, and children. As his lifeless body burned in a fire, enterprising white youth cut off his toes and, later, his fingers and sold them as souvenirs. In Embodying Black Experience, Harvey Young masterfully blends biography, archival history, performance theory, and phenomenology to relay the experiences of black men and women who, like Ward, were profoundly affected by the spectacular intrusion of racial violence within their lives. Looking back over the past two hundred years---from the exhibition of boxer Tom Molineaux and Saartjie Baartman (the "Hottentot Venus") in 1810 to twenty-first century experiences of racial profiling and incarceration---Young chronicles a set of black experiences, or what he calls, "phenomenal blackness," that developed not only from the experience of abuse but also from a variety of performances of resistance that were devised to respond to the highly predictable and anticipated arrival of racial violence within a person's lifetime. Embodying Black Experience pinpoints selected artistic and athletic performances---photography, boxing, theater/performance art, and museum display---as portals through which to gain access to the lived experiences of a variety of individuals. The photographs of Joseph Zealy, Richard Roberts, and Walker Evans; the boxing performances of Jack Johnson, Joe Louis, and Muhammad Ali; the plays of Suzan-Lori Parks, Deal McCauley, and Dael Orlandersmith; and the tragic performances of Bootjack McDaniels and James Cameron offer insight into the lives of black folk across two centuries and the ways that black artists, performers, and athletes challenged the racist (and racializing) assumptions of the societies in which they lived. Blending humanistic and social science perspectives, Embodying Black Experience explains the ways in which societal ideas of "the black body," an imagined myth of blackness, get projected across the bodies of actual black folk and, in turn, render them targets of abuse. However, the emphasis on the performances of select artists and athletes also spotlights moments of resistance and, indeed, strength within these most harrowing settings. Harvey Young is Assistant Professor of Theatre, Performance Studies, and Radio/Television/Film at Northwestern University. A volume in the series Theater: Theory/Text/Performance

Published by: University of Michigan Press

Series: Theater: Theory/Text/Performance


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pp. iii-xii

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1. The Black Body

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pp. 1-25

Writing in the 1950s, Frantz Fanon offers a compelling postcolonial critique of the negative effects of white European imperialism on the societal and self-perception of the black body. To him, the epidermalization of blackness, the inscription of meaning onto skin color, is something from which black ...

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2. Still Standing: Daguerreotypes, Photography, and the Black Body

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pp. 26-75

In March 1850, seven black individuals, who dwelled in Columbia, South Carolina, were brought to the portrait studio of daguerreotypist Joseph T. Zealy. Like so many of Zealy's other clients, Alfred, Delia, Drana, Fassena, Jack, Jem, and Renty were to have their pictures taken...

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3. Between the Ropes: Staging the Black Body in American Boxing

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pp. 76-118

On April Fool's Day, 1967, undisputed heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali received a letter from President Lyndon Baines Johnson. Opening the envelope, Ali was greeted with the following words printed in capital letters across the top of the correspondence: ORDER FOR TRANSFERRED MAN TO REPORT FOR INDUCTION. Ali had been drafted. Four weeks ...

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4. Touching History: Staging Black Experience

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pp. 119-166

The cover of the Theatre Communication Group's (TCG) edition of Suzan- Lori Parks's play Venus features a silhouette of Saartjie Baartman, a South African woman who gained European celebrity status as the "Hottentot Venus" in the early nineteenth century.1 Her ample backside, a condition ...

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5. Housing the Memory of Racial Violence: The Black Body as a Souvenir, Museum, and Living Remain

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pp. 167-208

On 2 April 1899, approximately two thousand white men, women, and children participated, as both witnesses and active agents, in the murder of Sam Hose in Newman, Georgia. Sam Hose was burned alive. In the final moments of his life, the assembled crowd descended upon his body and collected various parts of it as souvenirs. The Springfield (Massachusetts)...

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pp. 209-212

In January 2009, psychologists at York University (Canada), the University of British Columbia, and Yale University published the results of a study that "examine[d] why acts of blatant racism against blacks still occur with alarming regularity."1 After staging a "racist incident" in which a white actor calls a ...


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pp. 213-238


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pp. 239-254


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pp. 255-259

E-ISBN-13: 9780472027095
E-ISBN-10: 0472027093
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472051113
Print-ISBN-10: 0472051113

Page Count: 272
Illustrations: 16 B&W photographs
Publication Year: 2010

Series Title: Theater: Theory/Text/Performance
See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 794700529
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Embodying Black Experience