Rhetorical Healing: The Reeducation of Contemporary Black Womanhood

SUNY Press
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 Reveals the rhetorical strategies African American writers have used to promote Black women’s recovery and wellness through educational and entertainment genres and the conservative gender politics that are distributed when these efforts are sold for public consumption. 
Since the Black women’s literary renaissance ended nearly three decades ago, a profitable and expansive market of self-help books, inspirational literature, family-friendly plays, and films marketed to Black women has emerged. Through messages of hope and responsibility, the writers of these texts develop templates that tap into legacies of literacy as activism, preaching techniques, and narrative formulas to teach strategies for overcoming personal traumas or dilemmas and resuming one’s quality of life.

Drawing upon Black vernacular culture as well as scholarship in rhetorical theory, literacy studies, Black feminism, literary theory, and cultural studies, Tamika L. Carey deftly traces discourses on healing within the writings and teachings of such figures as Oprah Winfrey, Iyanla Vanzant, T. D. Jakes, and Tyler Perry, revealing the arguments and curricula they rely on to engage Black women and guide them to an idealized conception of wellness. As Carey demonstrates, Black women’s wellness campaigns indicate how African Americans use rhetorical education to solve social problems within their communities and the complex gender politics that are mass-produced when these efforts are commercialized.
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About the author

 Tamika L. Carey is Assistant Professor of English at the University at Albany, State University of New York and the author of Getting to Know Him: Observations and Experiences from My Walk of Faith.

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Additional Information

SUNY Press
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Published on
Oct 4, 2016
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Literary Criticism / American / African American
Social Science / Ethnic Studies / African American Studies
Social Science / Women's Studies
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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In this provocative book, a black lesbian feminist looks at black feminism -- its roots, its role, and its implications. From Charles Darwin and nineteenth-century racism to black nationalism and the Nation of Islam, from Baptist women's groups to James Baldwin, E. Frances White takes on one institution after another as she re-centers the role of black women in the United States' intellectual heritage. White presents identity politics as a complex activity, with entangled branches of race and gender, of invisibility and voyeurism, of defiance and passivity and conformism.

White's powerful introduction draws on oral narratives from her own family history to illuminate the nature of narrative, both what is said and what is left unsaid. She then sets the historical stage with a helpful history of the inception and development of black feminism and a critique of major black feminist writings. In the three chapters that follow, she addresses the obstacles black feminism has already surmounted and must continue to traverse. Confronting what White calls "the politics of respectability," these chapters move the reader from simplistic views of race and gender in the nineteenth century through black nationalism and the radical movements of the sixties, and their relationship to feminist thought, to the linkages between race, gender, and sexuality in the works of such giants as Toni Morrison and James Baldwin. No one who finishes Dark Continent of Our Bodies will look at race and gender in the same way again.
Few institutions seem more opposed than African American literature and J. Edgar Hoover's white-bread Federal Bureau of Investigation. But behind the scenes the FBI's hostility to black protest was energized by fear of and respect for black writing. Drawing on nearly 14,000 pages of newly released FBI files, F.B. Eyes exposes the Bureau’s intimate policing of five decades of African American poems, plays, essays, and novels. Starting in 1919, year one of Harlem’s renaissance and Hoover’s career at the Bureau, secretive FBI "ghostreaders" monitored the latest developments in African American letters. By the time of Hoover’s death in 1972, these ghostreaders knew enough to simulate a sinister black literature of their own. The official aim behind the Bureau’s close reading was to anticipate political unrest. Yet, as William J. Maxwell reveals, FBI surveillance came to influence the creation and public reception of African American literature in the heart of the twentieth century.

Taking his title from Richard Wright’s poem "The FB Eye Blues," Maxwell details how the FBI threatened the international travels of African American writers and prepared to jail dozens of them in times of national emergency. All the same, he shows that the Bureau’s paranoid style could prompt insightful criticism from Hoover’s ghostreaders and creative replies from their literary targets. For authors such as Claude McKay, James Baldwin, and Sonia Sanchez, the suspicion that government spy-critics tracked their every word inspired rewarding stylistic experiments as well as disabling self-censorship.

Illuminating both the serious harms of state surveillance and the ways in which imaginative writing can withstand and exploit it, F.B. Eyes is a groundbreaking account of a long-hidden dimension of African American literature.

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