SPEAKER 1: This is a production of Cornell University.
SALAH HASSAN: Welcome everyone and thanks so much for taking the time. I know it's a very busy week at Cornell with so many events. So we really appreciate that.
It is with pleasure that I introduce Professor Margo Natalie Crawford, who is an associate professor of African American literature in the W.E.B. Dubois Department of Afro American Studies at the University of Massachusetts. Margo is not a stranger to Africana. You've been here last year. And we are happy also, as you know today the function of it, to host again, as part of the Black Authors new book series, to celebrate her book, Dilution Anxiety and the Black Phallus. And I'm sure she will say a lot about the book, which is out there.
She is also, in addition to this book, an author of several articles in highly regarded journals in the field of African and African American literature. But most important, she's also the editor and also contributing author of a very important text, actually, that's called New Thoughts on the Black Art Movement. Some of us who are in the field of African African American visual culture, it's really a very important text that revisited the black art movement from all these angles, literally and visually.
Especially from the visual perspective, it really contributed a great deal in revisiting the black art movement, which is-- as I was hoping to say yesterday in your wonderful lecture in the English department-- that this is the kind of scholarship that brings those intersections with the mainstream that could not have been done before. And it is a great contribution to desegregating the mainstream history of American visual culture. And I think that is what people-- because prior to that, there were two narratives. There is an exclusion narrative of American visual culture that is called American white, it is only white American. And there is the black narrative, which was written in original text.
But to look at this in a highly intellectual and theoretically savvy and highly sophisticated manner is a really important contribution to the field of American visual culture, African American art history and many fields that are now important to revisit and to really show that historically there are contributions of African Americans that did not get recognized. And I know for sure in the field of visual culture, there are many things that white artists took from the black art movement and ran away with it and made millions of dollars. With this note, I'm not going to take over and talk about the book. And it's with pleasure that I introduce Margo Crawford. So please join me in welcoming her.
MARGO NATALIE CRAWFORD: It is so good to be back at the Africana Studies and Research Center. I thank you all for coming. I'm going to share two parts of the book. And the first part is from the introduction.
"In Who is Black, One Nation's Definition, 1991, the sociologist F. James Davis studies the peculiar survival of the one-drop rule through slavery and reconstruction, the Negro Renaissance of the 1920s, and the 1960s Black Power movement. Building on Joel Williamson's work in New People, Miscegenation and Mulattoes in the United States, 1980, Davis argues that the one-drop rule, quote, "this American cultural definition of blacks is taken for granted as readily by judges, affirmative action officers, and black protesters as it is by Ku Klux Klansman." End quote.
As Davis explains in Who Is Black, by 1785, Virginia legally defined a black person as anyone with one black parent. This definition was the legal norm in the upper South until there was pressure to make the legal definition match the social definition of blackness in the upper South, the one-drop rule. In addition to the need to analyze the one-drop rule as one of the prime roots of the fetishism of shades of blackness, the distinctions between light and dark skinned blackness during American slavery have also become a common means of explaining the contemporary investment in these different shades.
It is worth noting, however, that historians have different opinions about the role of colorism in determining the roles of field versus house slaves on southern plantations. Eugene Genovese, for example, in Roll, Jordan, Roll argues, "however much the quadroon and mulatto servants stiffly parading in full dress dominated the big house of the legend, they did not dominate the big house of reality. As often as not southern slaveholders, in sharp contradistinction to the slaveholders of the British Caribbean, enjoyed being served by blacks-- the blacker the better-- as well as by light-skinned Negroes." End quote.
The slippage between what Genovese labels the quote "legend" as opposed to what he deems the historical facts reveals that the difference between light skinned house slaves and dark skinned field slaves is a type of post-slavery trauma that has been naturalized not due to a strictly historical truth but rather due to the need to explain the longevity of colorism, the continued reality of colorism. The slippage between the historical facts and the cultural imagination that shapes our ways of seeing bodies demonstrates that the analysis of the ongoing fetishism of shades of blackness is not simply an historical or sociological space for analysis. Some aspects of this fetishism cannot be historically placed in a rigid manner. The topic demands a more speculative query that makes post-slavery trauma a necessary question, not the all encompassing answer.
In The Paper Bag Principle-- of the Myth and Motion of Colorism, published 2005, Audrey Elisa Kerr examines the ways in which many people's understanding of the history of colorism in African American communities pivots on the circulation of myths about the paper bag test that created social settings and group affiliations that only included people with complexions lighter than a brown paper bag. Through a range of interviews, Kerr, in this essay, discovers that the paper bag is sometimes remembered as the absent object that defines who can enter a social gathering or who can join a group.
As Kerr searches for the actual history of the paper bag test, she discovers that the folklore surrounding the paper bag test continues to create people's sense of the historical underpinnings of colorism. As the interviewees retell the stories they were told about the paper bag test, quote, "paper bag parties, paper bag churches, brown bag clubs, or brown bag social circles," Kerr shows that any analysis of the meaning of lighter and darker skinned blackness and African American imaginations must include an analysis of the historical circulation of myths and representations. The literature examined in this study demonstrates the historical circulation of images of lighter and darker skinned blackness.
Toni Morrison, in a 2003 interview, describes the symbolic meaning of the paper bag test in African American imaginations. She states, quote, "There was something called the paper bag test. Darker than the paper bag put you in one category, similar to the bag put you in another. And lighter was yet another, and the most privileged, category." In her novels The Bluest Eye, Tar Baby, and Paradise, Morrison shapes this historical speculation, quote, "there was something called" into a deep analysis of the reasons why African Americans sometimes fetishized shades of blackness.
As F. James Davis in Who is Black combines history and speculative analysis, he views the 1960s Black Power movement as a fundamental shift in the status of light skinned blackness within black communities. Drawing on Joel Williamson's work in New People, Miscegenation and Mulattoes in the United States, Davis writes, quote, "In the 1960s, lighter persons in general often felt they had to approve their loyalty to the black community. And some complained of discrimination from other blacks. What a change from the historical advantages of lightness!" end quote. And he includes a big exclamation point at the end of what a change from the historical advantages of lightness.
The Black Power movement's reaction to the one-drop rule demands even more analysis. During the artistic counterpart of the Black Power movement, the Black Arts movement, there was a great focus on an all encompassing blackness-- black as the unifying term that heals the violence of the white gaze's fascination with shades of blackness as well as a great policing of blackness, that which A.B. Spellman addresses in his manifesto, Big Bushy Afros, when he writes, quote, "I only regret the culture of cops." End quote.
