Off-campus UMass Amherst users: To download dissertations, please use the following link to log into our proxy server with your UMass Amherst user name and password.

Non-UMass Amherst users, please click the view more button below to purchase a copy of this dissertation from Proquest.

(Some titles may also be available free of charge in our Open Access Dissertation Collection, so please check there first.)

Bad niggers, real niggas, and the shaping of African -American counterpublic discourses

Albert Uriah Anthony Turner, University of Massachusetts Amherst


As I maintain throughout my study of the legacy of anxious antebellum white constructions of the ‘bad nigger’ trope, public sphere discourses too often deny African males access to the deliberations of civil society. Thus, I discuss the anxious public sphere discourses that created the antebellum ‘bad nigger,’ the ‘black beast’ rapist, and the violent ‘coon’ of Progressive Era popular song. However, my primary focus is the social, cultural, and historical circumstances that identify the assumption of negative identity as a form, however problematic, of masculinist African American oppositional discourse. Thus, I combine linguistic, cultural, and historical analyses to provide an ontological reading of the connection between African American appropriations of hate speech and the formation of counterpublics. I consider African American appropriation of the antebellum ‘bad nigger’ trope, construction of the ‘badman’ during the Progressive Era, construction of the ‘super bad’ masculinist African American hero during the 1970s, and the ascendancy of the ‘real nigga’ of hip-hop culture. To investigate some of the ways African American males and publics react to the imputation of negative masculine identities adequately, I pay particular attention to counterdiscourses embedded in African American folklore, literature, film, and popular music. The significance of these cultural forms to the shaping of some African American counterpublic discourses is great. On one hand, these forms allow specific African American concerns to be circulated within a larger public sphere in a fashion that exposes the ill effects of being denied access to civil society. The oppositional stance of these forms shapes and reflects African American counterpublic discourse. On the other hand, widespread public culture representations of figures similar to the antebellum ‘bad nigger’ call the usefulness of these figures to broad African American publics into question. This inquiry also shapes African American counterpublics. Thus, I come to question the efficacy of using this seemingly intractable and definitely problematic figure to shape and promote counterpublic discourses. Another question looms over this text, however. What circumstances must arise so these figures will becomes less culturally and rhetorically relevant? I hope I have provided details that will lead to potential answers.

Subject Area

American studies|American literature|American history

Recommended Citation

Turner, Albert Uriah Anthony, "Bad niggers, real niggas, and the shaping of African -American counterpublic discourses" (2004). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3136787.