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Black Cultural Traffic

Crossroads in Global Performance and Popular Culture

Edited by Harry J. Elam, Jr. and Kennell Jackson

Publication Year: 2005

A shrewdly designed, generously expansive, timely contribution to our understanding of how 'black' expression continues to define and defy the contours of global (post)modernity. The essays argue persuasively for a transnational ethos binding disparate African and diasporic enactments, and together provide a robust conversation about the nature, history, future, and even possibility of 'blackness' as a distinctive mode of cultural practice. --Kimberly Benston, author of Performing Blackness "Black Cultural Traffic is nothing less than our generation's manifesto on black performance and popular culture. With a distinguished roster of contributors and topics ranging across academic disciplines and the arts (including commentary on film, music, literature, theater, television, and visual cultures), this volume is not only required reading for scholars serious about the various dimensions of black performance, it is also a timely and necessary teaching tool. It captures the excitement and intellectual innovation of a field that has come of age. Kudos!" --Dwight A. McBride, author of Why I Hate Abercrombie & Fitch "The explosion of interest in black popular culture studies in the past fifteen years has left a significant need for a reader that reflects this new scholarly energy. Black Cultural Traffic answers that need." --Mark Anthony Neal, author of Songs in the Key of Black Life "A revolutionary anthology that will be widely read and taught. It crisscrosses continents and cultures and examines confluences and influences of black popular culture -- music, dance, theatre, television, fashion and film. It also adds a new dimension to current discussions of racial, ethnic, and national identity." --Horace Porter, author of The Making of a Black Scholar

Published by: University of Michigan Press

Title Page

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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-viii

The traffic in black culture to which this volume is dedicated is tethered to the traffic in black bodies on which these cultural exchanges are based. They share several disheartening characteristics: similar trade routes, unequal forms of exchange, and, often, a soulless focus on capital gain. These respective black traffics also share powerful traditions of possibility, ...

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Twenty Questions

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pp. ix-x

1. Today when we say “black popular culture” do we really mean American popular culture? 2. I used to believe that popular culture was a barometer of the attitudes and values of a society. Should I be afraid of what today’s black popular culture signifies? 3. Is today’s popular culture an authentic signifier? An artificial construct ...

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Introduction: Traveling While Black

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pp. 1-39

In 1849, William Wells Brown set off for a journey to France and England. He was being sent to the Paris peace congress as a member of an American delegation. The thirty-five-year-old Brown was surely a most distinctive delegate. Fifteen years earlier, he had escaped from Missouri slavery, first into Ohio and later into New York. He exemplified what he called ...

PART ONE: Crossroads and Intersections in Black Performance and Black Popular Culture

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When Is African Theater “Black”?

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pp. 43-58

At the psychic center of black popular culture is Africa: at once the source, the motherland, the wellspring of humankind, the site of slavery’s original trauma, and the locus of anticipated healing. The continent’s silhouette emblazoned on clothing, its name soulfully invoked in song lyrics, Africa looms large. Yet Africa’s current realities are more dimly seen. Kobena ...

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Performing Blackness Down Under: Gospel Music in Australia

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pp. 59-82

An all-white, mostly atheist, Australian gospel choir: at first it sounds contradictory. Yet when situated within the contested contexts of “blackness” and “performance,” white Australian, atheist gospel singers are no more contradictory than black, gay Republicans. We live out the contradictions of our lives, and an aversion to religion does not exclude persons from ...

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Passing and the Problematic of Multiracial Pride: (or, Why One Mixed Girl Still Answers to Black)

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pp. 83-87

I have never had the comfort zone of a given racial identity. My mother is a Bostonian white woman of WASP heritage. My father is a Louisiana black man of mixed African and Mexican heritage. Unlike people who are automatically classified as black or white, I have always been up for debate. I am forever having to explain to people why it is that I look so white for a ...

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The Shadows of Texts: Will Black Music and Singers Sell Everything on Television?

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pp. 88-107

She was tiny and bubbly in the vintage manner of child stars. Though only six years old, she was being billed as “the Pepsi spokesperson.”1 She was white, but her costar was an African American woman. For over forty years, this African American woman had sustained a most impressive singing career, earning for herself the folk accolades of “the Queen of Soul” and ...

PART TWO: Stop Signs and Signposts: Stabilities and Instabilities in Black Performance and Black Popular Culture

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Optic Black:Naturalizing the Refusal to Fit

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pp. 111-140

While he’s working at the Liberty Paint Company, Ralph Ellison’s naive youth in Invisible Man must learn the secret of whitewash. Because ten drops of black dope go into every tin of “Optic White . . . the Right White,” the black foreman in charge of this mix proudly tells the youth, “we the machine inside the machine.”1 He knows blackness mixes ineradicably in ...

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Diaspora Aesthetics and Visual Culture

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pp. 141-161

Contemporary artists offer intriguing insight into the often surprising ways in which blackness travels. Referencing works from African American and black British contexts, this contribution examines call-andresponse dialogue in visual culture and asks why critics have so far failed to recognize the creative energies of such cut-and-mix aesthetics. By way of ...