This policing of quote "authentic blackness" often stemmed from the fear of dilution, the fear of loss of what was imagined as pure and authentic blackness. The dilution anxiety of the Black Arts movement is encapsulated in the poems "The Self-Hatred of Don L. Lee," 1963, written by Haki Madhubuti, and "The Life of Lincoln West," written by Gwendolyn Brooks in 1963 and published in 1970.
"The Self-Hatred of Don L. Lee" celebrates the quote "all-black interior" as it explains the fetishism of dark skinned blackness during the Black Arts movement. In this poem, a contrast is presented between Madhubuti's love of his quote "all-black soul," and his hatred of quote, "his light brown outer." "I began to love only a part of me, my inner self which is all black and developed a vehement hatred of my light brown outer."
And it's difficult to read this poem and fully convey what he's doing on the page with it. It is remarkably linear. He includes, for example, the i in lower case on a single line, began is another line, as if he wants us to read this poem and think about this real trajectory, this real process, this very linear move to this all-black interior.
In the psychoanalytic understanding of fetishism, the fetishized subject is reduced to a body part. Or the entire body becomes a fetishized part as in the objectification of the female body. The fetishism of that which is quote "all-black," the blackening of his quote "inner self" as a huge overcompensation for the dilution of his skin-- the light brown outer-- is a striking example of the insidious move from a racialized surface to a racialized essence. The quote "light brown outer" is akin to the castrated body in the Freudian script.
As the poem progresses, the speaker revels over the quote "pitch black paragraphs." The black aesthetic that shapes his writing and redeems the dilution anxiety, his hatred of his quote "light brown outer."
Gwendolyn Brooks poem, "The Life of Lincoln West" can be read as the quote "mother text" that explains the self-hatred of Don L Lee. In "The Life of Lincoln West," the dark-skinned child Lincoln West is assaulted by both the white gaze and the light-skinned African American gaze. Lincoln West hears a stranger, a white man, refer to him as quote "the real thing" as opposed to quote "those diluted Negroes."
Brooks describes this white stranger as quote "the author of his new idea," Lincoln's new found sense that his quote "undiluted blackness" is a source of comfort. The last words in the poem are, "it comforted him." This new idea, the real thing syndrome that counters the supposedly diluted Negro, is at the core of the Black Arts movement, the first black cultural movement that fully indulged in black fetishism of blackness and the reclamation of the black phallus.
To move beyond the longstanding focus on the tragic mulatto and make room for the study of the fetishism of both light-skinned and dark-skinned blackness, I analyze the Modernist, Black Arts and Post-Black Arts gazes in the work of Gertrude Stein, Wallace Thurman, William Faulkner, Black Arts poets, James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, and John Edgar Wideman. I argue that dilution anxieties and dilution fantasy surrounding black bodies need to be added to the current race and psychoanalysis work that foregrounds the role of castration in our cultural imagination.
This emergent inquiry, often too flexible to be codified, that which Hortense Spillers calls race and psychoanalytics has gained wings by virtue of groundbreaking scholars building on the works of Frantz Fanon in Black Skin, White Mask and The French Original. These trailblazers include Hortense Spillers' All You Could Be Now if Sigmund Freud's Wife Was Your Mother, Race and Psychoanalysis and Mama's Baby, Papa's Baby, David Eng's Racial Castration, Anne Cheng The Melancholy of Race, Jean Walton's Fair Sex, Savage Dreams, Kalpana Seshradi-Crooks Desiring Whiteness and of course, Kobena Mercer's Reading Racial Fetishism, the Photographs of Robert Mapplethorpe.
This amorphous field of race and psychoanalysis is the ideal zone for analysis of African American body politics that seeks to explore the questions about racialized gender and sexuality that sociology cannot answer."
And I want to pause there. That's one section of the introduction. But instead of reading the entire introduction, hoping that you will read more.
Instead of reading more now, I want to give you a taste of what comes later. And I'm now moving to the chapter on the Black Arts movement. And it's entitled "The Black Arts Phallus." and I'm going to start with the section in this chapter that is entitled "Black Light." I'm not starting at the very beginning of the chapter.
"The fight against the insidious aestheticizing of light skin color led many Black Arts writers and visual artists to circulate the new paradigm of black light. In the poem, "The Negro," 1968, Haki Madhubuti muses on the possibility of black light as he thinks about the racist underpinnings of the associations of light with enlightenment. Madhubuti writes, quote, "Swinging, swinging into aberration, where there is a black light trying to penetrate that whiteness called Mr. Clean," end quote.
In the seminal Black Arts movement anthology Black Fire, 1968, Larry Neal unpacks this "Black Light." he explains, quote, "We know who we are. And we are not invisible, at least not to each other. We are not Kafkaesque creatures stumbling through a white light of confusion and absurdity. The light is black, now get that!" Exclamation point. "As are most of the meaningful tendencies in the world." End quote.
Neal denaturalizes white light, as he reveals that optics itself has been tainted by the racist privileging of whiteness. This discussion of white versus black light is omnipresent in Black Fire. In "Pome. For Wierd. Hearts. & All you mothers," 1968, Ahmed Alhamisi refers to quote, "white light" as that which teaches black people to hate themselves.
In "The Tide Inside, It Rages," one of the essays in Black Fire, the novelist Lindsay Barrett theorizes about black light in the following manner. Quote, "Today, what the artistic sensibility of the black man spreads before the world as evidence of his social and historical dilemma, is really the articulation of a protest against the white denial of the possibility or existence of black light, and the superimposition on his knowledge of the black light, of the hostile white light of Western history." End quote.
Barrett recognizes that the very possibility and existence--" those are his words I'm playing with-- "of black light is hard to imagine because of the glare of white light." the very possibility and existence of black light, that is, is hard to imagine because of this glare of white light.
"Black light became the movement's trope for an imagined resolution of an imagined contradiction. Black Arts movement poets, visual artists, and theorists wrestled to imagine new aesthetic experiences of light itself.
In the poem, "An Aspect of Love, Alive in the Ice and Fire," 1971, Gwendolyn Brooks describes a black is beautiful sensibility that experiences quote "Afrikan Velvet" skin as quote "a physical light" in the room. The idea that Afrikan Velvet skin is the embodiment of light subverts the deep seated connection of light in whiteness.
In "Intermission," 1949, one of Brooks' pre-Black Arts movement poems, the speaker admits it is plausible the sun is a lode, after she implores quote "the daughter of the dust" to quote "stand off and do not wince when the bronzy lads hurry to cream-yellow shining." End quote.
