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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Decolonizing the Raci(al/st) Imagination in Literary Studies
by Mason, Sheena Michele, Ph.D., Howard University, 2021, 281; 28317300
Abstract (Summary)

This dissertation examines how race ideology reifies racism in African American literary studies and society. It studies how racism manifests as race, even in literary studies. This dissertation utilizes Karen and Barbara Fields’s theory of racecraft to draw and highlight how racism gets camouflaged as race in literature and, subsequently, its study. Traditionally, African American literature has been defined as reflective of ideologies of race and racism. This dissertation presents and engages racelessness in literature and the trope of the walking negative in Barbara Chase-Riboud’s Sally Hemings, Frances E. W. Harper’s Iola Leroy, and Nella Larsen’s Quicksand. In shifting the focus of literary studies of African American literature from race to race(ism), this project argues that writers across time have created art that resists racism through their resistance and rejection of race (underscoring racelessness) and that, in literature, scholars can find evidence supporting the existence of racism and evidence against the existence of race. This study also analyzes Toni Morrison as a representative writer—examining Song of Solomon, “Recitatif,” and Paradise as texts where Morrison presents America’s raci(al/st) houses and turns the houses into homes, raceless or deraced spaces that are liberated from racism. Lastly, this dissertation presents a representative pedagogy by presenting a class syllabus on African American literature that includes various philosophies of race and illuminates racecraft and race(ism) in literature and helps to ensure that students can recognize and employ philosophies of race in ways that help them avoid reifying race(ism). It engages Percival Everett’s Erasure, Gayl Jones’s Corregidora, and Junot Díaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao as representative texts to do this work. African American literary studies remains within the strictures of how the field has come to be defined (i.e., a priori ideologies of race and racism) and, as a result, has unintentionally reified race(ism). Therefore, this project hypothesizes that to free the field from the strictures, scholars must reread the literature, especially marginalized or excluded texts but also canonized texts, with special attention to racecraft and race(ism) to disallow racism from continuing to masquerade as race and then teach the literature in ways that decolonize society’s imaginations.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Williams, Dana
Commitee: Shinn, Christopher, DeGout, Yasmin, Carter, Jacoby , Jarrett, Gene
School: Howard University
Department: English
School Location: United States -- District of Columbia
Source: DAI-A 82/10(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: British and Irish literature, African American Studies
Keywords: African American literary studies, Anti-racism, Antiracism, Literary studies, Literature, Racism
Publication Number: 28317300
ISBN: 9798597085012
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