Nearly all African-Americans carry within them white blood, usually the result of white rape. White slaveholders routinely sold mixed-race children—their own children—into slavery.

Posted in Excerpts/Quotes on 2017-03-03 19:18Z by Steven

Nearly all African-Americans carry within them white blood, usually the result of white rape. White slaveholders routinely sold mixed-race children—their own children—into slavery. [James] Baldwin knew the failure to acknowledge the melding of the black and white races that can be seen in nearly every African-American face, a melding that makes African-Americans literally the brothers and sisters of whites. African-Americans, Baldwin wrote, are the “bastard” children of white America. They constitute a peculiarly and uniquely American race.

Chris Hedges, “James Baldwin and the Meaning of Whiteness,” Common Dreams: Breaking News & Views for the Progressive Community, February 20, 2017. http://www.commondreams.org/views/2017/02/20/james-baldwin-and-meaning-whiteness.

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James Baldwin and the Meaning of Whiteness

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Social Justice, United States on 2017-02-24 00:42Z by Steven

James Baldwin and the Meaning of Whiteness

Common Dreams: Breaking News & Views for the Progressive Community
2017-02-20

Chris Hedges


The work of James Baldwin, pictured here in 1969, is as relevant today as in his time. The essayist, novelist, poet and social critic died in 1987. (Photo: Allan Warren / Wikimedia Commons)

Raoul Peck’sI Am Not Your Negro” is one of the finest documentaries I have ever seen—I would have stayed in the theater in New York to see the film again if the next showing had not been sold out. The newly released film powerfully illustrates, through James Baldwin’s prophetic work, that the insanity now gripping the United States is an inevitable consequence of white Americans’ steadfast failure to confront where they came from, who they are and the lies and myths they use to mask past and present crimes. Baldwin’s only equal as a 20th century essayist is George Orwell. If you have not read Baldwin you probably do not fully understand America. Especially now.

History “is not the past,” the film quotes Baldwin as saying. “History is the present. We carry our history with us. To think otherwise is criminal.”

The script is taken from Baldwin’s notes, essays, interviews and letters, with some of the words delivered in Baldwin’s voice from audio recordings and televised footage, some of them in readings by actor Samuel L. Jackson. But it is not, finally, the poetry and lyricism of Baldwin that make the film so moving. It is Peck’s understanding of the core of Baldwin’s message to the white race, a message that is vital to grasp as we struggle with an overt racist as president, mass incarceration, poverty gripping half the country and militarized police murdering unarmed black men and women in the streets of our cities.

Whiteness is a dangerous concept. It is not about skin color. It is not even about race. It is about the willful blindness used to justify white supremacy. It is about using moral rhetoric to defend exploitation, racism, mass murder, reigns of terror and the crimes of empire…

…Nearly all African-Americans carry within them white blood, usually the result of white rape. White slaveholders routinely sold mixed-race children—their own children—into slavery. Baldwin knew the failure to acknowledge the melding of the black and white races that can be seen in nearly every African-American face, a melding that makes African-Americans literally the brothers and sisters of whites. African-Americans, Baldwin wrote, are the “bastard” children of white America. They constitute a peculiarly and uniquely American race.

“The truth is this country does not know what to do with its black population,” he said. “Americans can’t face the fact that I am flesh of their flesh.”…

Read the entire article here.

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A long history of accepting interracial couples and mixed race children exists in the black community, if only because no alternatives seem to exist.

Posted in Excerpts/Quotes on 2016-12-19 01:42Z by Steven

A long history of accepting interracial couples and mixed race children exists in the black community, if only because no alternatives seem to exist. James Baldwin laid bare this ugly truth during a televised debate with a white conservative. When asked about what whites feared most, “Would you want your [white] daughter to marry one [black]?” Baldwin retorted, “You’re not worried about me marrying your daughter—you’re worried about me marrying your wife’s daughter. I’ve been marrying your daughter since the days of slavery.”