The use of the word "lode" conveys the idea of the sun being akin to a layer of minerals in the body, perhaps just underneath the surface skin, making some skin tones bright. The word "lode" can also signify rich supply, as demonstrated by Baraka's reference to the sun people, dark-skinned blackness is often imagined as having the most sun.
As the speaker of the poem confesses that desire for light-skinned blackness is not surprising, we hear Brooks herself wince, as she realizes that if the sun is a rich supply, desire for dark-skinned blackness should be just as plausible as desire for quote "cream-yellow shiny."
In "Ballad of Pearl May Lee," 1945, Brooks fully unveils the pain light-skinned privilege causes dark-skinned black women. In one of the most scathing stanzas, the speaker taunts Sammy with the following words. "At school, your girls were the bright little girls. You couldn't abide dark meat. Yellow was for to look at, black for the famished to eat. Yellow was for to look at, black for the famished to eat."
Books critiques the sexual consumption of dark-skinned blackness and the beauty attributed to light-skinned blackness. In The Sexual Politics of Meat, feminist critic Carol Adams argues that when people consume meat, when they are eating, what they're eating is an absent referent. The reality of blood and slaughter, sanitized by the supermarket packaging of meat.
Brooks imagines the horror of quote "yellow" women becoming the absent referent as dark-skinned blackness is consumed. The horror of a black male gaze that places, quote "yellow" women on a beauty standard pedestal and views dark-skinned black women as sexual prey, quote, "black for the famished to eat."
In a post-Black Arts movement essay, "Race, Rage and Intellectual Development, a Personal Journey," as Madhubuti explains the insidiousness of colorism, the privileging of lighter shades of blackness within the palette of shades of blackness, he remembers his mother's beauty as quote "illuminated by very light skin color that attracted the darkest of black men," end quote.
It matters that Madhubuti muses on this quote "yellow light" three decades after the Black Arts movement. He and other Black Arts poets focused on the possibility of a black light illuminating the beauty of dark-skinned blackness. The very words, "black light" circulated between writers such as Madhubuti and Larry Neal and visual artists such as Faith Ringgold.
In one of the most furious Black Power texts, Die Nigger Die! 1969, written by H Rap Brown, the idea of black light is presented in a collage that includes an overexposed image of one of the core bleaching cream advertisements that appeared in many 1960 issues of Ebony Magazine."
I'm going to attempt to show you this image. I was told if I simply push this button, it will work. I don't think so.
SALAH HASSAN: Let me just go around here.
MARGO NATALIE CRAWFORD: If not I can continue, it's just one image. We'll wait just a bit. It's just one image, so if it can't work, we can surely continue.
Sure. And is it just the PIC, that's the log-in.
SALAH HASSAN: This one?
MARGO NATALIE CRAWFORD: No, the laptop is still on. OK. I apologize.
"Once again, this advertisement appeared in many 1960s issues of Ebony Magazine. And the advertisement is the one on this side, when H. Rap Brown juxtaposes the overexposed image of a woman's face in the actual light-skinned image used to sell the bleaching cream, he anticipates Kobena Mercer's recognition that black and white photography is indeed racial fetishism, the fetishism of the contrast between whiteness and blackness. Since dark skin absorbs light, the blackened subject of black and white photography, depending on the amount of light used, can be lightened or darkened.
To force readers to visualize the violent ideology that shapes this fetishism of the lightening of dark skin, H. Rap Brown includes, underneath the two frames of the original and darkened bleaching cream advertisements, two images of a white police officer fighting a civilian. An overexposed image of the police officer with darkened skin appears directly underneath the overexposed image that darkens the light skin of the model in the bleaching cream advertisement."
So these images that I'm referring to are not seen here. I don't have the full image. But they're directly underneath these images in this full collage that he creates in Die Nigger Die!
"The same image, without the overexposure and the darkened white police officer, appears directly underneath the original non-manipulated bleaching cream advertisement. H. Rap Brown in this collage visualizes the connections between the violence of the dominant ideologies fetishism of light-skinned blackness and the violence of the dominant power structure that often makes black men victims of police brutality. By using these different layers in the collage and the technique of overexposure, H. Rap Brown insists that black light is the only way to fight back against the naturalization of the white light.
In the poem "Judy-One," 1970, Madhubuti reveals that during the Black Arts movement, black and white photography was reclaimed as the process of embodying darkness as opposed to entering light. The racially inflected understanding of photography crystallized in the following passage written by Lacan. Quote, "It is through the gaze that I enter a light. And it is from the gaze that I receive its affects. Hence it comes about that the gaze is the instrument through which light is embodied and through which, if you will allow me to use a word as I often do in a fragmented form, I am photographed," end quote.
In the first two stanzas of "Judy-One," Madhubuti writes, quote "She's the camera's subject, the sun for colored film. Her smile is like clear light bouncing off the darkness of the Mediterranean at night time," end quote. As opposed to dark skin absorbing light, our normal understanding of what happens when dark skin is photographed, Madhubuti imagines quote, "light bouncing off the darkness," as if the skin itself becomes a projector instead of an absorbent of a white gaze.
When Madhubuti begins the poem by announcing that Judy is the sun for colored film, it is clear that there is a connection-- that there is a conscious assumption of a new metaphysics of darkness, one in which darkness is a way of seeing and being seen. And dark skin when photographed is not captured by light but rather a projector of light, black light.
In "Natural Black Beauty," 1969, an essay in Black Arts, an Anthology of Black Creations, poet and editor Joe Goncalves explains the Black is Beautiful ideology of the 1960s in the following manner. "As for our natural beauty, our lips compliment our noses, our noses go with our eyes, and they are bless our skin, which is black. If your face does not complement itself, you are in a degree of trouble. The real geometry of our faces, the natural geometry in terms of art, is found among other places in African sculpture. Our natural architecture, our natural rhythm," end quote.
The idea of natural black beauty was a key part of the body politics of the Black Arts movement. Black Arts participants often imagined that the black body was the most local side of the black nation that needed to be protected from dominant beauty standards. The new physical beauty standards privileged looking natural and looking quote "African."
Africa signalled nature, roots, authenticity, and purity within this Black Arts imagination. Clothing and hairstyles that were deemed, quote, "African" became signs of this natural black beauty. The short Afro hairstyle began to be named the "natural." The cover story of a 1967 issue of Ebony Magazine celebrates the Afro as the quote, "natural" hair style.
In addition to natural hair, dark-skinned blackness was embraced in the Black Arts gaze as the epitome of natural beauty. In the 1969 issue of Ebony Magazine, Larry Neal crystallizes the body politics of the Black Arts movement when he proclaims, quote, "The new references of clothing and hair are essentially visions of ourselves perfected. They are signposts on the road to eventual self-determination.
