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The Roots of “Wilding”: Black Literary Naturalism, the Language of Wilderness, and Hip Hop in the Central Park Jogger Rape


This article traces a genealogy of the use of the term “wilding” in the 1989 Central Park Jogger rape. It analyzes the modern social construction of racial savagery, the liberal progressivism of domesticated “nature” in Frederick Olmsted’s design of Central Park, and the performance of primitivism and wilderness in both hip-hop culture and the literary naturalism of Charles Chesnutt and Richard Wright. It theorizes that the wrongful convictions of the five boys originally found guilty of the rape may have been spurred on in part by the misinterpretation of the word “wilding,” thus offering not only a significant etymological corrective to the history of “wilding,” but also a means of locating that history in a broader black literary tradition of reappropriation and subversion.

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