Peter Cole, “Where Has All the Loving Gone? A Review of the New Film, ‘Loving’,” African American Intellectual History Society, November 27, 2016. http://www.aaihs.org/where-has-all-the-loving-gone-a-review-of-the-new-loving-film/.

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“We Called That Touch”

Posted in Articles, Autobiography, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2016-04-01 02:06Z by Steven

“We Called That Touch”

Boston Review
2016-03-28

Ed Pavlić, Professor of English and Creative Writing
University of Georgia

Race and the Intimate Tangle of American Experience

It might seem to you that I am white. Then again, depending upon how and where we meet—and upon things in your life I know nothing about—it might seem to you that I’m not white. So far, in forty-nine years here, my experience has indicated this much to me. My father came to the United States by way of Canada from what is now Croatia. My mother is a white American liberal from Wisconsin. Many in America would say that, because of the race of my parents, my identity is essentially fixed in those terms, that such matters are innate, inborn. For many on all sides of the color line, this either/or racial paradigm possesses the self-evidence of a law of nature. Yet the social and political machinery necessary to maintain the reality of this illusion proves lethal to men, women, and children everyday.

Nonetheless, contrary to this culture-bound delusion, whiteness is not a natural inheritance. People “believing themselves white” (to borrow a phrase from Ta-Nehisi Coates, who borrowed the idea from James Baldwin) must invest in that belief continually. Whether consciously or not, they must rehearse its prohibitions and privileges all their waking days—in their dreams, even. Our world offers them a great assistance with this and, on average, the dividends paid by this pact with whiteness are real. At the same time, Eula Biss recently argued that this “believing themselves white” business accrues a cost, “White Debt.” It seems to me that she is describing shame even more than debt. Her essay tiptoes around naming the terrible price people believing themselves white pay to sustain that belief.

I confess that, even in the abstract, I have never been able to acquire a knack for honoring the supposed impermeability of American racial categories. Just where is the border in what one says, thinks, imagines, who one loves? Even more, where is the border in how one goes about these things? My racial ambiguity has not only been internal but has been reflected in—perhaps fueled by—the ways that, since childhood, my race has been so frequently “misread,” or far from self-evident. More than once in my twenties, police asked me point blank: Are you black or white? In these previews of often subtler interrogations to come, it always seemed to me that the question was the answer. Yet for years and long after I knew better, and even up until now, I have been afraid to openly analyze the dynamics that have produced these questions. I dealt with them lyrically, both in poems and in life. But in a fearful and tiresome symmetry, this silence and lyrical angularity (like Dickinson’stell it slant”) also forced me to treat my condition as if it were a personal psychosis, mine and mine alone, an essential and incommunicable privacy. It’s taught me how necessary privacy is but also how an incommunicable privacy narrows, collapses, becomes a trap…

Read the entire article here.

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The Cry of Black Rage in African American Literature from Frederick Douglass to Richard Wright

Posted in Books, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Monographs, United States on 2015-12-22 04:26Z by Steven

The Cry of Black Rage in African American Literature from Frederick Douglass to Richard Wright

Edwin Mellen Press
2013
176 pages
ISBN10: 0-7734-4077-1; ISBN13: 978-0-7734-4077-7

Steven Troy Moore, Assistant Professor of Language and Literature
Abilene Christian University, Abilene Texas

This book examines the contrasting experiences of black rage that is exhibited in the writings of male and female African American authors. It boldly captures the compelling theme of the white silence and the black rage that battled each other from the early days of slavery up to the pre-Civil Rights Movement. It exposes the birth of black rage and the African American experience through such writers as Frederick Douglass and Harriet Ann Jacobs. Next, it gives a painful glimpse into the complicated experience of the biracial in the post-Reconstruction era through the eyes of Charles Chesnutt and Nella Larsen. Finally, this study concludes with an astounding view of the modern state of black rage through the controversial writings of Richard Wright and Ann Petry. Currently, many studies present a one-dimensional analysis of black rage; however, this book provides a comprehensive examination of this phenomenon. From the viewpoint of African American authors, it traces the gender differences of black rage that span one hundred years and includes valuable insights from such brilliant scholars as bell hooks, Cornel West, Barbara Christian, Martha J. Cutter, Deborah E. McDowell, and James Baldwin.