For a sister to wear her hair natural asserts the sacred and essentially holy nature of her body. The natural, in its most positive sense, symbolizes the sister's willingness to determine her own destiny. It is an act of love for herself and her people. The natural helps to psychologically liberate the sister. It prepares her for the message of a Rap Brown, Robert Williams, a Huey Newton, a Maulana Karenga," end quote.
Unfortunately, Neal does not imagine that the sister with the natural might be more drawn to Audrey Lorde's poem, "Naturally." This poem fully unveils the male gaze that often shaped Black Arts movement formulations of natural black beauty and the Black Arts movement equation of natural beauty and dark-skinned blackness. And this poem, "Naturally," by Lorde is published in 1970.
The speaker in this poem skeptically proclaims, quote, "Since naturally black is naturally beautiful, I must be proud and naturally black and beautiful, who always was a trifle yellow and plain though proud before," end quote. Lorde musings on yellow skin, light-skinned blackness becoming a badge of shame in the black is beautiful lens that fought against the fetishism of light-skinned blackness in the advertising industry of bleaching creams and hair straightening products.
With Audrey Lorde's poem, "Naturally," the 1970s anthology The Black Woman begins in the very first pages with an emphasis on the difference between "black bread," the real changes that will improve lives, and the abstractions tie to black cultural nationalism. "Black bread" is all one of the final words that Audrey Lorde uses in this poem "Naturally" as she thinks about what would really matter in this movement as opposed to the focus on appearance.
The black woman has more radical perspectives than the male-oriented anthology Black Fire on the question of how to fight the historical, non-normative gender structure of black Americans. As opposed to the opening essays in Black Fire, The Black Woman opens with poetry. By deciding to make the first poem "Woman Poem" by Nikki Giovanni, the editor Toni Cade Bambara immediately makes the anthology a response to the castrated black men narrative, which gains widespread attention through the Daniel Patrick Moynihan's 1965 report, "The Negro Family, the Case for National Action," produced while he was Assistant Secretary of Labor during Lyndon Johnson's administration.
Whereas Moynihan argues that black men have been castrated by black matriarchs in this opening poem in The Black Woman. Giovanni writes, "It's having a job, they won't let you work, or no work at all. Castrating me, yes, it happens to women too." The radical edge of this poem is Giovanni's insistence on this unacknowledged castration that happens to black women. As Black Arts movement writers attempted to castrate white power and render it feminine, black women were often objectified as the embodiment of black beauty-- "African queens" and "natural black beauty."
In addition to the rampant references to black male genitalia in Black Arts poetry, the word "castrated" is directly used in the anthology The Black Woman in the title of the essay, "Is the Black Male Castrated," written by Jean Carey Bond and Patricia Peery. And the word "impotent" is used in the title of the first essay in the 1971 special issue, "The Black Male--" it's entitled "The Black Male--" of The Black Scholar-- "The Myth of the Impotent Black Male," written by Robert Staples.
As Black Arts men reclaimed the black phallus, they often objectified black women even as they engaged in the laudable attempt to remove black women from the dominant visual culture that continues to define quintessential femininity through the sign of the white woman's body. The body of the black woman was often imagined as the motherland, the receptacles for the black, male-dominated nation. And this black motherland became the ambiguously gendered space between the black phallus-- the male position in the Black Arts ethos-- and feminized whiteness.
In "Is the Black Male Castrated," Bond and Peery argue that contrary to Daniel Patrick Moynihan's insistence on black male emasculation and black female matriarchy, black women have never had the power to castrate. And black men have never truly become victims of the, quote, "white man's attempts to castrate them." Bond and Peery assert, quote, "Indeed, the black man always surfaces with his manhood not only intact but much more intact than that of his oppressor, which brings us to the question, just who is the emasculated person in this society? Surely it is the white man, whose dazzling symbols of power, his goods, his technology, have all but consumed his human essence," end quote.
Keorapetse Kgositsile's poem, "The Awakening," may be the most explicit rendering among many similar representations in the Black Fire of the reclamation of the black phallus. He screams, "Retrieving black balls, cowering in glib, Uncle Tomism, forcing me to grow up 10-feet tall and black, my crotch too high for the pedestal of Greco-Roman, Anglo-Saxon adolescent fascist myth."
Larry Neal echoes this imagery and "The Baroness and the Black Musician" another poem in Black Fire, when he writes, "the icy ride of her touch up toward the place where your penis once was." In a similar manner, A. B. Spellman recalls in the manifesto, Big Bushy Afros, the afro hair style itself as a phallic symbol. "Here was pride you could grow, pride that filled the eye."
The Black Arts reclamation of the black phallus is inseparable from the theorizing about race and gender that occurs during this movement. In Soul On Ice, for example, Eldridge Cleaver insists, "the Amazon-- black woman-- is in a peculiar position. Just as her man has been deprived of his manhood, so she has been deprived of her full womanhood. Society has decreed that the ultra feminine, the woman of the elite, is the goddess on the pedestal. The Amazon is the personification of the rejected domestic component, the woman on whom dishpan hands seem not out of character."
The real connection between the Black Power men's movement and the Black Power women's movement may be the insistence respectively on black masculinity and black womanhood. Both movements, not just the Black Power women's movement, use the politics of location that is a politics of intersectionality. As critics and historians aptly recognize the male-dominated discourse of the Black Power movement, we also need to remember the intersectional emphasis in these acts of black patriarchy.
This focus on the common thread of intersectionality accentuates what is really at the core of the sexism of the Black Power movement. It is not simply the fact that the male-dominated discourse could not recognize both race and gender. The most pernicious act was the lapse by many Black Power male leaders and writers into a normative gender script, entrenched ideas of the sheer difference between men and women, as a means to fight against the gender confusion that has emerged from and aided the oppression of African Americans.
Any focus on the gender and race analyses during the Black Arts and Black Power movements must consider the full impact of Moynihan's 1965 report. This report helped naturalize the idea of the emasculated black man and the castrating black matriarch. Moynihan's images of this emasculated male figure and castrating female figure are key signs of the dominant race and gender script that many men in the Black Power movement were attempting to subvert. The nature of this subversion included the move from the black woman as the castrating figure to the insistence on the white power that has debilitated black men.
Moynihan's report brought the African American family crisis into the dominant culture spotlight. As Moynihan insisted on the connections between the economic troubles of black Americans and the lack in many cases of a nuclear family structure, he reinforced the idea that families with unwed mothers as head of the household are pathological. African American men are rendered impotent as he argues that there is a "pathological matriarchy of unwed black mothers."
