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Area and Ethnic Studies > African American and African Diaspora Studies

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Archibald Motley Jr. and Racial Reinvention

The Old Negro in New Negro Art

Phoebe Wolfskill

An essential African American artist of his era, Archibald Motley Jr. created paintings of black Chicago that aligned him with the revisionist aims of the New Negro Renaissance. Yet Motley's approach to constructing a New Negro--a dignified figure both accomplished and worthy of respect--reflected the challenges faced by African American artists working on the project of racial reinvention and uplift. Phoebe Wolfskill demonstrates how Motley's art embodied the tenuous nature of the Black Renaissance and the wide range of ideas that structured it. Focusing on key works in Motley's oeuvre, Wolfskill reveals the artist's complexity and the variety of influences that informed his work. Motley's paintings suggest that the racist, problematic image of the Old Negro was not a relic of the past but an influence that pervaded the Black Renaissance. Exploring Motley in relation to works by notable black and non-black contemporaries, Wolfskill reinterprets Motley's oeuvre as part of a broad effort to define American cultural identity through race, class, gender, religion, and regional affiliation.

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Archives of Flesh

African America, Spain, and Post-Humanist Critique

Robert F. Reid-Pharr

Enlists the principles of post-humanist critique in order to investigate decades of intimate dialogues between African American and Spanish intellectuals 
 
In Archives of Flesh, Robert Reid-Pharr reveals the deep history of intellectual engagement between African America and Spain.  Opening a fascinating window onto black and anti-Fascist intellectual life from 1898 through the mid-1950s, Reid-Pharr argues that key institutions of Western Humanism, including American colleges and universities, developed in intimate relation to slavery, colonization, and white supremacy.  This retreat to rigidly established philosophical and critical traditions can never fully address—or even fully recognize—the deep-seated hostility to black subjectivity underlying the humanist ideal of a transcendent Manhood.               

Calling for a specifically anti-white supremacist reexamination of the archives of black subjectivity and resistance, Reid-Pharr enlists the principles of post-humanist critique in order to investigate decades of intimate dialogues between African American and Spanish intellectuals, including Salaria Kea, Federico Garcia Lorca, Nella Larsen, Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, Chester Himes, Lynn Nottage, and Pablo Picasso. In the process Reid-Pharr takes up the “African American Spanish Archive” in order to resist the anti-corporeal, anti-black, anti-human biases that stand at the heart of Western Humanism. 

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How to Read African American Literature

Post-Civil Rights Fiction and the Task of Interpretation

Aida Levy-Hussen

How to Read African American Literature offers a series of provocations to unsettle the predominant assumptions readers make when encountering post-Civil Rights black fiction. Foregrounding the large body of literature and criticism that grapples with legacies of the slave past, Aida Levy-Hussen’s argument develops on two levels: as a textual analysis of black historical fiction, and as a critical examination of the reading practices that characterize the scholarship of our time.                

Drawing on psychoanalysis, memory studies, and feminist and queer theory, Levy-Hussen examines how works by Toni Morrison, David Bradley, Octavia Butler, Charles Johnson, and others represent and mediate social injury and collective grief. In the criticism that surrounds these novels, she identifies two major  interpretive approaches: “therapeutic reading” (premised on the assurance that literary confrontations with historical trauma will enable psychic healing in the present), and “prohibitive reading” (anchored in the belief that fictions of returning to the past are dangerous and to be avoided). Levy-Hussen argues that these norms have become overly restrictive, standing in the way of a more supple method of interpretation that recognizes and attends to the indirect, unexpected, inconsistent, and opaque workings of historical fantasy and desire. Moving beyond the question of whether literature must heal or abandon historical wounds, Levy-Hussen proposes new ways to read African American literature now.

 

 

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The Sonic Color Line

Race and the Cultural Politics of Listening

Jennifer Lynn Stoever

The unheard history of how race and racism are constructed from sound and maintained through the listening ear. 
 
