Date of Award

5-2011

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Major

English

Major Professor

Thomas Haddox

Committee Members

Katy Chiles, Asafa Jalata, Josphat Ndigirigi

Abstract

In this work, I explore how African American authors and texts have contributed to or confronted what Toni Morrison calls “Africanism” in Playing in the Dark. I argue that the construction of blackness by non-black people and its consequent racial stigma, imbuing skin color with mental and physical inferiority, functions in an intraracial context to obscure the solidarity of all African Americans irrespective of their socioeconomic status. My work spans the twentieth and the beginning of the twenty-first centuries, investigating representations of the middle class who seek to deny or ignore the impact that a Eurocentric value system has on their lives and the lives of the black majority. These texts also illustrate the struggle to reconcile social mobility and economic progress with the persistence of the cultural trauma of slavery and racial stigma, as well as the struggle between exclusionary claims of African American authenticity and more complicated middle-class and black majority constructions of African American identity. I correct claims that the tension between African American authenticity and educational and economic progress is a new phenomenon, demonstrating that this tension extends back to the beginning of the twentieth century and arguably even to the period of Reconstruction. My dissertation also reveals the mythical nature of the postracial ideal, suggesting that contemporary African American investment in postracial ideology is the product of a desire to reflect and obtain an elusive “Americanism” that has never been unreservedly available to African Americans.

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