In addition to the important work that has been done as scholars recognize the pathologizing impulses reverberating from this report, we can also use this report to more fully to more fully appreciate the reasons why investments in family structure played such a huge role in the Black Power discourse. Moynihan and many Black Power writers agree that the family crisis must be corrected in order to improve the quality of life for black Americans. Whereas Moynihan is mobilized by a belief in assimilation as the means of economic mobility, the Black Power writers focus on ideal family relations, as they often express their fear of black genocide and their desire for black self-determination. The brother and sister language and the images of black women as queens were attempts to repair the fractured family ties caused by the historical trauma that made some of the normative family roles irrelevant.
This family trauma, the besieged black masculinity and black femininity, must be placed within the larger context of the rise in the 1960s and 70s of black psychologists studying the crisis of the black family and the blurring of gender roles. William Grier and Price Cobbs' Black Rage, 1968, set the stage for the school of black psychology. Nathan and Julia Hare's The Endangered Black Family-- Coping with the Unisexualization and Coming Extinction of the Black Race is an extension of their Black Power movement analyzes of the black family crisis and gender confusion.
Compared to Nathan and Julia Hare's naturalization of the idea that African American men have been castrated, Bond and Peery in the essay, "Is the Black Male Castrated?" in The Black Woman pose the necessary questions about the usefulness of this trope of castration. They ask, "What is the emasculation? In a broad sense, an emasculated people, cultural group, are a broken people, a people whose spirit, strength, and vigor have been destroyed, who have been reduced to a state of almost total ineffectuality. And notwithstanding the often literal but more often symbolic castrations of hundreds of thousands of black individuals throughout our sojourn in the wilderness, have black men really been stripped of their virility?"
Black women's critique of and participation in the Black Arts reclamation of the phallus must be acknowledged when this questioning is contrasted with the images of the black phallus in some of the poetry written by women poets in the Black Arts movement. In the poem, "Black Music Man," 1968, Lehonia Gee, one of the select group of women poets chosen for Black Fire"-- as you may know, there aren't many in Black Fire-- "begins with the words, "As a Masai warrior with his burning spear, blessed by the gods, the epitome of man," and ends with the confession, "Never once do you know that behind you I walk, and in my arms I carry your soul."
This poem parallels the confession to my queen that Eldridge Cleaver makes in Soul on Ice when he writes, quote, "Across the naked abyss of negated masculinity of 400 years minus my balls, we face each other today, my queen. I feel a deep, terrifying hurt, the pain of humiliation of the vanquished warrior." By 1970, when Toni Cade Bambara edits The Black Woman, she, unlike some of the women poets who reiterate images of the black phallus, is entirely convinced of the limitations of this prime trope.
She muses in the essay "On the Issue of Roles" "And I wonder if the dudes who keep hollering about their lost balls realize that they probably surrendered them either to Mr. Charlie in the marketplace trying to get that El Dorado or to Miss Anne in bed, trying to bang out some sick notion of love and freedom. It seems to me you find yourself in destroying illusions, smashing myths, laundering the head of whitewash, being responsible to some truth, to the struggle. That entails, at the very least, cracking through the veneer of this sick society's definition of masculine and feminine," end quote.
An unsettling of gender clearly occurs when men are emasculated. Bambara worries that the Black Power reliance on castration images and the conscious attempt to assert manhood necessarily reinforce, quote, "a sick society's gender script."
In addition to the focus on the reclamation of the black phallus, the Black Arts movement often revolved around the idea of new mirrors and conversion experiences." And I'll just read a bit more to give you a sense of how I set up the next section, focusing on these conversion experiences. And it's focusing mostly on Brooks, and it's called "The Call Itself is Beautiful."
"The conversion narrative surrounding Gwendolyn Brooks fully unveils the Black Arts dramatization of the imagined concrete event or moment of interpolation and the attempts to embody the abstract signs of blackness. In Report from Part One, 1972, Gwendolyn Brooks recounts, quote, "The real turning point came in 1967, when I went to the Second Black Writers Conference at Fisk University." the idea of the 1967 conversion, at the height of the Black Arts movement, creates a dramatic before and after that should be questioned when we recognize that the boundaries between Brooks' pre-1967 poems and the later ones are often blurred.
The literal nature of the conversion emerges when we recognize the direct references to hypnotism during the Black Arts movement. In Brooks' prose poem, "Requiem Before Revival," she explicitly discusses the hypnotic effects of hegemonic whiteness, quote, "We have allowed ourselves to be hypnotized by its shine," and the need for black people to quote, "imitate the efficacy of iteration." Those are Brooks' words.
The full discussion of iteration reveals Brooks' interest in imagining a type of counter interpolation, a type of interpolation that would be a decolonizing of the mind.
Brooks writes, "Swarms of blacks have not understood the mechanics of the proceeding, and they trot along to the rear of Pied Piper whites, their strange gaze is fixed on and worshipping each switch of the white rear, their mesmerized mentalities fervently and firmly convinced that there is nothing better than quaking in that tail's wake. They have not seen some announcements register just because they are iterated and iterated and iterated, the oppressed consciousness finally sinking back, accepting the burden of relentless assault."
In the late 1960s when Brooks began to lead workshops with the young black Chicago poets, she was introduced to poems that were announcements that presented a counter iteration. A prime example of these announcements is Haki Madhubuti's poem, "Awareness," 1966. Every letter in this poem is capitalized, as the poem itself becomes this very visual sign with both the capitals and the arrangement of the words in rows.
"BLACK PEOPLE THINK PEOPLE BLACK PEOPLE THINK PEOPLE THINK BLACK PEOPLE THINK THINK BLACK." Every letter in this poem is capitalized. And the words are graphically displayed, as if the poem were a sign within a protest demonstration or even on the wall of the doctor's office. Since the conditioning process of anti-black racism has been so thorough and naturalized, the Black Arts practitioners decide that this collective therapy and hypnotism is necessary.
The poem, "SOS," 1966, written by Baraka, epitomizes this conscious interpolation of new black subjects. The first lines of the poem are "Calling black people, calling all black people, man, woman, child, wherever you are." Hypnotism is also at the core of Baraka's aesthetic warfare in "In Our Terribleness."
Baraka asks his readers to, quote, "Look into my eyes, these flicks, look into your own eyes. Look into our eyes. Visualize your own face when you close your eyes. Can you do that? Can you see your own image"? When Baraka and Madhubuti become hypnotists, they imagine that they can be mediums through which their subjects can find a self-definition."
