The Sovereignty of Quiet: Beyond Resistance in Black Culture

The Sovereignty of Quiet: Beyond Resistance in Black Culture

The Sovereignty of Quiet: Beyond Resistance in Black Culture

The Sovereignty of Quiet: Beyond Resistance in Black Culture

Synopsis

African American culture is often considered expressive, dramatic, and even defiant. In The Sovereignty of Quiet, Kevin Quashie explores quiet as a different kind of expressiveness, one which characterizes a person's desires, ambitions, hungers, vulnerabilities, and fears. Quiet is a metaphor for the inner life, and as such, enables a more nuanced understanding of black culture.

The book revisits such iconic moments as Tommie Smith and John Carlos's protest at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics and Elizabeth Alexander's reading at the 2009 inauguration of Barack Obama. Quashie also examines such landmark texts as Gwendolyn Brooks's Maud Martha, James Baldwin's The Fire Next Time, and Toni Morrison's Sula to move beyond the emphasis on resistance, and to suggest that concepts like surrender, dreaming, and waiting can remind us of the wealth of black humanity.

Excerpt

The story of this moment has been told many times: It is the 1968 Olympics in a volatile Mexico City, and two male athletes, both black Americans, make an emblematic gesture during the medal ceremony for the 200-meter race. One of them, Tommie Smith, has won the race while the other, John Carlos, placed third. As the U.S. national anthem plays, both men punctuate the space above their heads with their black-gloved fists, Smith raising his right hand, Carlos his left. Their salute is a black power sign that protests racism and poverty, and counters the anthem and its embracing nationalism. The third man on the podium, standing to their right, is Peter Norman, a white Australian who won the silver medal; Norman doesn’t elevate his fist but wears an OPHR (Olympic Project for Human Rights) pin in solidarity with Smith’s and Carlos’s protest.

The power of this moment is in its celebrated details—the clenched fists, the black gloves, the shoeless feet—details that confirm the resoluteness of the action. Since that day, commentators have memorialized the public assertiveness of Smith’s and Carlos’s gestures. Their paired bodies have become a precise sign of a restless decade and especially of black resistance. But look again, closely, at the pictures from that day and you can see something more than the certainty of public assertiveness. See, for example, how the severity of Smith’s salute is balanced by the yielding of Carlos’s raised arm. And then notice how the sharpness of their gesture is complemented . . .

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