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Queering Blackness

Non-Binary Black Representations in Post-Obama Popular Cultures

Cultures populaires et représentations noires non-binaires à l'ère post-Obama

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Published on Wednesday, March 16, 2022 by Sarah Zingraff

Summary

The election of Barack Obama to the American presidency has ushered in a so-called “post-racial” era. This phenomenon is spreading to all popular media, from television and its hit series to comics and video games. It is from this observation of representations of black identities, which question any form of binarity and operate intersectional deployments within African American popular cultures, that the main question at the origin of this project emerges. Based on papers about these representations in the popular arts, accessible to a large majority as well as within the Black American community, this one-day conference aims to examine the evolution of these representations over the past ten years and the obvious efforts to move away from the binary normative representations still attributed to U.S. racial minorities—more so than to the so-called dominant white majority.

Announcement

Argument

The election of Barack Obama to the American presidency has ushered in a so-called “post-racial” era, a term echoed in the title of bell hooks’ latest book (Writing Beyond Race: Living Theory and Practice, 2013), in which the racial binarity rooted in American history is strongly questioned in an intersectional reflection that probes all forms of binarity. We see it in the cinema with the major influence of a character like Black Panther, muse of Afro-futurism surrounded by an army of Amazons in the rejection of toxic masculinity attributed to the eponymous movement of the seventies; we hear it in the music industry with the growing notoriety of the openly gay and distinctly eccentric artist Lil Nas X. This phenomenon is spreading to all popular media, from television and its hit series to comics and video games.

It is from this observation of representations of black identities, which question any form of binarity and operate intersectional deployments within African American popular cultures, that the main question at the origin of this project emerges. Based on papers about these representations in the popular arts, accessible to a large majority as well as within the Black American community, this one-day conference aims to examine the evolution of these representations over the past ten years and the obvious efforts to move away from the binary normative representations still attributed to U.S. racial minorities—more so than to the so-called dominant white majority.

Queer, fluid, gender-queer, nonconforming, gray, neutrois, agender, non-binary, pan… new words, reclaimed and coined, contend to name the rejection of the U.S. social norms that so widely influence the world. Yet, within U.S. society, does this very rejection also assume normative, disproportionally racialized, class-marked trends? Or does it fundamentally spring from its most oppressed populations, both highly vulnerable and decisively combative?

Such questions are inseparable from the theoretical and activist backdrop of the long fight for Civil Rights in the United States. Divisive times have seen the election of the first black president of a nation that, only fifty years earlier, separated its population based on race, followed by the #BlackLivesMatter movement launched in 2013, only to roll into the Trump era and through a highly unequal pandemic. What does it mean that a non-White body, falsely accused of being born abroad, who shares his middle name with the 1990s foreign public enemy, rules from the whitest of houses? What influence has Obama’s position had when, along with his African American heteronormative family, he had to hand the keys over to his greatest critic? Flanked by his Slovenian-born third wife, Trump was a defender of America’s nostalgia for the “good old times,” and the proud patriarch of multiple families. Are the cards of WASP cisgender heteronormativity now randomly positioned in a house whose balance no more depends on mandatory normative criteria? Or, on the contrary, do they retain their power as trump cards of a game on constant replay? Popular cultures reflect these key questions and offer new models without necessarily having the power or the will to counter well-established stereotypes of African American hyper-virility and/or hyper-sexuality, sometimes underlined by their very disavowal.

For this one-day symposium organized by TransCrit at the University of Paris 8, we welcome papers about the representations of Black identities that have challenged binaries and their intersectional expansions within African American popular cultures—music, images, graphics, and games—since 2008. Without suggesting that rejecting binaries is an invention of the 21st century, nor that people of African descent have not fairly contributed their share to the process, we wish to explore how such phenomena have been reflected in popular rather than marginalized cultures and how they have attracted mainstream interest for representations made invisible for so long.

How to submit

Proposals, in English or French (title + 500 words + corpus or bibliographical sources), and a short bio must be sent jointly to: anne.cremieux@univ-paris8.fr and yannick.blec@univ-paris8.fr

before April 30, 2022.