I'll stop at that point, because hopefully we can have time for the reception and for conversation. But I hope I've given you a good glimpse of what's done in Dilution Anxiety and the Black Phallus.
SALAH HASSAN: Thank you so much.
We're selling the book, too.
MARGO NATALIE CRAWFORD: OK, Salah wants me to emphasize that you can also buy the book.
SALAH HASSAN: So thank you so much. This was a wonderful meeting, very interesting sections. Any questions, comments?
AUDIENCE: I was just going to add that Gwendolyn Brooks would have a much more [INAUDIBLE] "To Those of My Sisters Who Kept Their Naturals."
MARGO NATALIE CRAWFORD: Absolutely, I do talk about that later, absolutely. It's so wonderful, right, because isn't that poem-- wouldn't we agree-- I think many people probably are familiar with that poem, "To Those of My Sisters Who Kept Their Naturals." I think it's wonderful to see Brooks write, then reflecting post-Black Arts movement on these body politics. Brooks almost hoping, right, that then the natural black beauty won't be viewed as that fad.
I think in that poem, I wonder, Carol, if the real force of it really does become not that different from that poem written by Audre Lorde, "Naturally." On the surface, it might seem so different from this poem by Brooks. Because in that poem "Naturally," you'll remember it's when Lorde is playing with what is naturally black and beautiful as opposed to, quote, "plain yellowness." And as I said, she then moves to black bread as what would be the opposite of the focus on the visual aesthetics.
But I actually think in that poem, Carol, that when Brooks is thinking about how glorious it might be-- and I can imagine Brooks using a word like glorious for that-- how glorious it might be that that natural black beauty would continue post-Black Power, post-Black Arts, I think what she's getting at is that natural black beauty could actually become that black bread, if we think about the power of aesthetics and ideology and the way that Brooks-- just to say a bit more. Because I adore that poem, so there's so much I can say about this.
But I remember asking her daughter Nora Brooks Blakely in an interview about that poem. And I thought it was so interesting. Nora said something to the effect-- and this is almost a strict paraphrase. She said, you know, my mother, unlike others who finally arrived at different ways of thinking about natural hair or straight hair as not being connected to a desire for whiteness, Nora insisted that my mother always thought it is that desire for whiteness. She always worried-- Brooks, that is-- about that desire to straighten the hair.
AUDIENCE: I was going to say she came to Binghamton, read that poem when I was there. And it was in the context of a number of young black women who went out of wearing natural--
MARGO NATALIE CRAWFORD: Interesting.
AUDIENCE: And it was her way-- she actually prefaced it by talking about this. It was her way of saying those of you who wanted to still keep your naturals. This is celebrating you.
So I think beyond your question of what you [INAUDIBLE] that form of ideologies-- and not an ideology that she's working with. It has to still do with black consciousness that runs throughout her work.
But I was thinking as well of the Baraka poem-- I think it's from "Black Arts," I'm not sure, where he says, "When I die," you know, there's a split. And I was thinking of the split you mentioned with Haki and the color question. But with Baraka, it's this question of the bullshit parts of me versus the parts of me that are positive and progressive and so on. So I'm thinking about that in terms of what you're saying and wondered if you would comment on that as well.
MARGO NATALIE CRAWFORD: I think you're right that it's those two poems-- and I would argue many other Black Arts poems-- that present the notion of parts, the parts that then have not been tainted by the anti-black racism, the power of whiteness, and so forth. And then I wonder if it really leads us to an even deeper understanding of what I think we've already said in terms of Black Arts movement, in terms of that purging. You know, what was the Black Arts movement about? What was black power about? It's that purging of so much of the negativity.
So I really wonder if that repetition, again and again, of this emphasis of the parts-- when I die, the parts I want to make sure that I discard-- if it might make us even more interested in the way that purging, being able to understand the movement itself is that cleansing process. And just to say a little bit more, to give you a sense of how it is that in Dilution Anxiety and the Black Phallus I move from the black arts movement to some of these post Black Arts movement inquiries.
One really fabulous way to then think about Toni Morrison responding to this notion of the parts occurs in Paradise, published 1997, when she's thinking about with the characters Easter and Scott. This notion that when their bodies are returned, when they're killed in the war and the bodies are returned to the family, that it's this desire-- even then, even once they've died-- to think about the parts that represent who they really were as opposed to the parts that have been mutilated. And Toni Morrison takes that very language to then move to what really matters, and the part that I think becomes such a nice contrast, this language, quote-- and this is verbatim, her exact words, "Are all the parts black."
So it's the way that when we see paradise as that post-Black Arts reflection, and we think about Toni Morrison trying to set up this post-Black Arts movement move as post-dilution anxiety, this ability to say that we've purged enough, we've cleansed ourselves enough of this negativity that we don't have to worry anymore about some parts not being black, as he sets up this idea that all the parts are indeed black. You know, just one way to give you a sense of how I begin to compare that.
SALAH HASSAN: Any other questions?
AUDIENCE: What you just said reminded me very much of Baraka's poem, "In the Tradition," where at the end-- I wish I could quote him, but I have to paraphrase. He's talking about being found by the parts that are positive. So it's remembering in that sense. He's obsessed with the skeletons along the floor of the Atlantic in some of his own poetry. And it's pure torture, that poem.
But "In the Tradition" he's talking about a more complex relationship, where he's finding and being found and remembered at the end whole, as you said about Toni Morrison's point in Paradise.
MARGO NATALIE CRAWFORD: That's right. And your connection, it's-- I think a matter of how I'm continuing to fetishize Morrison. Because the way that you're moving to Morrison as you think about the poem "In the Tradition," Morrison's use of remembering with that hyphen. This idea that it's the body being put together.
AUDIENCE: You refer several times to post-slavery trauma. And I'm just wondering how you're defining the term trauma, and if you're suggesting that the trauma grows out of enslavement or if it's something that takes place during a large span of time after enslavement. Because as I think about-- especially the composition of the African American household and use that term to represent family, we really see dislocation taking place more during the Great Depression than we certainly do during the Reconstruction Era. So how are you using the word trauma? And are you suggesting that it has its origins in slavery?
MARGO NATALIE CRAWFORD: Absolutely, I am suggesting. So before I set up the nuances,
let me answer it most directly. I am, indeed, suggesting that it has, this trauma, has those connections to slavery itself. And then to think about-- moving to the more nuanced parts-- to think about why I want to use a term like post-slavery trauma, I really am so fascinated by the way that Joy Leary-- and I also talk about this in the book. Joy Leary, in her sociological, sometimes even ethnographic, work, as she has traveled across the country-- I don't know if some of you are familiar with her work-- and intentionally wanting to talk outside of the academy about what she refers to as post-slavery trauma. Once again, not a term that I'm sort of coining myself.
