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Toward a Black Male Feminist Criticism
Can black males offer useful insights on black women and patriarchy? Many black feminists are doubtful. Their skepticism derives in part from a history of explosive encounters with black men who blamed feminism for stigmatizing black men and undermining racial solidarity and in part from a perception that black male feminists are opportunists capitalizing on the current popularity of black women's writing and criticism. In Breaking the Silence, David Ikard goes boldly to the crux of this debate through a series of provocative readings of key African American texts that demonstrate the possibility and value of a viable black male feminist perspective. Seeking to advance the primary objectives of black feminism, Ikard provides literary models from Chester Himes's If He Hollers Let Him Go, James Baldwin's Go Tell It on the Mountain, Toni Morrison's Paradise, Toni Cade Bambara's The Salt Eaters, and Walter Mosley's Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned and Walkin' the Dog that consciously wrestle with the concept of victim status for black men and women. He looks at how complicity across gender lines, far from rooting out patriarchy in the black community, has allowed it to thrive. This complicity, Ikard explains, is a process by which victimized groups invest in victim status to the point that they unintentionally concede power to their victimizers and engage in patterns of behavior that are perceived as revolutionary but actually reinforce the status quo. While black feminism has fostered important and necessary discussions regarding the problems of patriarchy within the black community, little attention has been paid to the intersecting dynamics of complicity. By laying bare the nexus between victim status and complicity in oppression, Breaking the Silence charts a new direction for conceptualizing black women's complex humanity and provides the foundations for more expansive feminist approaches to resolving intraracial gender conflicts.
Traditions and Legacies of Blackface Minstrelsy
Beginning in the 1830s and continuing for more than a century, blackface minstrelsy—stage performances that claimed to represent the culture of black Americans—remained arguably the most popular entertainment in North America. A renewed scholarly interest in this contentious form of entertainment has produced studies treating a range of issues: its contradictory depictions of class, race, and gender; its role in the development of racial stereotyping; and its legacy in humor, dance, and music, and in live performance, film, and television. The style and substance of minstrelsy persist in popular music, tap and hip-hop dance, the language of the standup comic, and everyday rituals of contemporary culture. The blackface makeup all but disappeared for a time, though its influence never diminished—and recently, even the makeup has been making a comeback. This collection of original essays brings together a group of prominent scholars of blackface performance to reflect on this complex and troublesome tradition. Essays consider the early relationship of the blackface performer with American politics and the antislavery movement; the relationship of minstrels to the commonplace compromises of the touring “show” business and to the mechanization of the industrial revolution; the exploration and exploitation of blackface in the mass media, by D. W. Griffith and Spike Lee, in early sound animation, and in reality television; and the recent reappropriation of the form at home and abroad. In addition to the editor, contributors include Dale Cockrell, Catherine Cole, Louis Chude-Sokei, W. T. Lhamon, Alice Maurice, Nicholas Sammond, and Linda Williams.
Vol. 18 (1995) through current issue
CALLALOO, the premier African Diaspora literary journal, publishes original works by, and critical studies of, black writers worldwide. The journal offers a rich mixture of fiction, poetry, plays, critical essays, cultural studies, interviews, and visual art. Frequent annotated bibliographies, special thematic issues, and original art and photography are some of the features of this highly acclaimed international showcase of arts and letters.
The American Novel of Slavery since Gone with the Wind
In this comprehensive, groundbreaking study, Tim A. Ryan explores how American novelists since World War I have imagined the institution of slavery and the experience of those involved in it. Complicating the common assumption that authentic black-authored fiction about slavery is starkly opposed to the traditional, racist fiction (and history) created by whites, Ryan suggests that discourses about American slavery are—and have always been—defined by connections rather than disjunctions. Ryan contends that African American writers didn't merely reject and move beyond traditional portrayals of the black past but rather actively engaged in a dynamic dialogue with white-authored versions of slavery and existing historiographical debates. The result is an ongoing cultural conversation that transcends both racial and disciplinary boundaries and is akin to the call-and-response style of African American gospel music. Ryan addresses in detail more than a dozen major American novels of slavery, from the first significant modern fiction about the institution—Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind and Arna Bontemps's Black Thunder (both published in 1936)—to recent noteworthy novels on the topic—Edward P. Jones's The Known World and Valerie Martin's Property (both published in 2003). His insistence upon the necessity of interpreting novels about the past directly in relation to specific historical scholarship makes Calls and Responses especially compelling. He reads Toni Morrison's Beloved not in opposition to a monolithic orthodoxy about slavery but in relation to specific arguments of controversial historian Stanley Elkins. Similarly, he analyzes William Styron's The Confessions of Nat Turner in terms of its rhetorical echoes of Frederick Douglass's famous autobiographical narrative. Ryan shows throughout Calls and Responses how a variety of novelists—including Alex Haley, Octavia Butler, Ishmael Reed, Margaret Walker, and Frances Gaither—engage in a dynamic debate with each other and with such historians as Herbert Aptheker, Charles Joyner, Eugene and Elizabeth Genovese, and many others. A substantially new account of the development of American slavery fiction in the last century, Calls and Responses goes beyond merely exalting the expression of black voices and experiences and actually reconfigures the existing view of the American novel of slavery.
