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Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program

English

Year Degree Awarded

2017

Month Degree Awarded

September

First Advisor

Nicholas Bromell

Second Advisor

Emily Lordi

Third Advisor

James Smethurst

Subject Categories

African American Studies | American Literature | American Popular Culture | Literature in English, North America, Ethnic and Cultural Minority | Visual Studies

Abstract

The central claim in this dissertation is that much contemporary African American cultural expression would be better conceptualized not as “post-black,” as some would have it, but as what I call “meta-black.” I use the preface “meta-” because while this contemporary black identity also resists sometimes constrictive conceptions of “authentic” black identity from within the African American community, I diverge from theorists of “post-blackness” in observing the ways that, as Nicole Fleetwood observes, blackness necessarily “circulates” within a technologically-driven mediascape, and these postmodern black subjects work within and against the constraints of this aural-visual regime of blackness in order to perform subjectivities that exceed the containment of these stereotypical representations.

From Du Bois’s debate with Marcus Garvey over issues of assimilation and separatism, to the Black Arts movement’s attempts to articulate a distinctly black aesthetic and cultural identity, to recent debates by scholars across the disciplines like Fred Moten and Tommie Shelby, and “black pessimists” like Frank Wilderson, Saidiya Hartman, and Jared Sexton over the metaphysical and pragmatic value of blackness as identity in a post-civil rights era, the problem of the meaning of black identity in the United States lies at the center of African American politics and cultural expression. The Blackness of Blackness approaches this problem through close analyses of the work and public personas of a set of artists spanning a number of cultural mediums, including authors such as Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin, and Percival Everett; musicians such as Louis Armstrong, Nicki Minaj, and Beyoncé; and filmic icons such as Sidney Poitier. I claim that this notion of meta-blackness more accurately accounts for the ways that African American subjects from the mid-20th century on, living in an increasingly mass-mediated American cultural landscape, have adopted a novel approach to articulating subjectivities that resist stereotypical notions of blackness proffered in the sphere of popular culture, and demonstrate how these artists’ meta-black aesthetics model possibilities for contemporary blackness.

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