Presentation Title

Reading to Dismantle: Citizen and Modes of the (Il)literacy Narrative in African American Literature

Presentation Type

Oral Presentation

Abstract

Though the trope of the black literacy narrative has served as a model for liberation throughout African American Literature, a quick glance at the news makes clear that true freedom from white supremacy has not been achieved. While scholarship around literacy narratives of canonical black authors is robust, little attention has been paid to the multi-modal illiteracy of white figures whose failures of reading re-inscribe racial oppression. My paper, "Reading to Dismantle: Citizen and Modes of the (Il)literacy Narrative in African American Literature," fills in a gap in scholarship by identifying three modes of literacy (academic, social, and critical) that have been necessarily mastered by black characters and literary figures for survival, while white figures have remained illiterate in these ways. My work examines these three modes of literacy as they are played out in racialized scenes from texts by Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. Dubois, Nella Larsen, Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones), Toni Morrison, Randall Kenan, and Ralph Ellison; I then focus on Claudia Rankine's 2014 hybrid text, Citizen, as an example not of a black literacy narrative, but of a white illiteracy narrative that identifies the real work to be done in dismantling white supremacy. I argue that modeling the identification and pursuit of white racial literacy, rather than black literacy narratives is the requisite next step in the work of racial justice. For generations, the field of African American Literature has laid the groundwork for the project of white racial literacy-- the time has never been more ripe to carry this forth this urgent work.

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Apr 27th, 9:20 AM Apr 27th, 9:35 AM

Reading to Dismantle: Citizen and Modes of the (Il)literacy Narrative in African American Literature

UC Ballroom, Pod #4

Though the trope of the black literacy narrative has served as a model for liberation throughout African American Literature, a quick glance at the news makes clear that true freedom from white supremacy has not been achieved. While scholarship around literacy narratives of canonical black authors is robust, little attention has been paid to the multi-modal illiteracy of white figures whose failures of reading re-inscribe racial oppression. My paper, "Reading to Dismantle: Citizen and Modes of the (Il)literacy Narrative in African American Literature," fills in a gap in scholarship by identifying three modes of literacy (academic, social, and critical) that have been necessarily mastered by black characters and literary figures for survival, while white figures have remained illiterate in these ways. My work examines these three modes of literacy as they are played out in racialized scenes from texts by Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. Dubois, Nella Larsen, Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones), Toni Morrison, Randall Kenan, and Ralph Ellison; I then focus on Claudia Rankine's 2014 hybrid text, Citizen, as an example not of a black literacy narrative, but of a white illiteracy narrative that identifies the real work to be done in dismantling white supremacy. I argue that modeling the identification and pursuit of white racial literacy, rather than black literacy narratives is the requisite next step in the work of racial justice. For generations, the field of African American Literature has laid the groundwork for the project of white racial literacy-- the time has never been more ripe to carry this forth this urgent work.