The Masculine and Morrison
The book also considers the barriers between black men and women thrown up by their participation in a larger, historically racist culture of competition, ownership, sexual repression, and fixed ideals about physical beauty and romantic love. Black women, Morrison says, bear their crosses extremely well,” and black men, although they have been routinely emasculated by white men, period,” have managed to maintain a feisty magic” that everybody wants but nobody else has.
Understanding Morrison's treatment of her male characters, says Susan Mayberry, becomes crucial to grasping her success in countering the damage done by a spectrum of sometimes misguided isms”--including white American feminism. Morrison's version of masculinity suggests that black men have successfully retained their special vitality in spite of white male resistance” and that their connections to black women have saved their lives.” To single out her men is not to negate the preeminence of her women; rather, it is to recognize the interconnectedness and balance between them.
Rethinking African American Literary History
What is African American about African American literature? Why identify it as a distinct tradition? John Ernest contends that too often scholars have relied on naïve concepts of race, superficial conceptions of African American history, and the marginalization of important strains of black scholarship. With this book, he creates a new and just retelling of African American literary history that neither ignores nor transcends racial history.
Black Heroism in the Transatlantic Imagination
Across the centuries, the acts and arts of black heroism have inspired a provocative, experimental, and self-reflexive intellectual, political, and aesthetic tradition. In Characters of Blood, Celeste-Marie Bernier illuminates the ways in which six iconic men and women—Toussaint Louverture, Nathaniel Turner, Sengbe Pieh, Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, and Harriet Tubman—challenged the dominant conceptualizations of their histories and played a key role in the construction of an alternative visual and textual archive.
While these figures have survived as symbolic touchstones, Bernier contends that scholars have yet to do justice to their complex bodies of work or their multifaceted lives. Adopting a comparative and transatlantic approach to her subjects’ remarkable life stories, the author analyzes a wealth of creative work—from literature, drama, and art to public monuments, religious tracts, and historical narratives—to show how it represents enslaved heroism throughout the United States, Africa, and the Caribbean. In mapping this black diasporic tradition of resistance, Bernier intends not only to reveal the limitations and distortions on record but also to complicate the definitions of black heroism that have been restricted by ideological boundaries between heroic and anti-heroic sites and sights of struggle.
The published canon of Chesnutt's work has doubled in the last decade: three novels completed but unpublished in Chesnutt's life have appeared, as have scholarly editions of Chesnutt's journals, his letters, and his essays. This book is the first to offer chapter-length analyses of each of Chesnutt's six novels. It also devotes three chapters to his short fiction. Previous critics have read Chesnutt's nonfiction as biographical background for his fiction. McWilliams is the first to analyze these nonfiction texts as complex verbal artifacts embodying many of the same tensions and ambiguities found in Chesnutt's stories and novels. The book includes separate chapters on Chesnutt's journal and on his important essay "The Future American." Moreover, Charles W. Chesnutt and the Fictions of Race approaches Chesnutt's writings from the perspective of recent literary theory. To a greater extent than any previous study of Chesnutt, it explores the way his texts interrogate and deconstruct the language and the intellectual constructs we use to organize reality.
The full effect of this new study is to show us how much more of a twentieth-century writer Chesnutt is than has been previously acknowledged. This accomplishment can only hasten his reemergence as one of our most important observers of race in American culture.