Worlds beyond Brown: Black Transnational Identity and Self-Narration in the Era of Integration
Washington, Mary Helen
MetadataShow full item record
"Worlds beyond <italic>Brown</italic>" examines competing constructions of black subjectivity that emerge, on the one hand, in U.S. legal and cultural discourses and, on the other, in black transnational self-narratives written in the putatively post-integration era. I contextually analyze how nation-based discourses--such as Constitutional laws and rulings, mainstream magazine culture, and the Federal Writers' Project--have, in the name of integration, expanded yet at the same time contracted the freedoms of black subjectivity. I show how African American writers have then negotiated the resulting contradictions of national identity by suggesting the possibilities of alternative selves less bound by the nation and its racial categories and practices. Here I track the persistence of segregation's racial categories and relationships across an era of integration as well as African American literary negotiations of the consequent discrepancies of identity. I mine James Alan McPherson's <italic>Crabcakes</italic> (1998), Andrea Lee's <italic>Russian Journal</italic> (1981), and Erna Brodber's <italic>Louisiana</italic> (1994) for their theoretical insights into the making and remaking of black subjectivity as a practice of the nation. These texts suggest how we might fashion identities that resist the fixed racial formulas of the United States--its racial binaries, its racial hierarchies, and its contradictory discourses of freedom and dispossession. Just as these black transnational narratives challenge nationalist constructions of a black geography and black identity, they also necessarily contest and revise the historical frames that facilitate these nation-based geographies and subjectivities. In doing so, these texts disrupt the historical borders that help constitute the dominant narratives of the civil rights movement and standard periodizations, such as segregation and integration, that have been used to tell a seemingly fixed story of inevitable racial progress within the nation. Together, these chapters identify legal and cultural sites--U.S. court rulings, the <italic>New Yorker</italic>, and the Federal Writers' Project--of nationalist discourses of geography, identity, and history and show how black transnational texts respond by undermining the fixity of these discourses and imagining competing constructions of black spaces, subjectivities, and time.