Cover

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Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-iv

Contents

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pp. v-vi

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Acknowledgments

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pp. vii-x

Blackness Is Burning has been a true labor of love, a testament both to ratchet perseverance and unrelenting faith. Over the long years of writing, editing, and revising the project, I have benefited from an enormous well of support that has helped me brave the book’s sobering themes and topics.
I am particularly grateful for the instruction and mentorship I received while at the University of Chicago—when some of the ideas for this project first began to take shape. Jacqueline Stewart, Deborah Nelson, and Lisa Ruddick, as well as members of the greater intellectual community at the U of C, were instrumental in helping me explore some of the original chapter topics and themes. During those years, I also benefited from a predoctoral fellowship from the Consortium for Faculty Diversity and institutional support from DePauw University....

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Introduction

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pp. 1-20

This book is about race, civil rights era popular culture, and representations of the theme of recognition—from Sidney Poitier’s most famous characters to black mother-and-daughter melodramas to 1960s and 1970s pimp narratives to Bill Cosby’s vision of black childhood. Throughout these pages, I demarcate the ways in which the politics of recognition was represented during the era in quasi-psychological terms. That our popular and narrative cultures have a tendency to “psychologize” race and racial identity should come as no surprise, but as I argue here, exposing the psychoanalytic imperatives inherent in stories about recognition proves a useful strategy for both fully engaging and tracing the habit of psychologizing racial identity to a no doubt disappointing end. That end, and this...

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1. Recognition and the Intersubjective View of Race

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pp. 21-43

In order to explicate what I problematize in this book as the intersubjective view of race, it first becomes necessary to trace some of the discursive similarities among notions of recognition, intersubjectivity, and dialogic identity. How is the contemporary black subject formed and understood as a psychological being? What is the relationship between mutual self/other awareness and democratic freedom? Why has this notion of recognizing the other as human, as real and distinct, come to inform so many aspects of our public, popular, and political discourses? The Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor argues in his influential essay “The Politics of Recognition” that the call for recognition is often articulated by marginalized groups as an urgent and fundamental demand because of the largely unchallenged...

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2. Sidney Poitier and the Contradictions of Black Psychological Expertise

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pp. 44-86

As the most visible black Hollywood star during the long years of the civil rights campaign, Sidney Poitier appeared in thirty-eight films—from his first film, No Way Out (1950), to his last film of the era, A Piece of the Action (1977). Poitier was, by all accounts, charismatic and consistent in modeling a newly humanized image of black masculinity. His performances have received the highest of accolades possible for any actor, including an Academy Award for Lilies of the Field (1963), an honorary Oscar for a lifetime of “representing the industry with dignity, style and intelligence” in 2002, and more recently, a Presidential Medal of Freedom conferred in a historic ceremony by Barack Obama in 2009. Many critical accounts of Poitier’s career have situated these achievements in the context of Hollywood’s long-held and persistent commitment to stories that project a sanitized version of liberal humanism’s engagement with racial difference....

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3. Baaaddd Black Mamas and the Chronic Failure of Recognition

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pp. 87-134

The literary and cultural theorist Hortense J. Spillers has tried to explain her understanding of the complicated role that she plays as a black woman in the American cultural imaginary. Spillers reflects, “Let’s face it. I am a marked woman, but not everybody knows my name.... I describe a locus of confounded identities, a meeting ground of investments and privations in the national treasury of rhetorical wealth. My country needs me, and if I were not here, I would have to be invented.”1 As Spillers supposes, black women have played any number of roles as the mucilage that helps maintain our collective perceptions of a national identity. Our representational culture—film, television, fiction, autobiography, art—has been particularly good at inventing and reinventing the types of black women and mothers who best service our most basic national ideals. If Sidney...

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4. Pimping (Really) Ain’t Easy: Black Pulp Masculinities and the Flight from Recognition

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pp. 135-181

Like Antwone Fisher, the 2005 film Hustle & Flow does not seem overtly concerned either with the civil rights era or with its predominate cultural focus on the intersubjective view of race and the recognition of black humanity. One of the film’s supporting actors (D. J. Qualls) explained that even though the story’s events take place in the South decades after the civil rights movement, he was proud that it does not re-create any of the memorable scenes of violence, protest, or confirmations of racism that are so commonly dramatized in films about the South. Qualls joked, “Everything I see about the South is like a Cicely Tyson movie. You know what I mean? Somebody sitting at a lunch counter. Everybody has bad accents. And this [Hustle & Flow’s story] was real. It was really how I think...

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5. Bill Cosby and the Rise and Fall of Blackness at Play

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pp. 182-224

Bill Cosby’s current fall from grace is evident in the sharp criticism of his socially conservative views, the disdain over his vociferous attacks on the black poor, and the outrage surrounding the allegations that he drugged and sexually assaulted women throughout his career.1 Only recently, however, has the wave of skepticism and suspicion about Cosby done anything to dislodge his popular image from the representation of an idealized image of contemporary American fatherhood: Cliff Huxtable of The Cosby Show (1984–92).2 Why was it difficult for so many people to believe that Cosby could be anything less than the ideal father he famously represented on television? Was the image he projected through The Cosby Show and his various media enterprises ever stable in the first place? Unlike the popular-press...

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6. “Fix My Life!”: Post–Civil Rights and the Problem of Recognition

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pp. 225-234

The politics of recognition has functioned in popular and mass culture consistently since the civil rights era as inseparable from a cultural logic that psychologizes racial identity and emphasizes the democratic ideal of intersubjectivity. Instead of talking about representations of blackness in quasi-psychological terms, as we so often do, I have engaged psycho-analytic discourses directly in this project in order to better clarify how psychology works as the ideological glue that holds the politics of representation (increased black visibility in mass culture) and the politics of recognition (knowing the self/other as real) together....

Notes

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pp. 235-260

Index

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pp. 261-270