Race is a visual phenomenon, the ability to see “difference.” At least that is what conventional wisdom has lead us to believe.  Yet, The Sonic Color Line argues that American ideologies of white supremacy are just as dependent on what we hear—voices, musical taste, volume—as they are on skin color or hair texture. Reinforcing  compelling new ideas about the relationship between race and sound with meticulous historical research, Jennifer Lynn Stoever helps us to better understand how sound and listening not only register the racial politics of our world, but actively produce them. Through analysis of the historical traces of sounds of African American performers, Stoever reveals a host of racialized aural representations operating at the level of the unseen—the sonic color line—and exposes the racialized listening practices she figures as “the listening ear.”                 

Using an innovative multimedia archive spanning 100 years of American history (1845-1945) and several artistic genres—the slave narrative, opera, the novel, so-called “dialect stories,” folk and blues, early sound cinema, and radio drama—The Sonic Color Line explores how black thinkers conceived the cultural politics of listening at work during slavery, Reconstruction, and Jim Crow. By amplifying Harriet Jacobs, Frederick Douglass, Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield, Charles Chesnutt, The Fisk Jubilee Singers, Ann Petry, W.E.B. Du Bois, and Lena Horne as agents and theorists of sound, Stoever provides a new perspective on key canonical works in African American literary history. In the process, she radically revises the established historiography of sound studies. The Sonic Color Line sounds out how Americans have created, heard, and resisted “race,” so that we may hear our contemporary world differently.

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Jazz Internationalism

Literary Afro-Modernism and the Cultural Politics of Black Music

John Lowney

Jazz Internationalism offers a bold reconsideration of jazz's influence in Afro-modernist literature. Ranging from the New Negro Renaissance through the social movements of the 1960s, John Lowney articulates nothing less than a new history of Afro-modernist jazz writing. Jazz added immeasurably to the vocabulary for discussing radical internationalism and black modernism in leftist African American literature. Lowney examines how Claude McKay, Ann Petry, Langston Hughes, and many other writers employed jazz as both a critical social discourse and mode of artistic expression to explore the possibilities ”and challenges ”of black internationalism. The result is an expansive understanding of jazz writing sure to spur new debates.

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Fugitive Science

Empiricism and Freedom in Early African American Culture

Britt Rusert

Exposes the influential work of a group of black artists to confront and refute scientific racism. 

Traversing the archives of early African American literature, performance, and visual culture, Britt Rusert uncovers the dynamic experiments of a group of black writers, artists, and performers. Fugitive Science chronicles a little-known story about race and science in America. While the history of scientific racism in the nineteenth century has been well-documented, there was also a counter-movement of African Americans who worked to refute its claims.  

Far from rejecting science, these figures were careful readers of antebellum science who linked diverse fields—from astronomy to physiology—to both on-the-ground activism and more speculative forms of knowledge creation. Routinely excluded from institutions of scientific learning and training, they transformed cultural spaces like the page, the stage, the parlor, and even the pulpit into laboratories of knowledge and experimentation. From the recovery of neglected figures like Robert Benjamin Lewis, Hosea Easton, and Sarah Mapps Douglass, to new accounts of Martin Delany, Henry Box Brown, and Frederick Douglass, Fugitive Science makes natural science central to how we understand the origins and development of African American literature and culture. 

This distinct and pioneering book will spark interest from anyone wishing to learn more on race and society. 

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Small Axe

Vol. 5 (2001) through current issue

Small Axe focuses on the renewal of practices of intellectual criticism. It recognizes a tradition of social, political, and cultural criticism in and about regional/disasporic Caribbean and honors that tradition but also argues with it because it is through such argument that a tradition renews itself.

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Ragged Revolutionaries

The Lumpenproletariat and African American Marxism in Depression-Era Literature

Nathaniel Mills

In Marxism, the concept of the lumpenproletariat refers to the masses in rags, outsiders on the edge of society, drifters and criminals, of little or no use politically. But in Ragged Revolutionaries, Nathaniel Mills argues that the lumpenproletariat was central to an overlooked yet vibrant mode of African American Marxism formulated during the Great Depression by black writers on the Communist left. By analyzing multiple published and unpublished works from the period, Mills shows how Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, and Margaret Walker used the lumpenproletariat to imagine new forms of revolutionary knowledge and agency. In their writings, hobos riding the rails, criminals hustling to make ends meet, heroic black folk-outlaws, and individuals who fall out of the proletariat into the social margins all furnish material for thinking through resistance to the exploitations of capitalism, patriarchy, and Jim Crow. Ragged Revolutionaries introduces the lumpenproletariat into literary study, offers a new account of the place of Marxism in African American literature and politics, and clarifies the political and aesthetic commitments of three major modern black writers.