Table of Contents

  • Foreword by Maureen Honey
  • Preface
  • Acknowledgements
  • “Get Over It”
  • Chapter 1: Examining a Century of Silence and Rage in African American Literature, 1865-1946
    • Introduction
    • Literature Review
    • The Duality of Frederick Douglass and Harriet Ann Jacobs
    • The Biracial Worlds of Charles Chesnutt and Nella Larsen
    • Richard Wright’s Explosive Rage
  • Chapter 2: Silent Trees: Personal Reflections on Silence and Rage
    • The Silence
    • Silence and Rage
    • Mark
    • Blackness: Silence and Identity
    • Words from bell hooks, Martin Luther King Jr., and Malcolm X
  • Chapter 3: Witnessing the Birth of Black Rage in Frederick Douglass’s Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave (1845) and Harriet Ann Jacob’s Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861)
    • The Enduring Pain of Slavery
    • The Autobiographical Rage of Frederick Douglass
    • Impotent Rage
    • Black Female Rage in Jacob’s Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl
    • The Slave Girl and the Sexual Predator
    • The Female Slave’s Alternative Retribution
    • Lasting Blow: The Lingering Influences of Slavery
  • Chapter 4: The Phenomenon of Biracial Rage in Charles Chesnutt’s The House Behind the Cedars (1900) and Nella Larsen’s Quicksand (1928) and Passing (1929)
    • The Biracial Identity
    • The White Mask in The House Behind Cedars Chesnutt’s Biracial Female
    • Black Female Rage in Nella Larsen’s Quicksand A Place to Belong: Location and Helga’s Biracial Identity
    • The Biracial Female in Passing Differed Rage
  • Chapter 5: Exploring the Explosive Urban Rage in Richard Wright’s Native Son (1940) and Ann Petry’s The Street (1946)
    • Brutal Clarity
    • “Like a Red-Hot Iron”: Bigger Thomas’s Burning Rage
    • The White Cat and the Black Rat
    • Native Son’s Perpetuating Rage
    • The Furious Hell of Ann Petry’s The Street
    • The White Heaven: Petry’s Contrasting Spaces
    • The White Ideal and the Black Other
    • Blackness and Claustrophobic Spaces
    • Explosive Black Female Rage
  • Bibliography
  • Index
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James Baldwin asks ‘How are white Americans so sure they are white?’

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States, Videos on 2014-12-06 01:56Z by Steven

James Baldwin asks ‘How are white Americans so sure they are white?’

Dangerous Minds
2014-12-04

Paul Gallagher

In 1963, James Baldwin wrote two essays that examined the role of race and racism in the history of America. Published in The New Yorker, Baldwin’s first essay, written in the form of a letter to his fourteen-year-old nephew on the 100th anniversary of Emancipation explained “the crux of [his] dispute with [his] country”:

You were born where you were born and faced the future that you faced because you were black and for no other reason. The limits to your ambition were thus expected to be settled. You were born into a society which spelled out with brutal clarity and in as many ways as possible that you were a worthless human being. You were not expected to aspire to excellence. You were expected to make peace with mediocrity…

…Baldwin began by talking about a visit to the British Museum where he got in conversation with a West Indian man who asked the writer where he was from…

…Baldwin went onto explain why he doesn’t know—for his ancestral entry into America was by a “bill of sale, which stops you from going any further.”

But Baldwin wasn’t interested in just offering personal historical context of the black American experience, he also asked provocative and difficult questions about white ethnicity and the complex relationship between all Americans:

White men lynched negroes knowing them to be their sons.
White women watched men being lynched knowing them to be their lovers…
How are white Americans so sure they are white?

The point is racism damages everyone.

In light of the institutionalised racism exposed by the Michael Brown fiasco in Ferguson, the killing of Eric Garner in New York and the rise of racist and xenophobic politics across Europe and the Middle East, Horace Ové‘s film of James Baldwin and Dick Gregory is necessary viewing.

