This special issue interrogates the ways in which representations of African Americans can be silenced–or resisted–through moral contestation and conformity in mass culture.
AFRICAN AMERICAN REPRESENTATION AND THE POLITICS OF RESPECTABILITY (Vol. 18 #2-4/ Jul-Dec 2016)
Jane Rhodes, University of Illinois at Chicago
Ralina L. Joseph, University of Washington
Cultural representations crafted by African Americans have often borne the special burden of “uplifting the race.” From antebellum print culture and early motion pictures to contemporary television and social media, images and performances of blackness are expected to conform to ideals of respectability. The politics of bourgeois respectability among African Americans are structured by class, region and color. They are profoundly gendered and focused on sexuality through tropes of chastity, self-control, and virtue. The story of respectability politics is one of community members questioning if their images are noble, articulate, polished, and intelligent enough. In other words, do certain representations make “us” look bad in front of “them”? African American creative workers who push back against these expectations are simultaneously criticized and embraced, shunned and commodified. This special issue interrogates the ways in which representations of African Americans can be silenced–or resisted–through moral contestation and conformity in mass culture.