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Black Elephants in the Room

The Surprising Politics of African American Republicans

Corey D. Fields

What do you think of when you hear about an African American Republican? Are they heroes fighting against the expectation that all blacks must vote democratic? Are they “Uncle Toms” or “sellouts,” serving as traitors to their race? What is it really like to be a black person in the Republican Party?
 
Black Elephants in the Room considers how race structures the political behavior of African American Republicans and discusses the dynamic relationship between race and political behavior in the purported “post-racial” context of US politics. Drawing on vivid first-person accounts, the book sheds light on the different ways black identity structures African American’s membership in the Republican Party. Moving past rhetoric and politics, we begin to see the everyday people working to reconcile their commitment to black identity with their belief in Republican principles. And at the end, we learn the importance of understanding both the meanings African Americans attach to racial identity and the political contexts in which those meanings are developed and expressed.

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African Americans in White Suburbia

Social Networks and Political Behavior

With Philadelphia as his primary case, McGowen uses a combination of surveys to understand the attitudes of affluent suburban African Americans, compare these attitudes to those of their white neighbors, and to African Americans in the city and so-called “black ring” suburbs.

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Medicalizing Blackness

Making Racial Difference in the Atlantic World, 1780-1840

Rana A. Hogarth

In 1748, as yellow fever raged in Charleston, South Carolina, doctor John Lining remarked, "There is something very singular in the constitution of the Negroes, which renders them not liable to this fever." Lining's comments presaged ideas about blackness that would endure in medical discourses and beyond. In this fascinating medical history, Rana A. Hogarth examines the creation and circulation of medical ideas about blackness in the Atlantic World during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. She shows how white physicians deployed blackness as a medically significant marker of difference and used medical knowledge to improve plantation labor efficiency, safeguard colonial and civic interests, and enhance control over black bodies during the era of slavery.

Hogarth refigures Atlantic slave societies as medical frontiers of knowledge production on the topic of racial difference. Rather than looking to their counterparts in Europe who collected and dissected bodies to gain knowledge about race, white physicians in Atlantic slaveholding regions created and tested ideas about race based on the contexts in which they lived and practiced. What emerges in sharp relief is the ways in which blackness was reified in medical discourses and used to perpetuate notions of white supremacy.

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Posthuman Blackness and the Black Female Imagination

Kristen Lillvis

Posthuman Blackness and the Black Female Imagination examines the future-oriented visions of black subjectivity in works by contemporary black women writers, filmmakers, and musicians, including Toni Morrison, Octavia Butler, Julie Dash, and Janelle Monáe. In this innovative study, Kristen Lillvis supplements historically situated conceptions of blackness with imaginative projections of black futures. This theoretical approach allows her to acknowledge the importance of history without positing a purely historical origin for black identities.

The authors considered in this book set their stories in the past yet use their characters, particularly women characters, to show how the potential inherent in the future can inspire black authority and resistance. Lillvis introduces the term “posthuman blackness” to describe the empowered subjectivities black women and men develop through their simultaneous existence within past, present, and future temporalities.

This project draws on posthuman theory—an area of study that examines the disrupted unities between biology and technology, the self and the outer world, and, most important for this project, history and potentiality—in its readings of a variety of imaginative works, including works of historical fiction such as Gayl Jones’s Corregidora and Morrison’s Beloved. Reading neo–slave narratives through posthuman theory reveals black identity and culture as temporally flexible, based in the potential of what is to come and the history of what has occurred.

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Transition

Issue 81&82 (2000) - 88 (2001); issue 93 (2002) through current issue

Transition is a unique forum for the freshest, most compelling ideas from and about the black world. Since its founding in Uganda in 1961, the magazine has kept apace of the rapid transformation of the African Diaspora and has remained a leading forum of intellectual debate. Transition is a publication of the Hutchins Center at Harvard University, edited by Alejandro de la Fuente and published three times annually.