Read the entire article here.

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Living Portraits: Carl Van Vechten’s Color Photographs of African Americans, 1939-1964

Posted in Arts, Media Archive, United States on 2012-09-17 23:57Z by Steven

Living Portraits: Carl Van Vechten’s Color Photographs of African Americans, 1939-1964

Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library
Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut

Carl Van Vechten (1880-1964), photographer, promotor of literary talent, and critic of dance, theater, and opera, had an artistic vision rooted in the centrality of the talented person. He cherished accomplishment, whether in music, dance, theater, fine art, literature, sport, or advocacy. He began to make photographic portraits in 1932; in 1939 he discovered newly available color film. For a quarter century, he invited friends and acquaintances, well-known artists, fledgling entertainers, and public intellectuals to sit for him, often against backdrops reminiscent of the vivid colors and patterns of a Matisse painting. Among his subjects are a very young Diahann Carroll, Billie Holiday in tears, Paul Robeson as Othello, Althea Gibson swinging a tennis racquet, and a procession of opera stars, composers, authors, musicians, activists, educators, and journalists who made notable contributions to the cultural and intellectual life of the country. Also included are brilliant color images of notable and everyday places: Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee; the wedding of friends; pushcarts and street scenes of Harlem; children at play in a housing project’s yard.

The Collection

Color slides of Blacks.
1,884 color Kodachrome slides, 2 x 2 inches each

[Note from Steven F. Riley] Also includes photographs of: Peter Abrahams, Prince Etuka Okala Abutu, Armenta Adams, Adele Addison, Alvin Ailey, Betty Allen, Sanford Allen, Martina Arroyo, William Attaway, Ethel Ayler, Pearl Bailey, James Baldwin, Harry Belafonte, Roy Thompson Beresford, Mary McLeod Bethune, Charles Blackwell, McHenry Boatwright, Margaret Allison Bonds, Paul Bontemps, William Stanley Braithwaite, Carol Brice, Jonathan Brice, Maurice Brooks, Anne Wiggins Brown, Debria Brown, Roscoe Lee Browne, Joyce Bryant, Ralph J. Bunche, Dan Burley, Miriam Burton, John Carlis, Thelma Carpenter, Diahann Carroll, John Carter, Shirley Verrett Carter, Horace Cayton, Omar Clay, Ladybird Cleveland, Leo Coleman, Durward B. Collins, Janet Collins, Zebedee Collins, Clayton Corbin, Edna Cordoza, Eldzier Corter, Robert Curtis, Jimmy Daniels, Ossie Davis, Gloria Davy, Ruby Dee, William Demby, Beauford Delaney, Inez Dickerson, Hugh Dilworth, Mattiwilda Dobbs, Owen Dodson, W. E. B. DuBois, Todd Duncan, Roy Eaton, Bobby Evans, Martha Flowers, Benny Garland, Althea Gibson, Richard Gibson, John Birks “Dizzie” Gillespie, Shirley Graham, Reri Grist, Nicolas Guillen, Juanita Hall, Bertha “Chippie” Hill, Ramon Blancos Habana, Frank Harriott, Afrika Hayes, Marion Hayes, Roland Hayes, Chester Eugene Haynes, Godfrey Headley, Bomar Himes, Geoffrey Holder, Leo Holder, Charlotte Holloman, Nora Holt, Marilyn Horne, Langston Hughes, Phillipa Husley, Earle Hyman, Ivie Jackman, Annette Jackson, Mahalia Jackson, Raymond Jackson, Louise E. Jefferson, Charles Johnson, Hal Johnson, Hylan “Dots” Johnson, Marie Johnson, (Everett) LeRoi Jones , James Earl Jones, Laurence Clifton Jones, Ulysses Kay, William Melvin Kelly, Eartha (Mae) Kitt, George Lamming, Carmen De Lavallade, Everett Lee, Henry Lewis, Powell Lindsay, James Lowe, Robert Keith McFerrin, Claudia McNeil, Geraldyn (Gerri) Hodges Major, Claude Marchant, William Marshall, Mabel Mercer, Lizzie Miles, Arthur Mitchell, Edgar Mittelholzer, Mollie Moon, Linwood Morris, Willard Motley, Lorenzo Newby, Maidie Norman, Godfrey Nurse, Frederick O’Neal, Leonard de Paur, Louise Parker, Louis Peterson, Julius Perkins Jr., Mildred Perkins, Charles Perry, Ann Petry, Evelyn La Rue Pittman, Leontyne Price, Bertice Reading, Guy Rodgers, Percy Rodriguez, Pearl Showers, Edith Spurlock Sampson, Diana Sands, Harold Scott, George Shirley, Bobby (Robert Waltrip) Short, Merton Simpson, Noble Sissle, Clarence Smith Jr., William Gardner Smith, Rawn Spearman, Melvin Stewart, William Grant Still, Billy Strayhorn, Howard Swanson, Archie Savage, Wesley Tann, Ellen Tarry, Dorothy Taylor, Claude Thompson, Veronica Tyler, Margaret Tynes, Henry Van Dyke, Elaine Vance, William Warfield, Dorothy West, Moran Weston, Clarence Cameron White, Josh White, Lindsay H. White, Roy Wilkins, Billy Dee Williams, Camilla Williams, John Alfred Williams, Maurice Williford, Ellis Wilson, John W. Work, and Dale Wright.

