Guest Editors:
Jane Rhodes
, University of Illinois at Chicago and 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. Contemporary examples–from R and B singer R. Kelley’s nomination for an NAACP image award to web TV star Issa Rae’s winking performance of “ratchet”–enable a consideration of who is served by respectability litmus tests, and how much black cultural productions are constrained or energized by these debates?

This special issue seeks contributions that interrogate the ways in which representations of African Americans can be silenced–or resisted–through moral contestation and conformity in mass culture. We seek contributions that examine how current representations of African Americans address respectability. Are representations of Black Americans hamstrung by respectability politics? Do the target audiences make a difference in the media’s policing?  How are respectable and (dis)respectable politics articulated and circulated?  Within a society that increasingly embraces satire, humor, sensationalism, and entertainment as strategies for relaying politics and information, are the often reductive binaries of feminist/anti-feminist and racist/anti-racist communication irrelevant? Do protest campaigns such as #OscarsSoWhite adequately illustrate the challenges for Black representations in the mainstream public sphere? We invite articles and essays that highlight the ways in which respectability politics–in both historical and contemporary contexts–are structured by gender, sexuality, and ever-changing black identities.

The editors hope to reflect the broad range of methodological and theoretical influences used to examine African American culture and politics. The editors will consider critical commentary, interviews, and artistic work (i.e. visual art, lyrics, creative nonfiction, or poetry) relevant to the issue theme for a “short takes” section. This special issue will feature an introduction by Professor Herman Gray, University of California at Santa Cruz.


Final Submission Deadline is Midnight April 30, 2016

To submit to this special issue:




SOULS only accepts unsolicited manuscripts by electronic submission. Manuscripts are peer-reviewed by members of our Editorial Working Group (EWG) and our Editorial Advisory Board (EAB), as well as other affiliated scholars.

All submissions must include a one pager with author’s full mailing address, email address, telephone numbers, and professional, organizational or academic affiliation. Please indicate that the manuscript contains original content, has not previously been published, and is not under review by another publication. Authors are responsible for securing permission to use copyrighted tables or materials from a copyrighted work in excess of 500 words. Authors must contact original authors or copyright holders to request the use of such material in their articles. Finally, submit a three to five sentence bio, an abstract of their article of not more than 100 words, and a brief list of key words or significant concepts in the article.

Upload submissions here:


DCP: In the pattern of the critical black intellectual tradition of W.E.B. DuBois, Souls articles should include the elements of “description,” “correction,” and/or “prescription”: thickly, richly detailed descriptions of contemporary black life and culture; corrective and analytical engagements with theories and concepts that reproduce racial inequality in all of its forms; and/or an analysis that presents clear alternatives or possibilities for social change.

Originality: Articles should make an original contribution to the literature. We do not consider manuscripts that are under review elsewhere.



Length: Articles published in Souls generally are a minimum of 2,500 words in length, but not longer than 8,500 words, excluding endnotes and scholarly references.

CMS and Clarity: All articles should conform to the Chicago Manual of Style. Scholarly references and citations usually should not be embedded in the text of the article, but arranged as endnotes in CMS form. Souls favors clearly written articles free of excessive academic jargon and readily accessible to a broad audience.

Critical: Souls aspires to produce scholarship representing a critical black studies – analytical and theoretical works in the living tradition of scholar/activist W.E.B. Du Bois. Souls is an intellectual intervention that seeks to inform and transform black life and history.

Any additional questions, please contact:
Prudence Browne, Managing Editor


Professor Barbara Ransby, Editor