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Black Aesthetics and the Interior Life

Christopher Freeburg

BLACK AESTHETICS AND THE INTERIOR LIFE makes a striking and original contribution to our understanding of African American literature and culture. Freeburg looks to moments when black characters are rendered as inhuman, as object, or as flesh so as better to understand the nature of black personhood and subjectivity in literature. In doing so, he stakes a claim for the defiant humanity of black charactersâ€_and, by extension, of black peopleâ€_under pressure and in pain.

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Killing Poetry

Blackness and the Making of Slam and Spoken Word Communities

Javon Johnson

In recent decades, poetry slams and the spoken word artists who compete in them have sparked a resurgent fascination with the world of poetry. However, there is little critical dialogue that fully engages with the cultural complexities present in slam and spoken word poetry communities, as well as their ramifications.
 
In Killing Poetry, renowned slam poet, Javon Johnson unpacks some of the complicated issues that comprise performance poetry spaces. He argues that the truly radical potential in slam and spoken word communities lies not just in proving literary worth, speaking back to power, or even in altering power structures, but instead in imagining and working towards altogether different social relationships. His illuminating ethnography provides a critical history of the slam, contextualizes contemporary black poets in larger black literary traditions, and does away with the notion that poetry slams are inherently radically democratic and utopic.
 
Killing Poetry—at times autobiographical, poetic, and journalistic—analyzes the masculine posturing in the Southern California community in particular, the sexual assault in the national community, and the ways in which related social media inadvertently replicate many of the same white supremacist, patriarchal, and mainstream logics so many spoken word poets seem to be working against. Throughout, Johnson examines the promises and problems within slam and spoken word, while illustrating how community is made and remade in hopes of eventually creating the radical spaces so many of these poets strive to achieve. 
 

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Radical Intellect

Liberator Magazine and Black Activism in the 1960s

Christopher M. Tinson

The rise of black radicalism in the 1960s was a result of both the successes and the failures of the civil rights movement. The movement's victories were inspirational, but its failures to bring about structural political and economic change pushed many to look elsewhere for new strategies. During this era of intellectual ferment, the writers, editors, and activists behind the monthly magazine Liberator (1960–71) were essential contributors to the debate. In the first full-length history of the organization that produced the magazine, Christopher M. Tinson locates the Liberator as a touchstone of U.S.-based black radical thought and organizing in the 1960s. Combining radical journalism with on-the-ground activism, the magazine was dedicated to the dissemination of a range of cultural criticism aimed at spurring political activism, and became the publishing home to many notable radical intellectual-activists of the period, such as Larry Neal, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Harold Cruse, and Askia Toure.

By mapping the history and intellectual trajectory of the Liberator and its thinkers, Tinson traces black intellectual history beyond black power and black nationalism into an internationalism that would shape radical thought for decades to come.

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African American Review

Vol. 43 (2009) through current issue

African American Review is a scholarly aggregation of insightful essays on African American literature, theatre, film, the visual arts, and culture; interviews; poetry; fiction; and book reviews. The Review has featured renowned writers and cultural critics including Trudier Harris, Arnold Rampersad, Hortense Spillers, Amiri Baraka, Cyrus Cassells, Rita Dove, Charles Johnson, Toni Morrison, and Ishmael Reed. The official publication of the Modern Language Association's Divison on Black American Literature and Culture, African American Review fosters a vigorous conversation on African American literature and culture among writers and scholars in the arts, humanities, and social sciences.

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The Promise of Patriarchy

Women and the Nation of Islam

Ula Yvette Taylor

The patriarchal structure of the Nation of Islam (NOI) promised black women the prospect of finding a provider and a protector among the organization's men, who were fiercely committed to these masculine roles. Black women's experience in the NOI, however, has largely remained on the periphery of scholarship. Here, Ula Taylor documents their struggle to escape the devaluation of black womanhood while also clinging to the empowering promises of patriarchy. Taylor shows how, despite being relegated to a lifestyle that did not encourage working outside of the home, NOI women found freedom in being able to bypass the degrading experiences connected to labor performed largely by working-class black women and in raising and educating their children in racially affirming environments.

Telling the stories of women like Clara Poole (wife of Elijah Muhammad) and Burnsteen Sharrieff (secretary to W. D. Fard, founder of the Allah Temple of Islam), Taylor offers a compelling narrative that explains how their decision to join a homegrown, male-controlled Islamic movement was a complicated act of self-preservation and self-love in Jim Crow America.