To view the collection, click here.

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The Race of a More Perfect Union: James Baldwin, Segregated Memory and the Presidential Race

Posted in Articles, Barack Obama, Literary/Artistic Criticism, New Media, Politics/Public Policy, United States on 2012-03-27 04:01Z by Steven

The Race of a More Perfect Union: James Baldwin, Segregated Memory and the Presidential Race

Theory & Event
Volume 15, Issue 1 (March 2012)
DOI: 10.1353/tae.2012.0010

P.J. Brendese, Visiting Assistant Professor of Political Science
Haverford College

The 2008 U.S. presidential race dramatized the connection between America’s segregated memory and its segregated polity. This essay makes the case that James Baldwin offers valuable insight into the legacy of segregated memory in contemporary racial politics in general, and the presidential race in particular. To do so, I provide a brief historical overview of segregated memory since the Civil War, and offer an analysis of Baldwin’s account of the conscious and unconscious dimensions of memory and the impact of myth-histories on African Americans and whites. This is followed by an exposition of Baldwin’s approach to de-segregating memory, as well as the tensions and correspondences between his contributions to addressing mnemonic divides and those of Barack Obama in his “More Perfect Union” speech on race. The essay closes by outlining the political relevance of the theoretical tensions between Baldwin and Obama in an era alleged to have been made “post-racial” by the first black president.

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Reflections: An Anthology of African-American Philosophy, 1st Edition

Posted in Anthologies, Books, Law, Media Archive, Philosophy, Politics/Public Policy, Religion, Social Science, United States, Women on 2012-02-06 05:26Z by Steven

Reflections: An Anthology of African-American Philosophy, 1st Edition

Cengage Learning
2000
464 pages
Paperback ISBN-10: 0534573932  ISBN-13: 9780534573935

Edited by:

James Montmarquet, Professor of Philosophy
Tennessee State University

William Hardy, Associate Professor of Philosophy and Religion
Tennessee State University

This anthology provides the instructor with a sufficient quantity, breadth, and diversity of materials to be the sole text for a course on African-American philosophy. It includes both classic and more contemporary readings by both professional philosophers and other people with philosophically intriguing viewpoints. The material provided is diverse, yet also contains certain themes which instructors can effectively employ to achieve the element of unity. One such theme, the debate of the “nationalist” focus on blackness vs. the many critics of this focus, runs through a great number of issues and readings.

