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AfriGeneas World Research Forum

Race and American narratives ...

Race and American narratives of counter-publicity, 1890--1930

Davis, James Cyril. Proquest Dissertations And Theses 2000. Section 0093, Part 0591 208 pages; [Ph.D. dissertation].United States -- Indiana: Indiana University; 2000. Publication Number: AAT 9993528.

Abstract (Summary)
This dissertation puts into dialogue two historical narratives that are ordinarily treated separately. One marks the emergence of American consumer culture, the other focuses on the maintenance of racial meaning during the so-called Jim Crow era. To stage this dialogue, it draws on a conversation among scholars of history and literature about the public sphere's transformation, and on recent efforts across humanities disciplines to historicize and theorize race. It focuses on one text from each of the decades between 1890 and 1930: The Reason Why the Colored American is not in the World's Columbian Exposition , an 1893 pamphlet edited by Ida B. Wells that criticizes the Chicago World's Fair's racial exclusivity; The American Scene , Henry James' 1907 anxious appraisal of turn-of-the-century commercial publicity and "the American racial character"; The Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man , a 1912 novel by James Weldon Johnson that questions its biracial narrator's willingness to sell his black "birthright for a mess of pottage" by passing for white; and Nathanael West's treatment of 1920s mass culture in his 1933 novella, Miss Loneyhearts .

The disparate readings the dissertation advances are united by a concern to understand how the institutions and discourses that propelled consumer culture served as an important context for racial formation, and in turn how race served to structure people's relationships to an increasingly commercialized public sphere.

It argues that, however inadvertently, the relegation of questions of race to the margins of the critical discourse around consumer culture has tended to reinforce the normativity of white citizenship, and it urges a critical approach that apprehends the historical reciprocity between racial formation and consumer culture in order to denaturalize both phenomena.


18 Dec 2002 :: 14 Nov 2008
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