Appropriating Blackness

Performance and the Politics of Authenticity

Appropriating Blackness

Book Pages: 384 Illustrations: 16 b&w photos Published: August 2003

African American Studies and Black Diaspora, Gender and Sexuality > Queer Theory, Theater and Performance > Performance Art

Performance artist and scholar E. Patrick Johnson’s provocative study examines how blackness is appropriated and performed—toward widely divergent ends—both within and outside African American culture. Appropriating Blackness develops from the contention that blackness in the United States is necessarily a politicized identity—avowed and disavowed, attractive and repellent, fixed and malleable. Drawing on performance theory, queer studies, literary analysis, film criticism, and ethnographic fieldwork, Johnson describes how diverse constituencies persistently try to prescribe the boundaries of "authentic" blackness and how performance highlights the futility of such enterprises.

Johnson looks at various sites of performed blackness, including Marlon Riggs’s influential documentary Black Is . . . Black Ain’t and comedic routines by Eddie Murphy, David Alan Grier, and Damon Wayans. He analyzes nationalist writings by Amiri Baraka and Eldridge Cleaver, the vernacular of black gay culture, an oral history of his grandmother’s experience as a domestic worker in the South, gospel music as performed by a white Australian choir, and pedagogy in a performance studies classroom. By exploring the divergent aims and effects of these performances—ranging from resisting racism, sexism, and homophobia to excluding sexual dissidents from the black community—Johnson deftly analyzes the multiple significations of blackness and their myriad political implications. His reflexive account considers his own complicity, as ethnographer and teacher, in authenticating narratives of blackness.


"Appropriating Blackness is compelling . . . because of the range, rigor, and cogent insight it provides relative to studies of black performance. . . . I commend this book, especially, to scholars of cultural politics, performance, race, queer studies, and those that take up these issues in critical media studies." — Robert Avery , Liminalities

"Appropriating Blackness offers an illuminating and compelling example of a critical politics of performing race. It decisively intervenes in disciplinary dialogues to rethink performance theory through the praxis of blackness, and to rethink black theory through performance. . . . Appropriating Blackness is one of the most significant studies to emerge in performance studies. It is a book we will need, a book we will use, and a book that marks our best disciplinary work." — Kristin M. Langellier, Text and Performance Quarterly

"Appropriating Blackness marks a daring intervention in performance studies and African American studies. Its critical and ethical concerns will resonate for those working in numerous other fields, such as cultural anthropology; philosophy; critical ethnicity and race studies; gay, lesbian and queer studies; pedagogy studies; and music." — Antonio Viego , GLQ

"Johnson adds some heretofore unheard of twists to the continuing saga of this most important black intellectual thought. . . . [A] welcome addition to the field." — Toni Lester , Lambda Book Report

"Johnson's first book . . . is an accomplished and original study that deftly traverses both the mythology of, and networks of power that remain embedded within, America's deep racial segregation. . . . It is obvious that he seems destined to join Cornell West as a leading authority on race, not to mention performance studies and queer theory both in the United States and abroad." — James Tierney , M/C Reviews

"With Appropriating Blackness, E. Patrick Johnson has given us a book worthy of the breadth its title signals. It is written in an excellent and refreshingly clear prose style which sacrifices nothing in the way of complexity of the ideas being presented. Johnson makes his observations about the relatedness of performance and blackness more compelling with each successive case study." — Dwight A. McBride, coeditor of Black Like Us: A Century of Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual African American Fiction

"Appropriating Blackness is a wonderful study that makes important and timely contributions across many fields. E. Patrick Johnson is a skilled reader of texts and offers useful introductions to complex theories of race, sexuality, and culture.”
  — David Román, author of Acts of Intervention: Performance, Gay Culture, and AIDS


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Price: $29.95

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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

E. Patrick Johnson is a performance artist and Assistant Professor of Performance Studies at Northwestern University.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix


"Blackness" and Authenticity: What's Performance Got to Do with It? 1

1. The Pot is Brewing: Marlon Riggs's Black Is . . . Black Ain't 17

2. Manifest Faggotry: Queering Masculinity in African American Culture 48

3. Mother Knows Best: Blackness and Transgressive Domestic Space 76

4. "Nevah Had uh Cross Word": Mammy and the Trope of Black Womanhood 104

5. Sounds of Blackness Down Under: The Cafe of the Gate of Salvation 160

6. Performance and/as Pedagogy: Performing Blackness in the Classroom 219

Appendix A Mary Rhyne's Narrative 257

Appendix B Interview with Mrs. Smith 311

Notes 315

Bibliography 345

Index 361
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Finalist, 2004 Hurston/Wright Legacy Award

Winner, Errol Hill Book Award, American Society of Theatre Research

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3191-9 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3154-4
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