- Gatekeeping Stories of Dissent and Mobility
What kinds of tales do ethnoracial others in the contemporary US tell? Why are they and their stories significant? These questions drive no insignificant amount of scholarship (and artistry and critical thought) among and about people of color. From the perspective of Critical Race studies, a cluster of work in the last decade by scholars like Cristina Beltrán, Arlene Dávila, Lisa Cacho, Roderick Ferguson, and Grace Kyungwon Hong considers how racialized subjectivities are managed and configured within the parameters of neoliberal social policies. These scholars help develop a particular story about racial subjectivity both hopeful and threatening. In it, social precarity represents a persistent horizon of menace for the ethnoracial other in US society. From this vulnerable condition, racial subjectivities emerge that either occupy a position of social abjection or become subject to racial containment. Additionally, these conditions occur at a moment of explosive globalization; so the management of racial subjectivity takes place as neoliberal policies come to influence and shape wider-ranging geographies and cultures around the world.
In this context, three recent studies contribute to interdisciplinary conversations about racial affiliation, economic aspiration, and the politically resistant function of stories. Elda María Román’s Race and Upward Mobility: Seeking, Gatekeeping, and Other Class Strategies in Postwar America (2017), Christopher González’s Permissible Narratives: The Promise of Latino/a Literature (2017), and Theresa V. Longo’s Visible Dissent: Latin American Writers, Small U.S. Presses, and Progressive Social Change (2018) meditate on the significance of narratives by and about racial subjects and exiled radicals. Their studies engage cultural representations of people struggling to negotiate the precarious terrain of modern life, be it engaging complex negotiations between racial and class affiliations, challenging social expectations for [End Page 312] cultural products in an ethnic marketplace, or resisting the actions and words of repressive governmental regimes. Each weighs a hope for transformative social change against the power of the efficient, impersonal, even brutal management that comprises modernity.
The authors consider necessary narratives about racialized, ethnicized, and embattled bodies in the modern age. To that end, Román analyzes stories about upward social mobility for racially or ethnically identified characters who find themselves facing a quandary: how to sustain an empowering and critical sense of racial affiliation while also seeking to gain the benefits of upward social and class mobility. The characters’ sense of self relies upon their balancing demands for acceptance in an ideological context where social status is marked racially as white. All the while, they try to maintain a commitment toward collective goals of social justice that can form a vital component of US racial identity. The stories of ethnoracial negotiation that González’s book considers, in turn, complicate the types of storytelling associated with ethnoracialized people. Expectations about Latinx literature force writers to tell stories in a way that their audience will recognize as legibly Latinx. González analyzes how the form of narratives about racial and class anxiety becomes a marker of ethnic identification. As they take up challenging narrative forms, these texts push the horizon of the audience’s expectations, thus breaking down restrictive perceptions of what Latinx expression can do. In this way, experimental Latinx literature undoes aesthetic norms. Less directly focused on the politics of ethnoracial narrative or class formation, Longo’s book deliberates over radical stories of dissent that have circulated in the US thanks to a group of politically and artistically committed small publishing houses. In her review of the presses and their contributions to a hemispheric dissident literature, Longo sketches an intellectual history of radical thought in the Americas. This history informs a radical strain of US Latinx thought, parts of which have been codified in the DNA of Latinx and Chicanx studies.
If we see these...