Date of Award

2-3-2015

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

English

First Advisor

Veronica Watson, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Mike Sell, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Lingyan Yang, Ph.D.

Abstract

This dissertation focuses on how racial passing can be a critical strategy for defining and validating a nuanced conceptualization of blackness in twenty-first century African-American Literature. Specifically in the works of Sapphire, Danzy Senna, and Colson Whitehead, the historical moment of passing yet endures into the future. Scholars have thoroughly analyzed racial passing in African American literature according to a standard definition of narratives written primarily in the early twentieth-century. These texts are steeped in sentimentality and tragedy about the abandonment of the black body and social identity. However, the popularity of post-racial discourse at the turn of the twenty-first century marks a shift in racial passing as a millennial concept, creating a space for the expansion of what constitutes a passing narrative. These millennial narratives address and parallel the changing social-political American racial climate. This research is an attempt to trace the shifts of the racial passing construct that allow for questions of representation, resistance, agency, and power relative to race and race relations in an ever increasingly, but arguably, post-racial society. Furthermore, passing narratives at the turn of the century critique the importance of maintaining fixed racial identities in order to empower the individual through redefining, reconnecting, and reclaiming one's blackness.

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