Table of Contents

  • Preface.
  • Introduction.
  • PART ONE: FOUNDATIONS-RACE AND RACISM.
    • 1. W.E.B. DuBois: From The Souls of Black Folk.
    • 2. Molefi K. Asante: Racism, Consciousness, and Afrocentricity.
    • 3. Kwame Anthony Appiah: Racisms.
    • 4. J. L. A. Garcia: The Heart of Racisms. Contemporary Issue: Views on “Mixed Race”.
    • 5. Naomi Zack: Mixed Black and White Race and Public Policy.
    • 6. Lewis R. Gordon: Race, Biraciality, and Mixed Race-In Theory.
  • PART TWO: MORAL AND POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY-NATIONALISM, SEPARATISM, AND ASSIMILATION.
    • 7. Martin R. Delaney: The Condition, Elevation, Emigration, and Destiny of the Colored Peoples of the United States.
    • 8. Frederick Douglass: The Future of the Negro, The Future of the Colored Race, The Nation’s Problem, and On Colonization.
    • 9. Marcus Garvey: From Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey.
    • 10. Maulana Karenga: The Nguzo Saba (The Seven Principles): Their Meaning and Message.
    • 11. Molefi K. Asante: The Afrocentric Idea in Education.
    • 12. Cornel West: The Four Traditions of Response. Contemporary Issue: “Ebonics”.
    • 13. Geneva Smitherman: Black English/Ebonics: What it Be Like?
    • 14. Milton Baxter: Educating Teachers about Educating the Oppressed. Feminism, Womanism, and Gender Relations.
    • 15. Sojourner Truth: Ain’t I a Woman?
    • 16. Patricia Hill Collins: The Social Construction of Black Feminist Thought.
    • 17. bell hooks: Reflections on Race and Sex.
    • 18. Angela P. Harris: Race and Essentialism in Feminist Legal Theory.
    • 19. Charles W. Mills: Do Black Men Have a Moral Duty to Marry Black Women? Contemporary Issue: Women’s Rights and Black Nationalism.
    • 20. E. Francis White: Africa on My Mind: Gender, Counterdiscourse, and African American Nationalism.
    • 21. Amiri Baraka: Black Woman. Violence, Liberation, and Social Justice.
    • 22. Martin Luther King, Jr.: Letter from a Birmingham Jail.
    • 23. Malcolm X: Message to the Grass Roots.
    • 24. Howard McGary: Psychological Violence, Physical Violence, and Racial Oppression.
    • 25. Laurence M. Thomas: Group Autonomy and Narrative Identity. Contemporary Issue: Affirmative Action.
    • 26. Bernard Boxill: Affirmative Action.
    • 27. Shelby Steele: Affirmative Action. Ethics and Value Theory.
    • 28. Alain Locke: Values and Imperatives.
    • 29. Michele M. Moody-Adams: Race, Class, and the Social Construction of Self-Respect.
    • 30. Laurence M. Thomas: Friendship.
    • 31. Cornel West: Nihilism in Black America.
    • 32. Katie G. Cannon: Unctuousness as a Virtue: According to the Life of Zora Neale Hurston. Contemporary Issue: A Classic Question of Values, Rights, and Education.
    • 33. Booker T. Washington: Atlanta Exposition Address.
    • 34. W.E.B. DuBois: The Talented Tenth.
  • PART THREE: PHILOSOPHY AND RELATED DISCIPLINES.
    • 35. Patricia J. Williams: Alchemical Notes: Reconstructing Ideals from Deconstructed Rights.
    • 36. Regina Austin: Sapphire Bound!
    • 37. Derrick Bell: Racial Realism-After We’re Gone: Prudent Speculations on America in a Post-Racial Epoch.
    • 38. John Arthur: Critical Race Theory: A Critique. Contemporary Issue: Racist Hate Speech.
    • 39. Charles Lawrence and Gerald Gunther: Prohibiting Racist Speech: A Debate. Aesthetics.
    • 40. James Baldwin: Everybody’s Protest Novel.
    • 41. Larry Neal: The Black Arts Movement.
    • 42. Angela Y. Davis: Billy Holiday’s “Strange Fruit”: Music and Social Consciousness.
    • 43. Ralph Ellison: Blues People. Contemporary Issue: Rap Music.
    • 44. Crispin Sartwell: Rap Music and the Uses of Stereotype.
    • 45. Kimberle Crenshaw: Beyond Racism and Misogyny: Black Feminism and 2 Live Crew. Philosophy and Theology.
    • 46. David Walker: David Walker’s Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World, and Very Expressly, to Those of the United stated.
    • 47. James H. Cone: God and Black Theology.
    • 48. Victor Anderso: Ontological Blackness in Theology.
    • 49. Anthony Pinn: Alternative Perspectives and Critiques. Contemporary Issue: Womanist Theology and the Traditionalist Black Church.
    • 50. Cheryl J. Sanders: Christian Ethics and Theology in a Womanist Perspective.
    • 51. Delores Williams: Womanist Reflections on “the Black Church,” the African-American Denominational Churches and the Universal Hagar’s Spiritual Church.
  • SUGGESTIONS FOR FURTHER READING.
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The one-drop aesthetic: How literary formalism reinvented race in the United States

