The Fugitive Race: Minority Writers Resisting Whiteness

The Fugitive Race: Minority Writers Resisting Whiteness

The Fugitive Race: Minority Writers Resisting Whiteness

The Fugitive Race: Minority Writers Resisting Whiteness

Synopsis

Stephen P. Knadler is an assistant professor of English at Spelman College.

Excerpt

What would it mean for an early African American writer to be “impudent”? In Harriet Wilson's 1859 novel, Our Nig, the title character, Frado, is scolded by her cruel mistress for her “impudence, ” and on several occasions Mrs. Bellmont threatens in response to “cut her tongue out” (72), thus forever silencing the black woman's ability to talk back to white authority. But through these scenes of seemingly self-evident racist cruelty and muted resistance, Wilson enacts a particular kind of “impudence, ” an affective racial intervention expressed in narrative eruptions of a white panic about what could be called “reverse acculturation.” In one key scene in Wilson's novel that is symptomatic of a traumatic interruption of racial panic, the elder son James returns home and insists that Frado dine with them. At the conclusion of the dinner, Frado, known as “Our Nig, ” sits in Mrs. Bellmont's chair to take her meal. When Mrs. Bellmont orders her servant to eat off her dirty plate, Frado, in defiance, has the family dog, and her sole “faithful” companion, Fido, lick the plate clean before she dries it for use on the table cloth. Frado's impudence here is less this insult to her mistress's spiteful arrogance than the effect her behavior has on Mrs. Bellmont's son, who conspires with Frado in a derisive “subversion” of his mother's authority. James rebukes his mother, insisting that “Nig” is only responding to Mrs. Bellmont's failed maternal . . .

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