A response will follow by June 2022.

Ph.D. candidates without research funds to support their travel can send their resume and a cover letter to apply for funding of a train ticket within France (or similar fee).

Organization and Selection Committee

Selection will be made by Yannick Blec (Université Paris 8) and Anne Crémieux (Université Paris 8), co-organizer of the day.

Bibliography

Coles, Roberta L (2009). The Best Kept Secret: Single Black Fathers. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield.

Constantine-Simms, Delroy (ed.) (2001). The Greatest Taboo: Homosexuality in Black Communities. Los Angeles: Alyson Books.

Cremieux, Anne (2019). “From Queer to Quare: The Representation of LGBT Blacks in Cinema.” In Mark A. Reid (ed.), African American Cinema Through Black Lives Consciousness. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, p. 255-274.

Drake, Simone C. & Henderson, Dwan K. (ed.) (2020). Are You Entertained?: Black Popular Culture in the 21st Century. Durham and London: Duke University Press.

Dunning, Stefanie K. (2009). Queer in Black and White: Interraciality, Same Sex Desire, and Contemporary African American Culture. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Ferguson, Roderick A. (2004). Aberrations in Black: Towards a Queer of Color Critique. Minneapolis: UM Press.

Ferguson, Roderick A. (2005), “Or our normative strivings: African American studies and the history of sexuality.” Social Text, 23, p. 85-100.

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hooks, bell (2013). Writing Beyond Race: Living Theory and Practice. New York, NY: Routledge.

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Johnson, E. Patrick & Henderson, M.G. (ed.) (2005). Black Queer Studies. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Johnson, E. Patrick (ed.). No Tea, No Shade: New Writings in Black Queer Studies. Durham: Duke UP, 2017.

Julien, Isaac and Kobena Mercer (1998). “Introduction: De Margin and De Centre.” Screen 29 .4, Fall, p. 2-10.

Keeling, Kara (2019). Queer Times, Black Futures. New York, NY: NYU Press.

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Martin, Alfred L., Jr. (2021). The Generic Closet: Black Gayness and the Black-Cast Sitcom. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Mask, Mia (2012). “Who’s Behind that Fat Suit? Momma, Madea, Rasputia and the Politics of Cross-Dressing.” In Mia Mask (ed.), Contemporary Black American Cinema: Race, Gender, and Sexuality in the Movies. New York, NY: Routledge, p. 155-174.

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Nataf, Z. Isiling (1995). “Black Lesbian Spectatorship and Pleasure in Popular Cinema.” In Colin Richardson & Paul Burston (eds.), A Queer Romance: Lesbians, Gay Men and Popular Culture. London: Routledge.

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Smalls, James (2019). “The Past, Present and Future of Black Queer Cinema.” In Mark A. Reid (ed.), African American Cinema Through Black Lives Consciousness. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, p. 275-297.

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Smalls, Shanté Paradigm (2011). “‘The Rain Comes Down:’ Jean Grae and Hip Hop Heteronormativity,” American Behavioral Scientist 55.1, p.86-95.

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Watkins, S. Craig (1998). Representing, Hip Hop Culture and the Production of Black Cinema. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Welbon, Yvonne (1998-2017). “African American Lesbian Produced Film, Video, and Multimedia.” http://www.sistersincinema.com/forum/lesbianfilms.html

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Places

  • Maison de la Recherche Amphi MR002 - 2 rue de la Liberté
    Saint-Denis, France (93200)

Event format

Full on-site event


Date(s)

  • Saturday, April 30, 2022

Keywords

  • blackness, queer, genre, culture populaire, représentation, non-binaire, intersectionnalité

Contact(s)

  • Anne Crémieux
    courriel : anne [dot] cremieux [at] univ-paris8 [dot] fr
  • Yannick Blec
    courriel : yannick [dot] blec [at] univ-paris8 [dot] fr

Information source

  • Yannick Blec
    courriel : yannick [dot] blec [at] univ-paris8 [dot] fr

To cite this announcement

« Queering Blackness », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Wednesday, March 16, 2022, https://calenda.org/976650

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