Added: September 5, 2015 – Last updated: November 7, 2015


Speaker: Aliyyah Abdur-Rahman

Title: Unchaining Daughter’s Body

Subtitle: Refiguring Black Families in the "Postracial" United States

Conference: Annual Meeting of the American Studies Association: Crisis, Chains, and Change: American Studies for the Twenty-first Century (November 18-21, 2010)

Session: Un-chaining Blackness from the Body: Racial Crisis in the Late Twentieth Century and the New Millennium

Place: San Antonio, Texas, United States

Date: November 19, 2010

Language: English

Keywords: Modern History: 20th Century | American History: U.S. History | Offenders: Fathers; Representations: Literary Texts / Toni Morrison, Sapphire; Types: Child Sexual Abuse, Incestual Rape; Victims: Daughters


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Speaker: Aliyyah Abdur-Rahman, Department of African and Afro-American Studies, Brandeis University

Abstract: »Reading Toni Morrison’s novel The Bluest Eye and Sapphire’s novel Push, this paper illustrates the ways in which contemporary African American women writers deploy literary incest to make legible the continued impacts of U.S. state racism in the putatively post-racial era. My main contention is that in contemporary black women’s fiction incest constitutes a representational apparatus that illustrates racism’s profound and incessant injuries to black children and black women in the current moment. As a (figurative) sexual arrangement, incest epitomizes the disintegration of the black family under the pressures of Civil Rights retraction, reinvigorated black patriarchy, negligible economic resources, dwindling communal supports, and expansive urban decay.
Though The Bluest Eye is set in the 1940’s, it was written and published during the height of the black power movement. Its main thematic foci include the intensification of racial poverty, the impact of insufficient economic opportunities on black familial formation and function, the enduring psychic damage of racism, and the failure of state redress. By showing the failure of numerous state agencies to respond effectively to one horrifically abused black girl, Sapphire transfigures incest in Push from father-daughter rape to a more general indictment of state policies which fail to protect the interests, bodies or destinies of black female children. My analysis thus proceeds to show the ways in which, by depicting incest, Morrison and Sapphire critique (1) the institution of the family as imagined and invigorated by black nationalist rhetorics and requirements, which bear a mimetic relation to hegemonic U.S. masculinity and (2) federal and local government policies that overlook the structural transformation of racialized poverty and, instead, vilify black families for their failure to conform to nuclear heteronormativity.
By emphasizing the hierarchy of familial relations obtaining in father-daughter incest as well as the failure of Civil Rights legislation and refigured patriarchy under black nationalism to produce meaningful improvement in African American lives in the U.S., I show that contemporary black American women writers critique phallocentric racial struggle and refute the nuclear, heteronormative model of family as a requirement for black social advancement. My essay discovers ultimately in the both novels’ emphasis on the development of local, gendered, communal supports the possibility of a new, 21st-century politics of racial uplift and an adaptive strategy of social survival for impoverished African Americans, who suffer most egregiously under the current trend of Civil Rights retrenchment.« (Source: All Academic)

Wikipedia: History of the Americas: History of the United States | Literature: American literature / 20th-century American writers: Toni Morrison / The Bluest Eye; Sapphire (author) / Push (novel) | Sexual violence: Types of rape / Child sexual abuse, Incest