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  • Critical Appropriations: African American Women and the Construction of Transnational Identity by Simone C. Drake
  • Shalini Nadaswaran
CRITICAL APPROPRIATIONS: AFRICAN AMERICAN WOMEN AND THE CONSTRUCTION OF TRANSNATIONAL IDENTITY, by Simone C. Drake. Southern Literary Studies. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2014. 186 pp. $35.00 cloth; $35.00 ebook.

Critical Appropriations: African American Women and the Construction of Transnational Identity makes an indelible mark in moving representations of African American women from the periphery to the center, offering fascinating and thorough discussions that conceptualize their transnational identities through transformation and reconstruction. Mapping new directions in black women’s studies through a variety of literary and cultural productions, Simone C. Drake argues for a syncretic blending that shifts away from homogeneity and essentialism. This suggested state of transformation permeates the work, which goes beyond common explorations of motherhood and community. Drake complicates notions of sameness, considering how the social and political positions African American women occupy are shaped while simultaneously examining categories of gender and identity. Drake’s work addresses a pressing need for more imaginative approaches to identity, suggesting that acts of appropriation require a creative openness towards new structures of knowledge, allowing for possibilities of redefinition, of interrogation of values, and of agency. Appropriation here is a powerful idea that contributes to constructing as well as re-imagining formations of subjectivities.

This book is broadly framed in accordance with the pluralities of forms and opinions it addresses. Drake’s analysis erodes confining definitions and [End Page 294] boundaries, primarily in the geographical notions of movement, positing that African American women can develop transnational identities without necessarily leaving the United States, an argument that acknowledges the influx and influence of popular culture on these identities. A prime focus of the book is the manner in which advances in modernity and technology influence culture. Drake explores each work of art as constructing varied epistemologies that help to better appreciate complex, transnational blackness. To do this, Critical Appropriations is divided into three parts. Drake begins with gender consciousness among black women in part one, explored through Toni Morrison’s Paradise (1997) and Erna Brodber’s Louisiana (1994). In part two, Drake addresses the transnational feminism and sisterhood found in Beyoncé and Shakira’s “Beautiful Liar” (2007) music video collaboration. Finally, part three considers third-wave feminism and black masculinity in Danzy Senna’s Caucasia (1998), Gayl Jones’s Corregidora (1975), and Kasi Lemmons’s Eve’s Bayou (1994). Collectively, these parts clearly and cogently demonstrate the ways in which black women critically engage with transnationalism while mediating the anxieties and ambivalences produced by these explorations.

Drake’s discussion of Beyoncé and Shakira’s collaborative implications offers, in my opinion, the book’s distinctive quality, drawing critical attention to the construction and contestation of transnational identities. Reading Beyoncé’s position as a celebrated music icon, Drake presents a riveting argument on the equivocal space Beyoncé inhabits. On one hand, she has been identified as transnational in transcending different barriers, yet on the other, she has been progressively identified less as a black woman as she has become thinner, lighter, blonder, and her hair straighter. This ambiguity is complex, yet in the “Beautiful Liar” video with Shakira, the appropriation of transnational sisterhood is evoked, not only creating a new identification of female solidarity but also suggesting a shift in understanding black female identities. The two women in the video, after discovering that they are dating the same man, do not fight over him but instead move towards a sisterhood or transnational feminism, restoring “a natural order of things that patriarchy stole from women” and proposing that the intersection of gender and transnational consciousness offers new platforms of identification and empowerment (p. 98). Hence, situating Beyoncé and Shakira’s collaboration in a transnational framework imagines a new way of engagement different from generic race-based reflections.

This book is significant in bridging the gaps between African American women’s stories and transnational discourse. A valuable and useful publication, which offers a multiplicity in conceptualizing black women’s identities, Critical Appropriations unarguably adds a rich contribution to scholarly works in this field. To quote from Drake’s conclusion, “there are [End Page 295...


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