In the first “exhibit” of George C. Wolfe’s The Colored Museum (1986), a series of loosely connected vignettes that address American legacies of racism and representation, the audience becomes refigured as conscripts on “Celebrity Slaveship.” Wolfe’s choice to begin the play with imagery from the slave trade suggests that the legacy of slavery connects each of the play’s otherwise disparate moments. This essay uses three exhibits from the play to investigate how Wolfe links the history of slavery to contemporary black experiences. For example, the attendant onboard Celebrity Slaveship presents the audience with a “pat” or glib history of slavery, echoing popular beliefs that slavery was a “means to an end” for both blacks and America more generally. By contrast, Wolfe’s inclusion of Snap! Queen Miss Roj illuminates ongoing distinctions between the self and debased “Other” that link the slave trade with the AIDS crisis. Additionally, in Wolfe’s “colored” country girl Normal Jean, this article interprets the playwright conflates the teen’s painful birth with a middle passage journey in order to engage with Reagan-era pathologization of black women’s bodies. Ultimately, Wolfe returns again and again to the originary moment of the African diaspora in order to reimagine it as a generative myth of contemporary black perseverance in the face of ongoing racial abjection.


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pp. 355-369
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