But as she tries to find these larger non-Academy audiences and to talk about something like post-slavery trauma, I've witnessed the fact that when she's beginning those talks, she'll often tell audiences, so slavery ends. And after slavery ends, did the newly freed slaves, did they receive any type of therapy? And the audience sort of pauses, what? Where are you getting at?
And then she moves to these larger questions about how it is that we have this national amnesia about slavery, and we actually may still be much more traumatized by the fact that slavery occurred than we may know as African Americans, that there's this need to then think about how it is that this post-slavery trauma could have so much to do with how we see each other. So that's Joy Leary. That's how she sets it up in often a quite dramatic fashion, as she tries to really do what I see as this type of community healing, even as she also writes about this material.
When I think about wanting to historicize it, to think about how post-slavery trauma becomes one way to understand the branding of black bodies, what I'm doing is and it's-- the very use of the term branding is Hortense Spillers. That's what she sets up as she thinks about-- and this is her explicit focus on branding-- the possibility-- and it goes back to the speculative analysis as I'm arguing, a book like this moving to the speculations that allow us to think about what's the worth of literary depictions of colorism.
And when Hortense Spillers uses that term, "branding," she wonders if it could be a certain way of understanding black body politics, Hortense Spillers at that moment isn't thinking about colorism. She's not thinking about shades of blackness. But she's thinking about how with a term like "branding" we can understand black bodies continuing to then be marked by so many negative ideas that may have so much to do with a certain type of branding process that we don't-- and I think this becomes the key part for Hortense Spillers-- that we don't quite understand. She wonders if after slavery there might be a way that as we continue to recover, bodies might be understood as being branded in some sense, as the trauma of slavery is actually somehow tied to the body itself. And when I read that language of hers, for me it almost becomes as simple as the body has a memory and what might that mean.
In terms of then the sense that the Depression, for example, might have so much to do with some of the very issues that I raise as I'm turning to Daniel Moynihan and everything that he's saying about the black family. I agree entirely. I think that to consider Moynihan's report as having so much to do 1965 with these repeated images of castration and the reclamation of the black phallus in the 1960s, I think absolutely. That focus on the '60s and that focus on Moynihan and then turning to post-slavery trauma should by no means make us think that the Depression wouldn't also matter. And clearly if this were a historical--
AUDIENCE: So you [INAUDIBLE] Kardiner and Oversey's The Mark of Oppression, which I thought that most people had disputed and that that was the same as not having very much validity
MARGO NATALIE CRAWFORD: I'm sorry, just could you repeat? I don't know if I heard the first part, just the first part.
AUDIENCE: In Abram Kardiner and Lionel Oversey's The Mark of Oppression, which was a very significant book, which suggested that African Americans were essentially traumatized. I mean, this whole notion of post-slavery traumatic syndrome is very controversial. There are a lot of psychotherapists who basically have dismissed this idea.
MARGO NATALIE CRAWFORD: No, even when Joy Leary, when she-- part of what's been so fascinating for me to think about-- when Joy Leary is talking about it. And then after she-- I believe it's usually in the first part, when she's asking people, so, was therapy ever received-- she herself is often posing it as a question. Do you think that you're somehow traumatized by slavery? Is there such a thing as post-traumatic slavery syndrome?
I think that it's not for me, it's not so much a matter of having to see a post-traumatic slave syndrome as then something that would have to affect everyone in every way. But I'm convinced that in terms of colorism and this way that we both have an ongoing fetishism of shades of blackness. On the one hand, we still see shades of blackness mattering sometimes in black body politics. And then we also have a real decentering of it, which is clearly what the second half of the book is also setting up, the way that we are moving beyond some of this investment in skin color, moving to a zone in which it may not matter as much.
So that it's not that the post-traumatic slavery syndrome would have to then become something that would almost make us pathologize ourselves, assuming that then it is always already the case that everyone has it, or in the same way, that it's affecting all of us in terms of black body politics.
SALAH HASSAN: Can I ask a question, which is brought by this subject again, is that where does Afrofuturism, which is an aesthetic movement that also talks about black into the future in comparison to post-black-- and I was intrigued yesterday by you citing people like Sun Ra in the context of the Black Arts movement.
MARGO NATALIE CRAWFORD: That's right.
SALAH HASSAN: And African future is [? constructionist ?] anyways. So how do you--
MARGO NATALIE CRAWFORD: Absolutely. I think it's so true, Salah, that the Black Arts movement then so much of the visual culture and-- when we think about Sun Ra's poetry-- and yesterday, for those of you who weren't at the talk yesterday, I partially talked about Sun Ra's inclusion in the Black Fire, and the way that Sun Ra takes us to that outer space.
So that both Black Arts literature as well as Black Arts visual art then I think something that almost would become part of that foundation for Afrofuturism, when we really began to think about the post-black play, it would, I think, become a fabulous way to think about what I really see as that need to connect some of what's happening with contemporary visual culture and some of this experimentation with the unnaming to the Black Arts movement.
AUDIENCE: This may be a [INAUDIBLE], but I'm wondering as we're talking about also some idea of the future if in Olivia Butler, she is drawing on any of these discussions from the Black Arts movement and projecting that into her futuristic novels.
MARGO NATALIE CRAWFORD: Yeah, huh. I think that Kindred in particular, if you think about what she does in Kindred, especially as-- you know, there are quick moments. But I think they matter so much, when we have those very references to what almost becomes those moves, when it's the moves, the space and time travel back slavery, and then the certain perspective at these key moments, when through the lens of that position back in slavery, back in slavery. And then she's thinking about black power and black nationalism and reassessing it. Thinking, for example, about what is imagined as being and-- I hope you remember this language-- the Aunt Jemima sort of mammy moment in the Black Power movement, actually once Dana is back in slavery time, that travel back, it actually then is something that she wants to reassess.
So I think that Kindred in particular, as far as connections with Black Power and Black Arts would be fascinating to add.
AUDIENCE: I have another question. It's a lingering question from yesterday.
MARGO NATALIE CRAWFORD: We're connecting the dots.
AUDIENCE: I know I was wondering if you would for me make a distinction between your post-Black Arts movement and post-black. That's one. And then in particular, how-- I mean, a lot of things, a lot of threads, that yesterday when you began to do about reference. And it was speaking to be what-- well, I mentioned yesterday about how Lorrie tried to put that phrase--
MARGO NATALIE CRAWFORD: Right.
