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Keepin' It Hushed

The Barbershop and African American Hush Harbor Rhetoric

Vorris L. Nunley

Publication Year: 2011

Examines the barbershop as a rhetorical site in African American culture across genres, including fiction, film, poetry, and theater.

Published by: Wayne State University Press

Series: African American Life Series


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pp. vii-viii

This project could not have been completed without the commitment, faith, endurance, and belief of many folks. I would like to mention a few. I thank my mother, Doris J. Nunley (who had she been fortunate enough to be born in another era, could have obtained a Ph.D. well before me), and father, Lafayette E. Nunley, whose hard work, sacrifice, sense of decency, commitment ...

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Overture/Head: We Wear the Mask and the Bit

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pp. 1-22

One hundred and fourteen years after the publishing of Dunbar’s poem, Blacks still speak differently in front of White folks and others in the public sphere: Black folks still wear the mask. The mask does more than grin and lie. It domesticates, disciplines, and commodifies African American rhetorics and African American subjectivities: the mask does not ...

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1. Beyond Difference: Mapping and Theorizing Hush Harbor Spatiality Rhetoric and Knowledge

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pp. 23-32

Keepin’ It Hushed is broadly concerned with bringing into theoretical purview and scholarly consideration a continually evolving tradition of risky speech, hidden transcripts, and productive and subjugated knowledges by and for African Americans I refer to as African American hush harbor rhetoric (AAHHR). As alluded to earlier, I borrow the term hush harbor from enslaved ...

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2. Hush Harbors: Spatiality, Race, and Not-So-Public Spheres

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pp. 33-49

Political scientist Michael C. Dawson argues in “A Black Counterpublic?” that a black counterpublic no longer exists if by counterpublic one means “a set of institutions, communication networks and practices which facilitate debate of causes and remedies to the current combinations of political...

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3. Wingin’ It: Barbershops and the Work of Nommo in the Novel

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pp. 51-74

Narrator, playwright, journalist, and bartender Joubert Jones is the protagonist of Divine Days (1993). Discharged from the military, Joubert has returned to Forest County to “take over [his] own life,” so that he can, “regiment [his, i.e., Joubert’s] emotional waywardness and [his] easily distracted intelligence.”1 Joubert struggles to find meaning in his life through writing ...

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4. Poetic Hush Harbors: Barbershops as Black Paideias

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pp. 75-105

Sharan Strange’s poem “Barbershop Ritual” begins “Baby brother can’t wait / For him, the rite of passage begins early.” Strange’s poem immediately disavows the reader of any notion of domesticating the barbershop to a place of male gossip, jive talk, and transitory banter through her linking of barbershop rhetoric and practices to ritual. Understandings of ...

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5. Barbers and Customers as Philosophers in Memoir and Drama

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pp. 107-131

While the trajectory of the previous chapter addressed negative nommo, this chapter takes a related, but different, angle. Drawing from Keith Gilyard’s American Book Award–winning memoir, Voices of the Self (1991), and Lonne Elder III’s award-winning play Ceremonies in Dark Old Men (1969), this section illustrates and explores not the word, but its purveyor: the phronimos ...

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6. Commodifying Neoliberal Blackness: Faux Hush Harbor Rhetoric in Barbershop

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pp. 133-150

A wide array of African American films such as Five on the Black Hand Side (dir. Oscar Williams, 1973), Coming to America (dir. John Landis, 1988), Joe’s Bed-Stuy Barbershop: We Cut Heads (dir. Spike Lee, 1983), Hollywood Shuffle (dir. Robert Townsend, 1987), Belly (dir. Hype Williams, 1998), The Fighting Temptations (dir. Jonathan Lynn, 2003), Honey (dir. Bille Wood-...

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7. Hush Harbor Pedagogy: Pathos-Driven Hearing and Pedagogy

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pp. 151-165

As with Muhammad Ali’s parrhesiatic demand to be recognized, Keepin’ It Hushed demonstrates the pervasiveness and importance of African American hush harbor rhetoric (AAHHR) in the construction of African American subjectivities and in the production of knowledge. In what follows, ...

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8. A Question of Ethics? Hush Harbor Rhetoric and Rationalities in a Neoliberal Age

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pp. 167-177

Muhammad Ali was arguably the most popular athlete of his era. Michael Jordan was and is one the most popular athletes of any era. Muhammad Ali embodied the zeitgeist of his era; Michael Jordan his. Because he is now an internationally beloved figure, because his marvelously dissonant, brave...


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pp. 179-189


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pp. 191-202


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pp. 203-214

E-ISBN-13: 9780814336458
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814333488

Page Count: 224
Publication Year: 2011

Edition: 1
Volume Title: N/a
Series Title: African American Life Series
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OCLC Number: 755621698
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Keepin' It Hushed

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • African Americans -- Languages.
  • American literature -- African American authors -- History and criticism
  • Literacy -- United States.
  • English language -- United States -- Rhetoric.
  • Popular culture -- United States.
  • Barbershops -- United States.
  • African Americans in literature.
  • African Americans -- Communication.
  • Black English -- United States.
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