- Purchase/rental options available:
This essay argues that the critical focus on the conflicts among Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin, and others over the value of protest fiction has obscured their shared interest in critiquing the mid-twentieth century sociological assumption that white subjects represented the norm against which black subjects could be judged. Of concern to these writers was how to represent and resist limitations on black agency without reinforcing a version of humanist discourse intended to maintain black social death. This essay also questions Wright’s recent reclamation by posthumanist critics, suggesting instead that we read Wright and his peers as performing a range of black humanisms that challenge dehumanizing perceptions of blackness and humanizing perceptions of whiteness. In doing so, this essay brings into focus these writers’ shared efforts to disrupt and transform traditional humanist frameworks, while calling for an end to the continued marginalization of black humanisms in current theoretical debates.