AUDIENCE: But then also the logic of the household, when he consistently gets the Christian symbol, what are you doing with your mother-in-law, which would not be a question in a certain kind of a framework, but you already know. And then relatedly, in contemporary African context with woman bleach and color questions that you reference here with post-slavery trauma seem to be very alive and well. Also [INAUDIBLE] he's [INAUDIBLE] colored and so on. So then what do you make of all of those answers?
MARGO NATALIE CRAWFORD: I know. There are a lot of pieces. I think you're right. No, you're making us think about connecting all of this.
So let's see, I'll start with perhaps the post-black-- where you started your first point-- post-black and post-Black Arts. For those of you who weren't at the talk yesterday, it was entitled "Post-Black Play in the Black Arts Movement." And as I think about the real possible dangers of this post-black play as well as some possibilities, I'm analyzing the very use of the term post-black, both in 2001, "Freestyle" exhibit, Thelma Golden, curated by Thelma Golden.
And I'm also looking at how that emerges, how the term continues to be used and then really wanting to try to analyze how it then becomes so complicated, when we think about Thelma Golden, for example, in the very description of what she means by post-black in that catalog copy for "Freestyle," at one point saying that post-black-- and this is really going directly to your question-- is shorthand for post-Black Arts. And I wonder-- you can tell me if you agree-- I wonder if part of what would happen if she never took arts off, you know, if it was always post-Black Arts, part of what would happen when people respond to that term, would it be fundamentally different?
People wouldn't, if we think about post-black and post-race, they wouldn't be inclined to connect the two as readily, clearly, if it was post-Black Arts. Or even if she thought, OK but it's too clumsy to always say post-Black Arts, so take it as a given that I mean that. So if we had recognition of that shorthand not just only if someone is really reading carefully in the "Freestyle" catalog.
So that what I really am going to do, what I'm doing with this analysis of the Black Arts movement experiments with a certain type of naming and unnaming and looking at how it connects to this more current visual culture and literature, I'm very interested in considering post-Black Art-- the very term post-Black Art-- as once again my focus on the very exciting possibility that this play in experimentation can become something that doesn't have to become simply silly-- as we think about the use of that word yesterday, I think one of the fabulous questions-- doesn't have to become either simply silly or problematic in terms of being some type of real either self-hatred or even an attempt to then possibly become a rather fanciful sense of being now beyond race. So post-Black Arts would be the zone that I would interrogate as being the productive possibilities. Post-black and post-race, as I've said really may then be that zone, that turn that allows me to think about people's critique, for example, of the possible marketing strategies in the very production of the word post-black, the very circulation the word post-black.
AUDIENCE: Just to revisit the classic overt fetishism with shades of blackness, I wanted to know how serious an affect you think it is in the psychology of black America today. And if so, do you think it played a role in the election of Barack Obama?
MARGO NATALIE CRAWFORD: Great question. I start in the very first paragraph of Dilution Anxiety, I begin with a reference to a Wall Street Journal article that was printed during the primary, clearly before there were many other-- I think now there are many other discussions of the color dynamic.
But this was relatively early, when we didn't see many of those references in the media and in the newspapers. And in this Wall Street Journal, the writer explains that he's interviewed many African Americans. He's really setting it up as the study of African American communities real allegiance to Barack Obama.
And then, as he emphasizes that he's talked to many people, many of the quotes that he decides to include-- what do they actually say, what do they tell you, not just moving to his own words, but when he's including the actual language that people use-- he even includes these, I think, really interesting quotes, when people are explaining-- and I use some of this language in that very opening paragraph-- when people were explaining that yes, I support Barack Obama. And I am so excited about him.
And then one example. One of the interviewees saying that if he were married to a white woman or a light-skinned black woman, I wouldn't be as excited. I wouldn't be as drawn to Barack Obama.
And I think that's fascinating, when you only think about your question, the very question you're asking. Because it could be, as we think about what you're really getting at, right now in 2009 is colorism this issue that's as heavy as it used to be? Clearly as we think about the really important work that has historicized colorism, we know that it's surely true that we have particular moments when it's possible to think about the color dynamics-- lighter-skinned and darker-skinned blackness-- as having so much to do with a very, very rigid social scene, in which people then really did see skin color itself as a type of currency, a type of currency that allowed you to really then feel that if you have the light skin or if you don't have the light skin, that it really is not simply a matter of how people view you or some kind of beauty standards and so forth, but very clear issues related to class structure and clearly, then, the ways that people were always negotiating that. The way that it was never total. The way in which if we think about middle class blackness, the way that it wouldn't only be lighter-skinned, middle class identities, but the way in which, nonetheless, light skin remained that real currency.
Is it currency in the same way? I don't think so. Right now we are not at a point where it doesn't matter at all. But I do think that we see even in that language used in the Wall Street Journal that how it matters, you know, when it surfaces, is then something that is not always predictable. Thinking about Barack Obama and his lighter skin relative to Michelle, I think that it could be that that's something that would not only be a skin color matter. But I wonder if his identity as then African and American, right, and Michelle then being the African American, if that's something that perhaps has as much to do with the way that Michelle Obama, in a bizarre way for some people may somehow become the woman who legitimizes Obama for some people.
SALAH HASSAN: Thank you so much.
MARGO NATALIE CRAWFORD: Thank you.
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After the "Black is Beautiful" movement of the 1960s, black body politics have been overdetermined by both the familiar fetishism of light skin as well as the counter-fetishism of dark skin. Moving beyond the longstanding focus on the tragic mulatta and making room for the study of the fetishism of both light-skinned and dark-skinned blackness, Margo Natalie Crawford analyzes depictions of colorism in the work of Gertrude Stein, Wallace Thurman, William Faulkner, Black Arts poets, James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, and John Edgar Wideman.
Crawford adds images of skin color dilution as a type of castration to the field of race and psychoanalysis. An undercurrent of light-skinned blackness as a type of castration emerges within an ongoing story about the feminizing of light skin and the masculinizing of dark skin. Crawford confronts the web of beautified and eroticized brands and scars, created by colorism, crisscrossing race, gender, and sexuality.
Crawford is an associate professor of African American Literature in the W.E.B. Du Bois Department of Afro-American Studies at the University of Massachusetts. She received her doctorate in American Studies from Yale University. Professor Crawford is the co-editor of New Thoughts on the Black Arts Movement (2006, Rutgers University Press) and author of Dilution Anxiety and the Black Phallus (2008, Ohio State University Press).