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Keepin’ It Real: Disidentification and Its Discontents

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pp. 162-184

The Bay Area rap group Deep Dickollective1 (of which I am a founding member) came together with buckets on which to bang, a piano, freestyle rhymes, and the daunting task of consoling a friend’s post-HIV crisis. I was that friend in crisis. Dis/ease with hip-hop is not so figurative these days. It is the performance I enact each time I step on the stage and check ...

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Faking the Funk?: Mariah Carey, Alicia Keys, and (Hybrid) Black Celebrity

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pp. 185-207

In this essay I read the careers of performers Mariah Carey and Alicia Keys as barometric indicators of how “blackness” is rendered intelligible in an American popular cultural landscape that is fragmented, yet less segregated than in the past, and replete with “white” Americans who idolize “black” American celebrities. The term blackness is used here in the sense ...

Interlude [Print Version Only]

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pp. 208

PART THREE:International Congestion: Globalization, Dispersions, and Black Cultural Travel

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Black Community, Black Spectacle: Performance and Race in Transatlantic Perspective

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pp. 221-241

This quotation from Paul Laurence Dunbar suggests that African American life in general is often a performance given before an alien, hostile, and uncomprehending audience. One reading of it implies that blacks in white society have been forced to disguise their real feelings and nature, instead acting out a series of stereotypes to please their oppressors. But the final ...

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The 1960s in Bamako: Malick Sidibé and James Brown

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pp. 242-265

I was looking at a book of Malick Sidibé’s photographs, put together by André Magnin, with my friend Diafode, who has been living in France since 1979. As we flipped through the black-and-white photos of our teenage years in Bamako, Diafode’s attention was suddenly drawn to a photo of a group of boys entitled Friends, 1969. “Les Beatles!” he ...

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Global Hip-Hop and the African Diaspora

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pp. 266-288

Global hip-hop youth culture is the most recent manifestation in the story of the exportation of black American cultural production that started with nineteenth-century minstrelsy, thrived during the 1950s crossover rock-and- roll era and continues today. What has changed is the speed at which black music and dance are marketed and the global reach that they now ...

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Continental Riffs: Praisesingers in Transnational Contexts

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pp. 289-307

African music: the primordial sound of the global imagination. Yet “African music” is only as primordial as the history of intercontinental audiences and the transnational music industry. African music is particularly indebted, these days, to the music industry, which facilitates musicians’ ability to record and thus to establish their reputations. At the same ...

PART FOUR: Trafficking in Black Visual Images: Television, Film, and New Media

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Where Have All the Black Shows Gone?

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pp. 311-325

The members of various political and cultural communities whose job it is to monitor commercial network television seem constantly surprised by the episodic nature of black and minority representation in the commercial arena. Close monitoring of the performance of the commercial networks by media watchdog groups, television critics, and civil rights ...

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Hip-Hop Fashion, Masculine Anxiety, and the Discourse of Americana

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pp. 326-345

From leather Louis Vuitton suits to fat-laced or no-laced Adidas athletic shoes, to tight spandex shorts, African medallions, baggy Tommy Hilfiger jeans and oversized hooded sweatshirts, hip-hop fashion has provided the visual markers for a larger cultural movement that has transformed popular music and international youth cultures in recent times. Since the 1970s, ...

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Spike Lee’s Bamboozled

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pp. 346-362

In an early scene from Spike Lee’s film Bamboozled, the fictitious group, the Mau Maus, expand on the meanings of blackness as their rap song, “black is black,” from their “black album,” blares in the background. This filmic moment serves as a signifying revision of the prologue that begins Ralph Ellison’s classic novel, The Invisible Man. As the Invisible Man ...

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Moving Violations:Performing Globalization and Feminism in Set It Off

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pp. 363-378

Shadowed in my title, “Moving Violations,” is the movie violence portrayed in the film Set It Off(1996). Each of the terms in my subtitle may be read as moving violations, as acts subject to policing policies because they are mobile. They may also be cited as “enabling violations”—to borrow Gayatri Spivak’s term—for the violence that is constitutive of identity. The ...

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Change Clothes and Go: A Postscript to Postblackness

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pp. 379-388

In August 2001, artist and composer Keith Townsend Obadike put his blackness up for sale via the online auction house eBay with bidding open from August 8 though 18, 2001. Listed under Collectibles/Culture/Black Americana, Obadike offered buyers “an heirloom” that had been “in the seller’s possession for twenty-eight years,” along with a certificate of ...


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pp. 389-395


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pp. 397-404

E-ISBN-13: 9780472025459
E-ISBN-10: 0472025457
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472068401
Print-ISBN-10: 0472068407

Page Count: 416
Illustrations: 15 photos, 3 drawings, 1 chart
Publication Year: 2005

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Arts, Black.
  • Blacks -- Intellectual life.
  • Popular culture -- United States.
  • Popular culture.
  • African American arts.
  • African Americans -- Race identity.
  • Blacks -- Race identity.
  • African Americans -- Intellectual life.
  • Performing arts -- Social aspects -- United States.
  • Performing arts -- Social aspects.
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  • Open Access
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