Against Dissemblance: When Black Women Speak

Saturday, January 5, 2019: 11:10 AM
Salon 1 (Palmer House Hilton)
Paula C. Austin, California State University, Sacramento
Urban poor and working class African American women often show up in historical literature as a pathological aggregate trapped in a prison house of social science. Their lived experiences are frequently rendered as homogenous, as culturally deviant and as deficient. This paper emphasizes black women’s cultivation of ideologies of self-identification and consciousness. Rather than relegating black experiences to solely struggles against or accommodations to urban poverty and racial segregation, these articulations of experiences, thoughts, and feelings in the 1930s Jim Crow U.S. capital city bring into relief the generative capacities of an interior life reckoning with the conditions of temporal and spatial realities. These narratives demonstrate how the cultivation of analytic frameworks is central to the lives of those forced to negotiate the triple jeopardy of race, class, gender, and its attendant uncertain forms of citizenship, particularly in the racially restricted urban landscape that was interwar Washington, D.C. Using the very same source materials that have been criticized for the pathologization of urban black mothers and that have helped to create the notion of a black urban homogeneity to access the life of the mind of poor and working class black women, these narratives also challenge our notions of archives and the complexities of black life.
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