Posted in Dissertations, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States on 2011-06-05 02:02Z by Steven

The one-drop aesthetic: How literary formalism reinvented race in the United States

Harvard University
2009
233 pages
Publication Number: AAT 3365201
ISBN: 9781109254617

Kevin Brian Birmingham

A dissertation presented by Kevin Brian Birmingham to The Department of English in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in the subject of English.

The One-Drop Aesthetic argues that late twentieth-century theories of race and identity are translations of the early twentieth century’s aesthetic formalism, the New Criticism. The first cohesive formalism in the United States was an aesthetic ideology shaped by the imperfections of the South, which the southern New Critics took as a social model for their aesthetic ideals. They imagined literature not as a solid structure or an organic wholeness but as a welter of contingencies—a terrain that, like the South, was besieged by science and industry and whose beauty resided in fragments and ashes. The New Criticism was largely a dialogue between Allen Tate’s faith in transcendent wholeness and Ransom’s attention to art’s “infinite residue.”

The southern institution capable of relating fragments to organic wholes as well as bringing the idealized past into the industrialized present was, perhaps surprisingly, the cornerstone of segregation: the one-drop rule. A guiding principle of American race ideology was the belief that a trace of blackness is powerful enough to constitute blackness itself . Though it was a powerful weapon of oppression, several American writers in the twentieth century turned the implications of the one-drop rule into aesthetic virtues. Abiding, contaminating racial traces provided not only a model for cultural continuity over time and for imagining parts as transcendent wholes, but it intensified the complexity of W. E. B. Du Bois’s double consciousness, a modern American version of both Hegel’s self-consciousness and Friedrich Schiller’s aesthetics.

This project covers a fifty-year period from the New Criticism of the 1930s to the New Mestiza of the 1980s. Several writers used the idea of overwhelming racial traces to reframe the European aesthetic ideals of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in immediate social terms. William Faulkner’s powerful imagination of the one-drop aesthetic in his 1936 novel Absalom, Absalom! was foundational, and the unlikely inheritor of Faulkner was James Baldwin, who amplifies Faulkner’s race-based apocalyptic mode in his essays. This dissertation then turns to the central importance of the racially-mixed Schwarzkommando in Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow (1973). It ends with a discussion of Gloria Anzaldúa’s Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza (1987), which provides yet another vision of a lost aesthetic society recoverable from traces of both memory and blood.

Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • Chapter One – Hellenic Dixie: The Soil of American Formalism
  • Chapter Two – The Master/Trash Dialectic: William Faulkner and the Origin of an American Aesthetic
  • Chapter Three – “History’s Ass Pocket”: The Bind of Identity and Aesthetics in James Baldwin
  • Chapter Four – Revolutionaries of the Trace: Thomas Pynchon’s Schwarzkommando and the One-Drop Sublime
  • Chapter Five – Gods Out of Entrails: The Old Aesthetic of the New Mestiza
  • Works Cited

Purchase the dissertation here.

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