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Spirit Children

Illness, Poverty, and Infanticide in Northern Ghana

Aaron R. Denham

In parts of West Africa, some babies and toddlers are considered spirit children—nonhumans sent from the forest to cause misfortune and destroy the family. These are usually deformed or ailing infants, the very young whose births coincide with tragic events, or children who display unusual abilities. In some of these cases, families seek a solution in infanticide. Many others do not.

Refusing to generalize or oversimplify, Aaron R. Denham offers an ethnographic study of the spirit child phenomenon in Northern Ghana that considers medical, economic, religious, and political realities. He examines both the motivations of the families and the structural factors that lead to infanticide, framing these within the context of global public health. At the same time, he turns the lens on Western societies and the misunderstandings that prevail in discourse about this controversial practice. Engaging the complexity of the context, local meanings, and moral worlds of those confronting a spirit child, Denham offers visceral accounts of families' life and death decisions.

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The Hindered Hand

Author

Between 1899 and 1908, five long works of fiction by the Nashville-based black Baptist minister Sutton E. Griggs appeared in print, making him the most prolific African American novelist at the turn of the twentieth century. Brought out by Griggs’s own Orion Publishing Company in three distinct printings in 1905 and 1906, The Hindered Hand; or, the Reign of the Repressionist addresses the author’s key themes of amalgamation, emigration, armed resistance, and US overseas expansion; includes a melodramatic love story; and features two of the most sensational scenes in early African American fiction—a harrowingly graphic lynching of an innocent black couple based on actual events and the elaboration of a plot to wipe out white Southerners by introducing yellow fever germs into the water supply. Written in response to Thomas Dixon’s recently published race-baiting novel The Leopard’s Spots, Griggs’s book depicts the remnants of the old Southern planter class, the racial crisis threatening the South and the North, the social ferment of the time, the changing roles of women, and the thwarted aspirations of a trio of African American veterans following the war against Spain. This scholarly edition of the novel, providing newly discovered biographical information and copious historical context, makes a significant contribution to African American literary scholarship.

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Voices of Rondo

Oral Histories of Saint Paul's Historic Black Community

Kate Cavett

In Voices of Rondo, real-life stories illuminate the northern urban Black experience during the first half of the twentieth century, through the memories and reflections of residents of Saint Paul’s historic Rondo community. We glimpse the challenges of racism and poverty and share the victories of a community that educated its children to become strong, to find personal pride, and to become the next generation of leaders in Saint Paul and beyond.

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Journal of Black Sexuality and Relationships

Vol. 1 (2014) through current issue

The Journal of Black Sexuality and Relationships is devoted to addressing the epistemological, ontological, and social construction of sexual expression and relationships of persons within the African diaspora. The journal seeks to take into account the transhistorical substrates that subsume behavioral, affective, and cognitive functioning of persons of African descent as well as those who educate or clinically serve this important population.

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A Curse upon the Nation

Race, Freedom, and Extermination in America and the Atlantic World

Kay Wright Lewis

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Jah Kingdom

Rastafarians, Tanzania, and Pan-Africanism in the Age of Decolonization

Monique A. Bedasse

From its beginnings in 1930s Jamaica, the Rastafarian movement has become a global presence. While the existing studies of the Rastafarian movement have primarily focused on its cultural expression through reggae music, art, and iconography, Monique A. Bedasse argues that repatriation to Africa represents the most important vehicle of Rastafari's international growth. Shifting the scholarship on repatriation from Ethiopia to Tanzania, Bedasse foregrounds Rastafari's enduring connection to black radical politics and establishes Tanzania as a critical site to explore gender, religion, race, citizenship, socialism, and nation. Beyond her engagement with how the Rastafarian idea of Africa translated into a lived reality, she demonstrates how Tanzanian state and nonstate actors not only validated the Rastafarian idea of diaspora but were also crucial to defining the parameters of Pan-Africanism.

Based on previously undiscovered oral and written sources from Tanzania, Jamaica, England, the United States, and Trinidad, Bedasse uncovers a vast and varied transnational network--including Julius Nyerere, Michael Manley, and C. L. R James--revealing Rastafari's entrenchment in the making of Pan-Africanism in the postindependence period.

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